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For JULY, 1823.
Art. I. History of the Peninsular War. By Robert Southey, Esq.
LL.D. In three Volumes. Vol. I. 4to. pp. 806. Price 21. 105.
London. 1823. WITH the exception
Spain is the most interesting region in Christendom, the most fertile in romantic associations, and the most remarkable in national character. Were there no other distinguishing circumstance in its records than the fact, that it has been twice, perhaps we should say thrice, in nearly complete military possession of its enemies, and yet not only remained unconquered, but ultimately proved triumphant, this would give to its annals a peculiar attraction. But the events of Spanish history are even more extraordinary in their connexion than in themselves. Twice has Spain been the debateable ground between Europe and Africa. Rome and Carthage contended for empire within its limits; and when the Saracens made their desperate effort for the possession of Christendom, Spain was one of the advanced positions on which they seized. The claim of succession to its crown, arrayed armies from England, Germany, and France, on its soil at one and the same moment; and its recent revolutions have exhibited and occasioned the most striking vicissitudes of a period marked by changes and occurrences of the most uncommon kind.
Dr. Southey is certainly happy in his choice of subjects. In his dramatic, epic, romantic, biographical, and historical compositions, we never find him taking up an insignificant name, an obscure theatre, or an uninteresting story. Nor has he, in the present instance, been unmindful of his former discretion. He has chosen a part of history, not only in the highest degree VOL. XX. N.S.
important, but for the illustration of which he is excellently
It is most painful to compare the later periods of Spanish
• In other countries where absolute monarchy has been established, and the Romish superstition has triumphed, both have been in some degree modified by the remains of old institutions, the vicinity of free states, and the influence of literature and manners. But in Spain and Portugal, almost all traces of the ancient constitution had been effaced; and as there existed nothing to qualify the spirit of popery, a memorable example was given of its unmitigated effects. The experiment of intolerance was tried with as little compunction as in Japan, and upon a larger scale. Like the Japanese government, the Inquisition went through with what it began; and though it could not in like manner secure its victory, by closing the ports and barring the passes of the Peninsula, it cut off, as much as possible, all intel
lectual communication with the rest of the world. The courts of Madrid and Lisbon were as despotie as those of Constantinople and Ispahan. They did not, indeed, manifest their power by acts of blood, because the reigning families were not cruel, and cruelty had ceased to be a characteristic of the times; but with that cold, callous insensibility to which men are liable, in proportion as they are removed from the common sympathies of humankind, they permitted their ministers to dispense at pleasure exile and hopeless imprisonment, to the rigour and inhumanity of which death itself would have been mercy. The laws afforded no protection, for the will of the minister was above the laws; and every man who possessed influence at court, violated them with impunity, and procured impunity for all whom he chose to protect. Scarcely did there exist even an appear. ance of criminal justice. Quarrels among the populace were commonly decided by the knife: he who stabbed an antagonist or an enemy in the street, wiped the instrument in his cloak, and passed on unmolested by the spectators, who never interfered farther than to call a priest to the dying man. When it happened that a crimi. nal was thrown into prison, there he remained till it became necessary to make room for a new set of tenants : the former were then turned adrift; or, if their crimes had been notorious and frequent, they were shipped off to some foreign settlement.
• After the triumph of the monarchial power, the Cortes had fallen first into insignificance, then into disuse. There was no legislative body; the principle of the government being, that all laws and public measures of every kind were to proceed from the will and pleasure of the sovereign. Men of rank, therefore, if they were not in office, had no share in public business; and their deplorable education rendered them little fit either to improve or enjoy a life of perfect leisure. It is said also to have been the system of both governments, while they yet retained some remains of perverted policy, to keep the nobles in attendance about the court, where they might be led into habits of emulous extravagance, which would render them hungry for emoluments, and thereby dependent upon the crown. The long continued moral deterioration of the privileged classes had produced in many instances a visible physical degeneracy; and this tendency was increased by those incestuous marriages, common in both cuuntries, which pride and avarice bad introduced, and for which the sanction of an immoral church was to be purchased.
• The armies partook of the general degradation. The forms of military power existed like the forms of justice: but they resembled the trunk of a tree, of which the termites have eaten out the timber, and only the bark remains. There appeared in the yearly almanacks a respectable list of regiments, and a redundant establishment of officers: but brave and capable of endurance as the Portuguese and Spaniards are, never were there such officers or such armies in any country which has ranked among civilized nations. Subalterns might be seen waiting behind a chair in their uniforms, or asking alms in the streets ; and the men were what soldiers necessarily become when, without acquiring any one virtue of their profession, its sense of character and honour, its regularity, or its habits of restraint, they possess all its license, and have free scope for the vices which spring up in idleness. Drawn by lot into a compulsory service, illdisciplined, and ill-paid, they were burdensome to the people, without affording any security to the nation. pp. 4—7.
Religion, taking the word in its emphatic sense, was in a most miserable condition; but it presented, in some respects, a less gloomy aspect. Although the people at large were under the absolute dominion of superstitious feeling, and the parochial clergy, as well as the monastic orders, were nearly on the same level with the laity in point of mental enlargement, yet there were signs of the approach of a better state of things. The dignitaries of the church were men of respectable characters. The spirit of intolerance was mitigated; much had been done, by commercial intercourse and other circumstances, to diminish the horror in which heretics had been formerly held; and some progress had been made towards the introduction of liberal opinions. The morals of the lower classes were deeply depraved, and the influence of what may be • called their vulgar, rather than their popular literature, must have greatly tended to the increase of their licentiousness. The robber or the assassin was usually the hero of the ballad; nor was the Spanish drama free from this gross perversion of right feeling and taste. Even the higher orders were infected by this corruption of manners. Noblemen delighted to ape the ruffian and the bravo, and women were found among those ' of distinguished rank, who affected the dress and the manners • of the vilest of their sex. Such was the state of things in Spain, when the Revolution involved France in the calamities of civil commotion, and ultimately placed the sceptre of that country in the hands of a military adventurer, gifted with faculties of the highest order, but deficient in the judgement and moderation necessary for the retention and consolidation of power. The outline of the great transactions of that era is sketched, but not with a master hand. There appears to be too much of party feeling, on a contracted scale, in the mind of the present Historian, for either a candid or an enlarged view of events which require an unusual absence of prejudice in the individual who undertakes to trace out their course, and to analyse their precise qualities. He writes, in this portion of his work at least, too much in the character of a regularly drilled politician and pamphleteer, and with too little of the calm and impartial tone of an independent chronicler, to admit of our adopting his representations as our own, and, and at the same time, without enough of detail and definition to render it expedient to discuss with him the merits of the case. Dr.