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able close to this article is the grand old speech of Sarpedon, the oldest composition that we know in which the sentiment • Noblesse Oblige' is urged with heroic frankness. Pope, who thought this an admirable opportunity for beautifying his author, has made the son of Jove talk esprit like a French courtier. But we would recommend the reader of sound taste who desires some healthier movement than being dandled to death with antithesis and rhyme, to read the following version, and to judge whether its author has not rendered the speech with a great deal of that spirited simplicity with which he has translated the moral of it into his own public life.
Whence is it, Glaucus, that in Lycian land
To no inglorious Kings we Lycians owe
Art. V.–1. Private Diary of Travels, Personal Services, and
Public Events, during Mission and Employment with the European Armies in the Campaigns of 1812, 1813, 1814; from the Invasion of Russia to the Capture of Paris. By General Sir Robert Wilson, C.M.T., Baron of the Holy Roman Empire, G.C. St. A. of Russia, C.C. St. G. of Russia, G.C.B.E. of Prussia, &c. &c. Edited by his Nephew and Sonin-Law the Rev. Herbert Randolph, M.A., of Baliol College,
Oxford. 2 vols. London, 1861. 2. Life of General Sir Robert Wilson, Commander of the Imperial
Military Order of Maria Theresa of Austria, &c. &c. From Vol. 117.–No. 233.
Autobiographical Memoirs, Journals, Narratives, Correspondence, Sc. Edited by his Nephew and Son-in-Law, the Rev. Herbert Randolph, M.A., Oxon. 2 vols. London, 1862. THE publications which are represented by their titles at the I
head of our present article recommend themselves to notice not only by their intrinsic merits, but also, and in no unequal degree, by the period of deep interest with which they are connected, and the importance, still actively operating of the principal transactions which they record. They comprise, in point of time, when taken together, the whole of that great struggle between England and France, which, beginning in the ninety-fourth year of the last century and terminating twenty-one years later with the first occupation of Paris, was only, interrupted by the broken dreams of peace into which we were sulkily and mistrustfully drawn at Amiens. The period we refer to was almost immediately followed by those convulsive efforts at universal settlement on which the far-famed Congress of Vienna imposed a character of its own. The numerous volumes which have issued from the Press on matters relating to these times have not yet sufficed to drain so vast a theme, or to quench the thirst of public curiosity. No wonder. When we look back upon the immense interests at stake; the almost boundless theatre of their operation; the brilliant enterprises ; the astonishing events; the colossal phantoms of power and glory; the volcanic changes, from which no country was free; their causes, their consequences, their complications ; and amidst all these phenomena the portentous developments of human genius, energy, and passion, -we cannot but feel the impossibility of so arranging, distinguishing, and penetrating the mass as either to give it a strictly-defined outline, or to obtain an exhaustive view of its component parts. Room is thus left for the natural workings of uncertainty and expectation. Fresh light may still be thrown upon some less vivid portion of the
The eloquence or ingenuity of an historian may impart new colouring to well-known incidents and long-established characters. Above all, the memoirs of some distinguished eyewitness, reserved with considerate modesty, and bursting, as it were, from the tomb when least expected, like the flash from Michael Scott's vault when suddenly opened, may well inflame a curiosity which so many circumstances concur to keep alive.
The records furnished by Sir Robert Wilson are emphatically of this description. They possess all the interest of contemporary narrative, together with those attractions which naturally belong to a lively perception of objects, a spirited style, and a noble train of sentiment; to say nothing of the frequent opportunities
enjoyed by their author of mingling with the most illustrious of his time in birth, talent, and action.
From the days of old Plutarch, our schoolboy friend, the inspirer of many heroes, down to those of our Nelsons, Pitts, and Wellesleys, even to the still later career of a Royal Prince, whose premature loss we are not yet weary of lamenting, biography has never failed to shed an additional charm over the department of history, and to give its transactions a stronger hold on our awakened memory. Viewed in connexion with some prominent individual who stirs our passions or enjoys our sympathies, whose evershifting fortunes command, as the case may be, our liveliest emotions of hope and fear, every scene and every incident assumes a deeper colouring and a more impressive aspect. Events themselves beam out with meaning and consistency in proportion as they are associated with individual motives and the vicissitudes of a single life, with instances of personal suffering or personal exertion, disappointment or success. Our minds are, perhaps, so constituted that the interest we take in objects or occurrences can hardly come home with full effect to our feelings unless it be pointed by individual agency. How tame are the landscapes and battles, even of a Claude or Loutherbourg, compared with those historical paintings by other great masters, where time, place, and circumstance seem to be concentrated and personified in some commanding figure, towards which they are all made harmoniously to converge ! Hogarth's pictured tales of “The Rake's Progress' and “The Idle Apprentice may be cited to exemplify the same idea. In Le Brun's grand representation of the Battle of Arbela, with what intense interest do we gaze upon the one resistless warrior, with the rushing bird of victory above his head, and full in front the chariot of Darius, whose countenance and attitude discover, without any undignified expression of terror, the consciousness of defeat, and the necessity of submission to an overwhelming destiny! We can imagine that those who are to come after us in the succession of generations will read with deepened emotion the story of Italy's national resurrection, whenever its various threads shall be twined into one golden cord. If these observations are founded in truth as regards biography in general, they can hardly fail to be received as more emphatically applicable to historical literature, when the hero of some great movement in the fortunes of a people, or in the minds of a generation, is himself the narrator of his own undertakings, the expounder of his own motives, the transmitter of contemporary events and actions, with all their varieties of concurrence or
opposition, opposition, of progress or retreat, of triumph or discomfiture, to the judgment of succeeding ages. We can appeal with confidence to the trite examples of Xenophon and Cæsar in confirmation of this remark. We may add, with more reserve, the doubtful relics of modern autobiography attributed to Frederick the Great and to Catherine of Russia. We may figure to ourselves with what eager, yet chastened, if not awful, curiosity we should take up the dictatorship of Sylla written by himself; the campaigns of Hannibal from notes in his own handwriting; the confessions of Oliver Cromwell from his first appearance in the House of Commons to the expulsion of its last member by his own voice and outstretched arm; or daily reminiscences by Martin Luther of all that he did and suffered in the cause of truth during his attendance at the Diet of Worms.
