« ZurückWeiter »
judgment of which we have already spoken; and often, unquestionably, in a taste perverted and spoiled by the partial and arbitrary decisions of some of the critical journals of Great Britain. There is no want of kindly feeling among our citizens towards our native literature—there can be no want of it among a people whose national partialities are as strong as ours. It only needs to be properly encouraged and directed. In all countries, here as elsewhere, the many take their opinions, for the most part, in matters of literature, from the few; and if the few are silent, the many will form their judgments at ran, dom. Worthless productions will luxuriate in a twelvemonth's popularity, while better things will be neglected.
ART. XVIII.--The Subaltern, or Sketches of the Peninsular War,
during the Campaigns of 1813–14. By an Eve-Witness. New-York. G. & C. Carvill. 1825.
THOSE who do not choose to grope in Blackwood's Magazine for the good things which are sometimes to be found there, will feel themselves somewhat obliged to Messrs. G. & C. Carvill, for having, in the present instance, performed the task for them. The contents of this volume were originally published in that journal in detached portions, the last of them very lately. Collected together, and placed in each other's company, they make a much more respectable figure than when in contact with their former companions, among whom they looked as we may imagine a dozen of the king's yeomen would have done in Falstaff's ragged regiment.
This work purports to be the production of one, who having fought his country's battles in time of war, has now, in time of peace, betaken himself to the making of his country's books. He has fallen upon a species of composition, which has lately become quite popular among readers. He gives the story of his adventures in foreign countries, but it is not as a mere traveller that he appears before the public. Of that class of
persons, and their books, the world has grown a little weary; and their diaries, once so much in fashion, are now in small request. All young ladies, and we suspect most young gentlemen, and if the truth must be told, a large proportion of the elderly of both sexes, at present prefer even a tolerable novel to a dull book of travels; an ingenious tissue of fictitious incidents, to the story of real adventures at custom houses and in taverns, including even the important particulars
of eating, drinking, and lodging; and the description of some interesting imaginary scene, to that of some town, or some ruin, or some gallery of paintings, now described for the hundred and fiftieth time. It has therefore become necessary for the traveller, if he cannot tell any thing new of the institutions or of the customs and habits of the people whom he has visited, to tell at least of striking and extraordinary incidents that happened to himself in his journey. It is fortunate for the man whose destiny it is to write a book about Spain, or Italy, or France, or Germany, if he has been a soldier, and has served a campaign or two in those countries. The personal adventures of a military man are always interesting, if well told. War sports so fearfully and tyrannically, and at the same time so magnificently, with all the interests of men, and especially with that last of interests, life, that nobody can look at a true picture of it, without feeling his blood alternately tingling and curdling in his veins. The soldier also sees the country around him in an aspect not shown to the traveller in peaceful times. He sees its inhabitants in a state of unusual excitement, fitted, we should think, to call forth the peculiarities of their character. He also not only becomes acquainted with its more populous and frequented regions, and those places through which the great thoroughfares of ordinary travel pass, but he is often taken into the most retired haunts of its population, and is made familiar even with its waste places. The adventurer in these scenes has only to make a proper selection of incidents which fell under his own observation, and describe them in an unaffected manner, and he will hardly fail of finding plenty of readers:
This is done pretty well in the book before us. The author does not pretend to give us the history of the campaigns in which he served, but merely to relate that part of them of which he was an eye witness. The only omission of which we can reasonably complain, is that of interweaving with the details of his personal adventures those observations upon the manners and character of the people among whom he was thrown, which must have been made by any man of common curiosity and sagacity. The army in which he served took up its winter quarters, after the campaign of 1813, among the Basques. Yet, of this people, so singular and so little known, he tells us comparatively nothing. The reason he gives for this neglect is, the impossibility for an individual of an invading army to learn any thing of the real character of the inhabitants of the country where he is stationed. We do not exactly see why this should be; we are certain, at least, that something might be learned of it in a VOL. II.
