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MR. Alison's Life of the Duke of Marlborough is an enchanting romance—the romance of a dazzling but stern reality; and Marlborough is its equally stern and dazzling hero. It is, moreover, a romance equally exciting and instructive to both soldier and civilian; told, too, with the scrupulous truthfulness befitting reality, and by one of sagacity sufficient to perceive that, by so doing, he would preserve the ethereal essence of the romance, rendering it intense to the reader for mere excitement, (whose name, alas! is now legion,) while irradiating the path of the plodding inquirer after mere matter of fact. We assert that in these volumes are to be found many essential elements of the most enthralling romance of actual life. Hairbreadth personal 'scapes
* The Life of John Duke of Marlborough, with some Account of his Contemporaries, and of the War of the Succession. By ARCHIBALD Alison, LL.D. Second edition, greatly enlarged, 2 vols. 8vo., William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1852. ł “How much do the events of real life outstrip all that romance has figured or would venture to j. observes Mr. Alison, (vol. i. p. 403,) in escribing the pious and enthusiastic greeting given by Prince Eugene to his aged mother, whom he had not seen since his youth, having been driven into exile by the haughty Louis XIV, on whom he since inflicted such crushing defeats, and at whose expense he had become so great a hero! interview took place at Brussels, whither Eugene eagerly repaired, immediately after the bloody victory of Oudenarde. “The fortnight I opent with her was the happiest of my life,” said her laurelled son.
of the hero, from captivity and death; glorious battles, but of long doubtful issue; devouring and undying love; plots and counterplots without end, now on a grand, then on a paltry scale, national and individual; implacable animosities, deadly jealousies; enthusiastic gratitude suddenly converted into execrable ingratitude; court favor now blazing in its zenith, then suddenly and disastrously eclipsed; stern fortitude, magnificent heroism amidst exquisite trials and tremendous dangers; the wasting anxieties of the statesman's cabinet and the warrior's tent; what would one have more ? And yet there is more, and much more, to be found in these volumes, as we shall hereafter see. Mr. Alison's hero is he who was known as “the handsome Englishman;” a title conferred upon him, not by sighing ladies fair, but by a man who saw him in his blooming youth, in his twenty-second year—by no less a personage than the great warrior Turenne, under whose auspices he began playing, very eagerly, the brilliant game of soldiering. This was in the matter (as the lawyers say) of the French against the Dutch, wherein he learned the art by which he afterwards gave his teachers fearful evidence of the extent of his obligation to them. And he was handsome. Of that fact Mr. Alison has enabled us to judge, by a fine portrait, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, of Marlborough, when in the prime of manhood. We cannot conceive a nobler countenance than here looks on the reader; it is the perfection of manly beauty.
There is a certain serene frankness, a dignity, a subdued vivacity and power in those symmetrical features which would have enchanted Phidias. The Englishman thinks, and his pulse quickens the while, of that countenance, now so tranquil, suddenly inflamed at Blenheim, Ramilies, Oudenarde, Lille, Malplaquet; then excited by the anxieties of harassing statesmanship, and the indignities inflicted by envy, malevolence, and ingratitude; by and by relaxed with grief, by the loss of an only son; and finally beaming with proud tenderness upon a beautiful, gifted, idolized, and idolizing wife—one who, after his death, loftily spurned a ducal suitor for her widowed hand, saying, “If you were the emperor of the world, I would not permit you to succeed in that heart which has been devoted to John Duke of Marlborough.” No man or woman can read these words without a swelling heart, and a belief, which he would be loth to have disturbed, that they indicated a noble nature. What must such a man, he will say, have thought of such a woman? what must such a woman have felt for such a man? Each bound to the other, through all the vicissitudes of life, in adamantine bonds of love and admiration each, too, possessing great qualities, materially affecting those of the other, as well for good as for evil. Nor was this remarkable man possessed of a handsome countenance only. His person and gesture were dignified, graceful, and commanding. He had indeed a signal presence; he was a perfect master of manner, and his address was so exquisitely fascinating as to dissolve fierce jealousies and animosities, lull suspicion, and beguile the subtlest diplomacy of its arts. His soothing smile and winning tongue, equally with his bright sword, affected the destinies of empires. Before the bland, soft-spoken commander, “grimvisaged war,” in the person of Charles XII. of Sweden, “smoothed his wrinkled front,” and the rigid warrior-king, at his instance, bade adieu to the grand and importunate suitor for his alliance, Louis XIV., whom it was the great mission of Marlborough to defeat and humble. The consummate diplomatist was never—no, not for an instant— thrown off his guard: his watchfulness knew no relaxation; and his penetration into the designs of the most astute was quick as profound. He was, in fact, equally great in camp and cabinet—born for the conduct of affairs, which he regulated with a sort of frigid masterliness: a condition, however,
* ALIson, vol. ii. p. 320.
