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of this epic : the situation is in itself, no one can deny, a very noble and affecting one. The following is the use made of it by M. Parseval.
* Les ordres du monarque assemblent son conseil. Isembure, au milieu d'un pompeux appareil, Sort du cloître, et bientôt des grands environnée, Par les mains d'un époux resplendit couronnée. Le Héros LUI soURIT, lui fait UN DoUx AccUEIL : Toute sA coUR L'IMITE, et, sortant d'un long deuil, AU RANG QU'ELLE A PERDU LA REINE EsT REPLACÉE'! ! ! * Les dénombrements,' says M. Parseval, * qui font une partie nécessaire de l'épopée, ont peu d'attraits pour les lecteurs: et c'est là surtout que le poëte doit épuiser toutes les ressources de l'art d'écrire, pour obtenir leur attention.' The above is part of the note upon the passage, in which M. Parseval describes the army of King John at the battle of Bovines; to wit :
* Les uns viennent du nord de la riche Angleterre
Not satisfied with surpassing Homer and Virgil in this splendid manner, M. Parseval takes various opportunities of coming to close quarters with the most celebrated poets of modern days. We request particular attention to the following passage from Chant VII. in which he enters the lists with Milton and transports us to the Empyrean. |
* Thibaut dans un air pur
En cascades s'épanche, en nappes se déroule, E t
Et dont les ruisseaux d'or, de nacre, et de saphir, Surpassent en éclat tous les trésors d'Ophir. Pareilles, sur sa rive, à de blanches statues, De leur seule pudeur les saintes revêtues, Se plongeoient à l'envi dans son brillant canal, Dont les eaux trahissoient leur éclat virginal. Thibaut voit ces torrens balancer dans leur onde Clotilde, Rosalie, Ursule, Radegonde, Qui nagent, s'inondant de ces flots précieux, Brillante effusion du Souverain des cieux.' Recommending these * flots précieux,'* flots brillants,'* brillants canals' and * brillantes effusions' to the leisurely consideration of our readers, we request them to pass with us for a moment to Chant XI. where Philippe-Auguste is gratified with a survey of the apparitions of all his royal predecessors on the throne of France, and among the rest those of Childeric and his paramour Bazine.
* Cette ombre que tu vois, lui dit la plus jeune ombre,
C C 3 The
The poet says, with perfect good faith, in his Note on this passage— ‘ cette apparition de Bazine et de Childéric m'a €té InspIREE par l'admirable Episode de Françoise de Rimini dans l'Enfer du Dante. Inspiration, indeed! We certainly thought that a living genius of our own country had succeeded in degrading the story of Francesca of Rimini as far as the powers of human bathos could plunge, but we must admit that this new master of the ‘Epopée Chrétienne,’ as he continually calls it, has achieved a still baser degree of profanation. A great authority says; * In poetry the height we know; 'Tis only infinite below:— For instance:–when we rashly think No rhymer can like Welsted sink, Concanen, more aspiring bard, Soars downwards deeper by a yard.' The introduction of Solomon for Launcelot, and the muddy murder of quel giorno più non vileggemmo avante’ in the three last lines we have quoted from M. Parseval, are, however, we must still hope, specimens of the absolute ne plus infra. In an earlier part of this epic poem the scene between Hubert and Arthur, in Shakspeare's King John, inspires Monsieur Parseval with a passage quite as abominable, and so much longer, that we cannot think of transcribing it. But indeed our readers may, probably, be of our own opinion: namely, that we have already given too much space to a performance in which, after all, there is at least as much to provoke pity as merriment. The chief faults revealed by his ‘grand jour de l'impression’ are, he may depend upon it, never once alluded to in the voluminous notes of this laureate of the Tabatière.
ART. V.—1. The Subaltern. 8vo. Edinburgh. 1825. 2. The Adventures of a Young Rifleman in the French and English Armies during the War in Spain and Portugal, from
1806 to 1816. Written by himself. London. 1826. 3. Adventures of a French Serjeant, during his Campaigns in Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, &c. from 1805 to 1823. Written
by himself. London. 1826.
