WORDSWORTH ON MILITARY POLICY.
SOME weeks ago we called attention to a very remarkable letter, or rather pamphlet in an epistolary form, by the poet Wordsworth, dealing with the military policy and position
of England, which was published in the United Service Magazine for April. We thought that so interesting and penetrating a piece of criticism of public affairs, written by one who is generally considered the poet of gentleness and humility, though of course he was in fact the greatest and most conscious of patriots, would have attracted a great deal of attention.
Curiously enough, however, the piquant contrast of Wordsworth and war seems somehow to have escaped notice. We shall there- fore make no apology for returning to the letter and making from it ample quotations, for we feel sure that they will interest our readers. Among other things, the letter shows once more how unfair it is to suggest that Wordsworth in middle life became a pure reactionary, and that all his Liberal and popular views
fell from him. As a matter of fact, the letter in question, though it has its militant side, is infused throughout with true
Liberal principles, and with the belief, in which Wordsworth never faltered, that only through liberty could nations be great, In truth he never changed his opinions, but hated the tyrant whether he was a Bourbon, a Jacobin, or a Caesar. Because Bonaparte had the language of liberty on his lips, Wordsworth was not deceived, like so many of the Whigs, into thinking that his Empire stood for freedom.
The letter, we may remind our readers, was written in the spring of 1811 (Grasmere, March 28th), and was addressed to Major Pasley, of the Engineers, who had just published his
very remarkable essay on the " Military Policy and Institu- tions of the British Empire," a pamphlet which may be described as an anticipation of that philosophy of war which we find in the writings of Clausewitz.
After a short passage full of grateful praise to the author of the essay, Wordsworth shows what are the two arguments upon which the letter principally rests : first, that a country can have no foundation for lasting greatness except in the character of its inhabitants; and, secondly, " that (therefore) the military power of France may by us be successfully
resisted—and even overthrown."
"Now, when I look at the condition of our country and compare it with that of France ; and reflect upon the length of the time and the infinite combination of favourable circumstances which have been necessary to produce the laws, the regulations, the customs, the moral character, and the physical energy of all sorts through the means, and by aid of which, labour is carried on in this happy land ; and when I think of the wealth and population (concen- trated too in so small a space) which we must have at command for military purposes—I confess I have not much dread—looking either at war or peace, of any power which France—with respect to us—is likely to attain for years ; and I may say for generations. Whatsoever may be the form of a government, its spirit at least must bo mild and free, before speculation, trade, commerce, and manufactures can thrive under it; if these do not .prosper in a State, it may extend its Empire to right and to left—and it will only carry poverty and desolation along with it, without being itself permanently enriched. You seem to take for granted that because the French revenue amounts to so much at present, it must continue to keep up to that height. This I conceive impos- sible unless the spirit of the government alters ; which is not likely for many years. How comes it that we are enabled to keep, by sea and land, so many men in arms P—not by our foreign commerce, but by our domestic ingenuity, by our home labour, which with the aid of capital and the mechanic arts and establish- ments has enabled a few to produce so much as will maintain themselves and the hundreds of thousands of their countrymen whom they support in arms. If our foreign commerce wero
utterly destroyed, I am told that not more than one-sixth of our trade would perish. The spirit of Bonaparte's government—is and must continue to be—like that of the first conquerors of the new world, who went raving about for gold—gold! and for whose rapacious appetites the slow but mighty and sure returns of any other produce could have no claims."
" The armies of France," he continues, " have hitherto been maintained chiefly from the contributions raised upon the conquered countries—and from the plunder which the soldiers have been able to find. But that harvest is over." Europe is drained almost dry, for "wherever his iron yoke is fixed the spirits of the people are broken"; there is no " security for capital," and in consequence the accumulation of wealth has almost ceased. Then " what will avail him the command of the whole population of the Continent ? Their bodies he may command ; but their bodies cannot move without the inspiration of wealth."
But it is not in the end upon a question of mere economic superiority that Wordsworth bases his proud and splendid pretensions except in as far as that superiority is a proof of a liberal and mild spirit in the government of Great Britain. He is convinced that the English are superior in mind to their enemy, and it is upon this noble conviction that the fabric of his argument really rests.