which he maintained by rigorous self.com. mand ; for, as we shall in due time see, he had powerful feelings and quick sensibilities, Lord Bolingbroke said of him, that “he was the greatest general and greatest minister that this country or any other had produced —the perfection of genius, matured by experience.” If we may presume to say it, he appears to have been one of those raised up by Providence as a great instrument, for a great exigency in the affairs of mankind. It is true that Marlborough had his faults, and grave ones; but the genius of history is, in such a case, equally outraged by any attempt at suppression or exaggeration. “In esti. mating the character of the dead,” justly observes Mr. Aytoun, in his able vindication of the memory of Claverhouse against cer. tain incautious allegations of Mr. Macaulay, “some weight ought surely to be given to the opinion of contemporaries;” and one of the Duke of Marlborough's most eminent military rivals and political opponents, the celebrated Earl of Peterborough, said of him, in a noble spirit, “He was so great a man, that I have forgotten his faults.” But can History? No: she abdicates her functions, unless she records truthfully, for the guidance of mankind, both the faults and the excel. lences of the great characters whom she has undertaken to delineate. Without scrupulous fidelity here, history may degenerate into a libel, and a lie—a lie of unspeakable base. ness, for it is regarding the dead, who cannot burst indignant from the tomb in which they were laid with honor, it may have been amidst the tears and sighs of a proud and bereaved nation;–a lie of unspeakable wick edness, for it is designed to live, and, living, to lie to all future ages, in proportion to the strength of the pen which writes it. These are truths to which the heart of mankind in: stantly responds; and we enunciate them here, only by way of making continual claim, to adopt the now exploded phraseology of English law, upon the attention of all biog: raphers and historians. Not that we think this to have been rendered necessary by any recent and glaring cases—for we know of none whatever among English men of letto in the departments just referred to, in which we have detected any intention to slander ho dead, or misrepresent the living. We indig, nantly, repudiate the bare possibility; and only, desire to impress the necessity of a caution all but excessive, in making derog”
.* Mr. Alison seems to attribute this speech, or * similar one, to Lord Bolingbroke.
tory imputations upon the dead, through placing too great a reliance upon the tittletattle of days gone by, written or spoken ; upon the means of knowledge possessed by those who gave currency to discreditable rumors; and the trustworthiness of contemporaries, often eager rivals outwitted in the game, and distanced in the race of life and distinction, by him whom they thereupon revengefully resolve to blacken before the eyes of posterity. We concur, in a word, cordially with Lord Mahon in saying that which we are bound to add he has uniformly acted up to, in his candid, luminous, and elegant History: “Unjustly to lower the fame of a political adversary, or unjustly to raise the fame of ancestor—to state any fact without sufficient authority, or draw any character without thorough conviction, implies not merely literary failure, but moral ilt.” That the Duke of Marlborough is one of the foremost figures in the picture of England's glory, in that radiant quarter crowded by her warriors and statesmen, is undeniable; and so is Lord Bacon, who stands forth among her philosophers a very giant. But would any biographer or historian deal justly, who failed to apprise us of the real blot upon the character of each 2 Surely, however, he would not dwell upon that blot with eagerness or exultation! but point it out in the spirit of a benignant sadness—in the reluctant discharge of a painful duty—and that only after having deliberately weighed everything that a judicial mind would require, before arriving at a conclusion so humiliating to humanity. The romance of the Life of Marlborough begins with the very beginning of that life. He bursts upon us a beautiful boy, fascinating everybody by his charming manners— the little heir to the all but ruined fortunes of an ancient and loyal family, which, on the father's side, had come in with the Conqueror, while in his mother's veins ran the blood of the illustrious Sir Francis Drake. He had an only sister, who, a victim to the licentiousness of the times, became mistress of the future James II., the great patron of her brother, and to whom she bore a son; who, as Duke of Berwick, was destined, almost single-handed, to uphold the tottering throne of Louis XIV. against the terrible sword of her brother That son, com
manding the forces of France and Spain during the War of the Succession, almost counterbalanced, by his military genius, his uncle's victories in Germany and Flanders Lord Bolingbroke said of the nephew, that “he was the best great man that ever existed’—and of the uncle, that “he was the perfection of genius, matured by experience—the greatest general and greatest minister that our country, or any other, has produced.” These two great personages were signalized by the same grand qualities of military genius, of humanity in war, of virtuous conduct in private life; would, however, we could say that the elder hero had no bar sinister on his moral, as the younger had on his heraldic 'scutcheon Forgetting, however, for a moment, that solitary blot—would we could forget it for ever!— let us concur with Mr. Alison in noting so singular and interesting a coincidence that “England has equal cause to be proud of her victories, and her defeats, in that warfare; for they both were owing to the military genius of the same family, and that, one of her own.” There was a difference of twenty years between them; and it is again singular, that each, at the same early age, fifteen, showed a sudden irrepressible ardor for arms, impelling them, at the same age, to quit the seductive splendor of the court of Charles II. for foreign service—the uncle, as a volunteer in the expedition to Tangiers, against the Moors; the nephew, twenty
