Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

sarcastically compares us with " those classes or individuals who have not historic descent or great personal achievements or qualities to rest upon, and who, desirous of general applause, have a secret sense that in some particular they may be undeserving of it." He has likewise represented truly, though strongly, the restless activity which is the prominent feature of American character.

"Every thing goes on at the gallop; neither society, nor the individuals who compose it, ever pause for an instant: new undertakings are incessantly commencing; new paths of life continually attempted by the unfortunate; successful industry ardently prosecuted by the prosperous. Projects of philanthropy, of commerce, of canals, of railways, of banking, of religious and social amelioration, succeed one another with breathless rapidity," etc.- - Vol. x. p. 592.

In his geographical description of the United States Mr. Alison makes no mention of the great lakes, although two are entirely within our border, and we have at least an equal share in the remainder: but when he comes to describe Canada, a British province, he is never weary of glorying in the magnificent chain of great lakes which he seems to think are exclusively within its boundaries. So enraptured does he become in contemplating Canada, that he predicts she will one day conquer the United States; or, in his own words, "assert the wonted superiority of Northern over Southern nations." Perhaps she may, but neither Alison nor any one else can know anything of the matter. There is such a thing as British "vanity;" nothing else could have induced our author to print his bellicose suggestion.

Although Mr. Alison has sufficient reason, as a military historian, to be proud of the soldiers and sailors of his country, he is not satisfied with pure truth, but falls into the same one-sided mode of relating battles which is so common among our own writers and orators. He always represents circumstances to be favorable to the Americans and unfavorable to the British, in order to palliate British defeat or enhance British glory. By way of giving advice to the British Government, he does state, concerning the action between the Chesapeake and Shannon, that the latter was manned by a picked crew, more numerous than usual, who had long been trained by Capt. Broke for the

very purpose of doing what had never yet been performed, - capturing an American frigate. But he neglects to state, what is equally well known, that the Chesapeake had an inexperienced crew, just shipped, and of whom many had never been at sea. He is more unfair still in his account of the capture, by a squadron of British frigates, of the frigate President, which he coolly declares was fairly beaten by a single frigate, the Endymion. It is well known. that this same victorious frigate was so roughly handled as to be obliged to fall back out of reach of the President, who could not stop to take possession of her, but continued her flight in her crippled condition until she was overtaken by a fresh frigate of the enemy. Because one or two broadsides from this new antagonist sufficed to bring down the stars and stripes, Mr. Alison sagely concludes that the President was beaten before, or she would not have surrendered so soon to her new enemy. He seems to think an American frigate ought to be able to beat, in detail, a whole British squadron, without being crippled herself; that she should be able to commence each successive action with undiminished forces: and he makes no account of the remainder of the British squadron which was pressing all sail to come up into action. Really, for Mr. Alison to boast of the result of this battle, must to most minds only demonstrate to what straits he was driven to find matter, in the naval encounters of the war, with which to soothe wounded British vanity. For ourselves, we should not, in this review, have noticed these instances of our author's unfairness, were it not to add one or two more items to the proof we have already adduced, that he is unworthy of the confidence which should be bestowed upon an accurate and impartial historian. Alison is not a historian, but a partisan political writer.

It is to be presumed that Mr. Alison is more to be depended upon in his European chapters, than in that portion of the work devoted to America, in preparing himself for which he apparently spent but little time, and of the blunders contained in which we have given the reader a very few of the many specimens which might be gathered. But, if some of his European critics tell the truth, he is not trustworthy even in European affairs. He has himself acknowledged numerous errors in his early

editions, by lately publishing a new one, "revised and corrected." Now it is certainly better to correct errors than to allow them to remain uncorrected; but it would be better still, more dignified and faithful, besides being more just to those who purchase the books and imbibe the errors, to see that none are put forth. Errors are not easily removed from the mind when once imbibed. How many of Mr. Alison's first readers those who first patronized his work, and set him up in the world as a historian-will ever peruse his corrected edition? One does not often read twice over ten octavo volumes of from eight hundred to a thousand pages each. Mr. Alison puts forth hastily, while yet in a crude state, the first volume of a "History of Europe," so called, and, like the modern serial novelwriter, hurries volume after volume before the public in an equally uncorrected state, to take advantage of the interest which his former volumes may have excited. Certain friends, acquaintances and gullible individuals among the public, purchase his first edition as it comes out, volume by volume. From them he receives his first encouragement, by them he is first made known to the world. When he has finished his work, and drawn fifty dollars apiece from the pockets of said friends, acquaintances and gullible individuals, he finds leisure to do what should have been done before publication, namely, to revise and amend his manuscript, and correct his proof-sheets. A new and ostensibly perfect edition appears, with which the remaining portion. of the public is supplied, while the old purchasers are left with ten worthless volumes on their hands. In this predicament stand many American libraries: the work, imported at an exorbitant price, now remains on their shelves an almost useless incumbrance. For if the new edition be what it purports to be, (which is greatly to be doubted ;) if it is to become a standard historical work, then must all large libraries in Europe or America be furnished with copies of it, whether they possess the defective edition or not. We beg leave to suggest that it would only be honest in Mr. Alison to make the offer to his first customers of exchanging the old for the new edition.

