« PreviousContinue »
that the general design and the limits of the Lectures neither required nor permitted any extended illustration of them. In various publications on the events of the late war, and especially in Labaume's Russian Campaign, the reader whose nerves will allow the steady contemplation of the most appalling pictures of human wickedness and misery, may "sup full of horrors." Some extracts are introduced from an article in the Edinburgh Review for February 1815, on the above-mentioned work, not more on account of the facts, than of the remarks appended to them, which will not be ascribed to the influence of religious enthusiasm, or the weakness of an impracticable benevolence.
"Our author, who was posted at a small village on the right in reserve, here learned that the town (Smolensko) had been stormed, after a sanguinary combat, during which it was set on fire by the Russians. On the 19th of August, he entered the place with his corps, and his description of the scene which he witnessed, presents an affecting picture of the horrors of war. In every direction we marched over scattered ruins and dead bodies. Palaces, still burning, offered to our sight only walls half destroyed by the flames, and thick among the fragments were the blackened carcasses of the wretched inhabitants whom the fire had consumed. The few houses that remained were completely filled by the soldiery, while at the door stood the miserable proprietor, without an asylum, deploring the death of his children and the loss of his fortune. The churches alone afforded some consolation to the unhappy victims who had no other shelter. The cathedral, celebrated through Europe, and held in great veneration by the Russians, became the
refuge of the unfortunate beings who had escaped the flames. In this Church, and round its altars, were seen whole families extended on the ground.'"
After the battle of the Moskwa, "the ground, for about the space of a square league, was literally covered with the dead and wounded. In many places, the bursting of shells had promiscuously heaped together men and horses. The fire of the howitzers had been so destructive, that heaps of bodies lay scattered over the plain; and where the ground was not encumbered with the slain, it was covered with broken lances, muskets, helmets, and cuirasses, or with grape-shot and bullets, as numerous as hailstones after a violent storm. 'But the most horrid spectacle (continues our author) was the interior of the ravines, where almost all the wounded who were able to drag themselves along, had taken refuge to avoid further injury. These miserable creatures, heaped one upon another, and swimming in their blood, uttered the most heart-rending groans. They frequently invoked death with piercing cries, and eagerly besought us to put an end to their agonies. Such are some of the details of this glorious battle, which we lay before our readers, not for the purpose of shocking their feelings, but because we think they serve to place what is called military glory in its true light, and thus, in some measure, to correct those false impressions under which mankind have been in all ages so much blinded to the true nature of the warrior's exploits. They would answer a still greater purpose, if they would tend to soften the hearts of those cold and calculating politicians, who make war without any consideration of its miseries, and regard the plea of humanity as a vulgar common-place, altogether
unfit to be taken into the account of their magnanimous deliberations."
During the conflagration of Moscow, the hospitals, which contained 20,000 wounded Russians, were consumed. "This (says Labaume) offered a harrowing and dreadful spectacle. Almost all of these miserable creaturés perished. A few who still lingered, were seen crawling, half-burnt, among the smoking ruins; and others, groaning under heaps of dead bodies, endeavoured in vain to extricate themselves from the horrible destruction which surrounded them."
Often in the retreat, "they had no wood, and to make their fires they destroyed the houses in which the generals lodged; sometimes, therefore, when we awoke in the morning, the village which we had seen the night before had disappeared, and towns which to-day were untouched would form on the morrow one vast conflagration."
The concluding remark of the Reviewer especially deserves attention: " By its very constitution, an army seems to be the natural instrument of violence and injustice. A thorough-bred soldier is the mere creature of command. His warrant is, in all cases, the order of his superior, to whose views he blindly conforms, however adverse they may be to the peace and happiness of society; while the occupations in which he is engaged have a natural tendency to produce, in the lower orders, a disdain and impatience of peaceful industry: in the higher, a restless and turbulent ambition; and in both, a brutal contempt for the comfort and the feelings of every other description of men."
In the Christian Reformer for July 1815, are extracts
from the letters of an officer serving in Spain and the South of France, which amply shew that war is much the same in the miseries it causes, wheresoever and by whomsoever waged.
A work of fiction, published by Louis Bonaparte, has some passages upon this subject, which are curious, as coming from one who had filled a throne, and which are expressed in a tone and manner strongly indicative of their being the language of truth and real feeling. He is describing a field of battle: "A thousand voices addressed me in the most heart-rending manner, imploring assistance. One expired in asking for it; another in repulsing, through the convulsions of death, the proffered hand! Our own wounded could not be distinguished from those of the enemy. I thought myself on those infernal plains where the guilty groan for ever, and have no resource, because they are watched over by no providence! I know not what secret voice arose within me against war. I have seen a father, a brother, and a son, even after the heat of battle, cut the throat of a defenceless old man; I have seen the brains of an infant beat out in its cradle; and a young girl dying under bloody embraces. I have seen men go like sheep to certain death, led by the phantoms of honour and glory. I have seen men considered as vile and brittle instruments, which other men threw away, and broke to pieces without regret. I have heard a minister of state say, that he had spent so many men in a campaign!"
I will only prolong this note by a tale from Ferguson's History of Civil Society, the recollection of which was suggested by the mercantile mode of speaking attributed to statesmen by the Ex-king of Holland:
"In small, rude societies, the individual finds himself attacked in every national war ; and none can propose to devolve his defence on another. The king of Spain is a great prince,' said an American Chief to the Governor of Jamaica, who was preparing a body of troops to join an enterprise against the Spaniards; do you propose to make war upon so great a king with so small a force?' Being told that the forces he saw were to be joined by troops from Europe, and that the governor could then command no more: 'who are these, then,' said the American, who form this crowd of spectators ? Are they not your people? And why do you not all go forth to so great a war?' He was answered, that the spectators were merchants, and other inhabitants, who took no part in the service. Would they be merchants still,' continued this statesman, if the King of Spain was to attack you here? For my part, I do not think that merchants should be permitted to live in any country; when I go to war, I leave nobody at home but the women.' It should seem that this simple warrior considered merchants as a kind of neutral persons, who took no part in the quarrels of their country; and that he did not know how much war itself may be made a subject of traffic; what mighty armies may be put in motion from behind the counter; how often human blood is, without any national animosity, bought and sold for bills of exchange, and how often the prince, the nobles, and the statesmen, in many a polished nation, might, in his account, be considered as merchants."