THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE BRISTISH EMPIRE.
The Fairy Tale of the English Lost Paradise
The story of Waterloo forms the natural and appriate conclusion of the long and exciting chapter of European history by which it is preceded. The dark after war cloud, which had lowered for a quarter of a century over Europe, rolled away with the last wreath of smoke which hung over Napoleon’s defeated and disorganised host. A long and cruel war was to be followed by a long and remarkable peace. A brighter dawn was to usher in a happier day. Countries, which had again and again been disfigured by the ruinous havoc of advancing and retreating battalions, were to smile anew. Men, who had been born and reared to manhood to feed the armies, which ambition had enrolled or patriotism had organised, were to be permitted to devote their energies and abilities to the prosecution of peaceful industries. The ocean, the common thoroughfare of a world, was again to be opened to the flags of every nation. The old rivalry in arms was to be succeeded by a new rivalry in trade and industry. The ploughshare had been beaten, twenty-four years before, into the sword ; the sword was to be converted into a pruning-hook.
The face of Europe had been rudely disfigured by the bloodshed and the burnings, the sieges and the massacres, which had distinguished the twenty-four preceding years; but the map of Europe had not been materially changed by the victories and defeats which had taken place in the period. The conqueror of the world had been driven back within his original boundaries, and the title which arms had won had been lost in the shock of arms. The five great powers of Europe at the commencement of the war remained the five great powers at its close. Millions of lives had been wasted; untold treasure had been expended; the progress of civilisation had been checked; nearly every power on the Continent had been humbled in succession; and nearly every continental power found itself, at the close of the struggle, in very much the same position which it had occupied at its commencement.
France had suffered more severely, and benefited more largely, than any other power from the protracted warfare which she herself had provoked. France seems destined by nature to occupy the first place among the nations of the Continent. The fertility of her soil, the excellence of her climate, the convenience of her situation, the capability of her harbours, the genius of her people, combine to give her a predominance in war and an advantage in trade. Three times in her history, under the guidance of wise monarchs, she has dictated laws to the whole of Europe. Again and again in her history the follies of her rulers have left her open to her enemies, or exposed her to the still more destructive effects of civil war. A hundred years before the great revolution of the eighteenth century a powerful monarch, admirably served by a succession of able ministers, had raised France to a position of unprecedented importance and power. Richelieu and Mazarin had increased the influence of their country abroad; Colbert had studded it with lasting monuments of the internal prosperity which he had himself fostered; Turenne and Luxembourg had won for its arms the repiitation of invincibility; the genius of Vauban had protected its territory with fortresses which seemed impregnable. The distant Russian had no power to interfere in the politics of Western Europe; the Austrian Caesar was compelled to defer to the Grand Monarque; Spain, hopelessly degenerate, was expecting, on the death of its weak king, the calamity on a disputed succession; England was fretting under the corrupt government of the restored Stuarts. France, in one sentence, was supreme in Europe; no two powers were capable of combining against her; no single nation would venture to dispute the will of the French king.
If Louis were absolute abroad, he was still more absolute in his own dominions. The will of the king was the law of the land; and the people submitted, like sheep to a shepherd, to the orders of their ruler. It was enough for them that they participated in the glories which his arms had achieved, that they witnessed the grandeur with which he was surrounded. Secure under his strong arm, they were able to prosecute their own industries with success. They were, indeed, excluded from all share in the administration of the State, or even of the municipalities in which they resided, but the firm and intelligent government of the king and of his earlier ministers reconciled them to their own political annihilation.
Fifteen years before the close of the seventeenth century the peace of the monarchy was disturbed by an arbitrary act of the monarch. The Huguenots, who comprised the most industrious and most orderly of the French, enjoyed virtual liberty, under the Edict of Nantes. The edict had been in force for nearly a century, when it was rudely revoked by the arbitrary act of Louis XIV. Hundreds of thousands of French men and women were compelled to choose between the sacrifice of their faith and the abandonment of their country, and in an evil hour for France hundreds of thousands accepted the hard alternative and left her shores. France was deprived of the most independent and industrious of her population, and had no means of repairing the loss which bigotry had inflicted on her. The loss was the more serious because internal weakness was followed by external complications. The death of the King of Spain let loose once more the dogs of war on Europe, though the circumstances under which the new war broke out differed widely from those under which the last war had closed. England, no longer chafing under a corrupt government, had chosen for a sovereign the first diplomatist in Europe. Her armies, composed of troops of many nations, were under the command of the first soldier of his age. The policy of William survived his life; the genius of Marlborough defied the best efforts of the Grand Monarque and his generals. Louis had to consent to a ruinous peace. He had to contemplate a bankrupt exchequer. The situation was grave in the extreme. The autocracy of the king had been tolerated when his rule was successful; its permanence was threatened when success no longer followed his banners. It required men to save a government which had fallen into disrepute, and, unfortunately for the Bourbons, they depended in the hour of their need on women. Maintenon and Pompadour swayed the policy of Louis XlV and Louis XV. The debauchery of the court, the corruption of the government, the extravagance of the administration, the accumulation of debt, the increase of taxation, all paved the way for the inevitable event. Autocracy stood firm till ruin overtook it, and then surrendered at discretion by summoning the States General.
The course which the Revolution took was horrible, but its excesses may more justly be attributed to the previous conduct of the court than to the ferocity of the people. The farther the arrow is drawn back the farther it will fly, the harder the blow the stronger the rebound. The strength of reaction is measured by the force of the movement which it succeeds. For centuries the people of France had been regarded, by the Government as so many cattle: they had been deprived of every privilege : they had borne exclusively the entire weight of the national taxation. They suddenly found themselves in possession of almost absolute power. They used it to accomplish many wise reforms, whose wisdom was forgotten amidst the extravagance and cruelty which imfortunately succeeded them. The force of the flood swept away the men who had raised the sluice gates. The mild despotism of the Bourbons was followed by the sanguinary despotism of the people. France lay weltering in its own blood, and the rest of Europe stood aghast at the spectacle. The inevitable reaction again came. The Terrorists succumbed before a new revolution. The nation, horrified at the use which its delegates had made of the power which had been, entrusted to them, transferred the supreme authority to an oligarchy. The oligarchical Directory gave way, in its turn, to a Consulate; the Consulate to an Empire. France, after all her sacrifices, was still at the mercy of one man. She had exchanged a Log for a Stork—a Bourbon for a Napoleon.
The events, which had raised an artillery colonel to the throne of France, were partly attributable to the policy which the other nations of Europe pursued at the juncture. Austria and Prussia, Russia and Great Britain, had no concern with the internal affairs of France. But emperors and kings, who owed their thrones to what they were pleased to call the grace of God, were reluctant to admit that a monarch only reigned by the grace of his people. Austria and Prussia joined hands to march on Paris and restore a rightful king to his throne. In an evil hour for his country, Pitt joined the confederacy against France. The allies imagined that they had an easy task before them, and that the French rustics would be unable to resist the onslaught of regular troops; but oldfashioned tactics were powerless before the new force to which France had given birth. The great revolutionary wave swept the armies of its opponents, as it had already swept the émigrés, from the soil of France. The confederacy of all Europe had had the effect of consolidating the power which it bad been intended to subdue. Party spirit had yielded to the calls of patriotism: division had been replaced by union; and the very steps, which had been taken to replace the monarchy, had made the restoration of the monarchy impracticable.
From the hour at which the French peasants learned to stand at Valmy, the course of the Revolution was decided. Revolutionary excess found a vent in the passion for military aggrandisement, and France turned against her neighbours the arms which she had been employing against her own citizens. From that hour the neutrality of Europe became impossible. From being the attacked, France became the attacking party. From that hour, too, it became certain that France would sooner or later pass under the rule of a successful soldier, and she found in Napoleon one of the most successful soldiers that the world has ever seen. It would be useless to recapitulate here the brilliant achievements which the French accomplished under the guidance of their consul and their emperor. For fifteen years no nation seemed capable of withstanding his power, no general seemed able to cope with his daring genius. All Europe was overrun by the French armies; all Europe trembled at the nod of the French emperor. But the gigantic conquests of the conqueror prepared the way for his fall. The supplies from which he drew his armies were exhausted by the prodigal use which he made of them. A disastrous expedition, resulting in the total destruction of the Grand Army, hastened the collapse which would otherwise have approached more slowly. Europe rose from its despair as the ruins of Napoleon’s hosts rolled back from Russia, and Leipsic and Waterloo stripped France of all her conquests, and deprived Napoleon of all his authority.
But, though France had been driven back into her old boundaries, though the legitimate king had been restored to the throne of his ancestors by the bayonets of foreign soldier’s, something had been gained by the twentyfive years of alternate suffering and glory through which the nation had passed. The old court corruption, the old feudal privileges, the old oppressions, the corvées, the tithings, the quarterings of troops, had been swept away never to return. A Bourbon was again supreme, but his supremacy was very different from that of his ancestors. A parliament, elected by a popular suffrage, imposed some kind of control on the actions of his ministers, and the king by the grace of God and the help of foreign soldiery depended for the retention of his power on the favour of his people.
