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A battle is by possibility the grandest, and also the meanest, of human exploits. It is the grandest when it is fought for godlike truth, for human dignity, or for human rights; it is the meanest when it is fought for petty advantages (as, by way of example, for accession of territory which adds nothing to the security of a frontier), and still more when it is fought simply as a gladiator's trial of national prowess. This is the principle upon which, very naturally, our British school-boys value a battle. Painful it is to add, that this is the principle upon which our adult neighbors the French seem to value a battle.
To any man who, like myself, admires the high-toned, martial gallantry of the French, and pays a cheerful tribute of respect to their many intellectual triumphs, it is painful to witness the childish state of feeling which the French people manifest on every possible question that connects itself at any point with martial pretensions. A battle is valued by them on the same principles, not better and not worse, as govern our own school-boys. Every battle is viewed by the boys as a test applied to the personal prowess of each individual soldier; and, naturally amongst boys, it would be the merest hypocrisy to take any higher ground. But amongst adults, arrived at the power of reflecting and comparing, we look for something nobler. We English estimate Waterloo, not by its amount of killed and wounded, but as the battle which terminated a series of battles, having one common object, namely, the overthrow of a frightful tyranny. A great sepulchral shadow rolled away from the face of Christendom as that day's sun went down to his rest; for, had the success been less absolute, an opportunity would have offered for negotiation, and consequently for an infinity of intrigues through the feuds always gathering upon national jealousies amongst allied armies. The dragon would soon have healed his wounds; after which the prosperity of the despotism would have been greater than before. But, without reference to Waterloo in particular, we, on our part, find it impossible to contemplate any memorable battle otherwise than according to its tendency towards some commensurate object. To the French this must be impossible, seeing that no lofty (that is, no disinterested) purpose has ever been so much as counterfeited for a French war, nor therefore for a French battle. Aggression, cloaked at the very utmost in the garb of retaliation for counter aggressions on the part of the enemy, stands forward uniformly in the van of such motives as it is thought worth while to plead. But in French casuistry it is not held necessary to plead anything; war justifies itself. To fight for the experimental purpose of trying the proportions of martial merit, but
(to speak frankly) for the purpose of publishing and renewing to Europe the proclamation of French superiority—that is the object of French wars. Like the Spartan of old, the Frenchman would hold that a state of peace, and not a state of war, is the state which calls for apology; and that already from the first such an apology must wear a very suspicious aspect of paradox.
3. "The English Mail-Coach."1-This little paper, according to my original intention, formed part of the "Suspiria de Profundis," from which, for a momentary purpose, I did not scruple to detach it, and to publish it apart, as sufficiently intelligible even when dislocated from its place in a larger whole. To my surprise, however, one or two critics, not carelessly in conversation, but deliberately in print, professed their inability to apprehend the meaning of the whole, or to follow the links of the connection between its several parts. I am myself as little able to understand where the difficulty lies, or to detect any lurking obscurity, as those critics found themselves to unravel my logic. Possibly I may not be an indifferent and neutral judge in such a case. I will therefore sketch a brief abstract of the little paper according to my own original design, and then leave the reader to judge how far this design is kept in sight through the actual
Thirty-seven years ago, or rather more, accident made me, in the dead of night, and of a night memorably solemn, the solitary witness to an appalling scene, which threatened instant death, in a shape the most terrific, to two young people, whom I had no means of assisting, except in so far as I was able to give them a most hurried warning of their danger; but even that not until they stood within the very shadow of the catastrophe, being divided from the most frightful of deaths by scarcely more, if more at all, than seventy seconds.
Such was the scene, such in its outline, from which the whole of this paper radiates as a natural expansion. The scene is circumstantially narrated in Section the Second, entitled, "The Vision of Sudden Death."
But a movement of horror and of spontaneous recoil from this dreadful scene naturally carried the whole of that scene, raised and idealised, into my dreams, and very soon into a rolling succession of dreams. The actual scene, as looked down upon from the box of the mail, was transformed into a dream, as tumultuous and changing as a musical fugue. This troubled Dream is circumstantially reported in Section the Third, entitled, "Dream-Fugue upon the Theme of
