Page images
PDF
EPUB

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

2

VOL. XXXIX.

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 justice 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

pared for him, — when it will be found that they can no longer oppose an available obstacle, and at last that the monster is not such a frightful creature after all as they imagined him to be. Democracy must come: until then, we look with complacency even on its opposers, though we must strive against them. There rises before the mind's eye a picture of strife, and by the mental ear sounds of anger and clamor are heard. It is the lumbering vehicle of Human Society. Mist and darkness surround it; before and behind, on the right and on the left, crowds of excited people are tugging it this way and that. Hardly any progress seems to be made: the different parties appear to be more engaged in quarrelling with, and throwing stones and dirt at each other, than in advancing on their common journey. Lament it not: there is a deep ravine in front, down which were the old omnibus to tumble, it would be dashed to pieces, and need re-construction. This would inevitably be its fate, could those ahead have their way; but those behind are so busily engaged in pelting those before, that the latter, from the necessity of self-defence, pull but little ; and, meanwhile, how beautifully that ravine is filled up by the falling missiles which overshoot their mark! Do those before see this, and thank those behind ? Do those behind perceive that they are thus preparing the way of those before ? No, the success of Society depends upon their mutual ignorance and antagonism. Let the democrats cease their efforts, and the world will stand still, or retrograde. Let the aristocrats and monarchists suddenly join their efforts to those of the democrats, and the whole will rush together into the jaws of destruction.

Mr. Alison's picture of the results of equality in America” is not, however, by any means appalling, although he does his best to make it so, by comparing some of these results with, nay, making them “exceed, the savage atrocities of the French Revolution.” In his concluding paragraph, he can find nothing tangible to charge, as the “ results” of democracy in America, more awful than, first, that we have not liberated our slaves; which fact, according to his principles, ought to redound wholly to our credit: secondly, that our Government did not re-charter the United States Bank: thirdly, that we talk of “abolishing the national debt;" a statement entirely

untrue, and doubly so from the fact that we had no national debt, properly speaking, when Mr. Alison penned this

passage: and, lastly, that “deeds, exceeding in cruelty the savage atrocity of the French Revolution, have been perpetrated in many parts of the United States; an assertion which must be taken with a few small grains of allowance. Now remove from this list those charges which might be made of any monarchy, and those which are entirely false, and what remains ? Nothing but the charge concerning slavery, which we should say was rather a “result," and a continuation, of inequality. Quite as accurate is his statement that President Washington, in 1794, as “one of the last acts of his administration, by his casting vote in Congress,” established a commercial treaty with England. Mr. Alison cannot have read, attentively, the Constitution of the United States; and he appears to have adopted the most objectionable portions of the generally excellent works on America, to which he refers in his margin. He is too fond of declamation, and of generalization from insufficient data, to be a correct writer.

It seems to us that our author deals very fairly with Bonaparte; in fact, he palliates some of his crimes which appear to us to be worthy only of utter condemnation. He shows also much impartiality in criticising the faults of the Duke of Wellington, - evidently, however, in pretty much the same manner in which an astronomer would describe the exact size and number of the spots on the sun. He declares that “the Duke" was surprised and out-generalled by Napoleon previously to the battle of Waterloo; which battle he won only by his indomitable perseverance, and orrents of British blood shed by others to expiate his fault. Thus only was the campaign redeemed. Wellington had a narrow escape; for had he been compelled to order a retreat, the defiles in his rear might have turned it into an entire overthrow; in which case the term “ Waterloo defeat” would have had a very different meaning, in France and England, from that which it now bears.

The sum and substance of all Mr. Alison's political philosophy are contained in the following sentence: -“No community need be afraid of going far astray which treads in the footsteps of Rome and England.” What the “footsteps” of Rome were, in which every nation should follow

that is desirous of not “going far astray,” Mr. Alison tells us on the very next page: "To the surrounding nations Rome appeared a vast fountain of evil, always streaming over, yet always full, from which devastating floods incessantly issued to overwhelm and destroy mankind. We may judge how far and wide it laid waste the neighboring States, from the nervous expression which Tacitus puts into the mouth of the Caledonian chief, ubi solitudinem fecerunt, pacem appellant!

It appears to us, in our ignorance, that Mr. Alison is a sound military critic; and we also deem him a good financier, and a tolerably fair political partisan, as the world goes. Had he confined himself to these departments, we should never have been induced to review his “History." We like his descriptions of battles, better than his sermons ; he figures with much more credit in the former than in the latter, though he seems to consider preaching his especial forte. His father, as is well known, was a clergyman; which may serve to explain many of our author's inconsistencies concerning ethics and religion. May he not have obtained his really sound morals and religion from his father's fast-day sermons, and afterwards marred their beautiful proportions by placing in contact with them his own worldly morality and loose philosophical notions? It is this perpetual inconsistency, which renders Alison's History a work of peculiarly pernicious tendency. The apparently sound philosophical and religious views which it contains, serve to sweeten and disguise the poison with which they are mixed : the respect inspired by the former has induced many to take all the rest on trust. We cannot charge Mr. Alison with hypocrisy ; we believe him to be sincere, but not thorough. By his palliation of sin, and his support of established abuses, he spoils all his fine sermonizing. One of the deadliest thrusts ever made at true religion, is delivered by Mr. Alison in his constant attempt to hold it up as useful chiefly as an instrument of political government,-a very good thing to keep the people orderly and obedient. He has no faith in the vitality of religion unless she is fed from the government crib ; no trust in the voluntary system. The example of the Irish Catholics, who support their own Church-establishment voluntarily, and the intrusive Church of England by compulsion, and

« PreviousContinue »