« ZurückWeiter »
rivalled at the bar. If much the greatest professional reputation and emolument are any tests of excellence, he was the first lawyer, and as a public man he filled a large space with signal ability. William Pinckney declared he would rather be Erskine than any other man of his age; and whoever will compare his speeches with the best of their kind, may see reason for that perhaps extravagant estimate. Erskine, like Pinckney, was a professional enthusiast, which is a talent per se. When Dallas, afterwards Chief Justice, was rejoicing, at Erskine's, that the courts were just over, and he should have some repose, Erskine replied with great enthusiasm, and a great oath, that he should like to gnaw another brief immediately. After his short career as Chancellor, he deplored the peerage and pension which deprived him of so much greater professional gain, celebrity and enjoyment; for there is greater enjoyment in signal professional success than mere promotion, titular distinction, or elegant leisure.
I saw Fox in Paris, a fat greasy-looking man, with very shaggy eyebrows, dark complexion, thoughtful expression, plain, unfashionable dress, and a white hat,—which was then such a symbol of Whig or rather Radical politics, that none but a root and branch man would venture to wear it. A Tory or a gentleman would rather wear a turban, than that much despised sign of a party then in great degradation. An American Senator, just from England, was telling the news to Mr. Fox, to whom he was introduced, in the American Minister's apartments where they met, and stating various acts of the French which had given, he said, great offence in England, and must produce war. Fox listened, with his great jowl hanging, and his white hat squeezed up in his hand, without uttering a word, till the American was saying that the spirit of the people of England would not brook-the French misconduct, he was about to add, when Fox bluntly interrupted him by—“Don't talk to me of the spirit of the people of England; I'd as soon hear of the spirit of a dish-clout.” I was all attention to hear something great from so great a statesman, whose person surprised me, but whose politics I much admired, and of whose talents I had formed the loftiest notions. Both the manner and the matter of his first speech, therefore, amazed me much more than even his unintel. lectual appearance. An extremely familiar and even coarse way of talking is, I believe, more common among eminent men in other countries than this. Conversational display and ambition are not common in Europe, and well bred nowhere. I heard him once, and only once, in the House of Commons, I can hardly say speak, but begin to speak-for the gallery was cleared, and we were all turned out just as he had passed the shoal places after the difficulties of his launch, and was beginning to float in his natural eloquence. The outset was curious to an American. Fluency is so common here, that hesitation is almost unknown among all those who speak in public, whereas in England it is a rare talent; and in France, while every one talks well, very few can speak at all. Fox had the same white hat, not in his hand, but in both, which he worked and twisted about every way, as hatters do when making hats, plunging along with difficulty from sentence to sentence, either wanting words or having more than he knew what to do with. Without knowing who he was, an audience would pity him, and think he had better sit down than try what he could not accomplish. This very awkwardness at the outset, however, became a merit as he warmed and went on, for its seeming diffidence or difficulty gave additional charm to what followed, when a rapid flood of strong thoughts poured forth in fervid language with intense earnestness, perhaps the first of all oratorical attributes, and in which Fox is said to have excelled; a deep and anxious feeling of right imparted to the sympathies of others. It must be this that Demosthenes means by action; for mere words or gestures, without intense feeling, however rhetorical, cannot move as oratory must. Good sense, understanding the subject, is the first thing required of an English public speaker,-ability to tell hearers something they do not know, without which they will not attend to the most agreeable declamation. If we could exchange with them a quantity of fluency for its equivalent in information, both parties would be gainers, for many of their best speakers are tiresome prosers of good sense, as not a few of ours are mere ranters of bad English.
