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Alison, in his lugubrious picture of the forlorn and hopeless condition of England, ever since the middle classes have been permitted to have a voice in Parliament, concludes by expressing the opinion that not twenty thousand men, or ten ships of the line, can now be brought to guard the coast from invasion, London from capture, and the British Empire from destruction. Some allowances must be made for the source of this gloomy picture; but it is conceded on all sides, that England has no adequate force to resist the attack of an army so numerous and well disciplined as that of France; and the Duke of Wellington died in the belief that an attack was meditated. In fact, under any other king than Louis Philippe, who was ruinously devoted to an English alliance, France would have gone to war in 1831, when England assumed a much higher diplomatic tone than her resources warranted in the Belgian question; or in 1840, when she succeeded for a while in excluding France from the Conference at London ; or in 1846, when she chose to consider herself aggrieved at the Montpensier marriage. The continental policy of Eng. land has been very peculiar. Amicted with an incontrollable propensity for meddling with every question, --- now stirring up the subjects to rebellion, now congratulating the sovereigns upon the successful stifling of popular demonstrations, - one wonders what has kept her from war so long. The secret of her impunity is, that there are two parties always contending for place, and it is the sole mission of the “opposition ” to oppose whatever is proposed by the government. Thus, if the agent of one ministry is ordered to leave a country for fomenting treason among its subjects, the next ministry volunteers to set spies upon refugees in London ; and it is in this convenient system that the government takes refuge whenever the horizon looks dark. There is no consistency in her machinations. An inveterate propagandist of institutions which do not seem to tend to any practical result but the pauperism of the many for the benefit of the few, perpetually canting about a hypothetical freedom of the subject, and yet always ready to suspend the habeas corpus act the moment the ministerial majority is strong enough to assert that the country is in danger, it is not surprising that her foreign policy is treach
erous and dangerous to her allies. She devastated the Peninsula under a pretext of liberating it, but really to afford a diversion, while the powers she had subsidized attacked Napoleon in Germany. By a succession of well-fought actions and well-managed retreats, she effected her purpose ; Spain regained her chaste and able Bourbons, the Inquisition, and the guerilla bandits; the cause of religion was also a gainer, (according to Sir Archibald Alison, England has received an apostolical mission to spread the gospel,) to the extent of an embroidered petticoat for the Virgin, the handiwork of the royal Ferdinand. Not content, however, with having restored these blessings, she soon began to undermine the government she had placed upon the throne, and insidiously labored for the dismemberment of its possessions. The country which declaimed so loudly against Cuban “filibustering,” which attempted to stigmatize Americans who protected the Canadian refugees as pirates, actually sent thousands of the veterans of the Peninsular War to sever from the dominion of a country, with whom she professed to be at peace, her entire South American provinces, for no other object than to open a trade for her own merchants. Money was sent over in profusion. Between the years 1820 and 1840, England spent £140,000,000 for this purpose, which has never been repaid. Moreover, an expedition sailed from British harbors in open day, commanded by “ Sir Gregor McGregor,” and took possession, under the British flag, of Porto Bello, in South America, then in the undisturbed possession of a Spanish force, the two countries being, as Spain foolishly supposed, at peace. Still later, an army of shop-boys and pickpockets, with a few half-pay officers, under the imposing title (et præterea nihil) of the “ British Legion,” went over into Spain, to aid in keeping up a murderous war of factions, which then disgraced and paralyzed the unhappy realm of Ferdinand and Isabella.
We turn now to a brief examination of the new volume of the “ History of Europe,” by Sir Archibald Alison, and hasten to say at the outset, that, whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the peculiar crotchets of the author, the statisics, dates, parliamentary debates, and diplomatic controversies are stated with pains and with fairness throughout the
work. There, however, all praise must end. The bitterest enemy of England and her institutions could not have projected a cleverer satire upon the motives of the persons who are most conspicuous in the book. The odious policy of Pitt and Castlereagh, and the passive meanness of the Regent, are paraded with a boastfulness as shocking to the democratic tendencies of the age, as it is mortifying to the great and increasing liberal party of Great Britain. We had thought that the perverseness of man could not go farther in blind adulation of the patrician, and unfeeling denunciation of the popular, elements in government, than Alison went in his first Part. He then undertook to show the advantages of an oligarchy; he ascribed the twenty years' war to the democracy of France, instead of the aristocracy of England, to whom alone it was due. The worst thing was his attempt to prove the advantages of war; he recounts the blessings of peace, but maintains that, in its prosperity, are to be found “the hardhearted master and the reckless servant, the princely landlord and the destitute tenant, the profligate husband and the faithless wife, et corrumpere et corrumpi seculum vocatur.” rican readers, not having had the advantage of that refined society from whose morals this picture is drawn, may be pardoned if, not questioning the accuracy of the picture, they fail to admit its universal application as an argument. On the other hand, argues Alison, war has indeed the inconveniences of ravaged fields and sacked cities, slaughtered multitudes, famished groups, the tears of the widow, and the groans of the fatherless; but what is all this to the patriotism, self-denial, and disinterestedness so often witnessed in such suffering? Peace gives men a larger share of the enjoyments of this world; but war "renders them fitter for a future state." That is to say, a simple Quakeress, like Elizabeth Fry, who gives her whole lifetime to relieve the sorrows of humanity, may be able to enjoy her dinner or her night's rest; but the politician, who, because he thinks his own country secure from retribution, never permits his neighbors to be at peace, he, and the brutalized instruments of his ambition and selfishness, are the true characters for the kingdom of Heaven! We neither misunderstand nor mistate Sir Archibald Alison upon this
point; it stands in the black and white of the concluding chapter of his first series.