The style of Mr. Alison is ambitious, high-sounding, but often empty, very unequal, and frequently decidedly bad. Long, parenthetical periods, and even ungrammatical

sentences, are not infrequent. Still, there is an air of pretension, an owl-like gravity, and a pseudo-philosophic and religious tone, in his wordy periods, which appear to have taken the fancy, and misled the judgment of many worthy people. But he frequently contradicts himself in philosophy, and is guilty of gross inconsistencies in morals and religion. He is continually holding up the idea that in national affairs, as well as in those of individuals, the only righteous rule of conduct is, to do to others as we would that others should do to us. Yet he attempts to excuse, almost to justify, the transfer of Norway to Sweden

- her hated enemy; and declares, without qualification, that the British Government committed a great fault in restoring to Holland Java, which had been seized at a time when Holland was sinking under the yoke of her merciless conqueror, Napoleon. The Cape of Good Hope and several other colonies, of which Holland was robbed, are not sufficient to satisfy the acquisitiveness of the just, honest and religious Mr. Alison. England should have kept more of the property of her unfortunate ally, whose only fault consisted in her being subdued by England's enemy. Poor Holland! it was her fate to be plundered alike by friend and foe.

The religion, morality, philosophy and politics of Mr. Alison, as a public writer, all seem to be spurious. Not because he has not made many wise and just observations, but because he has marred their effect by attempting to reconcile things which are eternally repugnant to each other. With high-toned principles in his mouth, he yet justifies deeds which were enacted in defiance of all principles, save, perhaps, these two:- Might makes right; and, Do evil that good may come. If we may gather his ideas. concerning Christianity and Christ from an expression used in his chapter on India, they are low indeed. After mentioning the various hordes of conquerors who had overrun India previously to the advent of the Europeans, he speaks of their being followed by "the disciplined battalions of Christ." Disciplined battalions of Christ! Does he think, if our Saviour were to return bodily to the world, he would put himself at the head of such an army, and direct their movements in a course of robbery and bloodshed? Does he think that the spirit of Christ filled the hearts and

VOL. XXXIX. 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.

2

[ocr errors]

inspired the deeds of these "disciplined battalions," which he thus impiously designates as His?

Mr. Alison is a conservative in the worst sense of that term. Whatever has been sanctioned by time, whether right or wrong in itself, he upholds. One instance out of many will suffice to give an insight into his character in this respect. He laments the destruction of the "rotten boroughs" of England. He thinks it a good thing that half a dozen men, or even a single man, should have had power to send a member to Parliament, while a city of one or two hundred thousand inhabitants could do no more: and his only argument to sustain his position is, The system has worked well, why disturb it? Very good, so long as the nation is satisfied with it; but a system can hardly be said to work well, when it has become odious to nine-tenths of the people. Yet Mr. Alison laments the extinction of those sources of corruption- the "rotten boroughs." It is a principle of his, the violation of which he never excuses in a government, that nothing should be yielded to popular clamor. He would grant reform as a favor, after the clamor had subsided, but never as a right. The Government should never acknowledge that the people have any rights but those which they have always exercised. He disapproves even of the measure of Catholic Emancipation. The terrible scenes which followed the concessions made by Louis XVI. to the democrats of France, and which he thinks were consequent thereon, seem to have inspired him with a horror which allowed his mind no rest except in the idea of a strong government, right or wrong; right if possible, according to his notions, but strong at any rate. He is frequent in his praises of the aristocrats, but has never a good word for the democrats of Great Britain. Yet justic demands that we should say, he seems to endeavor to be impartial, and if he does not praise the opposite, he often condemns his own party, albeit his censures are generally called forth by their concessions to the democratic spirit of the age. Democracy in his bête noir, and truly the aristocracy of the old world have some reason to fear it. Such men as Mr. Alison, even on account of their ultra-conservatism, do good in the world. They serve to retard the otherwise too hasty and destructive advance of the said black beast, to prevent his approach until the world is pre

« AnkstesnisTęsti »