o'coston's MILITARY HISTORY OF THE IRISH NATION.
THE object of this work was to give a complete account. of the military services in which the Irish have been engaged in,foreign pay, intro- duced by a sketch of their exploits at home: but the death of the author broke off the history at the peace of Utrecht, and has caused what was written to appear in an unrevised state. Properly disregarding the tat? ditions or fables of Milesian historical romance, Mr. O'Conor begins his Irish story. with the Elizabethan insurrectionary war under.O'Neal, which was not finally concluded till the Queen's death, andthen gives.= account of the Irish services in Flanders under Alva and other Spanish captains; the first step in their foreign career being treaoheryand desertion from the English army. The next act contains the services of the Irish and other expatriated Royalists.during Cromwell's ascendancy, in the pay of France and Spain; where the same countrymen were engaged in mercenary service on opposite sides, and the Irish—backed, it must be said, by the Stuarts--exhibited a treachery to their paymasters, not much inferior to what they had displayed towards Elizabeth upwards of half a century be- fore. From 1673 to the Revolution, the Irish served. as auxiliaries in the 'French armies, recognized at least by the British Crown if not by the nation, and assisted in the infamous devastation of the Palatinate. From the expulsion of James the Second to the treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, the Irish mercenaries appear in a more conspicuous and rather more reputable light. The home campaign against William the Third' and Ginkle was unquestionably a national contest, and the formation of the Irish. Brigade gave them an organization approaching the legion if not the army: the soldiers sacrificed their country to their religious and political principles, and they had the sanction of one whom_ they regarded as their legitimate sovereign. The.charge of mercenary service is a fact, but is rather a misfortune than a fault ; as Mr. O'Conor or his editor intimates, in a closing passage of somewhat inflated rhetoric. Still, it cannot be denied that the Milesian mercenaries never exhibited any scruple as to the cause for which they lent their swords. In the pay of Philip the Second, they served under Alva against Dutch freedom ' • we have seen that they were willing, perhaps it might be said forward agents, in the atrocities that followed the invasion of' the Palatinates they abetted as far as in them lay the efforts of Louis the Fourteenth for universal empire, served as military bloodhounds to hunt down the Vaudois in the Italian campaigns, and assisted in. the dragonades against the Protestants of the Cevennes.
Excepting the two Irish wars, the subject has this disadvantage--it is neither general nor particular. The story of a few regiments is lost sight of in the narrative of a large campaign, and any effort to make their exploits predominant produces a degree of confusion: on the other hand, there seems to be a want of sufficient materials to tell the tale in its regimental and individual details. So far as literature goes, however, Mr. O'Conor does well. He has a national leaning, which may some. times colour his judgment, but it does not induce him to suppress facts or pervert moral conclusions. His mind is vivacious; his style vigorous, though too rhetorical and pompous, without sufficient repose ; and he possesses more of impartiality and philosophy than Irishmen are apt to display when Irish questions are at stake. As regards composition, the book is readable, informing, and interesting; though less, perhaps,, for its direct subject, than for the larger interests with which the Irish Brigade was connected—the campaigns of Eugene in Italy and of Marls borough in the Low countries and on the Rhine—in short, the later wars of Louis the Fourteenth.
In military matters, Mr. O'Conor strikes us as less efficient. Dr. Johnson, speaking of the Blenheim of John Phillips, observes—" He seems to have formed his ideas of the field of Blenheim from the battles of the heroic ages, or the tales of chivalry, with very little comprehension of the qualities necessary to the composition of a modern hero, which Addison has displayed with so much propriety. He makes Marlborough behold at a distance the slaughter made by Tallard, then haste to en- counter and restrain him, and man, his may through ranks made headless by his sword." Something of this imaginary idea of war is displayed by Counsellor O'Conor. He does not, indeed, like the author of The Splendid Shilling, make field-marshals and commanders-in- chief engage in actual sword-fight; but he represents much more of physical hand-to-hand work taking place on every occasion than modern authorities would induce us to suppose, or indeed than some authorities consider possible. The bayonet is continually brought into requisition, not to carry a position by a coup de main, or to decide the matter-by a charge when troops are half or wholly beaten, but in long, fair, standup felts—such as "four hours conflict, chiefly with the bayonet"; though few modern authors profess to have seen bayonets actually crossed, and some doubt whether they ever have been seen except in chance-medley. It may be that the counsellor, with little practical knowledge, is following men who knew not much more than himself, and from want of experience he cannot allow for their grandiloquent words. Part of it, however, may be traced to the native historian describing Milesian exploits in Milesian eloquence-' for his narrative is thickly strewn with sounding words, that are more adapted to fill the ear with warlike commonplaces than to con- tribute to accuracy of delineation. " Whole files fell prostrate "— " mounds of bodies dead and dying "—" as rocks resist the waves of the sea, so they [the Irish infantry] threw off the repeated charges of the Imperial bayonets "—are examples of his style. In the following further instance from the battle of Cassano, between Eugene and Vendome, be seems to have brought together, fighting at once, more combatants than
the space could hold.