daily and pretty quiet intercourse of several months. If we may judge from the author's account of himself, he resembled too many of his countrymen in foreign parts, who prefer the pleasure of associating with each other, to the trouble of studying the manners of the people among whom they live. We apprehend, that a man who spent his days with a fowling-piece on his shoulder, and his evenings in discussing the provisions and wines of the country, would naturally make no very rapid progress in the Basque dialect, and acquire no very profound insight into the Basque character. The only thing that surprises us is, that he should have thought it necessary to assign any other reason for his ignorance on these subjects. What the author saw, however, he describes very well, and often in a very striking manner. He never reasons, he rarely troubles the reader with any reflections of his own, and he carefully omits all particulars that could possibly seem dull or tedious. As might be expected from such a writer, there is very little which might be called information in the volume before us. The reader will not find his acquaintance with the mere history of the two campaigns in which the writer served very much increased by its perusal ; but he may perhaps rise from it with a more lively idea of the miseries, of which they were the cause. Two classes of readers, we apprehend, will read it with interest: those who delight in the recital of personal adventures, amid circumstances of hardship and danger; and those who would look more nearly, and speculate more closely, on the frightful calamities in which the princes of Europe, in their bloody quarrels for dominion, are permitted by Providence to involve their unfortunate subjects.
As a specimen of the work, we give a part of the account of the taking of the town of St. Sebastian by the British :
“As soon as the fighting began to wax faint, the horrors of plunder and rapine succeeded. Fortunately, there were few females in the place; but of the fate of the few which were there, I cannot even now think without a shudder. The houses were every where ransacked, the furniture wantonly broken, the churches profaned, the images dasbed to pieces; wine and spirit.cellars were broken open, and the troops, heated already with angry passions, became absolutely mad by intoxication. All order and discipline were abandoned. - The officers had no longer the slightest control over their men, who, on the contrary, controlled the officers; nor is it by any means certain, that several of the latter did not fall by the hands of the former, when they vainly attempted to bring them back to a sense of subordination.
“Night had now set in, but the darkness was effectually dispelled by the glare from burning houses, which, one after another, took fire. The morning of the 31st had risen upon St. Sebastian's, as neat and regularly built a town as any in Spain ; long before midnight, it was one sheet of
flame; and by noon on the following day, little remained of it, except its smoking ashes. The houses being lofty, like those in the old town of Edinburgh, and the streets straight and narrow, the fire flew from one to another with extraordinary rapidity. At first, some attempts were made to extinguish it; but these soon proved useless, and then the only matter to be considered, was, how personally to escape its violence. Many a migration was accordingly effected from house to house, till, at last, houses enough to shelter all could no longer be found, and the streets became the place of rest to the majority.
“The spectacle which then presented was truly shocking. A strong light falling upon them from the burning houses, disclosed crowds of dead, dying, and intoxicated men, huddled indiscriminately together, Carpets, rich tapestry, beds, curtains, wearing apparel, and every thing valuable to persons in common life, were carelessly scattered about upon the bloody pavement, whilst ever and anon fresh bundles of these were thrown from the windows above. Here you would see a drunken fellow whirling a string of watches round his head, and then dashing them against the wall; there another more provident, stuffing his bosoin with such smaller articles as he most prized. Next would come a party rolling a caşk of wine or spirits before them, with loud acclamations; which in an instant was tapped, and in an incredibly short space of time emptied of its contents. Then the ceaseless hum of conversation, the occasional laugh, and wild shout of intoxication, the pitiable cries, or deep moans of the wounded, and the unintermitted roar of the flames, produced altogether such a concert, as no man who listened to it can ever forget.
“Of these various noises, the greater number now began to subside, as night passed on; and long before dawn there was a fearful silence. Sleep had succeeded inebriety with the bulk of the arny,-of the poor wretches who groaned and shrieked three hours ago, many had expired; and the very fire had alınost wasted itself by consuming every thing upon which it could feed. Nothing, therefore, could now be heard, except an occasional faint moan, scarcely distinguishable from the heavy breathing of the sleepers ; and even that was soon heard no more."--pp. 44-46.
