It is with unfeigned reluctance that we recur to the work which has recently revived all the evil passions and bitter heartburnings by which English society was rent during the Crimean war. Were it not that the most important portion of that work has yet to be written, we would gladly permit what has already appeared to rest without any further notice from us, for up to the present moment it can hardly be said that much harm has resulted from any abuse of the secret and confidential papers which Lord Raglan’s representatives have had the unpardonable indiscretion to place at the mercy of one of the most passionate partisans of the day. As far as we can discover, the two amusing volumes which everybody has been reading tell us very little which everybody who cared to know might not have learnt long before from a very superficial study of the newspapers, pamphlets, and blue-books of the period.
As we have already said, the most important portion of Lord Raglan’s command in the East has yet to be described by Mr Kinglake; and, doubtless, his Lordship’s secret and confidential papers must contain abundant details of the highest interest bearing on that terrible time. It is indisputable, however, that a considerable portion of the correspondence thus handed over to Mr Kinglake was intended by those who wrote it for Lord Raglan’s eye alone; and that the authors of such documents as “the hurried scrawls of commanders writing to their chief under the stress of deep emotion” never supposed that their hasty words would be carefully filed, docketed, and preserved for purposes of publicity; yet Mr Kinglake states that, to the best of his belief, “no paper addressed to the British head-quarters was ever destroyed or mislaid,” and that he has got hold of them all, to use or misuse as he pleases.
As, therefore, Lord Raglan’s executors have chosen to be thus indiscreet, we think that in the interest of the public service it is out duty to enter a formal protest against the unusual step they have taken, in order to attract public notice to the point, and, if possible, to prevent its recurrence. Should such a dangerous practice obtain, our future Cabinets, in selecting Generals and Admirals for high command, will have to institute a close inquiry respecting the relatives as well as the character of the officers whose employment they contemplate. They will have to ascertain whether they are afflicted with vehement wives, or with literary friends, and whether the private and confidential correspondence which may chance to remain among their papers is likely to be thrown at their deaths into the market, in order to fill the pockets or to minister to the passions of their heirs.
Although Mr Kinglake asserts that in Lord Raglan’s private and confidential correspondence he finds nothing like “the semblance of a chasm,” and that, to the best of his belief, the papers in question afford a clear and faithful record of everything concerning the business of the war which was known to Lord Raglan himself, he does not gratify his readers by publishing a single line of it. He will only permit us to view his Lordship through the distorting lens of his own singularly constituted mind. He describes to us, with photographic detail, Lord Raglan’s innermost feelings on all emergencies; he tells us when and under what circumstances the English Commander-in-Chief blushed at the shameful conduct of the French; and even subsequently notes down for us the occasions on which he is confident that Lord Raglan would probably have become scarlet with virtuous indignation had not his complexion been bronzed by the Crimean sun. In examining critically Mr Kinglake’s History we are supplied with no means of discovering when the information imparted to us is based on the morbid speculations of the “fearless, near-sighted man” himself, when it is derived from his own manuscripts, when it emanates from “Airey of the keen nose and swooping crest,” or when it is merely founded on the idle talk of the knot of nephews of whom Lord Raglan had constructed his military family, and among whom the historian of the war lived, as long as he remained in the Crimea, a pleasant and gossipping life.
It would seem that, in Mr Kinglake’s opinion, the proper course to be adopted by any officer who considers himself aggrieved by the statements which a history thus unsatisfactorily constructed may contain is, that he should courteously place himself in communication with the author, discuss privately with him the point in dispute, and, finally, that he should rest satisfied with a mitigating or correcting foot-note in small type, or with an explanatory paragraph in an appendix, to be added to some future edition of the work; for Mr Kinglake has proclaimed his firm determination to cancel or alter nothing which has appeared in the original text of his first edition, — a high resolve, which will entail considerable hardship on those whom he has wronged. If, for instance, he has erroneously stated in his first edition that Lieutenant Jones led a forlorn hope which was in reality led by Lieutenant Robinson, he proposes to continue that error in the text of all future editions; merely adding in a foot-note in small type, or in an appendix, “For Jones read Robinson.” And if poor Robinson is not perfectly satisfied with this small modicum of justice, Mr Kinglake sets him down as a discourteous and unreasonable fellow, forgetting that in the two or three thousand copies of his first and second editions — the only copies to be obtained at the circulating libraries — the whole credit due to Robinson has been assigned to Jones; and that in all subsequent editions the numerous class of readers who never read foot-notes or refer to appendices will still read that it was Jones, and not Robinson, who so nobly risked his life and lost his limbs in qualifying himself for the VC.
