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Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 67, No. 411, January 1850
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD & SONS, EDINBURGH;
37 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON.
BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.
No. CCCCXI. JANUARY, 1850. Vol. LXVII.
|The Year of Reaction,||1|
|My Peninsular Medal. By an Old Peninsular.|
|The Dark Waggon. By Delta,||71|
|The Green Hand—A “Short” Yarn. Part VII.,||76|
|British Agriculture and Foreign Competition,||94|
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD & SONS, 45, GEORGE STREET;
AND 37, PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON.
To whom all communications (post paid) must be addressed.
SOLD BY ALL THE BOOKSELLERS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.
No. CCCCXI. JANUARY, 1850. Vol. LXVII.
THE YEAR OF REACTION.
If the year 1848—”THE YEAR OF REVOLUTIONS” was one pre-eminent among all others for the magnitude and interest of the events it brought forth, the year which has just expired—THE YEAR OF REACTION—is still more worthy of serious reflection, and affords subjects for more cheering meditation. If the first exhibited the whirlwind of anarchy let loose, the second showed the power by which it is restrained; if the former filled every heart with dread at the fierce passions which were developed, and the portentous events which occurred in the world, the latter afforded reason for profound thankfulness, at the silent but irresistible force with which Omnipotence overrules the wickedness of men, and restrains the madness of the people.
“Celsâ sedet Æolus arce,
Sceptra tenens, mollitque animos, et temperat iras.
Ni faciat, maria ac terras cœlumque profundum
Quippe ferant rapidi secum, verruntque per auras.
Sed Pater Omnipotens speluncis abdidit atris,
Hoc metuens; regemque dedit qui fœdere certo
Et premere et laxas sciret dare jussus habenas.”
The history of the world during those periods of convulsion, happily of very rare occurrence, when an eruption of popular passions takes place—when thrones are overturned, and the long-established order of things is subverted—is nothing else but the folly and wickedness of man warring against the wisdom of nature. All history demonstrates that there is a certain order of things which is favourable to human felicity—under which industry flourishes, population increases, the arts are encouraged, agriculture improves, general happiness is diffused. The basis of such a state of things is the security of property; the moving power which puts in motion the whole complicated machine of society, is the certainty that every man will enjoy the fruits of his toil. As clearly do past events demonstrate, that there is a state of things wherein the reverse of all this takes place; when industry is paralysed, population arrested, the arts languish, agriculture decays, general misery prevails. The chief cause of such a state of things is to be found in the insecurity of property, the dread that industry will not reap its appointed reward; but that external violence or domestic spoliation may interfere between the labourer and the fruits of his toil. When such a state of things arises from internal commotion, it is generally preceded by the warmest hopes, and the most unbounded anticipations of felicity. It is universally characterised by a resolute disregard of experience, and a universal passion for innovation in all the institutions of society, and all the relations of life. It constantly appeals to the generous affections: speaks of humanity, justice, and fraternity; proclaims mankind as brothers; and professes the warmest desire for general felicity, and the diminution of the sources of human suffering. It veils the advance of selfishness under the guise of generosity. Revolutions demonstrate that the homage which vice pays to virtue is not confined to individuals. The maxim of Rochefoucault applies also to nations. Its truth is never seen with such brightness as during the intensity of a revolution; and this demonstrates at once the wisdom which governs, and the selfishness which desolates the world.
So prone, however, are the bulk of mankind to delusion; so easily are they led away by expressions which appeal to their passions, or projects which seem to forward their interests; so little are the lessons of experience either known to, or heeded by, the immense majority of men, that we should be led to despair of the fortunes of the species, and dread in every age a repetition of the seductive passions which had desolated the one that had preceded it, were it not that a provision is made for the extinction of popular passion in the very first effects of its ebullition. It is in its effect upon property that the curb is found which restrains the madness of the people; by the insolvency it induces that the barrier is formed, which as a matter of necessity forces back society to its habitual forms and relations. In the complicated state of social relations in which we live, it is by the capital of the rich that the industry of the poor is put in motion; by their expenditure that it is alimented. However specious and alluring the projects may be which are brought forward by the popular leaders, they involve in them one source of weakness, which inevitably ere long paralyses all their influence. Directly or indirectly, they all tend to the destruction of property. To excite the passions of the working classes, they are obliged to hold out to them the prospect of a division of property, or such a system of taxation as practically amounts to the same thing: the immediate effect of which is a cessation of expenditure on the part of the affluent classes; a hoarding of capital; a run upon the banks for specie; universal scarcity of money, general distrust, and a fearful decrease of employment. These evils are first felt by the working classes, because, having no stock, they are affected by any diminution in their daily wages; and they are felt with the more bitterness that they immediately succeed extravagant hopes, and highly wrought expectations. Invariably the effects of revolutions are precisely the reverse of the predictions of its supporters. No man is insensible to his own suffering, however much he may be so to that of his predecessors; and thence the universal and general reaction which, sooner or later, takes place against revolutions.