If Austria had suffered less severely than France, she Austria, had won less glory. If the House of Hapsburg still retained its hereditary possessions, it had lost the rich Netherlands which had been ceded to it at Utrecht a century before; it had lost the proud position in central Europe which its representative occupied as Emperor of Germany. At the outbreak of the revolutionary war, three centuries had passed since the election of Maximilian of Austria to the imperial throne. At the close of the revolutionary war, nearly three centuries had passed since the election of Maximilian’s grandson Charles to the same dignity had united the great powers of Germany and Spain, and had given the House of Hapsburg an absolute predominance in Europe. The imperial dignity was still enjoyed by one of Maximilian’s direct descendants. But the fortunes of his family had been subjected in the interval to many vicissitudes. Germany and Spain had again been separated on Charles’ abdication, the emperor’s brother Ferdinand succeeding to the empire, the emperor’s son Philip inheriting the Spanish throne. The remoter causes which ultimately led to the decline and fall of Spain had their origin in events which happened before even Philip’s birth. But his intolerable bigotry hastened a crisis which a more prudent man might possibly have averted, and might probably have postponed. The empire which had formed the most important portion of the possessions of Charles V was reserved for a nobler history.
Ferdinand succeeded to all the hereditary possessions which his brother Charles had held in Germany. He acquired the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia by marriage. Enlarged by these acquisitions, Austria maintained its position in Europe for nearly two centuries. During this period it passed through a greater number of crises than any other State, but, hydra-headed, it rose stronger after every reverse. During the sixteenth century Austria was the barrier on which the waves of Mahometan invasion beat in vain. During the first half of the seventeenth century she was the champion of the Roman Catholic faith; during the next hundred years she was repeatedly opposed to the power of France; and in 1740 the accession of Maria Theresa to the throne threatened her with dismemberment. Austria was opposed to the boldest tactician of the age, and was exposed to the brunt of the great Frederick’s attack. She was unable to prevent the consolidation of the Russian empire, or the permanent loss of one of her own provinces. But the Seven Years War had been as fatal to other countries, and Maria Theresa, on her death-bed, had the satisfaction of leaving her empire prosperous and peaceful.
Maria Theresa died in 1780. Two of her sons, Joseph and Leopold, successively succeeded to her dominions; her daughter, Marie Antoinette, was married to Louis XVI. The misfortunes of his unhappy sister naturally induced Leopold to interfere in her favour, and notwithstanding the traditional jealousy, which separated the two countries, Prussia and Austria entered into an alliance against the revolution which had broken out in France. Leopold did not long survive the treaty which he had thus made. He had the good fortune to die before the misery of his sister was complete, or the disasters which were already threatening had overtaken his country. A long war, or rather a series of wars, weakened the power of the Austrian empire. The first of these wars was concluded in 1797 by the treaty of Campo Formio. Austria was compelled to cede Flanders, the left bank of the Rhine, and all her Italian provinces, to her victorious antagonist. She gained the doubtful advantage of acquiring the Venetian territory, which Napoleon permitted her to seize. In the second of these wars Austria made a gallant, and at first successful effort, to recover her lost territory. But Marengo in Italy, and Hohenlinden in the Black Forest, enabled the French to repeat at Luneville, in 1801, the conditions' which they had imposed at Campo Formio in 1797. At the very outset of the third war Mack’s surrender at Ulm opened the road to Vienna, and enabled Napoleon to enter the capital of Austria without even fighting a pitched battle. The victory of Austerlitz confirmed the impression which the fall of Vienna had already made. A peace was hastily drawn up at Presburg, by which Austria consented to fresh sacrifices. The confederation of the Rhine, partly formed out of the spoils of which she was stripped, formed a barrier between her and France; and the emperor, driven from his German dominions, was compelled to renounce the title which his family had enjoyed for centuries. The Emperor of Germany became Emperor of Austria.
Three disastrous wars, such as those which were concluded at Campo Formio, at Luneville, and at Presburg, would have destroyed the power of almost any State. Austria, however, had no sooner obtained the respite which she required, than she commenced preparations for renewing the struggle. War again broke out in 1809, and, though the French were again ultimately successful, the contest proved more equal than on any previous occasion. Vienna fell; but the fall of Vienna was the signal for the most memorable struggle which Europe had yet seen. The Austrians, under the guidance of the Archduke Charles, compelled Napoleon to retreat from the field of Aspern. The fearful struggle at Wagram increased the glory with which Aspern had already surrounded the arms of Austria, Austria for the fourth time was compelled to conclude peace with her conqueror. The treaty of Vienna imposed on her fresh sacrifices, but it restored the laurels which she had previously lost.
Within six months of the date on which the treaty of Vienna was signed, Napoleon obtained a divorce from the Empress Josephine, and married Maria Louisa, the daughter of the Emperor of Austria. The marriage enabled Austria to withdraw from the struggle in which she had suffered such serious reverses. For more than three years she remained at peace; but the three years during which she was at peace were big with the fate of the world. The standards of France were rolled back from the ruins of Moscow; the French troops were gradually forced to relax their hold on Spain, and to retreat across the Pyrenees. Napoleon, posted on the Elbe, still defied the united‘efforts of Russia, Prussia, and Sweden; and Austria, urged in one direction by the natural affection of its emperor for his daughter, impelled in the other by a traditional jealousy of French aggrandisement, hesitated to take part in the contest. For a few weeks Francis and Metternich seemed likely to be the arbiters of Europe; for a few weeks the issue of the contest was apparently to be determined by diplomatists at Vienna. Had Napoleon been less confident in his genius or less extortionate in his demands, this result would unquestionably have occurred. But Napoleon, in the moment of his first reverse, preferred the chances of the sword to the tender consideration of his imperial father-in-law. Austria, deprived of the role which she had chosen, was compelled to throw her weight into the scale against him. The victory of Dresden seemed for the moment to justify Napoleon’s decision, and Europe was again apparently prostrate before its unrelenting conqueror. But the reverse at Culm robbed the great victory of the consequences which might otherwise have ensued from it. A series of disasters drove the French from the Elbe to the Saale, from the Saale to the Rhine, from the Rhine to Paris. Napoleon, from a reluctance to cede any of his conquests, was deprived of everything, and the allied powers at Vienna and Paris divided among themselves the spoil of the contest. Austria gained largely from the pacification of 1815. She was confirmed in the possession of Venetia, she was rewarded by the acquisition of Lombardy, and she received in addition Illyria, Dalmatia, and other minor acquisitions. But the events of the war had deprived her of the Austrian Netherland. She had lost the position in Western Europe which these provinces had afforded her, and she had become an eastern rather than a western power. Nor was her strength increased by the possession of Venetia and Lombardy, though these acquisitions extended her area and augmented her resources. The people of these provinces were hostile to her rule, and their hostility was pregnant with future disasters. The Emperor of Austria still remained the autocratic head of a huge and disorganised territory, a numerous and discontented people. The ability of his minister Metternich raised him to the first rank among the autocrats of Europe. But the new conditions under which the world was to move were to place inert autocracies at a disadvantage. The Austrian eagle still spread its wings with its old confidence, but the wounds from which it was suffering reduced the range of its flight and limited its power.
The history of Prussia had been much shorter than that of Austria; but it had been much more glorious. At the outbreak of the Revolution in France only a century and a half had elapsed since the accession of Frederick William, the Great Elector, to the electorate of Brandenburg. Less than ninety years had passed since the Great Elector’s son had become first King of Prussia. Less than thirty years had passed since the great Frederick had raised his country for the first time in her story to the front rank in Europe, and against overwhelming odds had brought the Seven Years War to an honourable and advantageous conclusion. The great king’s son had been the first to throw down the gauntlet to revolutionary France; he had been one of the three royal participators in the plunder of Poland. He was himself spared the penalty which his country was to suffer for the crime. Prussia did not fall so rapidly as Austria before the arms of France. It was not until her army had been shattered at Jena in 1806 that her territories were dismembered and her power was destroyed. The degradation of Prussia was apparently complete, but the genius of one man saved her from annihilation. Napoleon imagined that he had placed an effectual restraint upon the people whom he had subdued by stipulating that their standing army should never exceed ascertain strength. The Prussians, however, were driven by this very stipulation to organise the most formidable force which Europe had yet seen. Passing successive relays of the population through the ranks, they succeeded, in an incredibly short time, in training an entire people to the use of arms. Prussia was thus enabled, when the French met with their first reverse, to rise in unprecedented strength, and to wreak a terrible vengeance upon her conqueror at Leipsic. She shared with Great Britain the crowning honour of the brief campaign which terminated at Waterloo.
