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The poet says, with perfect good faith, in his Note on this passage—
'cette apparition de Bazine et de Childeric m'a ete Inspires par l'admirable Episode de Francoise 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 ' Epopee Chretienne,' 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 piu non vi leggemmo 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 Tabatiere.
Art. V.—I. 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, 6fc. from 1805 to 1823. Written
by himself. London. 1826. 'HEN 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 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 lightheadedness 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; whilst Joseph, quitting the capital, and carrying along with him the whole of his court, established his head-quarters at Valladolid. All these movements indicated an intention on the part of the enemy to assemble the bulk of his forces in the northern and north-eastern provinces; and the whole of April was accordingly consumed, by the French in filing from the Tagus to the Douro;— by the British, in watching these movements, and preparing to take advantage of them as soon as the fitting moment should arrive.
That moment came at length, and Lord Wellington, at the head of the finest and best appointed army which England has, perhaps, ever sent into the field, moved from his cantonments above the Tormes. His success was such as to surpass even his own expectations;—indeed the progress of the allied forces resembled, for a while, rather a triumphant march than the prosecution of a campaign on which the fate of kingdoms depended.
On the 24th of May, the advanced guard appeared before Salamanca; on the 26th that city was occupied; and the rear of the French so closely pressed, that several hundred prisoners remained in the hands of the pursuers. On the 27th and 28th, Sir Rowland Hill's corps took post between the Tormes and the Douro, whilst Lord Wellington in person, with the left wing of the army under the command of Sir Thomas Graham, proceeded towards Miranda-de-Douro. This point he reached on the 29th; and on the 31st, a position was taken up upon the Esla, the left resting on Tabara, in communication with the army of Gallicia, and the right in advance of Carvajales. But no pause was made here. On the 1st of June the huzzars entered Zamora; on the day following they took possession of Toro; and they executed their movements with so much alertness, that, besides sabring vast numbers, they succeeded in taking upwards of two hundred prisoners.
The French army, having collected into one mass, was now under the nominal command of King Joseph, Marshal Jourdan filling the responsible station of Major-General. It retreated from the last mentioned place in great disorder, leaving Valladolid, well filled with all kinds of military stores, to be taken possession of by the victors; and precipitately crossing the Carrion, took the road to Burgos, with the view, as it was imagined, of putting it in a posture of defence. In this movement the enemy were rapidly and closely followed by the British troops; one division of whom, under the command of Sir Rowland Hill, succeeded in bringing them to action near the Pisuerga; and so decisive was the issue of that affair, that Burgos being abandoned, and its fortifications blown up, the retreat continued, almost
without without a halt, till, on the 20th of June, the two armies encamped in sight of one another on the heights on either side of Vittoria. Thus, in the short space of one month, and without having suffered any severe privations, or any considerable loss of lives, the allied forces traversed, and delivered, the entire kingdom of Spain; with the exception of a small portion of the provinces of Biscay, the Asturias, and Catalonia.
To a progress so vast and so little impeded succeeded a victory not less glorious than any which has ever graced the British arms. The battle of Vittoria was fought; and the shattered remains of the French army, without artillery, without baggage, without money, fell back, through the passes of the Pyrenees, upon their own frontier. They crossed the Bidassoa, leaving powerful garrisons behind them in the cities of Pampluna and St. Sebastian's; and there, on the mountains which overhang the stream, they continued in a state of inaction till the return of Soult with new powers, and the reorganization of the materiel.
Of all the French marshals to whom it has been the fate of the Duke of Wellington to be opposed, Soult appears to have been by far the most active, and the most enterprizing. No sooner did he find himself at the head of the army than, blaming the precipitancy which had induced his predecessors to abandon so many favourable positions, and to evacuate so many tenable strong holds, he proposed to remedy, as far as circumstances would allow, the fatal errors of which they had been guilty. He began by encouraging his troops in a proclamation as spirited and well composed as could have been delivered; and he lost no time in following up the impression thus made upon them, by a renewal of offensive operations. Several sanguinary battles were fought among the vallies of the Pyrenees during the months of July and August; but, though the French general did wonders, and his troops, catching ardour from his example, surpassed themselves in valour and determination, the superior sagacity of the Duke of Wellington, and the cool courage of his soldiers, rendered every effort to force their position abortive.
In the mean while, the siege of St. Sebastian's, on the one side of the position, and the blockade of Pampluna on the other, were formed; and it is here that our Subaltern takes up the thread of his story. At first, as is well known, neither the one nor the other proceeded with any favourable results. An attempt, indeed, to carry the former fortress by storm on the 25th of July, was defeated with considerable loss; nor was any impression made upon the fortifications such as to authorize a second, till the last day of August. On that day the old breach being widened, and a new one effected, it was determined to risk, once more, the consequences