Page images
[ocr errors]

were connected with temporary policy, as in the higher light in which they indicated the character of nations, and betrayed the prevalence of dispositions inauspicious to the prospects of mankind. None of the unavowed writings of Mr Burke, and perhaps few of his acknowledged writings, exhibit more visible marks of his hand than the History of Europe in the Annual Register of 1772, which opens with a philosophical and eloquent vindication of the policy which watched over the balance of power, and with a prophetic display of the evils which were to flow from the renunciation of that policy by France and England in suffering the partition of Poland. The little transactions of Denmark, which were despised by many as a petty and obscure intrigue, and affected the majority only as the part of the romance or tragedy of real life, appeared to the philosophical statesman pregnant with melancholy instruction. It has,' says he, been too hastily and too generally received an opinion with • the most eminent writers, and from them too carelessly received by the world, that the Northern nations, at all times ⚫ and without exception, have been passionate admirers of liberty, and tenacious to an extreme of their rights. A little attention will show, that this opinion ought to be received with many restrictions. Sweden and Denmark have, within little more than a century, given absolute demonstration to the contrary; and the vast nation of the Russes, who overspread so great a part of the North, have, at all times, so long as their name has been known, or their acts remembered by history, • been incapable of any other than a despotic government. And notwithstanding the contempt in which we hold the • Eastern nations, and the slavish disposition we attribute to them, it may be found, if we make a due allowance for the figurative style and manner of the Orientals, that the official papers, public acts and speeches, at the Courts of Petersburgh, Copenhagen and Stockholm, are in as unmanly a strain of servility and adulation as those of the most despotic of the Asiatic governments.'


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

It was doubtless an error to class Russia with the Scandinavian nations, merely because they were both comprehended within the same parallels of latitude. The Russians differ from them in race, a circumstance always to be considered, though more liable to be exaggerated or underrated, than any other which contributes to determine the character of nations. No Sarmatian people has ever been free. The Russians profess a religion, founded on the blindest submission of the understanding, which is, in their modern modification of it, directed to their temporal sovereign. They were for ages the

slaves of the Tartars; the larger part of their dominions is Asiatic, and they were, till lately, with justice, more regarded as, an Eastern than as a Western nation. But the nations of Scandinavia were of that Teutonic race, who were the founders, of civil liberty. They early embraced the Reformation, which ought to have taught them the duty of exercising reason freely on every subject. Their spirit has never been broken by a foreign yoke. Writing in the year when despotism was established in Sweden, and its baneful effects so strikingly exhibited in Denmark, Mr Burke may be excused for comparing these then unhappy countries to those vast regions of Asia, which have been the immemorial seat of slavery. The revolution which we have been considering, shows the propriety of the parallel in all its parts. If it only proved that absolute power corrupts the tyrant, there are many too debased to dread it on that account. But it shows him at Copenhagen, as at Ispahan, reduced to personal insignificance, a pageant occasionally exhibited by his ministers, or a tool in their hands, compelled to do whatever suits their purpose, without power to save the life even of a minion, and without security, in cases of extreme violence, for his own. Nothing can more clearly prove, that, under absolute monarchy, good laws, if they could by a miracle be framed, must always prove utterly vain; that civil liberty cannot exist without political liberty; and that the detestable distinction, lately attempted in this country by the advocates of intolerance, between freedom and political power, never can be allowed in practice, without, in the first instance, destroying all securities for good government, and very soon introducing every species of corruption and oppression.

The part of Mr Burke's History which we have quoted, is followed by a memorable passage, which seems, in later times, to have escaped the notice both of his opponents and adherents, and was probably forgotten by himself. After speaking of the final victory of Louis XV. over the French Parliaments, of whom he says, that their fate seems to be finally decided, * ' and the few remains of public liberty that were preserved in these illustrious bodies are now no more,' he proceeds to general reflection on the condition and prospects of Europe. In a word, if we seriously consider the mode of supporting 'great standing armies, which becomes daily more prevalent,

* They were reestablished four years afterwards. But as this arose, not from the spirit of the nation, but from the advisers of the young King, who had full power to grant or withhold their restoration, the want of foresight is rather apparent than substantial.

VOL. XLIV. NO. 83.



Danish Revolution under Struensee.

Sept. it will appear evident, that nothing less than a convulsion that will shake the globe to its centre, can ever restore the European nations to that liberty by which they were once so much distinguished. The Western world was its seat until another more western was discovered: and that other will probably be its asylum I when it is hunted down in every other part of the world. Happy it is that the worst of times may have one refuge left for humanity.'