The huge empire which is now known as Russia, which comprises nearly a seventh part of the land on the surface of the globe, has only gradually attained its enormous dimensions, and only recently acquired its preponderating influence in Europe. In ancient history Russia was only known as the remote and impenetrable tenitory from which hordes of barbarous tribes made their occasional inroads into Western Europe. In medieval history Russia, under the dominion of the Tartars, was effectually separated from European politics by the intervening kingdom of Poland. It was only in the later half of the fourteenth century that Ivanovitch, the descendant of Euric, succeeded in shaking off the Tartar yoke, and in establishing himself in partially independent rule at Moscow. The independence of the new State was, however, long doubtful. A hundred years after the death of Ivanovitch the Tartars returned in almost irresistible strength, and threatened its overthrow. Muscovy was not wholly emancipated from Tartar rule till after the accession of Ivan the Terrible. The horrible cruelties which disgraced the reign of this merciless tyrant have made his name, execrable; but his able and determined rule emancipated his country from the Tartars and extended the limits of his empire. Ivan was the last sovereign but one of the House of Euric. The race died out with Feodor at the close of the sixteenth century. The Russians in 1613 selected Mikhail, or Michael, as their new Czar. Mikhail was the head of the noble house of Romanoff, which thus acquired a position among the reigning families of Europe.
Mikliail Avas the grandfathcr of Peter I, or Peter the Great, as he is usually called. Peter, who in the first instance had shared the throne with his brother Ivan, obtained sole possession of it in 1689. The empire of Russia dates from his accession. The capital during his reign was removed from Moscow to a new city—St. Petersburg, which the Emperor founded on the banks of the Neva. At the date of Peter’s accession to the throne, his three most powerful neighbours were Sweden, Poland, and Turkey. Gustavus Adolphus had raised the first of these countries to a high position in Europe, and had made her the arbiter of the North. It was almost inevitable that she should come into collision with the new power which was gradually consolidating itself on her eastern flank. The temperament of Charles XII, who succeeded to the throne in 1697, hastened the conflict which under any circumstances would have occurred. For some years the Swedes taxed to the uttermost the disorganised resources of the Russian empire. Peter was totally defeated on the Narva, and his conqueror, marching into the heart of Russia, tlireatened to dictate the terms of peace at Moscow. Russia, however, in 1700 possessed the same inherent power of defence which she displayed more than a century afterwards. It was possible to defeat her armies, but it was impracticable to conquer her territory. Taught the lessons of war by contact with the Swedes, slowly gathering her almost endless resources together, the Russians, after a long humiliation, won the battle of Pultowa. From that time till the present day Russia has maintained an unquestioned predominance in Northern Europe.
Charles XII, defeated at Pultowa, fled to the mighty empire which marched with the southern boundaries of his conqueror’s dominions. The Ottoman power was at that time already declining, but the Turks still retained the reputation which their victorious career had given them. Within thirty years of the date of Pultowa, the Crescent, for a second time in history, had appeared before the walls of Vienna, and the timely aid of the Poles had alone relieved the capital of Austria from the humiliation of a Mussulman occupation. The Porte, which had already experienced the rising power of the new empire of the North, readily afforded Charles the refuge which he sought. Peter, after completing his conquest of the Swedes, turned his anns against the people among, whom Charles had taken refuge. His expedition, however, resulted in a signal discomfiture. Hemmed in by an overwhelming force of Turks on the banks of the Pruth, Peter was compelled to accept a ruinous peace. Nothing but the dexterity of his consort Catherine, and the corruption of the Turks, saved the Russians from terms even more disastrous than those to which they were forced to accede.
The unceasing rivahy, which has since existed between Russia and Turkey, may be dated from the reign of Peter the Great. But the contest has since that time been conducted on conditions which pointed from the first to the ultimate victory of the Russians. The gradual decay of the Mahometan power made the Ottomans more and more feeble for the purposes of offensive warfare. The gradual organisation of the Russian empire rendered Russia a more and more formidable assailant. The process of decay on the one side, was, however, firequently retarded by the energy which individual Turks threw into the government of the Porte. The process of organisation, on the other, was often stopped by the wars or by the corruption of the Russian government. Russia, in fact, had other work in the eighteenth century to perform, besides the conquest of Turkey. Poland still existed as an independent kingdom on her western frontier; and Poland was ruthlessly partitioned among the neighboiuing powers. By the acquisition of Warsaw, Russia thrust herself like a wedge into Europe, and for the first time acquired an important influence. The events of the revolutiouary war confirmed her authority. The conqueror who had subdued a continent recoiled from Russian territory. Friedland and the Borodino showed conclusively the worth of Russian soldiers. The burning of Moscow proved to the astonished victor that reverses which would have broken any other European power had no effect on the Russian empire. Russia rose from her temporary prostration to march in triumph upon Paris, and a Russian army occupied the splendid capital of the French empire.
Russia had not had the sole merit of producing the fall of Napoleon; but the Czar of Russia had much greater influence in the councils which succeeded the war than either the Emperor of Austria or the King of Prussia. Francis of Austria owed his influence in congress to the ability of Metternich. Alexander of Russia derived his authority from the force of his own character. There was much in his disposition which was calculated to excite the regard and admiration of his contemporaries. He was sincerely desirous of peace, and he firmly believed that the memorable events, in which he had played so distinguished a part, were capable of affording the blessings of a long peace to the exhausted Continent. Madame Krudener persuaded him to originate an alliance with Austiia and Prussia for this purpose. Justice, Christian charity, and peace were to be the guiding motives of the three potentates in future. The reign of peace which was thus inaugurated, was, however, emphatically a peace for sovereigns and not for them people. The peace, at which Alexander aimed, involved the implicit obedience of every nation to the orders of those who happened to be their rulers. It wholly ignored the novel doctrine that the people themselves had a right to influence the actions of their governors. Such a doctrine seemed utterly incomprehensible to the mighty autocrat who was absolute ruler over all the Russians. The victors who had restored the map of Western Europe to its original shape, seemed to him to have little or nothing to do with the feelings of the populace beneath them.
So far as the five great continental countries were concerned, twenty years of constant warfare had made comparatively small changes. The old boundaries of France had been restored; and, though Austria had lost the Netherlands, she had retained most of the remainder of her old territory. But in other respects the map of Europe had been materially modified. The victors in the moment of their triumph had imitated the conduct to which they themselves had been exposed on their defeat; and Russia, Austria, and Prussia, had contended for considerable additions to their territory in return for the sacrifices which they had made. Great Britain alone required no continental kingdom, and stood opposed to the desire of her allies for aggrandisement. Her influence, however, could not instil moderation into their hearts. Russia permanently extended her sway beyond the Vistula. The Belgians, though Roman Cathohc in faith, were compelled to allow their provinces to be annexed to the Protestant kingdom of Holland. Prussia repaid herself for her exertions by seizing upon a portion of the kingdom of Saxony. Austria obtained compensation for the loss of the Netherlands in the romantic city which is seated on the waves of the Adriatic. Tuscany and Modena, Italian in their sympathies and in their connections, were handed over to the dominion of Austrian archdukes; and Genoa, which had attained her prosperity under republican institutions, was annexed against her will to the kingdom of Piedmont. The power of the conquerors was so great, the prostration of France was so complete, that the minor nations of Europe had no alternative but submission to these arrangements. A few men, sitting in congress, absolutely disposed of the fate of millions of Europeans. People, in the view of an Alexander, or a Frederic, or a Francis, were only born to be governed, and autocratic princes, ruling by the will of heaven, were entitled to dispose of them as they chose. The sentiment was in strict accordance with the principles on which the French revolutionary war had been originally undertaken. It was totally opposed to the ideas on which the Revolution had been founded, and which even the triumphs of the allies had not extirpated from men’s minds. A few statesmen were already in existence who questioned both the prudence and the propriety of disposing of whole peoples like flocks of sheep, and of settling gcrvernments and nations against the will of the nationality. A few wise men predicted that the settlement of 1815 contained in it the seeds of future trouble; that the time would come when the rapacious would regret their rapacity, and the weak would rise against the strong. Predictions of this kind carried no weight at the time. Europe, sickened of war, would have submitted to any settlement. Countries, which had been the constant scene of hostilities, imagined that any fate was preferable to a new appeal to arms, and the settlement of 1815 was tolerated, not because it was just, but because the world was weary of bloodshedding, and too exhausted to dispute the will of the conquerors.
Great Britain had not participated in the spoils which the allied powers had extorted from France. Though she had borne the chief burthen of the contest, though the struggle had been sustained by her resources, alone among the allies she forbore to claim any return for the enormous sacrifices which the war had entailed on her. Yet the effect of the struggle had been to raise this country to the very highest place among European nations. It had repaired for ever the losses which she had sustained in the earlier years of the reign of George III. No sovereign had ever inherited a nobler dominion than that to which George III succeeded on the death of his grandfather in 1760. The dangers, which the glorious Revolution of 1688 had created, were rapidly passing away; the fortunate change in a dynasty and a constitution were producing the happiest results. Constitutional government had superseded the arbitrary rule of the degenerate Stuarts, and a free people, strong in their freedom, were extending their empire, their trade, and their intluence. Marlborough, in the days of Anne, had raised his country to the first place in Europe. Walpole, in the days of George I and George II, by his incomparable skill as a financier, and by the prudence of his government, had largely promoted her prosperity. Chatham, during the Seven Years War, had conducted a campaign against overwhelming odds to a glorious conclusion; while Clive in one hemisphere, and Wolfe in another, had conquered empires for the crown of England. Scotland, contented with the union, was submitting herself quietly to the House of Hanover; England, revelling in her new prosperity, was loyally attached to the dynasty which had conferred on her so many material advantages; and even Ireland, with a surplus revenue to dispose of, only required fair treatment and a firm government. The Pretender was in Rome; the last expedition of Prince Charlie had terminated in disaster; and no descendant of the Stuarts virtually contested the r ight of the new dynasty. England, in one sentence, was happy at home and respected abroad.