In these very slight sketches, European government, legislation, jurisprudence, commerce, agriculture, manufactures, society, education, and religion-the statistics of the old world presented in the philosophy of the new-are not attempted. They offer great and delightful fields of instructive dissertation for some American Montesquieu or De Tocqueville to elaborate. Unequal to such harvest, I have confined myself to the humble gleanings of mostly material objects, which every transient visit to Europe brings to view. I am admonished, by my present limits, to omit remarkable Holland, classic Flanders, romantic Switzerland, and transcendertal Germany, left to a long repose in my old portfolio, while I pass for a short conclusion to France, Paris and Bonaparte: that wonderful people, as Washington happily termed the French, in his fervid welcome of their first republican representative to this country, whose immense Dictator, as Lafayette with similar felicity entitled their incarnation in an Emperor, led them through an incredible Iliad of prodigious exploits; a people among whose inexplicable traits is that of inveterate stability of national, with extraordinary inconstancy of individual character, as signalized in every siage of their dramatic annals, from when Cæsar, in his Commentaries, characterized them, near two thousand years ago, as eager with unequalled alacrity fearlessly to rush into danger and defy death, but incapable of resisting reverses, throughout all their marvellous revolutions down to that astonishing discomfiture which sealed their Emperor's catastrophe and their overthrow; in prosperity more than men, in adversity less than women.
Their own and only epic, which, collated with that of Greece, of Rome, of Italy, of England, we might perhaps add of America, seems to prove that epie is not their element, but epigrammatic; their apostle Voltaire, admirable like them, having truly said, “Le Français qu'on attaque est à demi vaincu"—the Frenchman attacked is half
The self-destruction of Moscow and the capture of Paris are proofs wonderfully indicative of the characters of the least and the most refined people of Europe-proofs that patriotism, generosity and true courage are attributes of hoors and serfs, not of courtiers and nobles, and that the most absolute sovereigns are unsophisticated people. To describe France is to represent Paris, and to do that in his time is to delineate Bonaparte. France, said Chateaubriand, is a soldier, not a Napoleon of peace, as the certainly very remarkable King of the Prench was called by Talleyrand; but the little corporal of the violet flower and three-colored cockade, at whose name every crowned head trembled for twenty years of royal panic, while every veteran's heart leaped for joy, and every conscript, even though lamenting home, felt that Bonaparte would lead him to perform the prodigies and share thre glories of the great nation. To see him with his little cocked hat, gray surtout, and plain-hilted sword, on a beautiful Persian or Spanish horse, full of fire and movement, but perfeetly broke and gentle, like his master collected and delighting in tumult and commotion, richly though heavily caparisoned, as striking as David's picture of him erossing the Alps; a small, pallid, almost beardless midshipman-looking young man, with a languid Italian countenance, light restless eyes, full shoulders, finely turned limbs, very small hands and feet, handsome but not commanding appearanee, a bad though bold rider, (as if he had never been taught that gentlemanly accomplishment—the elegant Charles the Tenth was probably a much more graceful horseman, and rode a review better,) environed by cohorts of gorgeous officers as resplendent as he was plain, hardly one of them thirty years old, yet all veterans and many wounded; Beauharnois, a well-favored graceful youth, at the head of his huzzars, and Murat in the flower of fantastic manhood, king by right of dashing deeds and dress, before he was enthroned of modern chivalry, exquisite coxcomb in equipments, glittering with lace, feathers, gold, and military finery, profusely hearded before that mode became vulgar, perched on the most extraordinary charger that equestrian luxury could procure, his scarlet manc flowing in long glossy ringlets over broad parti-colored shoulders, his forelock parted in thick curls about odd eyes sparkling with fire, an animal altogether of most curious figure and action, as unlike the quiet simplicity of an English blood horse as Murat to an English plain-dressed English gentleman ;-together with all the rest of the indescribable particulars of the grand monthly parade in front of the Tuileries and Louvre, palaces of the Bourbons, close by the ruins caused by the infernal machine ;-was a memorable scene to fascinate young fancies with vivid and overwhelming recollections. There was an exultation about Bonaparte's military spectacles, at that day, when the campaigns of Italy, of Egypt and of Marengo were casting forward the shadows of the coming events of Austerlitz, Moscow, and Waterloo-a revolutionary rush of thought which flashed over the