This passage is not so much a prophecy of the French Revolution, as a declaration that, without a convulsion as deep and dreadful as that great event, the European nations had no chance of being restored to their ancient dignity and their natural rights. Had it been written after, or at least soon after the events, it might have been blamed as indicating too little indignation against guilt, and compassion for suffering. Even when considered as referring to the events of a distant futurity, it may be charged with a pernicious exaggeration, which seems to extenuate revclutionary horrors by representing them as inevitable, and by laying it down falsely that wisdom and virtue can find no other road to liberty. It would, however, be very unjust to charge such a purpose on Mr Burke, or indeed to impute such a tendency to his desponding anticipations. He certainly appears to have foreseen, that the progress of despotism would at length provoke a general and fearful resistance, the event of which, with a wise scepticism, he does not dare to foretell; rather, however, as a fond and therefore fearful lover of European liberty, foreboding that she will be driven from her ancient seats, and leave the inhabitants of Europe to be numbered with Asiatic slaves. The fierceness of the struggle he clearly saw, and most distinctly predicts; for he knew that the most furious passions of human nature would be enlisted on both sides. He does not conclude, from this dreadful prospect, that the chance of liberty ought to be relinquished, rather than expose a country to the probability or possibility of such a contest, but, on the contrary, very intelligibly declares, by the melancholy tone in which he adverts to the expulsion of liberty, that every evil is to be hazarded for her preservation. It would be well if most of his professed adherents would bear in mind, that such is the true doctrine of most of those whom they dread and revile as incendiaries. The friends of freedom only profess that those who have recourse to the only remaining means of preserving or acquiring liberty, are not morally responsible for the evils which may arise in an inevitable combat. The Danish dominions continued to be administered in the name of Christian VII., for the long period of thirty-six years after the deposition of Struensee. The mental incapacity under which he always laboured, was not formally recognised till the


association of his son, now King of Denmark, with him in the Government. He did not cease to breathe till 1808, after a nominal reign of forty-three years, and an animal existence of near sixty. During the latter part of that period, the real rulers of the country were wise and honest men.

Denmark enjoyed a considerable interval of prosperity under the moderate administration of Bernstorff, whose merit in forbearing to join the coalition against France in 1793, is greatly enhanced by his personal abhorence of the Revolution. His adoption of Reverdil's measures of enfranchisement, sheds the purest glory on his name. The fate of Denmark, after the ambition of Napoleon had penetrated into the North, the iniquity with which she was stripped by Russia of Norway, for adherence to an alliance which Russia had compelled her to join, and as a compensation to Sweden for Finland, of which Sweden had been robbed by Russia, are events too familiarly known to be recounted here. She is now no more than a principality, whose arms are still surmounted by a royal crown. A free and popular government, under the same wise administration, might have arrested many of these calamities, and afforded a new proof, that the attachment of a people to a government in which they have a palpable interest and a direct share, is the most secure foundation of defensive strength.

The political misfortunes of Denmark disprove the commonplace opinion, that all enslaved nations deserve their fate; for the moral and intellectual qualities of the Danes seem to qualify them for the firm and prudent exercise of the privileges of freemen. All those by whom they are well known, commend their courage, honesty, and industry. The information of the laborious classes has made a considerable progress since their enfranchisement. Their literature, like that of the other Northern nations, has generally been dependent on that of Germany, with which country they are closely connected in language and religion. In the last half century, they have made persevering efforts to build up a national literature. The resistance of their fleet in 1801 has been the theme of many Danish poets; but we believe that they have been as unsuccessful in their bold competition with Campbell, as their mariners in their gallant contest with Nelson. A poor and somewhat secluded country, with a small and dispersed population, which has produced Tycho Brahe, one of the greatest names in the history of astronomy, Oehlenschlæger one of the first tragic poets of our age, and Thorwaldsen, the most celebrated artist of the Continent, must be owned to have contributed her full contingent to the intellectual greatness of Europe.

ART. IV.-Narrative of the Surrender of Buonaparte, and of his Residence on Board H. M. S. Bellerophon, with a detail of the Principal Events that occurred in that Ship, between the 24th of May and 8th of August 1815. By Captain F. L. MAITLAND, C. B. 8vo. pp. 264. London, Colburn, 1826.

THE great and undiminished interest, which every thing connected with Napoleon continues to excite, may be traced, we think, to a higher source than the mere gratification of curiosity. The incessant attempts to blacken his character while living, by every kind of falsehood, showed that those who supposed their employers could be served by defaming him, were not content with exhibiting his failings in the worst light, and exaggerating the crimes, of which, in common with all former conquerors, though in a less degree than any of them, he undoubtedly was guilty. Pure fiction must needs be resorted to; and, after the most ridiculous attempts to depreciate his civil and military fame, he must be made to appear as hateful ín private life as, in his public capacity, those traducers were compelled to admit he was formidable. The puny successes of contemporary spite have had their day;-all now admit that Napoleon was the great man of his age, taking the word in its common and most false acceptation-the man by whose name this age will in after times be known;-that as a warrior he ranked before any of his predecessors, and as a lawgiver among the foremost in any age;-and that he will be eclipsed, in all likelihood, by those who follow him, rather in the attributes of self-denial and patriotism, than of genius; a grand superiority, without doubt, and one which, other things being equal or nearly equal, must throw his fame, brilliant as its lustre now is, at once into the shade. Justice being done to his public qualities, it is natural that those, who had been misled by the almost unbounded powers of repeated misrepresentation, should desire to correct their errors respecting his private and personal character. Certain it is, that the more we learn of him, and the nearer we approach him at the most critical moments of his life, the deeper is the impression produced in his favour; and a sense of justice towards his memory, now that he can no longer inflict any injuries upon us, seems to incline most men towards contemplating him in private, as the surest means of obliterating the effects created by deceptions so long practised against his reputation.

The circumstances attending his surrender had been known, in the general, from the period of that remarkable event; but

« PreviousContinue »