The new king was, unfortunately, a very young man; he was imbued with singular views of personal government, and he had not yet acquired the experience which, later in his life, would undoubtedly have induced him to place himself in the hands of his constitutional advisers. Mr. Froude has lately published a singular letter which the young king, in the earlier years of his reign, addressed to his representative in Ireland. The communication undoubtedly forms a remarkable State paper. It is full of admirable advice; it evidently proves that the king understood the Irish difficulty at least as well as some, of his counsellors. It deserves, as a State paper, the commendation which the historian bestows upon it. But though, if it had been the production of a minister, it would receive almost unqualified admiration, it is very doubtful whether it merits any admiration at all as the work of a king. Constitutional monarchs have other things to do than to compose remarkable State papers. They are certainly precluded by their position from composing papers on State policy which are to be kept secret from their own advisers. Even at the close of his long reign George III had hardly grasped the truth that he was precluded, under any circumstances, from acting independently of his counsellors. At the beginning of his reign he had every intention of asserting his own opinions on all occasions. His ministers were to be ministers in the strict sense of the term, and not his advisers. The experiment broke down deplorably. The untried Scotch peer who was chosen to supersede one of the greatest ministers who ever governed England, had to give way to George Grenville. The folly of George Grenville in passing the Stamp Act, and the madness of a later minister in carrying a similar measure, led to the memorable revolt of the American colonies, and to the loss of the American empire. George III’s unhappy attempt at arbitrary rule, and unfortunate preference for weak ministers, had inflicted an incalculable injury on the noble inheritance to which he had succeeded, and had contributed to the dismemberment of the British empire.
The first five-and-twenty years of George III’s reign form, then, an unfortunate era in the history of Great Britain. But, before the five-and-twenty years were quite concluded, a new statesman, cast in a different mould from either Bute or Grenville, had unexpectedly risen on the political horizon. William Pitt had inherited from his father the great qualities which had enrolled Lord Chatham’s name amongst the chief worthies of England. A feeble body had not interfered with the growth of a vigorous mind, and the beardless young man, only twenty-three years of age, proved himself at the very outset of his career a match for the most formidable of his opponents. A financier at a time when many men are still reading for their degree, prime minister of England at an age when most barristers are still studying for their profession, Pitt undoubtedly owed much to his father’s reputation, but he owed more to his own abilities, and the confidence which he had in them. There is nothing more remarkable in history than the spectacle of the youthful minister standing up night after night to battle with an opposition, confident in its numbers and formidable. for its parliamentary ability. There is nothing more memorable in history than the victory which he gained over his adversaries, and the use which he made of the power secured for him by his triumph. Pitt, as a minister, had two difficulties to contend with. He had to deal with the unconstitutional claims of a sovereign to whom he was personally indebted; he had to reform the abuses of a government which was founded on a system of exclusion, and which drew its chief revenue from duties whose very existence hampered the trade and fettered the industry of the nation.
It is to Pitt’s immortal honour that he should have remedied one of these evils, and that he should have attempted to deal with the other of them. George III found in Pitt an adviser, not a minister, and, though on one memorable occasion, conscientious scruples unfortunately induced the monarch to adhere to his own principles, the obstinacy which obtained for Protestantism a few years more of superiority deprived the throne of the services of the man who was really most capable of upholding it. It is even more creditable to Pitt that he should have promoted a large scheme of parliamentary reform, and that he should have honestly attempted to relieve the trade of the kingdom from the fetters which shackled it. The revolutionary wave which swept over Europe, whose influence was even perceptible on these shores, drove him indeed from his admirable purpose into an opposite policy ; but the man who blames Pitt for his later conduct should in justice remember the liberal spirit which pervaded his earlier administration.
It is easy to see now that neither Europe generally, nor this country in particular, had any reason to interfere in the lamentable scenes which deluged France with blood in the closing decade of the eighteenth century. We had not interfered with the monstrous abuses which had disfigured the government of the Bourbons; we had no concern with the monstrous excesses which discredited the cause of popular liberty. The horrible scenes which were acted in Paris, the flight of the king, his capture, his judicial murder, ought to have excited the indignation of Europe; they ought not to have demanded its interposition. Unhappily, however, in the eighteenth century the cause of monarchy was identified with the cause of order, and other European nations witnessed the degradation of a king in France with much the same feelings with which the Americans would contemplate the creation of a king in Canada. The cause of monarchy was supposed to be universally attacked by the destruction of monarchy in France, and the great sovereigns of Europe interfered, not so much to restore Louis XVI as to prevent their own dethronement. If, however, the sovereigns of Europe should have refrained from intervention, it is evident that, if they intervened at all, they should at least have done so effectually. The road to Paris was open, the French people were broken up into parties; they had no army, no money, and no credit. A really determined general, at the head of a really well organised expedition, must have succeeded in forcing his way to Paris and in restoring order. Unhappily the allies were jealous of each other, and uncertain what to do. Their generals, instead of marching, manoeuvred; they indulged in purposeless cannonades, and abstained from direct attacks. Their imbecility and vacillation served a double purpose. Their own troops were dispirited, their enemies were educated. The revolutionary wave which was deluging France with blood found an outlet in military ambition.
The fearful war which was thus wantonly commenced continued with short intervals for fourteen years. During the course of it every power but one deserted in turn the cause which had been undertaken in common; every power but one suffered the penalty of a French invasion. England alone, with one short interval of peace, persevered from the commencement to the close of the struggle. England alone was saved from the humiliation of invasion. Yet Englishmen can look back at the earlier events of the war with only slight satisfaction. The brilliant victories at sea, which made this country the first naval power in the world, barely atoned for the discreditable part which she played on land. The most important expedition which she attempted ended in a mere military parade. The largest subsidies which she lavished on her allies did not save them from defeat or deter them from deserting her.
During the whole of Pitt’s short life—though not solely from Pitt’s fault—this state of things continued. When he died, Trafalgar had made his country absolute mistress of the seas. Austerlitz had made Napoleon the master of the Continent. Jena, Friedland, Wagram, Tilsit, and Vienna confirmed the supremacy which the French emperor had thus acquired; and, at the commencement of 1809, Napoleon could almost boast that he had no more enemies to subdue. It would be useless, in these prefatory remarks, to refer to the well-known circumstances which ultimately led to the prostration of the French empire. The monstrous determination of Buonaparte to seat his own brother on the throne of Spain; the fortunate decision of the Portland ministry to support the waning cause of Europe in the Peninsula; the happy selection of the great Duke of Wellington as the commander of the British troops; the steady perseverance of successive British ministers, the ability of the commander, the bravery of the army, the outbreak of the Russian war, the retreat of the French from the Kremlin and the simultaneous bursting by the British of the southern barrier of France—these are all events with which every child is familiar, and which it cannot be necessary to detail. Waterloo fixed a stamp to the supremacy which England had acquired, and the British empire rose from the struggle the first power in the world.
The country, which had thus acquired the first place in the world, comprises a group of islands situated on the north-western flank of continental Europe. The two largest of these islands are popularly known as Great Britain and Ireland, and contain respectively an area of about 89,000 and 32,000 square miles. Great Britain, the larger of the two, is divided into three parts, England, Scotland, and Wales; of these, Wales is chiefly peopled by the descendants of the original Keltic inhabitants of Britain, who retreated into the Welsh fastnesses before a succession of invaders. Scotland is mainly inhabited by the descendants of the Kelts and Gaels, who maintained in the rudest ages an impregnable position in their mountain highlands. Kelt and Roman, Saxon and Dane, Norseman and Norman, have mingled their blood and speech, and produced by their union the English race and the English language. Before the commencement of the present century nothing was known exactly about the popidation of the three kingdoms. Macaulay, indeed, infers from comparatively reliable data that the entire population of England and Wales in the closing decade of the seventeenth century did not exceed 5,500,000, or fall short of 5,000,000 persons. Respectable authorities may, however, be cited to prove that Macaulay has rather underestimated than exaggerated the number, and 5,500,000 persons is the very lowest estimate which can be fairly made of the inhabitants of England and Wales in 1690. One hundred and eleven years afterwards, or in 1801, the same country only contained 8,873,000 persons. More than a century of progress had only added some 3,000,000 to the number of its people. Ten years later on, or in 1811, the number had increased to 10,150,000; while in 1816 it probably amounted (taking the mean between the populations of 1811 and 1821) to upwards of 11,000,000. Notwithstanding the war which this country had been conducting, the increase of its population in only fifteen years had been two-thirds as great as that which had taken place during the previous century.