senses beyond the power of adequate description. When he reined up his horse to call a private from the ranks of a distinguished regiment, and chat with him before the army, the metropolis of Europe and of the world, the public communion of such comrades was an ecstacy that thrilled through France. Then seated with the reins loose on the horse's neck in front of the palace, in the utmost abandon of position, while the troops, with their exciting music, and the still greater stimulation of their tattered colors, filed before him, his amiable face beaming with a popular smile which seemed to grant every petition, as, holding by his stirrup, women, children and old men handed their memorials, which he passed to aids-de-camp-it was the culmination of the sun of martial glory. After the review he dismounted and entered the palace. I stood close by when, as be mounted the marble steps with a bound, he adjusted his dark. brown crop with his hand, as if, notwithstanding his plain and almost negligent dress, he wished to look well in the drawing-room that was to follow. There was even then, and it is said to have increased much afterwards, an awe of his presence which no bystander could resist, and which withered rank. Without size or commanding appearance, but graceful and gracious, though sudden and interrogative, he never failed, long before he was Emperor, to stand alone, while those with whom he deigned to converse stood aloof rud around him, his presence making a circle without master of ceretconies. With his coronation, the Emperor waxed fat ia every sense. Bonaparte became Napoleon. It may be that Americans, in the republican simplicity of transatlantic seclusion, are not competent judges of what was wise for the Dictator of the French, conqueror in so many battles, author of so many codes, and on all occasions so deeply read in knowledge of mankind. Otherwise we might say that Napoleon mistook the age, when he divorced his wife to beget an imperial dynasty, and fell short of his destiny in suffering emperors, kings, princes, and nobles to flatter him to his downfall. In common with ether visiters of the palace
of St. Cloud, I was shown the narrow bed in which we were told the First Consul always slept with Josephine, contrary to the general custom of Parisian married lfie; and we have all seen that his decline began from noble and imperial connexions, to seduce him into whose embraces no one contributed more than his first wise. Insatiate of family as well as personal renown, he fell, not conquered by others but by himself. The masses unchained, with freedom for their reward, all the princes and captains of Europe in crusade against one man, could not overcome him by military combination, superior bravery, greater numbers, or even by popular enthusiasm. Never was his vast genius more signalized than in the last struggle, when with a divided and discouraged nation, disaffected officers, undisciplined troops and inferior numbers, limited materials, and treachery in the government and the army, by consummate skill and unabated courage, he drew his forces together, surprised more numerous, better disciplined, completely prepared and veteran armies; and, day after day, army after army, attacked and defeated them all, till in the very moment of victory, when two hours more of success must have been the utter discomfiture of his enemies, for they were reduced and distressed without retreat, his star all at once fell from its sphere--his hour came—and, as if by destiny, he was defeated, routed, demolished, dethroned, imprisoned, and tortured to death. I have heard General Bernard describe his conduct at the battle of Waterloo, when he announced to the Emperor the arrival of the Prussians in the field—his unmoved self-possession and cheerful intrepidity in the midst of the shock that ensued, the French soldiers about the Emperor falling faster than it was possible to fill their ranks, and many of the bravest officers near his person in tears, not from any personal uneasiness, but the imminent perils of the chief they had been accustomed to idolize as a tutelar genius, invulnerable and invincible, of their unquestionable security and constant success. “He was like a god in battle!” said General Bernard with French vivacity. As the last of the Cæsars of whom old Galba, when he triumphed over him, said, not by our means, but his own over-action, “longa Cæsarum serie tumentem,"-swelling, bursting with the long pedigree of the Cæsars, -was over thrown; so this new aspirant for their imperial alliance, for which by disastrous infatuation he sacrificed every thing, fell not by the blows of monarchs or people, but his own. Bonaparte was his own executioner. None other was equal to the achievement, nor all others. Never were Te Deums in churches for victory more appropriate than for that of Waterloo over Napoleon: for it was the work of God, of over-ruling Providence, working by man's infatuation, and by apparently the smallest causes producing the greatest results. His dictatorship, as he called it, rather than reign, ended as it began, by his own act; and forty millions of de