As I Please
Tribune, 5 January 1945
I have just been looking through a bound volume of the Quarterly
Review for the year 1810, which was, I think, the second year of the Quarterly
1810 was not quite the blackest period, from the British point of view, of the Napoleonic War, but it was nearly the blackest. It perhaps corresponded to 1941 in the present war. Britain was completely isolated, its commerce barred from every European port by the Berlin decrees. Italy, Spain, Prussia, Denmark, Switzerland and the Low Countries had all been subjugated. Austria was in alliance with France. Russia was also in an uneasy agreement with France, but it was known that Napoleon intended to invade Russia shortly. The United States, though not yet in the war, was openly hostile to Britain. There was no visible cause for hope, except the revolt in Spain, which had once again given Britain a foothold on the continent and opened the South American countries to British trade. It is therefore interesting to observe the tone of voice in which the Quarterly Review – a conservative paper which emphatically supported the war – speaks about France and about Napoleon at this desperate moment.
Here is the Quarterly on the alleged war-making propensities of the French people. It is reviewing a pamphlet by a Mr Walsh, an American who had just returned from France:
We doubt the continued action of those military propensities which Mr Walsh ascribes to the French people. Without at all questioning the lively picture which he has drawn of the exultation excited amongst the squalid and famished inhabitants of Paris at the intelligence of every fresh triumph of their armies, we may venture to observe that such exultation is, everywhere, the usual concomitant of such events; that the gratification of national vanity is something, and that the festivities which victory brings with it may afford a pleasing dissipation to wretches who are perfectly free from any feelings of ambition. Our belief indeed is, that those feelings are, at present, nearly confined to the breast of the great conqueror; and that amongst his subjects, we may almost say among his officers and armies, the universal wish is for PEACE.
Compare this with the utterances of Lord Vansittart,
or, indeed, of the great part of the press. The same article contains
several tributes to the military genius of Napoleon.
But the thing I find most impressive is that this year’s issue of the Quarterly
contains numerous reviews of recently published French books – and they
are careful, serious reviews, not different in tone from the rest of its
articles. There is, for instance, an article of about 9,000 words on the
publication of the French scientific body known as the Société d’Arcueil.
The French scientists, Gay-Lussac,
Laplace and the
rest of them, are treated with the utmost respect, and given their
‘Monsieur’ every time. From reading this article it would be impossible
to discover that there was a war on.
I have been rereading with some interest The
Fairchild Family, which was written in 1813 and was for fifty years or
more a standard book for children. Unfortunately I only possess the first
volume, but even that, in its unexpurgated state – for various
pretty-pretty versions, with all the real meat cut out, have been issued in
recent years – is enough of a curiosity.
was given up to her mother to be flogged; and I was shut up in the dark room,
where I was to be kept several days upon bread and water. At the end of
three days my aunts sent for me, and talked to me for a long time.
The whole book is in this vein, with a long prayer at
the end of every chapter, and innumerable hymns and verses from the Bible
interspersed through the text. But its chief feature is the fearful
visitations from Heaven which fall upon the children whenever they misbehave
themselves. If they swing in the swing without leave they fall out and break
several teeth: if they forget to say their prayers they fall into the trough
of pig-swill; the theft of a few damsons is punished by an attack of
pneumonia and narrow escape from death. On one occasion Mr Fairchild catches
his children quarrelling. After the usual flogging, he takes them for a long
walk to see the rotting body of a murderer hanging on a gibbet – the
result, as he points out, of a quarrel between two brothers.
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law