WHEN we consider of what materials the British army is composed; that its officers are, for the most part, and have long been, gentlemen, and men of at least some education; we cannot help experiencing both regret and surprize at the total absence of literary ambition which appears generally to affect them. There is perhaps no species of composition which the reading reading public is disposed to treat with greater lenity, certainly none better calculated to interest and amuse, than a Military Memoir. The soldier necessarily meets, in the course of his active career, with so many wild adventures; he sees human nature under modifications so multifarious and so grotesque;—the horrible and the ludicrous, the savage and the pathetic, fall in his way so frequently, and in such picturesque combinations and juxtapositions,—that if he have but the good taste to shun affectation, and to tell his tale in plain intelligible language, it appears to us to be the next thing to impossible, that he should not tell it pleasantly;-yet it cannot be denied that our own literature is extremely poor in books of this class. We must go back to the days of native good faith—when such men as Munro described almost without suspecting that there was any art in description—ere we can catch even a glimpse of the realities of warfare, set forth at first hand by any professed author fairly and honestly, as we find them in the ‘Recollections of the Peninsula,’ and in the still abler volume which we have named at the head of our paper, “The Subaltern.” The traits of this kind that enliven our more recent works of history have been painfully accumulated from the conversation or private letters of individuals, who never dreamt of authorship. Defoe made happy use of such materials in his Cavalier, and Swift in his Memoir of Captain Crichton; but what would we not give to have the great civil war of England, or even the contests in which Crichton had a part, painted by an eye-witness, with that expansion and picturesque truth of detail, which this Subaltern has bestowed upon one little fragment of the peninsular campaigns of the Duke of Wellington | Captain Carleton's account of his Spanish campaigns in the time of Peterborough is a valuable and an interesting work, and deserves the compliment that Dr. Johnson paid to it; yet considering what Carleton's materials were, his performance must be pronounced jejune in the extreme, when compared with the volume now before us. The author (now known to be Mr. Gleig) served during but a short period of the late war in Spain, and his rank was such, that he could see but little of what was actually done by the army while he belonged to it. Under these circumstances, he has had nevertheless the good sense to describe nothing but what he did witness; and he does this so well, that we know no other book from which the civilian reader is likely to derive so distinct a notion of the actual employments and feelings of an individual British regimental officer during a hard fought campaign. It has, perhaps, been of advantage to the book, that the writer C C 4 WaS
was only for a short time a soldier. He was seduced, we understand, from his college at Oxford, by the spirit-stirring gazettes of 1812—joined the army in the Peninsula during the summer of 1813—served on till after the battle of Waterloo, and having by that time sufficiently gratified his love of adventure, returned to his university, and resumed the studies of the profession for which he had originally been destined. From the quiet and well-ordered existence of an English vicarage, the quondam subaltern, it may be easily imagined, looks back in a calm and contemplative mood to the scenes of violent excitement in which a part of his life was passed; his mind retraces them as it might the visions of some strange dream; it seems as if he even wrote minutely, in order to convince himself that he was not writing a fiction. The narrative accordingly reflects with honesty and openness the mirth and lightheartedness of the young campaigner in his quarters, and the intense and grim interest which possesses him in the hour of the battle or the breach; but a strain of serious enough reflection appears to mingle in the writer's thoughts throughout, however much he tries to conceal it. He compels himself to record not only what he did but what he felt; and the delight which the kindest and noblest dispositions can take in employments productive of so much suffering and desolation is remembered in a spirit of sufficient sobriety. The author would, we think, have done well to prefix to this volume a brief sketch of the condition and fortunes of the British army during the period of active operations which immediately preceded his joining it, and we shall attempt to do what he has neglected, in order that our readers may enter, as we ourselves have entered, into the spirit of his tale. The month of May, 1813, was already drawing to a close, when Lord Wellington opened a campaign which, beginning at the borders of Portugal, came not to a conclusion till the allied tents were pitched upon the soil of France. Previous to the commencement of that campaign the disastrous results of Buonaparte's mad expedition into Russia had begun sensibly to affect the resources of the French army in Spain. Not only was it impossible any longer to reinforce that army by fresh levies; but whole divisions of its best troops, with some of its ablest generals, were withdrawn—at a period when least of all, since the commencement of the arduous struggle, veteran troops and efficient commanders could be spared. Soult, taking with him no fewer than 30,000 men, returned into France: La Mancha was in consequence evacuated; the Army of the South, as it was called, concentrated between Talavera, Madrid, and Toledo;