The historian of the war appears to be seriously incensed because this arrangement has not been generally approved, and because one or two sensible men, really aggrieved, have adopted the obvious course of remedying the wrong done to them by means of the public press. With recusants of such an atrocious stamp Mr Kinglake is disposed to keep no terms, and the machinery which he has ingeniously arranged for discrediting and silencing them is well worthy of notice.
When his work first appeared, the public, roused by the interest of the subject, and dazzled by the laboriously constructed word-mosaic by which it was illustrated, welcomed it with a shout of applause. But a reaction speedily ensued, and, with very few exceptions, almost every journal and every Review of any standing has since seriously arraigned the accuracy of its facts and condemned the malignity of its tone. Two friendly critics have, however, been avowedly enlisted by Mr Kinglake as his auxiliaries, and have been employed by him to silence and discredit the officers who decline to arrange their differences with the historian in the pleasant privacy which he not unwisely prefers. Captain Mends, for instance, one of the best officers in the English service, was selected by Sir E Lyons as his flag captain in the Agamemnon; and to Captain Mends did Lord Raglan and Sir E Lyons intrust the planning and the execution of the landing in the Crimea, as Mr Kinglake would have known had he not culpably omitted to make himself acquainted with the Engineers’ Journal, of the Siege of Sebastopol, in which that officer’s full and detailed account of the disembarcation was published several years ago.
When the question was raised by Mr Kinglake as to the intentional removal of the buoy at Old Fort by the French for sinister purposes, we were told by one of those auxiliaries that we were premature in rejecting that ridiculous charge, and that we ought to have waited to hear what Captain Mends, an undoubted authority on the point, had to say about it. Thus invoked, Captain Mends came forward in a letter in our columns, and there repeated what he had before recorded in his official report — that, so far as he knew, no buoy had been misplaced by anybody; that no confusion had been caused, save by heavy weather; that the disembarcation came off exactly as he had planned it; and that nothing could have been more loyal and courteous than the behaviour of the French navy on that as on all other occasions.
The critic, thus baffled, immediately changed his tone towards Captain Mends, no longer citing him as a competent authority, and, armed with excerpta from Lord Raglan’s unpublished papers — selected and supplied to him by Mr Kinglake — proceeded to “write down” that excellent officer in terms which certainly are not creditable either to the critic or to his employer. The same course and the same tone have been adopted by the same parties towards Sir George Brown and Colonel Norcott, and it is by no means surprising that few other officers have since thought it worth their while to expose themselves to the unfair ammunition thus served out from Mr Kinglake’s private stores to the literary Bashi-Bazouk who has volunteered for the unenviable task of protecting his rear.
Within the last few days another critic, in a monthly periodical of some pretension, has followed in the wake of his confederate, and at the very same moment a pamphlet entitled Mr Kinglake and the Quarterlies, by an Old Reviewer, without either author’s or publisher’s name, and bearing the equivocal prefix of “not for sale,” has been privately circulated about the town. The mission of these three writers appears to be to lavish fulsome praises on each other, to shout out impudently that they have utterly “smashed” everybody who has presumed to condemn Mr Kinglake’s tone or to question his facts, and to overwhelm with such poor ridicule as they have at their command every officer who has publicly expressed his dissatisfaction at the historian’s meagre manner of atoning for the errors of which he has been convicted. Being in immediate personal communication with their principal, as is evident from the private and confidential documents to which they have access, Mr Kinglake’s bottle-holders operate from a very strong position corroborated by the entente cordiale which obviously exists among themselves. But these very advantages bring with them certain disadvantages. They lead the public to suspect that there may not, in reality, be three writers, but one writer; and that the friendly pen in the North British which praises the Saturday Reviewer so generously, the Saturday Reviewer himself, and the Old Reviewer, who, appearing on the self-same day as the North British, nevertheless quotes so largely and so approvingly from the latter periodical, may, after all, be but three literary gentlemen rolled into one. And these sad suspicions are very much strengthened when we come to examine the peculiar style of this precious trinity in unity; we cannot but fancy that it is not entirely unfamiliar to us. We stumble in every page, no matter whether we turn to the Saturday Review, the North British, or the pamphlet of the Old Reviewer, on the same shabby evasions — the same scolding tone — the same threadbare quotations and stale after-dinner stories lugged in neck and heels — the same dreary old references to Fielding and Walter Scott. When such fearful exordia are propounded as, “We recollect hearing Rogers say one day at breakfast at Macauley’s,” or, “It was admirably well remarked by Dr Johnson,” — when the reader is provoked by constant references to the venerable sayings and doings of Tom Jones, Ensign Northerton, and Parson Trulliber — when the argument is ever being arrested in order to introduce irrelevant extracts from Ivanhoe and Waverley — it is impossible to mistake the hand —
“We recognize the flavour of the old dog Tray”
in every sentence. Nay, so true is the poor creature to its instinct that even in the three lines from Marmion which the Old Reviewer has prefixed as a text to his pamphlet there are as many blunders. He has, indeed, as the said quotation announces that he will do, “done his worst” on this occasion. Were we to condescend to make use of the artifice of which Mr Kinglake has availed himself so liberally in his history, and to state as a fact what “all London knows,” or what “is universally believed” on this point, we could illustrate our meaning still further; but we forbear to do so. We will only observe that we are not in the least surprised at the transparent dodge which has been attempted by this Old Reviewer, and that we are sincerely sorry to have to suppose that Mr Kinglake has condescended to be privy to it.
