Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

Page Art. V.—The Sanative Influence of Climate: with an Account of

the Best Places of Resort for Invalids. By Sir James
Clark, Bart., M.D., F.R.S., Physician in Ordinary to the
Queen,

420

VI.—Lives of Eminent Foreign Statesmen. By J. P. R. James,

Esq. (Forming part of the Cabinet Cyclopaedia,) 443

VII.-Christian Morals. By the Rev. W. Sewell, M.A., Fel

low and Tutor of Exeter College, and Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Oxford, 464

VIII.— American Notes for General Circulation. By Charles

501 Dickens,

IX.—Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay,

523

Note to the Article on the New Biographical Dictionary,

[blocks in formation]

List of New Publications,

571

Index,

598

THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

OCTOBER, 1842.

No. CLIII.

Art. I.- History of Europe, from the Commencement of the French

Revolution in 1789, to the Restoration of the Bourbons in 1815. By ARCHIBALD Alison, Esq., F.R.S. E., Advocate. 10 vols. 8vo. Edinburgh and London : 1839-1842. There There is much in Mr Alison's History of the French Revolution against which we intend to record our decided

protest; and there are some parts of it which we shall feel compelled to notice with strong disapprobation. We therefore hasten to preface our less favourable remarks by freely acknowledging that the present work is, upon the whole, a valuable addition to European literature, that it is evidently compiled with the utmost care, and that its narration, so far as we can judge, is not perverted by the slightest partiality.

A complete history, by an English author, of all the great events which took place in Europe from 1789 to 1815, has long been a desideratum ; and whatever may be the imperfections of Mr Alison's work, we cannot say that it does not supply the vacancy. Its defects, or what we deem such, are matter partly of taste, and partly of political opinion. Some readers may consider them as beauties—many will overlook them; and even the most fastidious must acknowledge that they are not such as materially to interfere with the great plan of the work. Its merits VOL. LXXVI. NO, CLIII.

A

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

are minuteness and honesty-qualities which may well excuse a faulty style, gross political prejudices, and a fondness for exaggerated and frothy declamation.

We cannot better illustrate the fulness and authenticity of Mr Alison's history, than by quoting his own statement of the admirable plan on which he has selected and applied his authorities. His invariable rule, we are informed by his Preface, has been

to give, on every occasion, the authorities by volume and page s from which the statement in the text was taken.

Not only are the authorities for every paragraph invariably given,

but in many instances also those for every sentence have been " accumulated in the margin.

Care has been taken 'to quote a preponderance of authority, in every instance where ' it was possible, from writers on the opposite side to that which an English historian may be supposed to adopt; and the reader will find almost every fact in the internal history of the Revolution, supported by two Republican and one Royalist autho‘rity; and every event in the military narrative drawn from at • least two writers on the part of the French, and one on that of • their opponents.'

We feel convinced that Mr Alison has acted up to the spirit of this candid and judicious system throughout his whole work. We cannot, of course, pretend to have verified his statements by constant reference to the writers from whom he has drawn his information. The events which he records are of such recent occurrence, and such deep interest, that the enormous mass of details published respecting them may well defy the curiosity of an ordinary reader. But we are bound to remark, that whenever we have been led to compare the conflicting accounts of any important event in Mr Alison's history, we have almost invariably found that his narrative steers judiciously between them, and combines the most probable and consistent particulars contained in each. We apply this remark more especially to his narration of the intestine commotions of the French Revolution, and of the military conflicts of the Empire-particularly those which occurred in Spain. No one, we think, can read the various accounts of the troubles which led to the Reign of Terror, as collected in the able work of Professor Smyth, or the histories of the Peninsular war by Napier, Foy, and others, without feeling satisfied of the care and judgment which Mr Alison has shown in constantly selecting, where authorities differ, the most probable and most authoritative statements.