" In a narrow spot, not more than half a mile in length and a furlong in breadth, the nations of Europe, from North Cape to Gibraltar, from qUltima Irlanda ' to the banks of the Bonsthenes, seemed to have sent forth their choicest bands, to try their strength on the banks of the Adds. Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Irish, Germans, Sclavonians Poles, Hungarians, Italians, French, and Spaniards, were mixed up in this frightful affray. Thousands of voices roaring in different languages and dialects-30,000 tubes pouring forth fire and death— and 10,000 bayonets crossing and clanking against each other in the work of butchery—exhibited ascene more horrible and destructive than the conflict of the elements or the bursting of a volcano from the bowels of the earth."
These faults of military description are not peculiar to Mr. O'Conor, anti perhaps not wholly-to civilians, though they are more striking in his case from the exuberance of his national style. Even in civil narrative or critical estimate, there is the same effort to be great by big words ; which, so far from producing the effect aimed at, only induces distrust in the sober reader as to the veracity of that which is really true. An in- stance of this may be seen in his characters of Eugene and Vendome, which in substance are not badly conceived.
" VendOme inherited the intrepidity of his grandfather Henry DT. Careless of danger, hot and impetuous M a field of battle, plunging into the midst of the fight when his troops yielded, to animate by his example and restore confidence by his personal exposure, yet judicious and calculating, and, when not engaged in the midst of the combatants, surveying every part with serenity, sustaining weak points by reserves throwing in addition battalions to break the enemy's line when yielding, and availing himself of every mistake of his opponent, and of every chance which the fortune of war presented to him. In other respects he was deficient in the qualities of a great commander. In courting the love of his troops, he allowed marauding, and corrupted the discipline of his camp. On a field-of battle he shone like a meteor in a clouded sky; his white plumes and scarlet mantle careering in the midst of smoke and fire, moving death and dismay in their rapid course: but when the thunder ceased to roll, and his fiery spirit had no longer the excitement of the conflict to sustain its energy, his soul languished in indolence and repose. He slumbered when his enemy watched; his want of vigilance exposing him to surprises and defeats. The attachment and heroism of his troops often retrieved his mistakes, and often extricated him from difficulties insuperable to his genius. He was slow in penetrating the designs of his enemy; but when they flashed upon him,. they electrified all his energies, and the hero =tithe general were alike conspicuous in the impetuosity of his attack and the skill of his evolutions. In private life, he was haughty to his equals, condescend- ing to his inferiors, improvident, extravagant, heedless of private engagements, negligent in the ordinary decencies of personal appearance. Affability of manners, benevolence of disposition, disinterestedness, and love of glory, stamped him as aminheritor of the virtues of his grandfather Henry IV. Pride, hatred, or re- venge, had no part in his noble nature; and his prodigality, and indulgence to the vices of others, were the only foibles that clouded the purity of his elevated mind "Eugene surpassed him in military genius, equalled him in bravery, and rivalled Lim in the affections of the soldiery, though ngid in discipline and inexorable in punishing disorders. The love of the one sprung from affibility, familiarity, and connivance at their excesses; that of the other in gratitude for ample supplies, for never-failing care of the sick and wounded, and for that confidence in the commander which genius alone can call up in the breast of the soldier. In enterprise and activity, no comparison can be instituted between these great men. In stratagems, surprises, marches, passages of rivers, encampments, the art of creating resources m the enemy's country, and of turning with inferior forces a. defensive into an offensive war Eugene far surpassed the level of his age, and
rises to a comparison with dannibal or Napoleon, the two greatest generals of ancient and modern times. Napoleon, indeed, by the rapidity of his marches, multiplied his forces, beat his enemy in detail, and triumphed over enemies often five times as numerous as his own. But he exhausted his soldiers by fatigues too great for nature to sustain. Eugene, on the contrary, spared his troops, took advantage of canals and defiles, and cast up intrenchments to cover them; never exposing them but when chance favoured or necessity required. He effected ranch by espionage, intrigues, and bribery; but more by great genius, matchless valour inviolable secrecy, bold conception, and heroic execution. As a military character, Eugene was all virtue: a single vice does not stain him as a warrior in the pages of the historians of his age. In one respect Vendome and the Prince approached each other. They were both descended from houses equally illus- trious. The Princes of Maurun and Bourbon exhibited constellations of glory for eight hundred years. They both commanded armies equally brave and equally disciplined; both were nearly of the same.age; and the resemblance is on] lost in the superior talents of the great Eugene. Such were the great ere who were now about to measure arms on the plain of Luzara."