Scotland, in one sense, had been a much more backward country than England. In the middle of the eighteenth century, English roads were intolerably bad; but Scotland, it might almost have been said, had no roads. English agriculture was backward; but Scotland was uncultivated. English industry was unimportant; but Scotland had neither industries nor trade. A journey from London to Edinburgh was a more difficult and a more hazardous undertaking than a journey from London to New York is now; and the traveller, like Johnson or Wordsworth, who attempted a tour in the Highlands, was forced to ride, and to submit to more inconveniences than a tourist would meet with now in the wildest parts of Europe. Yet the development of Scotland was proceeding at least as rapidly as that of England and Wales. The events of 1745 taught the Government the necessity of military roads; and roads formed for military purposes materially promoted the prosperity of the kingdom. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, Scotland made unexpected progress. Her lowlands were gradually converted from a barren waste into the garden of Great Britain. The Clyde, improved by Scotch enterprise, shared the trade of the Mersey; the manufactories of Dimdee robbed Belfast of its supremacy in linen; and Edinbiugh, deprived of the pomp which is usually associated with a capital, increased with a rapidity which, in former days, it had never known. In 1801 Scotland was found to contain 1.599.000 persons. The population rose in 1811 to 1,805,000; and exceeded in 1821 2,093,000. It may fairly be computed to have consisted in 1816 of 1.950.000 persons.
No census was taken in Ireland till the year 1813. Notliing, therefore, is known exactly of the increase of the population of that unhappy country before that time. Ireland is said to have contained only 2,372,634 persons in 1754; Lord Colchester, who was chief secretary for Ireland in 1802, says that the popidation at that time was estimated by one leading Irishman at 3,000,000, and by another at 4,000,000. The census of 1813 was in many respects incomplete. The numbers were never made up for Louth, Westmeath, Wexford, Cavan, Donegal, and Sligo. There are fair grounds, however, for believing that the population at that time was not less than 5,400,000, and did not exceed 5,600,000. The number of the people in 1821 was found to have increased to 6,801,000 ; and it is, probably, therefore not very inaccurate to conclude that the population of Ireland in 1816 amounted to about 6,O0o,OOO souls.
At the conclusion of the great war, then, England and Wales had a population of about 11,000,000; Ireland of about 6,000,000; Scotland of about 1,950,000 persons. The entire population of the United Kingdom (including the smaller islands) must have exceeded 19.000. 000. At the commencement of the war, England and Wales had not, probably, more than 8,500,000 Scotland had not more than 1,500,000; and Ireland had not more than 4,000,000 inhabitants. At the very highest estimate, therefore, the United Kingdom had commenced the struggle with only 14,000,000 of persons. At the very lowest estimate she retired from it with 19.000. 000. The growth of the people, which had taken place in the interval, was the more remarkable when it was compared with that of our great rival. France had entered the revolutionary war with a population of 26.363.000. In 1817, when she had again been reduced to her ancient limits, the population returns gave a total of 29,217,465. The United Kingdom, in the interval, had added 5,000,000 souls to its 14,000,000 inhabitants. France, on the contrary, had added only 1,500,000 to every 14,000,000 of her people. The disparity between the rival nations was being rapidly removed; and the argument, on which Napoleon mainly relied, that his own superior numbers must ultimately assure him a victory, was becoming continually weaker. It was constantly becoming evident that the day would arrive when the great rivals would contend on equal terms.
At the close of the great war there was no other town within the limits of the United Kingdom with 100,000 inhabitants. Bristol, which for centuries had tanked only second to London, had about 80,000 people; Leeds from 70,000 to 80,000; Sheffield from 60,000 to 70,000; and Plymouth and Portsmouth from 50,000 to 60,000. Norwich, which, in the days of Charles II, had been the third town in England, ranked in 1816 as the tenth, and probably contained rather more than 40,000 persons. Grouse flew over the site of Middlesborongh; four isolated cottages represented the great town of Birkenhead; Swansea was little more than a village; Merthyr was dumb; Barrow had no furnace, no harbour, no inhabitants.
The population had grown rapidly dining the latter years of the great war. The best authorities conclude that about 1,000,000 souls were added to England and Wales during the first half of the eighteenth century; according to the same authorities, the population increased by rather less than 2,000,000 from 1750 to 1801. The next twenty years added an increase as large as that which had taken place in the preceding fifty. The greater rapidity, with which the people were multiplying, was due to the extraordinary inventions which had promoted the industries of the nation. But the multiplication of the people would not have been possible without the canals and the roads, which Brindley, Telford, and MacAdam had constructed. The populous towns, which were rising everywhere into importance, could not have prospered, and could not even have been fed, without their assistance. But, if improved roads had facilitated the growth of the great towns, the growth of the great towns had also promoted a quicker and better locomotion. The causes, in fact, acted and reacted on each other. Every new road, every new canal, increased the population. Every addition to the population suggested the formation of some new artery of communication.New canals and new roads were pushed forward, at the commencement of the present centmy, with the same untiring energy with which railways were made at a latef date.
Nor was it within the limits of the United Kingdom alone that communication was becoming easier and more frequent. Twenty years of war had seriously injiued the commerce of every continental nation ; but twenty years of war had not arrested the progress of our own. England undoubtedly enjoys peculiar advantages for prosecuting an advantageous foreign commerce. Fortunate in her situation, happy in her climate, rich in her mineral wealth, she has been thrust by nature into the Atlantic, the medium of commimication between the New World and the Old. But the advantages, which the United Kingdom thus undoubtedly enjoys, are, it must be remembered, shared by other nations. Spain, with her ample seaboard, her admirable position, her great rivers, and her fertile resources, was at least as capable as this country of ultimately becoming the great emporium of the world. Spain, too, three centuries ago, occupied in the commonwealth of nations the position which Great Britain has since attained. Spanish enterprise had won for Spain, as British enterprise has since acquired for England, a worldwide dominion. It was the Spaniard’s boast then, as it is the Briton’s now, that the sun never set on the dominions of his sovereign. The ships of Spain penetrated to every country and to every sea; the wealth of Spain excited the envy of Europe. Her children had proved themselves the most enterprising, the most warlike, the most adventurous people in the world.
The commercial supremacy of England rose on the ruins of Spanish commerce. Religious intolerance, promoting persecution and civil war, paved the way for the fall of Spain. A religious reformation, encouraging free thought and free enterprise, paved the way for the rise of England. The Mersey, with its dangerous sandbanks, the Clyde, with only five feet of water, became, in the hands of a free and enterprising people, two of the greatest ports in the world; and England prospered, not from any natural advantages which it possessed over other nations, but from the spirit and perseverance which a people, free to think and free to act, are certain to display.
The English mercantile marine first became considerable in the reign of Ehzabeth; and gradually increased under her successors James I and Charles I. At the time of the Restoration 95,266 tons of British shipping annually ‘cleared’ our ports. Thirty years even of Stuart government doubled the amount; and 190,53 tons of British shipping cleared outwards at the time of the Revolution of 1688. At the commencement of the eighteenth century 3,281 vessels, measuring 261,222 tons, and manned by 27,196 men and boys, comprised the enfire mercantile marine of England and Wales. In 1816, 9,744 vessels, representing a capacity of 1,415,723 tons, and manned by 90,119 men, and belonging to British and Irish shipmasters, entered the ports of the United Kingdom. The number of vessels had been trebled in a little more than a century. Their carrying capacity had been increased six-fold. The increase had been great, but it was to become much greater. In 116 years the tonnage of British vessels entering our ports had risen from 261,222 to 1,415,723 tons, or had increased five fold. In the next fifty-eight years the tonnage rose from 1,415,723 to 12,751,128 tons, or increased nine-fold. The increase in the fifty-eight years has been ten times as great as that in the previous 116 years. Improvements in the art of navigation had been encouraged by the development of the mercantile marine. ‘In the last thirty years,’ wrote Mackintosh, in 1811, ‘chronometers, lunar observations, and copper bottoms have been brought into general use. If three improvements of equal magnitude be made every thirty years, what will be the state of the art of navigation in three centuries?’
The vast additions, which had been made to the mercantile marine of Britain, were attributable to the development of its carrying trade. The carrying trade had grown from the closer intercourse which the British were gradually establishing with every part of the globe. Tho causes which, in the first instance, might have been expected to have interfered with ite growth, had encouraged its development. From 1701 to 1816 England had been almost incessantly at war. But the fortunes of war had opened vast empires to our traders, and the superiority, which our fleets had acquired over their adversaries, had driven many rival flags from the seas. In 1816 England had dependencies in every portion of the globe, and dictated the terms on which the commerce of the world should be conducted. The Seven Years War had given Britain possession of India and Canada, Dominica, Granada, St. Vincent, and Tobago: Jamaica had been taken in 1655, Gibraltar in 1704, Ceylon in 1796, Malta in 1800, the Mauritius, St. Helena, and the Cape in 1806. Antigua, Barbadoes, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, the Bahamas, the Bermudas, and Anguilla, had been occupied by British settlers in various periods of the seventeenth century; St. Luda, Trinidad, Demerara, and Essequibo, had been captured by us during the great war which concluded in 1815. The foundations of the vast Australasian empire had been laid by the settlement of New South Wales in 1787, and of Van Diemen’s Land in 1803, while the allies at Vienna had entrusted to our safe custody the Ionian Islands in the Mediterranean, and Heligoland in the North Sea.
