Page images
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]


ALISON'S HISTORY OF EUROPE is the most voluminous work of the day; it employed its author twenty-eight years in study and composition; it contains more than double the reading matter of Scott's Napoleon, occupies ten large octavos, and fills between eight and nine thousand pages: such a work—at whatever price it may be published—is sealed to the general reader, as well as to colleges, academies, and other seminaries of learning. The editor of this volume has therefore undertaken to place before his countrymen, within a compass that all may have leisure to read and means to purchase, a condensed account of that eventful period which Mr. Alison styles the era of Napoleon.

With this object in view, the editor has, as he believes, extracted every material fact from Mr. Alison's work, adding nothing of his own in the way of opinion, argument, or assertion, and endeavoring to present the original narrative— abridged of its repetitions, superfluities, inaccuracies, and inelegancies-in the spirit of its author: the preservation of Mr. Alison's language, however, is but partially attained, as the requisite degree of condensation often rendered that impossible. To avoid misapprehension on this point, it may be proper to say that every line of this volume has been transcribed by the editor's own hand, and not one paragraph is given in the precise words of the original.

It is not to be supposed that the omissions, in the compilation of this book, have been made with unerring judgment; but on this subject the editor contents himself with believing that no two living men would entirely agree as to what should be rejected and what retained in such an abridgment of such a work.

The editor deems it needless to speak in detail of the merits of Alison's History that they are transcendant-that the work, as a whole, is one of the most valuable productions of this, or any age, the world has already decided.


The campaigns of Wellington in India, though arounding in interest, have no direct connexion with European general history; and, as they could not be introduced at length without disturbing the plan of the book, they are omitted. The chapter on British Finances is placed, without abridgment, at the end of the volume, in the form of an Appendix.


The chapter on the American War-which the editor believes is destined to an unenviable notoriety whenever it shall be currently circulated-is a tissue of misrepresentation; and, as it has no legitimate connexion with the "History of Europe," is a gratuitous libel on the people and institutions of the United States, and could not be admitted into an American book without alterations contradictory to the title-page of this volume-it has been wholly omitted.

There are many faults in Mr. Alison's book, which it is to be hoped he may revise for a future edition. Corrections of style cannot, indeed, be expected, for such a process would require a re-writing of the entire work; and, besides, an author capable of so many blunders, would almost necessarily be incapable of amending them. His constant use of the word whole, as synonymous with all, is singularly absurd: "a diplomatic note from the whole sovereigns;" "the whole soldiers retreated;" "he brought the whole guns to the front;" "the whole houses were occupied by marksmen." The word important is reiterated until it forces a smile: almost every town, fortress, and post defended or captured throughout the whole narrative is designated as an "important" one. The repetition of the same word in a sentence is another great fault in Mr. Alison's style: a large supply of mules was obtained to supply the great destruction of those useful animals ;" "the first business committed to the Senate and Chamber was the nomination of a committee;"" because a brave nation is not to be regarded as overthrown because it has experienced reverses;" "had no alternative but to submit, even on the hard terms of submitting to the cession of Norway;" "while this bloody conflict was going on on the steeps above Zadorra on the right;" "even the generals were shaken by the general contagion;" "obtain for Sweden the support of some foreign power able to support its independence;" "it was owing to the time lost in this march and countermarch that the failure of the operation was owing:" these examples are but a small portion of what might be quoted. A worse fault than this is Mr. Alison's misuse of words: he frequently writes of "a majority of seventyfour to five,” “a majority of two hundred and twenty-six to thirty;" "the officers and soldiers of the army were the seat of this conspiracy;" "officials, nominated by the crown, who enjoyed their seats only during life;" "both in the tribune, in the Club of Clichy and in the public journals;" "the stocks rose from forty-five to seventy, an advance of twenty-five per cent. ;" "the taxes on the inhabitants were raised to two hundred per cent. on their incomes;" "their respective shares in the partition of Europe were chalked out;" "the Russians and Austrians threw upon each other the late disasters" "he was believed to be the sole survivor of his followers."