That this reaction would take place to a certainty, in the end, with the French revolution of 1848, as it had done with all similar convulsions since the beginning of the world, could be doubted by none who had the least historical information: and in our first article on that event, within a few weeks of its occurrence, we distinctly foretold that this would be the case. But we confess we did not anticipate the rapidity with which the reaction has set in. Not two years have elapsed since the throne of Louis Philippe was overturned, and a republic proclaimed in Paris amidst the transports of the revolutionary party over all Europe, and the gaze in astonishment of all the world; and already the delusion is over, the transports are at an end, the Jacobins are silent, and the convulsed commonwealth is fast sinking back to its pristine monarchical form of government. Every country in Europe felt the shock. The passions were universally let loose; sanguinary wars arose on every side; and while the enlightened Free-traders of England were dreaming, amidst their cotton bales, of universal and perpetual peace, which should open to them the markets of the world, hostilities the most terrible, contests the most dreadful, dissensions the most implacable, broke out in all quarters. It was not merely the war of opinion which Mr Canning long ago prophesied as the next which would desolate Europe: to it was superadded the still more frightful contest of races. The Lombard rose against the German, the Bohemian against the Imperialist, the Hungarian against the Austrian; the Celt and the Saxon stood in arms against each other. Naples was rent in twain; a revolutionary state was established in Sicily; the supreme pontiff was dethroned at Rome; Piedmont joined the innovating party; Lombardy rose up against Austria, Bohemia was in arms against Vienna, the Magyars revived against the Germans the fierce hostility of five centuries; Prussia was revolutionised, Baden ravaged, Denmark invaded; the Poles could with difficulty be restrained amidst the general effervescence; the Irish openly made preparations for rebellion and separation from Great Britain. England itself was shaken: the gravity and practical tendency of the Anglo-Saxon character in part yielded to the general contagion. London was threatened with a revolutionary movement; the Chartists in all the manufacturing towns were prepared to follow the example; treasonable placards, calling on the people to rise, were to be seen on all sides; and the mighty conqueror who had struck down Napoleon exerted his consummate skill in baffling the rebellion of his own countrymen, and won a victory over anarchy not less momentous than that of Waterloo, and not the less memorable that it did not cost a drop of human blood.
What a contrast, within the short period of eighteen months, did Europe afterwards exhibit! France, the centre of impulsion to the civilised world, was restrained; the demon of anarchy was crushed in its birthplace; the visions of the Socialists had been extinguished in the blood of the barricades. Dispersed, dejected, in despair, the heroes of February were languishing in exile, or mourning in prison the blasting of their hopes, the ruin of their prospects, the unveiling of their sophistries. Revolution had been crushed without the effusion of blood in Berlin: law had regained its ascendency; rebellion had quailed before the undaunted aspect of the defenders of order and the throne. Naples had regained the dominion of Sicily; the arms of France had restored the Pope at Rome; the Eternal City had yielded to the assault of the soldiers of Louis Napoleon. Austria had regained her ascendency in Italy; the perfidious aggression of Charles Albert had been signally chastised by the skill and determination of the veteran Radetsky; Milan was again the seat of Imperial government; the dream of a Venetian republic had passed away, and the Place of St Mark again beheld the double-headed eagle of Austria at the summit of its domes. Baden was conquered, Saxony pacified; the fumes of revolutionary aggression in Schleswig had been dissipated by the firmness of Denmark, and the ready, although unexerted, support of Russia. Poland was overawed by the Colossus of the North; and even the heroic valour of the Magyars, so often in happier days the bulwark of the Cross, had yielded to that loyalty and tenacity of purpose which has so long distinguished the Austrian people, joined and aided by the support which, on this as on many previous occasions, Russia has afforded to the cause of order in Europe. Though last, not least, Great Britain was pacified: the dreams of the Socialists, the treason of the Chartists, had recoiled before the energy of a people yet on the whole loyal and united. Ireland, blasted by the triple curse of rebellion, pestilence, and famine, had ceased to be an object of disquietude to England, save from the incessant misery which it exhibited; and its furious patriots, abandoning in multitudes the land of their birth, were carrying into Transatlantic regions those principles of anarchy, and deathless hatred at civilisation, which had so long laid waste their own country.