From a strategical point of view, Gibraltar, Malta, and the Cape are the most important of these possessions. Ever since Gibraltar had been taken by Rooke in 1704, it had proved an impregnable fortress. It was in vain that the Spanish and French had endeavoured to wrest it from its victors within a few months after its original capture. It was in vain that the Spaniards renewed the attack in 1720 and 1727. It was in vain that, again in conjunction with the French, they brought against its diminutive garrison in 1779 the largest armament that had ever been arrayed against a single fortress. Elliot, in 1779, shed a new lustre on Rooke’s achievement, and Gibraltar since then bas remained in the undisputed possession of its Britisli conquerors.
The narrow strait, which the rock at Gibraltar partially commands, affords its possessors invariable access to tbe Mediterranean. The island of Malta offers the requisite shelter to the fleets of any nation navigating the great inland sea. Nearly three centuries and a half have passed since the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, driven by the Turks from their pleasant home in Rhodes, retired to the barren rock of Malta, which Charles the Great placed at their disposal. More than three centuries have passed since Solyman the Magnificent exhausted the resources of the Ottoman empire in a fruitless attempt to drive La Valette and his scanty band of followers from their crumbling defences. The town of Valetta commemorates now the prowess of La Valette, and the signal discomfiture of his assailants. The knights of Malta had defended an hastily fortified position against the flower of the Ottoman chivalry. The standard of England floats now over the most impregnable fortifications in the world.
For 233 years after the repulse of the Turks, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John retained possession of the rock of Malta. But the knights of 1798 were animated by a different spirit from that of La Valette and his heroic companions. Treachery opened doors which no strength could have readily forced, and Malta yielded to Napoleon towards the close of the century. A barren island in the middle of the Mediterranean could not, however, be held by a nation whose fleets were driven off the seas. The battle of the Nile decided the fate of Malta, and the English reduced the island soon afterwards by blockade. It is remarkable that its new victors failed at first to recognise the importance of their acquisition, and that they consented, at the peace of Amiens, to restore it, on conditions, to its old owners, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John. But the intrigues of Buonaparte in Egypt convinced even Addington of the great importance of this new possession. The British Government declined to evacuate the island, though they adopted expedients for its retention, which it is difficult to read without a sense of shame. The venal process, by which Lord Whitworth and Lord Liverpool apparently hoped to avert the necessity of war, was however abandoned; and the possession of Malta became the immediate cause of the great war, which was only finally concluded on the field of Waterloo.
The opening of an overland route to India has diminished the strategical importance of the Cape of Good Hope. The tedious journey round the continent of Africa has been superseded by the overland route. M. de Lesseps has imited the waters of the Mediterranean With those of the Red Sea. Engineers are seriously conemplating the possibility of reaching India by an Asian railway, and of thus reverting to the original route of Alexander the Great. It requires, under such circumstances, an effort of the imagination to realise the period when men were anxiously debating the possibility of reaching India by sea. Yet this anxiety undoubtedly led to the greatest discoveries which the world has ever known. It was with this object that, nearly four centuries ago, Bartholomew de Diaz sailed down the western coast of Africa, and penetrated to the Indian Sea. It was with this object that Vasco de Gama, some years afterwards, followed up the discoveries of his adventurous predecessor, and ultimately reached the shores of India itself. It was with this object that Columbus embarked on his memorable expedition: and, boldly seeking the eastern shores of the known world through an unknown Ocean, was rewarded by the discovery of a new world, richer and more important than that for which he was bound. Nothing is, indeed, more marvellous than that, only four centuries ago, the shape of Africa and the existence of America should have been absolutely unknown. There is, at least, a strong presumption that the Norwegiana, 500 years before Columbus, had penetrated to Northern America. Most commentators think that, twenty-one centuries before Bartholomew de Diaz, an Egyptian expedition, organised by Neco, circumnavigated Africa. The very cause which made the credidous historian, for once, incredulous—the navigators’ statement that in sailing round Libya they had the sun upon their right hand—is the strongest proof of the truth of the story. But the discoveries of Neco, and the enterprise of the Norwegians, led to no practical results. The existence of a new world beyond the confines of the Western Ocean was ignored; the possibility of reaching India round the coast of Africa was forgotten. Portugal was to have, the credit of accomplishing one discovery, Spain was to organise the expedition which was to result in the other.
The pecuniary gain to Europe, which resulted from the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, was enormous. The Portuguese, who had discovered the Cape, monopohsed, in the first instance, the advantages of the discovery. They persuaded the Pope to grant them a Bull, which gave tliem an exclusive right for ever to all the discoveries which they had either made or might make in the Indian Seas. Incredible as it may seem now, the mere issue of this Bull secured them a practical monopoly of the Indian trade for upwards of a century. But the cruelties of Phihp of Spain taught another nation to question the power which the Pope had thus presiunptuously claimed. The Dutch, the most enterprising sailors of the seventeenth century, raised their flag in the Indian Seas, and planted the colony of Cape Town in 1650. For a century and a half the settlement remained in their possession. In the great revolutionary war, however, it fell as all the settlements of her enemies fell, into the hands of England: and, though it was surrendered to its old masters at the peace of Amiens, it was retaken in 1806, and has ever since remained in British hands. The possession of the Cape is undoubtedly still of great advantage to any nation with a large Indian trade. Neither the adoption of the overland route nor the opening of the Suez Canal has diverted the heavier traffic from its original course. A station at the Cape, where ships can ride, and obtain either water or supplies, is of importance to its possessors.
The Australasian provinces in the one hemisphere, and Canada in the other, promise now to have the greatest future before them of any English speaking Colonies. In 1816, however, Canada contained only a population of 333,250 souls: while, including convicts and free settlers, there were not 30,000 British persons in the whole of Australia. The West Indies and the East Indies were, at that time, the most important dependencies of England. The West Indies were then both relatively and actually of much more importance to country than they are now.
The prosperity of the West India Islands rested, however, on an unfortimate basis. The vast majority of the population existed in a state of enforced servitude; and a small minority of whites had absolute disposal of the persons and the labour of their black servants. From the time of Elizabeth to the days of George III, a regulaf trade in slaves was actively conducted between Africa and the West Indies. Three hundred thousand slaves were exported from Africa during the last twenty years of the seventeenth century. Six hundred and ten thousand Africans were imported into Jamaica alone during the first eighty-six years of the eighteenth century. The horrible traffic was openly defended on plausible grounds. Slavery, it was said with truth, had always existed in Africa; the slave was, at least, as well off under a white master in the West Indies, as under a black master on his own continent. The produce of the West Indies, moreover, had beyond all question added to the comforts and conveniences of the civilised world; and the climate of the West Indies made the cultivation of the soil impracticable without the employment of compulsory negro labour. The white man could not work and live in a tropical swamp: the black man would not work if he were not compelled to do so. No one denied that slavery was disfigured by the perpetration of many cruelties; or that the slave, in his passage from Africa, was occasionally subjected to cruel tortures. But these evils, it was asserted, were not irremediable. The traffic might be conducted in a humane manner; the slave owner might be compelled to treat his slaves humanely. A slave, in the West Indies, the property of a humane master, was at least as well off as a negro in Afi’ica.
These were the excuses, by which the continuance of the slave trade was justified. But the real reason for continuing it was probably different. Men might agree or disagree as to the advantages or disadvantages of the traffic; but no reasonable man could doubt that the slaves represented a very considerable property. In 1833, when slavery was finally abolished in the British dominions, it was found that there were no fewer than 780,000 slaves; and it was estimated that the value of these slaves amounted to 45,000,000l. It was one thing for even a humane politician to regret the existence of an indefensible and even horrible trade: it was another to contemplate the destruction of 45,000,000l. of property. Half a century of agitation was, in fact, barely sufficient to accomplish the reform. The successive steps, by which the slave trade was abolished, and slavery was destroyed, form some of the most striking features in English history. In 1783 or 1784 a Mr. Eamsay published a remarkable book on the cruelties of the slave trade. Ramsay had been a surgeon on board a man-of-war commanded by Sir Charles Middleton. He had settled at St. Hitts, and had, therefore, a considerable acquaintance with the subject of slavery. Returning home, and taking holy orders, his mind had brooded on the cruelties which he had witnessed; and his book was the consequence. The book made some sensation : but the sensation would probably have soon subsided, if Lady Middleton had not suggested that the subject should be brought before Parliament. Sir Charles, to whom Lady Middleton naturally appealed, replied that he was no speaker; and it consequently became necessary to seek elsewhere for some assistance. There had lately been elected for the thriving borough of Hull a young man endowed with ability of the very highest order; eloquent beyond almost all his other contemporaries, and animated with a singular zeal for everything that might advance the honour of his God, or promote the welfare of the human family.