years afterwards, against the Turks, under Charles Duke of Lorraine, in Hungary. It is indeed a most extraordinary fact, already adverted to, that, while the uncle all but subverted the throne of France, by his Flemish campaigns, and, but for infamous domestic faction, would have done so, his nephew, single-handed, preserved that of Spain for the house of Bourbon ' If this be the first step in this romance of reality, the next is one profoundly suggestive to a contemplative mind. We have spoken of a splendid Deconnium in the Duke of Marlborough's campaigns—-that from 1702 to 1712. But what a preceding Quinquenmium—that from 1672 to 1677—have we here, for a moment, before us! The “handsome young Englishman"—an idol among the profligate beauties of the court of Charles II.-had made at length a conquest of his celebrated and favorite mistress, the Countess of Castlemaine, afterwards Duch
ess of Cleveland. To remove so dangerous a rival in her fickle affections,” Charles gave him a company in the Guards, and then sent him to the Continent—proh pudor / to aid Louis XIV. in subduing the United Provinces. There he sedulously learnt the art of war under Louis's consummate generals, Turenne, Condé, and Vauban ; thus, acquiring under Louis's own auspices, that masterly knowledge of the science of war, which was destined to be wielded so soon afterwards, with triumphant and destructive energy, against himself. How little was such a contingency dreamed of, when Louis XIV. publicly, at the head of his army, thanked the handsome young hero for his services, and afterwards prevailed on his brother sovereign, Charles, to promote him to high command And here is suggested the first of several deeply interesting and instructive parallels to be found in this work, between our own incomparable Wellington, and his illustrious predecessor; that Wellington went through the same practical course of study, but in inverse order—his first campaign being against the French, in Flanders, and his next against the bastions of Tippoo, and the Mahratta horse, in Hindoostan. Shortly after his return occurred that event which is of great importance in the lives of all men to whom it happens—marriage; but which to the young soldier was pregnant, for both good and evil, with immense influence upon the whole of his future career, and also upon his personal character. He married the beautiful lady in attendance on the Princess Anne—Miss Sarah Jennings, of spotless purity of character, and like himself, of an ancient and ruined Royalist family. He was then in his twenty-eighth, she in her eighteenth year; and, to anticipate for a moment, after a fond union of forty-four years' duration, he died in his seventy-second year; she,
twenty-two years afterwards, in her eightyfourth ! Want of fortune for some time dedelayed their union, which, however, an enthusiastic declaration of his passion at length accelerated. She married, in the young and already celebrated general, a man of not only transcendent capacity, but gentle and gener. ous feelings, and a magnanimity which displayed itself on a thousand trying occasions. Their hearts were passionately true to each other, through every moment of their protracted union. Her fair fame was never, even in those days of impurity, tarnished by the momentary breath of slander. She possessed great talents, but was also of a haughty, ambitious temper, bent upon aggrandizement, and grievously avaricious; and to the ascen: dency over her husband, which she maintained unabated from first to last, may perhaps be attributed the development of those features in his character which have excited the grief of honorable posterity, and afforded scope for the foulest misrepresentations of his conduct and motives to contemporary and succeeding traducers, rapid with the virus of political hostility. Though impatient to quit the topic, but only for the present, we shall here advert to Marlborough's inexcu. sable conduct towards James II. for the purpose of citing a passage in the Duchess's own vindication, on which Mr. Macaulay relies, as conclusively demonstrating the mercenary motives influencing Marlborough, That passage, however, does not necessarily sustain the imputation made by Mr. Macaulay, though it may justify a suspicion of the sort of motives which she might have been in the habit of urging on her confiding husband:“It were evident to all the world that, as things were carried on by King James II. everybody, sooner or later, must be ruined who would not become a Roman Catholic. This consideration made me very well pleas: ed at the Prince of Orange's undertaking to rescue me from such slavery.” That Marlborough should be in high favor with William III. may be easily conceived; for he not only essentially facilitated the en; terprise of William, but actively supported him in all those critical measures necessly to consolidate his power, and strengthen his novel and splendid position. He acquitted himself so admirably in the Netherlands in 1689, in Ireland in ió90, and again in Flan: ders in 1691, where he served under William himself, that he was on the way to almost unbounded power with William. But be.