The style of defence which the Old Reviewer and his doubles in the North British and the Saturday Review have put forward on behalf of their principal is one which is calculated to do him little honour. With scarcely a single exception, every critic who has reviewed his book, and ninety-nine readers out of every hundred who have perused it, have laid it down with the firm belief that the historian has pronounced the Emperor of the French and many of his Generals guilty of personal cowardice and of treachery towards us, their allies, on very insufficient evidence,— or rather, on no evidence at all. But, as soon as that belief is expressed, up start the three gentlemen in one, whose mission it is to defend Mr Kinglake, and tell us that we are slandering the historian; that no such charge has ever been positively made by him; and we are requested to examine carefully the words which he has used, and to observe that, while nobody can doubt their drift, an artful loophole has been designedly left by which the writer can back out of the disgraceful charges which he has so persistently insinuated if he finds it undesirable to maintain them. These three Reviewers in one are constantly reminding us that Mr Kinglake is “a man of honour;” that he occupies “a commanding literary and political position;” and they claim for him immunities and privileges for which they certainly can plead no precedents. They especially complain of the discourteous tone adopted towards him by the public press, and cite a couple of instances in which they consider their protégé to have been especially insulted. In the first case, not a very grave one, the Edinburgh Reviewer, after pointing out the gross nature of certain misstatements into which Mr Kinglake has been betrayed, observes that such errors are especially blamable at the hands of a deliberate and “slowly-writing scribe;” although they might be comparatively venial had they been committed in hot haste by the pen of a daily journalist. At this harmless expression Mr Kinglake and his manifold writer are amusingly nettled, although it is clear from the context that no insult was intended, and that the word “scribe” was either felicitously chosen in order to indicate the unusual deliberation with which the history was penned, or, possibly, to escape the awkward tautology of the expression “slowly writing writer.” Even Dr Johnson, with whom the Old Reviewer and his doubles are so abominably intimate, furnishes no authority in his dictionary for the use of the word “scribe” in an offensive sense.
The other instance is, we admit, more serious. In adverting to certain charges trumped up by Mr Kinglake against Lord Clarendon, the Edinburgh Reviewer remarks that “they are not only untrue, but that they are the reverse of truth.” At this the Old Reviewer fires up, declaring that “untrue” is a word that, as long as the laws of honour were in force, was proscribed in decent controversy; and we entirely agree with him that the less frequently it is used the better. But we are sorry to have to add that it appears to be a favourite word with the very historian whom the Old Reviewer so unscrupulously defends, in proof of which we refer him to the plan of attack, which St Arnaud ventured to suggest to Lord Raglan the day before the Battle of the Alma. It is actually headed thus by Mr Kinglake:— “Plan of the ‘Projet’ (untruly) stated to have been accepted by Lord Raglan.”
The admirers of Mr Leech’s facile and witty pencil will not have forgotten one of his sketches which appeared in Punch shortly after the 10th of April 1848. It represented a small special constable about to enter into personal conflict with a big Chartist. The dwarf, stoutly brandishing his truncheon, thus warns the giant, “Mind, if I kill you it’s nothing, but if you kill me it’s murder.” We also warn all future Reviewers that Mr Kinglake’s literary friends claim for him the convenient immunity claimed by Leech’s small special. Mr Kinglake, being “a man of honour,” and having written Eothen, may ridicule, sneer at, and bring any disgraceful charges he is minded to bring against anybody whenever he pleases, on any or on no evidence at all, and it is to be “nothing;” but if his critics mete out to him the smallest portion of the sharp measure which he so lavishly and recklessly metes out to others, he has in his service three very loud and shrill Old Reviewers rolled into one, who will inevitably raise the town by their frantic screams of “Murder.”