William Wilberforce was born on August 24, 1759; the son of affluent parents, he enjoyed the advantage of a considerable fortune. At twenty years of age he was elected at the cost of 8,000l. or 9,000l. for Hull. At the same time he formed a firm and warm friendship for Pitt. In 1783 Pitt, Eliot, and he together made a tour in France; and the incidents of the tour undoubtedly cemented the friendship of the three friends. Soon after their return to England, the marvellous events occurred, which led to the overthrow of the Coalition ministry, and the accession of Pitt to power. After one of the most extraordinary sessions in its history. Parliament was dissolved; and Pitt boldly appealed to the country to support him in the crisis. The great county of York was at that time the largest and most important constituency in England; and the interest of the Fitzwilliams and the Cavendishes made it a Whig stronghold. It seemed doubtful whether the Tories could even venture to contest the representation with the great Whig lords. The Yorkshire clothiers, however, were desirous of fighting. A large meeting of freeholders assembled at York; and Wilberforce, as a Yorkshireman and member of Parliament, attended the meeting. Resolutions, condemning the Coalition ministry, were proposed by the chief Tory magnates. Speeches, on the other side, were delivered by the great Whig lords and their adherents. The day wore on; the weather was untoward; the audience were weary when Wilberforce mounted the table. The effect of the speech which he then made has probably never been exceeded. ‘I saw,’ said one who was present, ‘a mere shrimp mount upon the table; but, as I listened, he grew and grew, until the shrimp became a whale.’ ‘The honest, independent freeholders of that great county,’ wrote the Public Advertiser, ‘looked the Duke of Devonshire, Lord John Cavendish, the Earls of Carlisle and Fitzwilliam in the face; and against that mighty aristocracy voted a loyal address to their sovereign.’ ‘We’ll have this man for our county member,’ was their unanimous roar.
The freeholders were as good as their word. Wilberforce was elected for Yorkshire. The bosom friend of the minister, the representative of the largest English constituency, gifted with extraordinary eloquence, the highest situations in the public service seemed to lie within his grasp. After the session was over he took a tour on the Continent: his companion in his toor was Milner, the younger brother of his first schoolmaster. Milner was a low churchman, seriously inclined, and frequently turned the conversation to religious subjects. Wilberforce was impressed with his friend’s earnestness, and, though he had apparently led a very harmless life, was convinced of his own worthlessness. The whole object of his career was changed. He abandoned all the ambitious plans which he had previously formed, and devoted himself to the cause of Christianity and the reformation of society. His friends whispered that he was mad; but, though Wilberforce was singular in his opinions, there was nothing eccentric in them. ‘If this is madness,’ said one of his mother’s friends, ‘I hope he will bite us all.’
Such was the man to whom Sir Charles and Lady Middleton appealed to bring the question of the slave trade before Parliament. A committee was formed in London, under the presidency of Granville Sharpe, to raise funds and obtain information for the campaign. Sharpe was an admirable leader in such a cause. He had been the man who had obtained the first decision in 1772 under which slavery had been declared illegal in England. The London committee decided on collecting evidence to justify their appeal to Parliament; and they employed for this purpose a young man who had lately left the University, Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson, two years previously, had gained a prize at Cambridge for an essay on the slave trade. He proved a very zealous, though not always a very discreet agent, and succeeded in obtaining much valuable information. Armed with Clarkson’s facts, Wilberforce prepared to bring the question before the House. The moment seemed ripe for the change. Pitt threw himself with warmth into his friend’s cause; Fox agreed with Pitt in desiring abolition; Burke was its declared advocate; the majority both of the House and of the nation seemed in favour of the proposal. A bill regulating the number of slaves to be carried by each ship (one slave to each ton) received the royal assent in 1788. A motion for the complete abolition of the trade from January 1, 1796, was carried in 1792, and everything seemed consequently to point to the early accomplishment of Wilberforce’s hopes. Unfortunately for the success of the great cause the French Revolution broke out. The blacks in St. Domingo revolted against their masters. Commotions were apprehended in the West India islands. The cause of the slaves became associated in men’s minds with the excesses of Jacobinism; and the opponents to abolition gathered fresh hopes from the excitement which was everywhere visible. The House of Commons refused to confirm its vote for gradual abolition. A new Parliament adopted the device of leaving the colonies to deal with the measure themselves. The British trade in slaves to foreign colonies was not suppressed till 1805. The British slave trade was not finally abolished till the commencement of 1807.
Throughout these years of disappointment and reverse Wilberforce steadily persevered in the cause which had become the business of his life. Rarely had the House ever witnessed such enthusiasm as it displayed when his bill finally passed in 1807. Romilly, one of the most virtuous of its members, urged the House to reflect how much the rewards of virtue exceeded those of ambition; and, when he proceeded to contrast the feelings of the Emperor of the French in all his greatness with those of that honoured individual who would this day lay his bead upon his pillow and remember that the slave trade was no more, the whole house, surprised into a forgetfulness of its ordinary habits, burst forth into acclamations of applause. Wilberforce, however, never rested after his great triumph. He had obtained the abolition of the British slave trade. During the next ten year’s he was continually urging other nations to follow the example of this country. In Europe, France, Denmark, Sweden, Holland; in North America, the United States; in South America, Venezuela, Buenos Ayres, and Chili, all agreed on the remonstrance of this country, to abolish the traffic in slaves.
As a result of these exertions the trade in slaves, which had disgraced the world since the days of Elizabeth, was greatly checked. Slavery still continued to exist in the colonies.of the British empire. The West Indies still continued to send slave-grown sugar to Europe. But the colonists were compelled to depend for their supply of laborers on negroes born in the colonies, and were no longer able to supplement their own supplies with importations from Africa. Two consequences, each beneficial to the cause of humanity, ensued. The cruelties of the middle passage were terminated. The slave himself became a more valuable article, and consequently was likely to obtain more lenient treatment than he had previously received. But the abolition of the traffic in slaves was doubly gratifying to the humanitarian because it pointed to the abolition, at no distant date, of slavery itself. Wilberforce had retired from public life long before this great end was accomplished. But he had the satisfaction of learning on his death-bed in 1833 that the labours of his life had been rewarded by a full success. The Parliament, which ultimately gave effect to his policy, testified its admiration of his earlier exertions by following him to the grave; and by placing in Westminster, among the great worthies of his country and of his generation, all that remained of the orator, the philanthropist, and the Christian.
The West Indies had gained their name from the object which Columbus had had in view in his first voyage. He had been seeking for the Indies of the East, and had found a new and richer Indies in the West. The English acquired a permanent footing in the New World before they succeeded in establishing themselves in India. For a whole century after the discovery of the Cape, the Portuguese monopolised the Indian trade. The Pope’s Bill saved them from the competition of any rival. During the sixteenth century, indeed, the sea captains of England made many attempts to secure for themselves some share of this trade. But they endeavoured to find a new route to India through the ice-bound seas in the North Pole. The dangers of the Arctic circle were smaller obstacles to these bold men than the impotent thunders of a powerless old bishop enthroned in a decaying city. The progress of the Reformation, however, placed a new interpretation on the thunders of the Church. Stephens, Drake, Cavendish, and Borroughs successively penetrated the Indian Seas, and carried the best carracks of Portugal into an English port. Their hardihood produced many imitators. At the close of the sixteenth century a Company was established in London with the exclusive fight to trade to India. But the progress of the Company was slow. Dutch and English, French and Portuguese, all contended for the great Indian trade. Exposed to jealousy at home, and hostility in the East, the Company displayed slight symptoms of its future fortunes.
In the meanwhile, however, events were in progress, which were paving the way for the ultimate supremacy of an European power in India. Towards the close of the fourteenth century the Mogul Tartars, under the conduct of Tamerlane, had swept like a destroying wave over the whole of Hindostan. A century afterwards the Sultan Baber completed what Tamerlane had begun, and founded what is usually known as the Mogul empire. The empire enjoyed two centuries of predominance. Prosperity, however, led, to indolence; indolence to carelessness. Kouli Khan, Shah of Persia, invaded India in 1739, and gained an easy victory over Tamerlane’s effeminate successor. The victory of the Persians led to the disruption of the great Mogul empire. The soubahdars, or officers of the empire, threw off their allegiance; and, struggling for their own independence, courted the assistance of the European strangers. The disintegration of the Mogul empire was facilitating the rise of a new power. It was still uncertain where the nation would be found, whose subjects should succeed in rivalling the exploits of Tamerlane.
Four European nations enjoyed, at the time, the advantage of a foothold on Indian soil. The Portuguese retained possession of Calicut and other places, though their power was on the decline. The Dutch conducted a profitable trade with their settlements on the shores of India, and with the islands in the Eastern Seas. The French had established a formidable position at Pondicherry. The English had formed a Presidency at Madras; they had purchased Calcutta; and they had obtained Bombay from Portugal as the dowry of Charles II’s queen. Though, however, they already possessed the three towns, which were ultimately to become the seats of their government, their power was certainly not superior to that of the French. Twice in the middle of the eighteenth century they attempted to take the position which the French had established at Pondicherry, and twice they were foiled. But the French were not the only enemies in India before whom the British had occasionally to retreat. Only 120 years ago Surajah Dowdah overthrew the English settlement at Calcutta, and subjected every inch of Bengal to native rule. Lawrence and Clive repaired our fortunes in Madras, and gave to England the predominance in that Presidency which she has never lost. The genius of Clive avenged our misfortunes in Bengal, and wrought a fearful retribution on Surajah Dowlah. Clive’s victory at Plassey gained for the East India Company a richer empire than Wolfe, two years afterwards, won for the crown at Quebec.