1 Published in the "Miscellaneous Essays."
Sudden Death." What I had beheld from my seat upon the mall,the scenical strife of action and passion, of anguish and fear, as I had there witnessed them moving in ghostly silence; this duel between life and death narrowing itself to a point of such exquisite evanescence as the collision neared, all these elements of the scene blended, under the law of association, with the previous and permanent features of distinction investing the mail itself, which features at that time lay-1st, in velocity unprecedented; 2dly, in the power and beauty of the horses: 3dly, in the official connection with the government of a great nation; and, 4thly, in the function, almost a consecrated function, of publishing and diffusing through the land the great political events, and especially the great battles during a conflict of unparalleled grandeur. These honorary distinctions are all described circumstantially in the FIRST or introductory section ("The Glory of Motion"). The three first were distinctions maintained at all times; but the fourth and grandest belonged exclusively to the war with Napoleon; and this it was which most naturally introduced Waterloo into the dream. Waterloo, I understood, was the particular feature of the "Dream-Fugue" which my censors were least able to account for. Yet surely Waterloo, which, in common with every other great battle, it had been our special privilege to publish over all the land, most naturally entered the Dream under the license of our privilege. If not-if there be anything amiss — let the Dream be responsible. The Dream is a law to itself; and as well quarrel with a rainbow for showing, or for not showing, a secondary arch. So far as I know, every element in the shifting movements of the Dream derived itself either primarily from the incidents of the actual scene, or from secondary features associated with the mail. For example, the cathedral aisle derived itself from the mimic combination of features which grouped themselves together at the point of approaching collision, namely, an arrow-like section of the road, six hundred yards long, under the solemn lights described, with lofty trees meeting overhead in arches. The guard's horn, again—a humble instrument in itself—was yet glorified as the organ of publication for so many great national events. And the incident of the Dying Trumpeter, who rises from a marble bas-relief, and carries a marble trumpet to his marble lips for the purpose of warning the female infant, was doubtless secretly suggested by my own imperfect effort to seize the guard's horn, and to blow a warning blast. But the Dream knows best; and the Dream, I say again, is the responsible party.
4. "Tae Spanish Nun."-There are some narratives, which, though pure fictions from first to last, counterfeit so vividly the air of grave realities, that, if deliberately offered for such, they would for a time impose upon everybody. In the opposite scale there are other narratives, which, whilst rigorously true, move amongst characters and scenes so remote from our ordinary experience, and through a state of society so favorable to an adventurous cast of incidents, that they would everywhere pass for romances, if severed from the documents which attest their fidelity to facts. In the former class stand the admirable novels of De Foe; and, on a lower range, within the same category, the inimitable "Vicar of Wakefield; " upon which last novel, without at all designing it, I once became the author of the following instructive experiment. I had given a copy of this little novel to a beautiful girl of seventeen, the daughter of a statesman in Westmoreland, not designing any deception (nor so much as any concealment) with respect to the fictitious character of the incidents and of the actors in that famous tale. Mere accident it was that had intercepted those explanations as to the extent of fiction in these points which in this case it would have been so natural to make. Indeed, considering the exquisite verisimilitude of the work meeting with such absolute inexperience in the reader, it was almost a duty to have made them. This duty, however, something had caused me to forget; and when next I saw the young mountaineer, I forgot that I had forgotten it. Consequently, at first I was perplexed by the unfaltering gravity with which my fair young friend spoke of Dr. Primrose, of Sophia and her sister, of Squire Thornhill, &c., as real and probably living personages, who could sue and be sued. It appeared that this artless young rustic, who had never heard of novels and romances as a bare possibility amongst all the shameless devices of London swindlers, had read with religious fidelity every word of this tale, so thoroughly life-like, surrendering her perfect faith and her loving sympathy to the different persons in the tale, and the natural distresses in which they are involved, without suspecting, for a moment, that by so much as a breathing of exaggeration or of embellishment the pure gospel truth of the narrative could have been sullied. She listened, in a kind of breathless stupor, to my frank explanation. that not part only, but the whole, of this natural tale was a pure invention. Scorn and indignation flashed from her eyes. She regarded herself
1 Published in "Narrative and Miscellaneous Essays."
as cne who had been hoaxed and swindled; begged me to take back the book; and never again, to the end of her life, could endure to look into the book, or to be reminded of that criminal imposture which Dr. Oliver Goldsmith had practised upon her youthful credulity.
In that case, a book altogether fabulous, and not meaning to offer itself for anything else, had been read as genuine history. Here, on the other hand, the adventures of the Spanish Nun, which in every detail of time and place have since been sifted and authenticated, stood a good chance at one period of being classed as the most lawless of romances. It is, indeed, undeniable, and this arises as a natural result from the bold, adventurous character of the heroine, and from the unsettled state of society at that period in Spanish America, that a reader the most credulous would at times be startled with doubts upon what seems so unvarying a tenor of danger and lawless violence. But, on the other hand, it is also undeniable that a reader the most obstinately sceptical would be equally startled in the very opposite direction, on remarking that the incidents are far from being such as a romance-writer would have been likely to invent; since, if striking, tragic, and even appalling, they are at times repulsive. And it seems evident that, once putting himself to the cost of a wholesale fiction, the writer would have used his privilege more freely for his own advantage. Whereas the author of these memoirs clearly writes under the coërcion and restraint of a notorious reality, that would not suffer him to ignore or to modify the leading facts. Then, as to the objection that few people or none have an experience presenting such uniformity of perilous adventure, a little closer attention shows that the experience in this case is not uniform ; and so far otherwise, that a period of several years in Kate's South American life is confessedly suppressed; and on no other ground whatever than that this long parenthesis is not adventurous, not essentially differing from the monotonous character of ordinary Spanish life.
Suppose the case, therefore, that Kate's memoirs had been thrown upon the world with no vouchers for their authenticity beyond such internal presumptions as would have occurred to thoughtful readers, when reviewing the entire succession of incidents, I am of opinion that the person best qualified by legal experience to judge of evidence would finally have pronounced a favorable award; since it is easy to understand that in a world so vast as the Peru, the Mexico, the Chili, of Spaniards during the first quarter of the seventeenth century, and