Such writings might, indeed, carry with them the suspicion of having been dictated by motives not always consistent with candour and a scrupulous regard for truth. They might have been composed rather for effect and self-glorification than with a sincere view to the statement of facts as they really occurred and the faithful elucidation of history. They might be tainted with the passions and prejudices of the individual, naturally concerned for his own reputation and inclined to vindicate his own opinions. But, admitting these drawbacks on their value, and others that may occur to our readers, we feel pretty sure of expressing the general sentiment when we state our regret that the instances of autobiography are at all times so rare among those who have filled a wide space in the history of mankind, or who have best established their claims to the admiration, or, it may be, to the reproaches, of their countrymen. Whatever we may suggest to explain the infrequency of such desirable monuments, or at least their disappearance, there is no contesting the fact, which we lament: and on that account we prize more highly the few exceptions at our disposal, and willingly accept as substitutes the records left by those who witnessed or played a part in the transactions they relate without being their mastermovers or taking an acknowledged lead in their direction.
In the Memoirs of Sir Robert Wilson (under this term we may speak of both the publications named at the head of the article) we have many a vivid description of scenes, whether military or political, which either passed immediately under his eyes or came at once to his knowledge from authentic and contemporary sources; and they combine opportunely with the correspondence of our immortal Wellington, as published with so much sound judgment by his son, the present Duke, to convey to us a more complete understanding of the respective portions of the great drama then in progress, and a clearer insight into its composition, spirit, and management.
We hold it unnecessary to go into the particulars of Sir Robert Wilson's birth, parentage, and education, set forth most naturally, and with characteristic traits, in a memoir addressed to his children. Suffice it to say, that he was the son of an ingenious and eminent artist; that he received the rudiments of a classical education at Westminster and Winchester ; that while at school he had the misfortune to lose his father, and later his mother also ; that he owed his first acquaintance with society to Mr. Bosville, of Thorpe Hall, his sister's brother-in-law; and his introduction into the army to no less a personage than the King himself, seconded by the Duke of York, who was then at Courtray in command of a British expedition sent to co-operate with the Prince of Coburg's army against France. We use his own words to fill up this etching of his start in the profession of
· The Duke in the kindest manner addressed me, and after some general conversation asked me whether I preferred a cornetcy of cavalry, or an ensigncy in the Guards; and, if I liked cavalry, whether I had any choice of regiment. I had already made acquaintance at the Guard's mess with Colonel Churchill of the 15th Light Dragoons, and the fame of Elliott's Light Horse, added to his engaging manners and gallant character, determined me to select this corps.
As the army was to move shortly, it was thought most eligible for me that I should not join the regiment until the march commenced.
The army broke up its cantonments about the beginning of April, and I fell into the ranks of the troop, to which I belonged, as it filed through the country. A further acquaintance with the corps of officers made me feel still more pleased that I had become a member; and, indeed, the men themselves took an interest on all occasions in my welfare.'
Cornet Wilson, who was born in 1777, must have been about sixteen years of age at this time. He had shown a strong natural bias for the military service by soliciting a commission in it, contrary, as he states himself, to the opinion of his father, and the wishes of his surviving relatives. This instinctive taste for a life of enterprise, peril, and glory, appears to have been justified by the never-fagging spirit with which he carried out its duties, by the confidence he won from his superiors, and the affection he generally inspired among his younger associates in the service, He assigns to the Allied Army, when reviewed by the Emperor, April the 16th, on the heights above Câteau, a nominal force of 120,000 men, an effective one of 90,000. It was divided, he says, into eight columns; and his regiment, the 15th of Light