We have already hinted our opinion, that Mr Alison's general style is not attractive. It is not, however, at least in the narrative part of his work, either feeble or displeasing. Its principal defect is the cumbrous and unwieldy construction of its sentences, which frequently cause them to appear slovenly and obscure, and sometimes render their precise meaning doubtful. We quote, almost at random, a single passage by way of specimen : • Mortier, following the orders which he had received to keep nearly 6 abreast of, though a little behind the columns on the right • bank, and intent only upon inflicting loss upon the Russian • troops which he knew had passed the river, and conceived to • be flying across his line of march from the Danube towards • Moravia, was eagerly emerging from the defiles of Diernstein,

beneath the Danube, and the rocky hills beneath the towers of • the castle where Richard Cour de Lion was once immured, • when he came upon the Russian rearguard, under Milaradowitch,

posted in front of Stein, on heights commanding the only road by which he could advance, and supported by a powerful artil• lery.'-(v. 444.) We have purposely selected a sentence obscure merely by its length and involution, and not disfigured by any tangible solecism; and we believe we speak within compass when we say, that it would be difficult to select balf-a-dozen consecutive pages, from any part of Mr Alison's work, in which one or more passages of at least equally faulty construction might not be found.

But there are not wanting offences of a still less excusable nature. Whenever the historian warms with his subject, he is constantly hurried into the most singular verbal blunders—some puzzling, some ludicrous—but all of a kind which a careful reperusal could scarcely have failed to discover. We quote three or four instances, not for the sake of ridiculing a few slight oversights in a long and laborious work, but in order to draw Mr Alison's attention to a defect which, comparatively trivial as it is, might give great and unjust advantage to critics less disposed than we are to treat him kindly. Thus he speaks of the vast and varied inbabitants' of the French empire-a phrase which can scarcely be actually misunderstood, but which sounds ludicrously inapplicable, considering that the average size of the French conscripts is stated, a few pages before, at only five feet English.-(ix. 105.) In 1800, the French armies appear to have unjustly seized some English vessels at Leghorn, an ac•quisition which, in the singular phraseology of Mr Alison,

speedily recoiled upon the heads of those who acquired them.' -iv. 381.) In the campaign of Austerlitz we find the Austrians defeated by Murat, who made 1800 of their wearied 6 columns prisoners,' (v. 406.)—a capture which, supposing the statement to be literally true, and the columns of average size, must have embraced nearly the whole male population of the empire. And shortly after, we are informed, that the French

[ocr errors]

army celebrated the anniversary of Napoleon's coronation by the

spontaneous combustion of their huts.-(v. 474.) We will not go farther with examples of this sort, but we cannot forbear solicitiny Mr Alison's attention to two crying defects ;—his profuse and unscrupulous use of the most barbarous Scotticisms, and the confused and even ambiguous arrangement of his antecedents and relatives. With all these imperfections, Mr Alison's history has merits sufficient to atone, even to those readers who consider only their own amusement, for the want of an easy and polished style. The stirring interest of the events which he relates, his judgment in selecting striking traits of character for preservation, his earnest seriousness of manner, and his obvious honesty of purpose-all combine to make his narrative on the whole both interesting and impressive.

We cannot speak so favourably of the disquisitions on political events, and characters, which abound throughout his work. With all our respect for his merits as a historian, we are bound to declare our honest opinion, that the attempts displayed in them at impassioned and declamatory eloquence, are generally very far below mediocrity. We have already noticed some of the blunders into which he has been betrayed in the course of his ordinary narrative. Few writers soar more easily or more securely than they walk; and Mr Alison's oratorical digressions abound in examples of pointless anti-climax, of quaint and ungrammatical inversion, of the carefully balanced antithesis of synonymous ideas, of periods rounded with sonorous pomp, yet constructed with slovenly obscurity. But we are in baste to dismiss this ungracious part of our task, and we shall therefore content ourselves with pointing out a few individual blemishes, the removal of which we are particularly anxious to effect.

Figurative illustrations are as fatal to Mr Alison as they are, indeed, to most writers who are at once careless and ambitious. His opinion of the age of George III. is expressed by an astronomical metaphor, which he has contrived to distort with a perverse ingenuity rarely surpassed. • Bright,' he says, “as were • the stars of its morning light, more brilliant still was the constellation which shone forth in its meridian splendour, or cast • a glow over the twilight of its evening shades.'—(vii. 3.) The simile would have been perfect of its kind, if Mr Alison had but added that his constellation had disappeared, as constellations are wont to do, in the darkness of the ensuing night. In the same manner, he speaks of a narrative as tinged with undue • bias,' (Pref. xxxi.j-of a historical work as closed with a ray • of glory,' (Pref. xxxviii.)—of a truth as “ proclaimed in cha• racters of fire to mankind,' (viii. 7.) We cannot omit the two

« НазадПродовжити »