The career of conquest, which Clive thus commenced, was actively prosecuted by his successors, Warren Hastings, Lord Cornwallis, and Lord Wellesley. The Company gradually extended its dominion over the greater part of Hindostan. But their trade and their profits did not advance with their conquests. Their servants, indeed, continually returned home with large fortunes; but the shareholders were compelled to satisfy themselves with low dividends. The abuses, which the administration of the Company permitted, attracted the attention of politicians to the anomalous character of their empire. Statesmen of all parties were satisfied that a Company, formed only for trading purposes, could not be allowed to exercise an independent and uncontrolled dominion over a vast and populous empme. The Coalition ministry formed in 1783 endeavoured to transfer the whole government of India to commissioners to be appointed by the crown. The India Bill proved fatal to the Coalition ministry. Pitt, taking advantage of the experience of his opponents, succeeded with a milder proposal, and instituted a Board of Control. The scheme left the Company in the enjoyment of an exclusive trade: it continued to them the absolute regulation of all commercial matters. It merely permitted a board, consisting of six members of the Privy Council, ‘to check, superintend, and control all acts, operations, and concerns, which in any tvise relate to the civil or military government or revenues of the territories and possessions of the East India Company.’
For nearly thirty years after the passage of Pitt’s India Bill, the East India Company still retained the exclusive privilege of trading to India. It was not till 1814 that the monopoly of the Company was partially terminated, and that the Indian trade was, on certain conditions, thrown open to all British subjects. The Company in vain endeavoured to resist a change, which practically terminated the injurious monopoly which they had enjoyed for more than two centuries. They in vain endeavoured to prove that the habits and the poverty of the native Indians made it impossible to hope for any increase in the Indian trade. It was in vain that they obtained the evidence of the greatest authorities on Indian questions: that Warren Hastings emerged from the retirement, in which he had passed the twenty preceding years of his life, to deny that ‘our export trade would be greatly furthered by opening the traffic with India to all who might desire to embark in it;’ and that Sir John Malcolm was brought forward to declare that ‘the general population of India were not likely to become customers for European articles because they did not possess the means to purchase them.’ Parliament had the wisdom to refuse to listen to the claims of the Company, or to be guided by the advice of Indian officials. The result showed the wisdom of their decision, and the salutary effects of free trade. The trade with India was at once rapidly expanded. ‘The value of the merchandise exported from Great Britain to India, which amounted in 1814 to 870,177l., amounted in 1819 to 3,052,741l. The destruction of the Company’s monopoly and the beneficial influence of free trade in other words increased our trade fourfold. Extended relations were in their turn to promote still further additions to our commerce, and to draw still closer the bonds of union between the mother country and her eastern dependency.
At the close of the great war, then, Britain had possessions in every portion of the world; but the importance of the dependencies, which she had won, had hardly reconciled her to the loss of the magnificent colony, which she had had the misfortune to lose. In 1765, or fifty years before the date at which this history opens, a foolish Parliament, under the guidauce of an obstinate minister, had passed the famous Act which drove America into revolt, and ultimately deprived this country of her noblest colony. A little more than thirty years before the date at which this history opens the treaty had been signed which had recognised the independence of the American Republic. Men had hardly ceased to regret that the generation which had won Canada in one hemisphere, and India in the other, for the crown of England, had permitted a country, greater either than India or Canada, to be separated from the British empire. The victories of Clive and Wolfe had shed a new lustre on the shield of England, but its brightness had been obscured by the capitulations of Burgoyne and Cornwallis. England has long forgotten the lamentations of such patriots as these. Every wise Englishman, indeed, still laments the causes which drove America into revolt; but no wise man regrets that she should have won her independence. The United States, since their separation from the mother country, have increased in wealth, in population, and in resources, and the British have the satisfaction of knowing that the great transatlantic republic, whose prosperity is almost equal to their own, speak the same language, read the same literature, and claim the same origin as themselves.
Thirteen provinces revolted from their allegiance to the British crown in 1776; and the thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, which the United States still place on their flag, will commemorate the revolt for ever. The thirteen States had in 1776 a free population of 2,600,000 persons. Between 1776 and 1815, however, six more States had been added to the Union, and the free population of the Republic had increased to 7,000,000. The trade of our former colony was rivalling that of our own, and the British shipmasters loudly complained that the Americans were depriving them of their business. Nor was it surprising that the mercantile marine of the United States should acquire importance amidst the exceptional circumstances under which the eighteenth century had closed and the nineteenth century had opened. Every other great nation was at war, and the country which alone enjoyed the blessings of peace obtained complete immunity for her traders. Neutrality, however, is a condition which it is difficult for either a nation or an individual to maintain. A man rarely possesses the affection of two friends who have quarelled with one another, and, if he attempt to hold the scales evenly between them, he is proverbially liable to lose the friendship of both. So is it with nations. When States are engaged in all the difficulties of a close contest they are apt to regard with suspicion the attitude of an ally who regards the cause of their antagonists as favourably as their own. The suspicion too often ripens into hostility, and the neutral finds it necessary to draw the sword, in a quarrel which is not his own, for the sake of maintaining his own independence.
During the earlier years of the great revolutionary war, the neutrality of the United States was not seriously affected. The Americans gained, in some respects, from the dissensions of European nations, and their merchants obtained a large addition to their carrying trade. Towards the close of 1806, however, the progress of the war had altered the conditions on which it had previously been conducted. Trafalgar had made Great Britain mistress of the seas; Austerlitz and Jena had made Napoleon master of the Continent. For fourteen years the two great rivals had been almost incessantly engaged in strife, and one had obtained virtual predominance on the land, the other on the ocean. Napoleon saw clearly that the resources, which had enabled Great Britain to carry on the contest, depended on her trade, and that the destruction of her commerce would lead to the immediate collapse of his adversary. How, however, was the commerce of a nation to be destroyed by a ruler who had hardly a ship of war at his disposal ? The arrogance of Buonaparte suggested an answer to the question. In his famous Berlin decree, at the end of 1806, he had the presumption to declare all the ports of Great Britain in a state of blockade, and to forbid the importation, into any port under his control, of the productions of either Great Britain or of her colonies. The British Government retaliated by declaring all the ports, either of France or of her allies, or from which the British flag was excluded, in an actual state of blockade, and by condemning all vessels trading to them as good and lawful prize unless they had previously touched at a British port, and paid customs duties to the British crown. Napoleon, by the Milan decree, endeavoured to make this condition nugatory by declaring any neutral vessel, which had paid tax to the British Government, denationalised. The claims of the belligerents had thus virtually destroyed the carrying trade of America; and America avenged herself for the loss from which she was suffering by closing her ports against the flags of the rival nations.
The state of things, which had thus arisen, was very memorable. The two chief belligerents had forbidden all neutral trade with their opponents. The chief neutral had excluded herself from all intercourse with the belligerents. Modern history does not perhaps contain any equally unfortunate record of the results of warfare. T here was, however, a wide distinction between the decrees, which Napoleon had issued, and the orders with which the British Government had replied to them. Napoleon, powerless on the ocean, was incapable of enforcing his own commands; while Britain, as mistress of the seas, was able to carry out the decisions of her ministers. The British orders, which were enforced, became consequently much more offensive to the Americans than the French decrees, which were practically unexecuted; and the Government of the United States displayed an increasing readiness to quarrel with this country.
It is not necessary to narrate here the progress of the long diplomatic struggle which preceded the war of 1812; it is not possible to describe the varied results of a struggle, in which both parties achieved some successes and sustained some reverses; it is not requisite to detail the stipulations of the peace, with which hostilities were ultimately concluded at the close of 1814. These things properly refer to the history of a previous period. It is unnecessary, therefore, to relate them in these pages.
Britain, then, at the period at which this history opens, had just concluded a war with the greatest power on the Continent, and with the greatest power in the New World. The perseverance of her statesmen, the determination of her people, the genius of her commanders, the indomitable bravery of her troops, had made her the foremost nation in the world. Twenty years of almost continuous warfare had extended her empire; and had arrested neither the increase of her population, nor the growth of her trade. While .ihe thoughts of statesmen were occupied with the changing aspects of a protracted war. Watt was completing his steam engine, Arkwright his water frame, Crompton his mule, Cartwright his power-loom, Davy his safety lamp; Telford was carrying roads through the most impenetrable parts of the country, Murdoch was turning night into day by the invention gas; Bell was launching the first British steamer, the Comet, on the Clyde; Rennie was throwing new and beautiful bridges across the Thames. Merchants and manufacturers were alike profiting from the inventions of these great men, and England was proving by ber example that a free people could triumph over the greatest difficulties, and prosper in a state of war which apparently made all prosperity hopeless.
There was indeed another side to the picture; ‘a reverse to the medal.’ Material progress was accompanied with political retrogression, and victory was purchased at a cost faintly appreciated at the time, but to be discovered on the morrow.
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