"In that intellectual superiority which I have maintained
we possess over her, we should find means to build as many ships as she could build, and also could procure sailors to man them." Let us then, he goes on, continue the war, and if we conduct it " upon those principles of martial policy which you so admirably and nobly enforce, united with (or rather, bottomed upon) those notions of justice and right, and that knowledge of and reverence for the moral sentiments of mankind which in my Tract I attempted to portray and illustrate—the tide of military success would immediately turn in our favour. . . ." And here he again thanks Mr. Pasley for the "spirit and beauty" with which he has throughout pursued his subject. But with one portion of the martial policy of Pasley Wordsworth was by no means in agree- ment. Pasley had been led astray by that " Fata Morgana " of mediaeval policy, the desire of " conquest permanently estab- lished upon the Continent." Wordsworth, with his habitual
sanity, was not to be ensnared by such a vision, though, the reader will probably be amused to hear, he confesses, " I should rejoice heartily to see a British army march from Calabria triumphantly to the heart of the Alps, and from Holland to the centre of Germany." A very "carnal thought." But he sees the true objection to such conquest.
It would produce neither men nor money, and, he continues, the only thing which the security of our country demands is " a large, experienced, and seasoned army."
But here his dominant desire of moral good again shows itself. Though not desiring conquest for the material benefit of Great Britain, he renounces the idea with reluctance, for the sake of "those unhappy nations whom we should rescue, and whose prosperity would be reflected back on ourselves." It is in the end upon the moral qualities of these nations that
the fate of Europe depends. "Holding these notions, it is natural—highly as I rate the importance of military power, and deeply as I feel its necessity for the protection of every excellence and virtue—that I should rest my hopes with respect to the emancipation of Europe, more upon moral
influences and the wishes and opinions of the people of the respective nations than you appear to do. As I have written in my pamphet ' On the moral qualities must its salvation
ultimately depend. Something higher than military excellence must be taught, as higher; something more fundamental, as more fundamental.' . . . You treat of conquest as if conquest
could in iteelf—nakedly and abstractedly considered—confer rights."
But no such right can by the common laws of morality be maintained unless the conquest can be proved to have been made of necessity, "because a great and noble nation like ours cannot prosper or exist without such posses- sion. . . . Admiring as I do your scheme of martial policy, and agreeing with you that a British military power may,
and that the present state of the world requires that it ought to be predominant in Italy and Germany and Spain—
yet still I am afraid that you look with too much complacency upon conquest by British arms." Wordsworth would rather see " Spain, Italy, France, Germany formed into independent nations," nor does he wish to reduce France further than might be necessary to that end. He does not, above all things, desire absolute British supremacy. "Woe be to that country whose military power is irresistible." . . . " Universal triumph and absolute security soon betray a State into abandonment of that discipline, civil and military, by which its victories were secured. If the time should ever come when this island should have no more formidable enemies by land than it has at this moment by sea, the extinction of all that it previously contained of good and great would soon follow. . . . My prayer as a patriot is—that we may always have somewhere or other enemies capable of resisting us, and keeping us at arm's length." He desires a new balance of power in Europe. " Military policy merely will not perform all that is needful (to preserve a nation from foreign or domestic oppression) nor mere military virtues." If Europe is to regain her freedom it will be through that quality which preserved Rome against the attacks of Carthage, "civil fortitude." Surely not even Burke ever wrote words more inspired with moral and political wisdom than these. They are indeed the " lively oracles of God."
The letter ends with a passage of noble eloquence which we must give verbatim :— "The reception which the senate gave to Terentius Varro after the battle of Cannae is the sublimest event in human history. What a contrast to the Austrian government after the battle at Wagratn! England requires, as you have shown so eloquently and ably, a new system of martial policy; but England, as well as the rest of Europe, [requires] what is more difficult to give it—a now course of education, a higher tone of moral feeling, more of the grandeur of the imaginative faculties, and less of the petty precession of the unfeeling and purblind understanding, that would manage the concerns of nations in the same calculation with which it would set about building a house. Now a State ought to be governed (at least in these times)—the labours of the statesman ought to advance—upon the calculations and from the impulses similar to those which give motion to the hands of a great artist when ho is preparing a great picture, or of a mighty poet when he is deter- mining the proportions and march of a poem. Much is to be done by rule ; the great outline is previously to be conceived in dis- tinctness ; but the consummation of the work must be trusted to resources that are not tangible—though known to exist. Much as I admire the political sagacity displayed in your work I respect you still more for the lofty spirit that supports it, for the animation and courage with which it is replete, for the contempt —in a just cause—of death and danger with which it is ennobled, for its heroic confidence in the valour of your countrymen, and the absolute determination which it everywhere expresses, to maintain on all points the honour of the soldier's profession, and that of the noble nation of which you are a member ; . . . and, therefore, more than for any other cause, do I congratulate my country on the appearance of a book, which, resting on these points —our national safety upon the purity of our national character— will (I trust) help materially to make us, at the same time, a more powerful and a more high-minded nation.—Affectionately yours,
Happy country to possess at once a soldier and a poet who could face the perils of the year before Moscow with such stout hearts and such understanding minds! It was because their greatness of soul truly represented their countrymen that England came unscathed through the awful ordeal of the Great War.