A few days after the capture, the writer, with some of his comrades, paid a visit to this scene of their late victory. He describes it in the following words :
66 The reader will easily believe that a man who has spent some of the best years of his life amid scenes of violence and bloodshed, must have witnessed many spectacles highly revolting to the purest feelings of our nature; but a more appalling picture of war passed by-of war in its darkest colours,-those which distinguish it when its din is over-than was presented by St. Sebastian's, and the country in its immediate vicinity, I certainly never beheld. Whilst an army is stationary in any district, you are wholly unconscious of the work of devastation which is proceeding--you see only the hurry and pomp of hostile operations. But, when the tide has rolled on, and you return by chance to the spot over which it has last swept, the effect upon your own mind is such, as cannot even be imagined by him who has not experienced it. Little more than a week had elapsed, since the division employed in the siege of St. Sebastian's had moved forward. Their trenches were not yet filled up, nor their batteries demolished; yet the former had, in some places, fallen in of their own accord, and the latter were beginning to crumble to pieces.
We passed them by, however, without much notice. It was, indeed, impossible not to acknowledge, that the perfect silence which prevailed was far more awful than the bustle and stir that lately prevailed there; whilst the dilapidated condition of the convent, and of the few cottages which stood near it, stripped as they were of roofs, doors, and windows, and perforated with cannon shot, inspired us, now that they were deserted, with sensations somewhat gloomy. But these were trifling-a mere nothing, when compared with the feelings which a view of the town itself excited.
“As we pursued the main road, and approached St. Sebastian's by its ordinary entrance, we were at first surprised at the slight degree of damage done to its fortifications by the fire of our batteries. The walls and battlements beside the gateway appeared wholly uninjured, the very embrasures being hardly defaced. But the delusion grew gradually more faint as we drew nearer, and had totally vanished before we reached the glacis. We found the draw-bridge fallen down across the ditch, in such a fashion, that the endeavour to pass it was not without danger. The folding gates were torn from their hinges, one lying flat upon the ground, and the other leaning against the wall; whilst our own steps, as we moved along the arched passage, sounded loud and melancholy.
Having crossed this, we found ourselves at the commencement of what had once been the principal street in the place. No doubt it was, in its day, both neat and regular; but of the houses, nothing more remained except the outward shells, which, however, appeared to be of an uniform height and style of architecture. As far I could judge, they stood five stories from the ground, and were faced with a sort of free-stone, so thoroughly blackened and defiled, as to be hardly cognizable. The street itself was, moreover, choked up with heaps of ruins, among which were strewed about fragments of household furniture and clothing, mixed with caps, military accoutrements, round shot, pieces of shells, and all the other implements of strife. Neither were there wanting other evidences of the drama which had been lately acted here, in the shape of dead bodies, putrefying, and infecting the air with the most horrible stench. Of living creatures, on the other hand, not one was to be seen, not even a dog or a cat; indeed, we traversed the whole city without meeting more than six human beings. These, from their dress and abject appearance, struck me as being some of the inhabitants who had survived the assault. They looked wild and haggard, and moved about here and there, poking among the ruins, as if they were either in search of the bodies of their slaughtered relatives, or hoped to find some little remnant of their property. I remarked, that two or three of them carried bags over their arms, into which they thrust every trifling article of copper or iron which came in their way.
“ From the streets, each of which resembled, in every particular, that which we had first entered, we proceeded towards the breach, where a dreadful spectacle awaited us. We found it covered-literally covered with fragments of dead carcases, to bury which it was evident that no effectual attempt had been made. I afterwards learned, that the Spanish corps which had been left to perform this duty, instead of burying, endeavoured to burn the bodies; and hence the half-consumed limbs and trunks which were scattered about, the effluvia arising from which was beyond conception overpowering.. We were heartily glad to quit this part of the town, and hastened, by the nearest covered way, to the Castle.
“Our visit to it soon convinced us, that in the idea which we had