Mr. Alison frequently falls into magniloquence. Speaking of Napoleon's return from Egypt, he says: "Discourses of this sort, in every mouth, threw the public into transports, so much the more entrancing as they succeeded a long period of disaster; the joyful intelligence was announced, amid thunders of applause; at all the theatres; patriotic songs.again sent forth their heart-stirring strains from the orchestra; and more than one enthusiast expired of joy at the advent of the hero who was to terminate the difficulties of the Republic." Referring to the retreat of the French army from Germany after the battle of Leipsic, Mr. Alison says: "the French eagles bade a final adieu to the German plains, the theatre of their glories, of their crimes, and of their punishment." When the British troops entered Bordeaux, in 1814, the inhabitants of that town proclaimed Louis XVIII. king: Mr. Alison thus comments on the proceeding: "Thus had England the glory of, first of all the allied powers, obtaining an open declaration from a great city in France in favor of their ancient but exiled monarch-just twenty years

and one month after the contest had begun, from the murder of the best and most blameless of their line."(!) After the battle of Malo-Jaroslawitz, Napoleon held a council of war, of which Mr. Alison remarks: "An Emperor, two Kings, and three Marshals were there assembled: upon their deliberations hung the destinies of the world." This Emperor was Napoleon, the two kings were Eugene Beauharnois and Murat, the marshals, Berthier, Bessières and Davoust; and the time was during the retreat from Moscow, when it was doubtful whether the parties thus deliberating could force their way through the lines of their enemies. In concluding this subject of inaccuracies and inelegancies of style, it may be remarked, that the History of Mr. Alison abounds in mis-prints, for which, of course, he is not responsible, although their correction is important to the accuracy of the work. Pius VII. is denominated Pius VI.; Austria is printed for Asturia, and again for Custrin; Finland for Sweden; Souham for Jourdan; notres liberateurs for nos liberateurs; 31st for the 30th of April; and in an indefinite number of instances the dates in the marginal notes are erroneous.


Of the historical inaccuracies of Mr. Alison, it will suffice to designate a few of the many instances in which he contradicts himself. In speaking of the battle of Malo-Jaroslawitz, on the retreat from Moscow, 1812, he says, that was "the first time Napoleon ever retired in an open field from his enemies ;" yet at Aspern, in 1809, after a much more disastrous defeat, Napoleon, he says, "retreated from his enemies in an open field." Commenting on the battle of Dresden, August, 1813, he says the action was memorable from being "the last pitched battle Napoleon ever gained;" yet he tells us that Napoleon won the battle of Hanau, October, 1813; of Champaubert, February, 1814; of Montereau, February, 1814 -which also he styles "the last and not the least brilliant of Napoleon's victories ;" and, finally, the battle of Ligny, June, 1815. Relating the arbitrary measures of Napoleon to sustain the war and his government, after the battle of Leipsic, Mr. Alison says, a decree was passed by the Senate vesting the nomiation of President of the Chamber of Deputies in the Emperor, and prorogating the seat of such of the Deputies as had expired, and required to be filled up anew, so as to prevent any new election in the present disturbed state of the public mind." Mr. Alison's meaning in this ill-written sentence is, that the Deputies, whose terms of service had expired were made, in the phrase of the present day, to hold over, i. e. to continue to occupy their seats; yet, soon after, in referring to the proceeding, he says, "notwithstanding the pains which had been taken to secure the interest of Napoleon in the Chamber, by granting to him the nomination of its President, and the filling up of the vacant seats by the same authority, it soon appeared," etc. Here we are told that the old members were kept in office and that new members were put into their vacated seats: it is not, indeed, material which of the two accounts is the true one, but the contradiction is a serious blunder in an elaborate History. Again, speaking of the Charter granted by Louis XVIII., after his first restoration, Mr. Alison recites its merits and its faults; in the former enumeration, he says, "prosecution or imprisonment was forbidden, except in the cases provided for by law, and according to its forms:" in the latter, he

says, "no provision was inserted to prevent or restrain arbitrary imprisonment, or limit the period during which a person arrested might be detained before trial.”

The value of Mr. Alison's work is also greatly impaired by an accumulation of useless and uninteresting details; by repetitions, to the third, fourth and fifth time, of the same events; and by the immethodical arrangement of chapters and paragraphs, which places so many things out of the true order of their occurrence, that the reader is constantly perplexed as to the chronological bearing of the incidents upon each other.

It is unnecessary, though it would be easy, to prolong the perhaps ungracious task of pointing out the faults of Mr. Alison's History: the editor has said thus much in dispraise of the work, in order to furnish substantial reasons for undertaking its abridgment; whether he has committed errors equal in number and consequence to those he has detected, is a matter for the public to decide.

NEW-YORK, October, 1843.

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »