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Art. I. — ALISON'S HISTORY OF EUROPE.*
This work, originally published in Great Britain at the price of fifty dollars, has been republished in the United States, entire, at four dollars, and an abridgement for the use of schools has been issued at the low price of one dollar. Both of these reprints have, we believe, been extensively circulated in this country, and, for good or for evil, will work an effect on the minds and hearts of our people. Therefore a few remarks, founded upon the early Edinburgh edition, may not at this time be amiss. It would occupy more time and space than we can command, regularly to review this great work;—great, certainly, in material volume, as well as in the events of which it treats ; great, also, in several other points of view from which we shall have occasion to observe it.
The first feature which attracts attention is the frequency of typographical errors, and slips of the pen. We
History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution in MDCCLXXXIX to the Restoration of the Bourbons in MDcccxv. By ARCHIBALD ALiSON, F. R. S. E., Advocate. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh; and Thomas Cadell, London. 10 vols. 8vo. VOL. XXXVIII. - 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.
are tempted to think that the author never corrected his proof-sheets. We read of the “Bavarian Republic,” (intended to be Batavian ;) and very often find" Russia" and “Prussia,” each in place of the other. The good old English word ‘nowise' our author never uses, but in its place employs such expressions as “no way,' noways," and "
no ways,” which occur so frequently as to disfigure almost every third page of his work. His statistical figures, as well as his figures of speech, often exhibit discrepancies and contradictions; and, in following out his generally good descriptions of military movements, the reader sometimes finds himself on the wrong bank of a river, and, before he can advance another line in the narrative, is obliged to make whole divisions and battalions move about and change places with a celerity which even Bonaparte himself might have envied. The numerous contradictions which appear in this voluminous work, alike in matters of philosophy, of fact, and of opinion, – taken in connection with the familiar sound of many passages -- have suggested the notion, that this “History” is chiefly made up of political articles from Mr. Alison's pen, which have appeared at various times in the British Reviews, and which the author has tacked together, with little or no collation, and published as one work. But, upon a more careful examination, we find that even this hypothesis fails to account for the frequency of the discrepancies which continually startle the reader; for the author sometimes utters a sentiment on one page which he contradicts on the next; and this has induced us to extend our supposition so as to include even the newspaper articles of Mr. Alison in our fancied list of his materials. Thus the whole work is like a confused heap of stones; not a solid pyramid, built by a master-workman.
Mr. Alison is a superlative Tory, with many of the virtues, and most of the faults of that character. He is a rank aristocrat in all his feelings, and takes every opportunity to flatter the nobility of Great Britain, with which he is connected by blood or marriage. He belongs to the worthy old Scotch nation, which any one might guess, for he never lets slip, unimproved, an opportunity of lauding Scotch troops, Scotch generals and Scotch lords, or even any foreigner of Scottish descent, however remote. His praises may be well merited, we are inclined to think they are ; but, while liberal to the Scotch, he overlooks the merits of the English and Irish, as such, can hardly find it in his heart to be just to a Frenchman, and is absolutely unjust to Americans. Russia seems to be his model government, and he thinks remarkably well of Austria. Great Britain, under the Tories, is glorious, but under Whig government is almost contemptible.
Slavery is a favorite hobby with our author, and, (we were about to say,) he has ridden it to death ; -- would that he had! But no, his whole object is to resuscitate and re-invigorate the dying monster. Russian serfdom he thinks an admirable institution. He says, no people ever arrived at freedom and happiness except through slavery ;
none ever can! He thinks the Irish would be better off if they could only be enslaved during a couple of centuries; it would fit them for freedom! He forgets, though, to tell us how it is the Cossacks, who never were enslaved, are so happy, substantially free, and well off in worldly respects, as he tells us they are. Rude plenty, courage and loyalty, with an extra allowance of the private virtues, are theirs, — all that a Tory like himself could desire in a people; yet, up to their remotest ancestry, they have never been slaves. The mass of Russian rustics, he informs us, are below the Cossacks; yet, if slavery be such an excellent thing to elevate a people, they ought to be far above them. Thousands of years of slavery on one side, and an equal duration of freedom on the other, have produced an effect fatal to his theory. He laments WestIndia Emancipation, and, regardless of the quiet demeanor and general advancement of the blacks, he measures the comparative blessings of slavery and freedom by the number of hogsheads of sugar which can be spared for exportation. The proverbial hardships to which the negroes were subject in the cultivation of cane and manufacture of sugar, under the ancient régime, are sufficient to account for their dislike to that employment in a state of freedom, and for much of the consequent deficit in the export. The remainder may be charged to the increased consumption of sugar by the blacks themselves. While slaves, they consumed no more sugar than they could manage to steal. Moreover, by means of the lash, the blacks were compelled to do vastly more work than nature ever intended that man should perform in hot climates, where little clothing is needed, and the earth produces the subsistence of the inhabitants almost spontaneously. What wonder that nature asserted her supremacy, when the unnatural forcing system was abandoned ? Does Mr. Alison mean to say that it is right for Great Britain to enslave nine-tenths of the population of her tropical colonies, and set the other tenth over them as drivers, in order that absent proprietors may live in splendor in England ; that a large mercantile marine may be built up; that the profits of manufacturers may be increased; and, finally, that through all these the revenues of Government may be augmented; which revenues would go chiefly towards supporting the aristocracy and younger sons of the nobility of Great Britain ? Can such ends, however good Mr. Alison may think them, justify such means? If so, then let it be proclaimed that power gives right: this would simplify the code of morals greatly. If not, then let Mr. Alison expunge from his next edition all the fine moral and religious observations which he is continually parading before his readers. For one thing, however, we thank him. In treating of the propriety and expediency of slavery, he makes no distinction of color. He is too philosophical for that. He desires not to limit the benefit of his favorite institution to blacks, but is willing to commit to its beneficent influences Russians, and Irishmen, and, we infer, Englishmen, Americans and Frenchmen. Yet, strange to say, notwithstanding this, and although he elsewhere stigmatizes as shallow those who condemn the Americans, he twits us repeatedly with the inconsistency of slaveholding. The sneer may be deserved, but it comes with an ill grace from him.
Mr. Alison is never weary of telling us that the welfare of the people depends upon the existence of a landed aristocracy. He glories in the fact that England has but three hundred thousand landed proprietors, and laments that France, in consequence of the Revolution, has six millions. He thinks that in consequence of this fact she can never be free, and dooms her in perpetuity to an Oriental despotism. Doubtless France must suffer a long while for the crimes of the Revolution ; the great change in the proprietorship of landed possessions was too sudden