We pass over the exclusively English question of the corn laws and the reform bill of 1832, which the author touches upon in his opening chapter. We may be permitted to think, however, that some advantages have followed the introduction of cheap bread, which he is not prepared to admit; and we cannot but trust that some of the spectres which he has conjured up, as the legitimate effects of the partial destruction of the rotten boroughs, exist nowhere but in his perturbed ima. gination. But we find some consolation in the grand schemes for the amelioration of mankind in general, through the ag. grandizement of that English aristocracy which now hails Sir Archibald Alison as a brother, though they look rather oddly in a production of the nineteenth century: these schemes are the abolition of jury trials and of popular education. The statistics brought to bear upon the latter point are appalling. Sir Archibald has shown, beyond all cavil, that the gallows and the spelling-book should go together; for if you educate a man, you will sooner or later have to bang him. Apprehensive of being led to commit some horrible crime, (for we rarely venture to dispute the author's figures,) we had begun to congratulate ourselves upon our limited amount of information, and to take measures for the gradual diminution of our small stock of useful knowledge, when the “ Edinburgh ” came to our relief, by showing that, for once, Sir Archibald was wrong in his estimates, and that the educated criminals, instead of being double the number of the uneducated, were only in the proportion of one to seven. We should really like to know what sort of image is reflected in the mind of Sir Archibald Alison while he is writing his disquisition upon " the people.” The theatrical conception of a Frenchman is an improved species of monkey, who fiddles, dances, and curls hair, speaking broken English on his own soil, withering up at any sort of hostile demonstration against his person, and convulsed by paroxysms of fear at the distant melo-dramatic roar of the British Tar. No man could write as Alison does if he had not a corresponding idea of the people. Something in a smock-frock, that swills beer and “doms the parson” by day, and poaches pheasants and burns ricks by night, is evidently the authentic Alisonian idea of every unfortunate being who has not the honor of belonging to the landed gentry of England.
It is not to be expected, therefore, that a gentleman of Sir Archibald Alison's habits of thought will have a very exalted opinion of America, or that what he condescends to say of us will be very amiable or very correct. The single chapter in the first series devoted to America was a farrago of nonsensical libel from beginning to end. The marginal references run thus:-“ Total absence of originality or independence of thought;" “ Spoliation of the commercial classes already commenced ;” “Insecurity of life and order in America ;" “ Peculiarity of American cruelties in this respect;” “ External weakness [!] of the Americans ;” “ Banishment of higher talent from the public service;” “ Dependency of the bench,” &c., &c. The subject of American manners, so lucrative a theme for the London hacks, Alison dismissed in a single sentence; 6. The manners of the Americans are the manners of Great Britain, minus the aristocracy, the landowners, the army, and the established church.” The minus quantity is very suggestive; but, as the author evidently intended to compliment us for approaching so near to decency, we forbear any comments.
In the first chapter of the new volume, which is an outline of the whole field that the new series is to cover, Sir Archibald again ventures upon American ground. In order to show the ill effects of democratic institutions, he informs the British public that “the principal States of the Union have, by common consent, repudiated their State debts as soon as the storms of adversity blew, resuming payment only in a few instances, when the sale of lands wrested from the Indians afforded them the means of doing so, without recurring to the dreaded horrors of direct taxation.” Considering that to broach a project for the payment of the National Debt of England would be cause enough to send a man to Bedlam in English medical jurisprudence, perhaps this is rather severer language, with regard to the defalcation of Mississippi, than Sir Archibald is entitled to use; his banker would have given him a better account of American investments. We learn, more