Acknowledging, as all must do, with devout thankfulness, that it is to the Great Disposer of events that we are to ascribe so marvellous a DELIVERANCE FROM EVIL—so blessed an escape from a fate which would have renewed, in Europe, a devastation as wide-spread, and darkness as thick, as occurred during the middle ages—it may yet, humanly speaking, be discerned how it is that our salvation has been effected. The days of miracles are past; the law is not now delivered amidst the thunders of Mount Sinai; the walls of fortresses do not fall down at the sound of the Lord’s trumpet; there is no longer a chosen people, over whose safety the eye of Omnipotence watches, and whom, in the last extremity, the destroying angel rescues from their enemies. The direction of human affairs by Supreme Wisdom; the coercion of wickedness; the support of virtue; the ceaseless advance of the race of man, amidst all the folly and selfishness with which its concerns are conducted, have not, indeed, passed away: all these are in as complete operation now as when the Red Sea opened to the retreating Israelites, or the walls of Jericho fell before the blast of Joshua’s trumpet, or the rending of the vail of the Temple announced that the era had commenced when the whole human race was to be admitted to the sanctuary of the temple. But it is by human means alone that Providence now acts; it is by general laws that the affairs of men are regulated. The agents of Omnipotence are the moving principles of the human heart: the safeguards against ruin are to be found in the barriers which, in injured interests or counteracting passions, are raised up amidst the agitated multitude, against the further progress of devastation. It is not from oblivion, therefore, but with a constant recognition of Divine superintendence, that we shall now endeavour to trace out the means by which the most alarming moral pestilence which ever appeared in modern times has been arrested; the happiness of Europe saved, for the time at least, from the destruction by which it was menaced—from the earthquake in its own bosom; and the progress of real freedom throughout the world prevented from being blasted by the selfish ambition or insane delusions of the demagogues who, for a time, got possession of its current.
The first circumstance which must strike every observer, in the contemplation of the terrible crisis through which we have passed, is, that the destruction with which we were threatened was mainly, if not entirely, owing to want of moral courage on the part of the depositaries of power. The Revolution in Paris, it is well known, owed its success entirely to the pusillanimity of the men of the royal family. Louis Philippe, old and enfeebled by disease, was paralysed by a still more fatal source of weakness—the consciousness of a throne won by treason—the terror inspired by the sight of the barricades, behind which his own government had been constructed. His sons who were present showed that the Orleans family had lost, with the possession of a usurped throne, the courage which, for several generations, had constituted the only virtue of their race. The King of Prussia abandoned the contest in Berlin in the moment of victory—a nervous reluctance to the shedding of blood paralysed, as it had done in the days of Louis XVI., the defenders of the throne. In Austria, the known imbecility, physical and moral, of the emperor, rendered him wholly unequal to the crisis in which he was placed—delivered over the empire, undefended, to a set of revolutionary murderers, and rendered a change in the reigning sovereign indispensable. In Rome, the Pope himself began the movement—he first headed the reform crusade; and whatever his unhappy subjects have since suffered is to be ascribed to his blind delusion and weak concessions. Such was the conduct of the kings of Europe—such the front which our sex in high places opposed to the revolutionary tempest. But women often, in the last extremity, exhibit a courage which puts to shame the pusillanimity of the men by whom they are surrounded; and never was this more signally evinced than in the present instance. The Queen of France tried in vain, at the Tuileries, to inspire her husband with her own heroic spirit; the Duchess of Orleans showed it in front of levelled muskets in the Chamber of Deputies; and, that order is still preserved in our country, is to be ascribed in no small degree to the firm conduct of the sovereign on the throne, and the determination with which she inspired her government to risk everything rather than concede one iota to the revolutionists.
As it was the opposite conduct from this, and the moral weakness of the depositaries of power, which mainly induced the revolutions of 1848, and rendered them so formidable, so those causes which have at length arrested that terrible convulsion seem to have been no other but the moral laws of nature, destined for the correction of wickedness and the coercion of passion, when they have risen to such a pitch as seriously to endanger the existence of society. And, without presuming to scan too deeply the intentions of Providence, or the great system by which evil is brought out of good, and an irresistible power says to the madness of the people, as to the storms of the ocean, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be staid,” we may probably discover, humanly speaking, the means by which the evil has been arrested.
The first circumstance which has produced the reaction, and arrested the progress of evil so much more rapidly than was the case in the former great convulsion, is the memory of that convulsion itself. It is no doubt true, that every generation is taught by its own and none by its predecessors’ sufferings; but, in the case of the first French Revolution, the suffering was so long-continued and dreadful, that the memory of it descended to the next generation. It was impossible that the sons of the men who had been guillotined, exiled, or mown down by the conscription, who had seen their estates and honours torn from them by the ruthless hand of Revolutionary violence, should not retain a vivid sense of the sufferings they had experienced, and the wrongs they had undergone. All classes, not excluding even those who had been most ardent and active in support of the first Revolution, had writhed alike under the calamities and exactions of the latter years of the war, and the ignominious conquest in which it had terminated, which was only felt the more keenly from the unparalleled triumphs to which the nation had so long been habituated. Add to this, that the attention of all the intelligent classes of society in Europe generally, and in France in particular, had been long, and to an extent of which in this country we can scarcely form an idea, riveted on the events of the first Revolution. The Reign of Terror was not forgotten; the prophecy of the historian proved true:—”A second French Revolution, of the same character as the former, and the age in which it is to arise must be ignorant of the first.” Its heartstirring incidents, its mournful catastrophes, its tragic events, its heroic virtue, its a