* It would seem that Charles II. would have surprised him, on one occasion, in the company of the Countess; but to save her credit with the King, he leaped through the window at the risk of his #". in return for which she presented him with £5000. With reference to this latter part of the business may be noted a diversity between two of Marlborough's biographers. Archdeacon Coxe ludicrously attempts to explain this splendid present of £5000, on the ground of Churchill's being in some way distantly related to the Duchess! If the reverend Archdeacon,” says Mr. Alison—with a quaint approach to sarcasm, very rare with him— “had been as well acquainted with women as he was with his books, he would have known that beautiful ladies do not, in general, bestow £5000 on distant cousins, whatever they may do on favorite
* MACAULAY, 256, note.
hold ! to the consternation of the whole country, almost immediately after his return with William, early in 1692, he was suddenly arrested and committed to the Tower, on a charge of high treason, in having entered into an association for bringing about the restoration of James II. As the charge, however, could not be legally substantiated —and was indeed proved to have been supported by fabricated evidence”—he was liberated, but not restored for a considerable time to his former position, there being good reason for believing him, at all events, no stranger to a clandestine correspondence with the exiled family. Well, indeed, may Lord Mahon lament his “perseverance in these deplorable intrigues.” # We concur with Mr. Alison in his remark, that, with all the light subsequently thrown on Marlborough's history, upon this portion of it there still rests a mystery; and moreover, within five years afterwards he was completely reinstated in William's confidence; and in June, 1698, the King positively intrusted his recently-discarded servant with the all-important function of tutor to the young Duke of Gloucester, William's nephew, and heir-presumptive to the throne —saying, on apprising him of the appointment, “My lord, make my nephew to resemble yourself, and he will be everything which I can desire!” When William's stern and guarded character is borne in mind, this transaction becomes exceedingly remarkable. Marlborough continued ever after to rise higher and higher in the confidence of his sovereign, who thrice named him one of the Lords Justiciars, to whom the administration of affairs in this country was intrusted, during William's absence in Holland; and also appointed him, in 1701, ambassador extraordinary at the Hague, and commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in Flanders. This double appointment, observes Mr. Alison, in effect invested Marlborough with the entire direction of affairs civil and military, so far as England was concerned, on the Continent. And even yet further, previously to his unexpected death shortly afterwards, William enjoined on his successor, the Princess Anne, that she should intrust Marlborough with the supreme direction of the affairs of the kingdom, both civil and military ! Three days after her accession, accordingly, she made him a Knight of the Garter, Captain-general of the English forces at home and abroad, Master-general of the Ordnance, and Plenipotentiary at the Hague; Lady Marlborough,
* ALIsoN, i. 22. # Mahon, 21, 22.
Mistress of the Robes and Ranger of Windsor Forrest; and her two daughters Ladies of the Bedchamber. He instantly went over to the Netherlands to assume the command of the Allied army, sixty thousand strong, then lying before Nimeguen, threatened by a superior French force; and, after displaying infinite skill, succeeded in constructing that famous Alliance which was soon to work such wonders in Europe. Here commences the lustrous decennium of which we have spoken ; and, most fortunately here also, as we have seen, commence the Dispatches so recently recovered. Here he became invested with that unsullied and imper
ishable glory, which dazzled all eyes but
those of his rancorous and inveterate detractors; who were probably influenced not only by venomous jealousy, the canker of little minds, but also, in no slight degree, by his having extinguished all their fond hopes of his co-operation in restoring the discarded Stuarts.
From this point Mr. Alison starts brilliantly on his course of chequered and exciting narrative, military and political; revelling amidst marches, counter-marches, feints, surprises, stratagems, sieges, battles; intercalating vivid glimpses of domestic tenderness, grief, and joy; then the plots and counterplots of tortuous faction and intrigue, in the senate, in the cabinet, and even in the palace. And with all this, the interest ever centres in one object—
“In shape and gesture proudly eminent,”
John Duke of Marlborough, not because the author appears to wish it, but because of his faithfulness; he has almost unconsciously exhibited his hero, equally whether off his guard or on his guard, manifesting the full power and intensity of a grand characterimpressing its will upon men and affairs, irresistibly, and in defiance of agencies capable of annihilating one only a single degree inferior to the energy which in Marlborough mastered everything, everybody. “To write the life of Marlborough,” said the late eloquent Professor Smyth of Cambridge,” “is to write the history of the reign of Queen Anne;” let us add—and also, to write it in light. Mr. Alison makes a similar observation in the preface to his present work. He intimates that Marlborough was so great that his Life runs into general history; exactly as he who
* Lectures in Modern History, delivered in the University of Cambridge, (Lecture xxiii.)