Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

hope that this subject would be attended to.

Sir Francis Burdett, in making this remark, alluded to the circumstance that happened only two days before, of a motion by Mr Bennet, for the abolition of corporal punishments in the army, being thrown out without a division, which he seems to have introduced on this occasion, lest any discussion in Parliament should have been permitted to pass unmingled with topics calculated to excite popular discontent. But, however misplaced and mistimed the reference to this unpleasant subject, we do not less agree with Sir Francis upon the abstract conclusion, and only regret that the abolition of this shameful punishment had not been brought forward from a quarter not liable to be charged with that affectation of popularity, which marks the political conduct of the member for Westminster, and some other gentlemen. Mr Bennet supported this motion by an able and eloquent speech; in which, however, the arguments on the general question were so mixed up with censures on individual officers, and remarks on particular regiments, that it is impossible, in a work of this nature, to extract any part of it. The only plea on which the system of corporal punishments has been defended, is that of necessity; such punishments being held to be absolutely requisite to preserve the strict discipline which must be kept up in the army. The substance of all the arguments advanced in the House of Commons on the occasion alluded to was, that certain regiments, the discipline of which had formerly been much relaxed, had been brought into a state of admirable subordination by the application of the lash; and thence it was inferred, by a very summary process of reasoning, that such effects could not have been produced by any other means. But we greatly fear, that the system of flog

ging has produced evils much greater than any good it may have done by putting an end to intoxication, and inattention to drills and parades. Its moral effects are unquestionably inju rious, whether considered with relation to the object, or to the witnesses of the punishment. It is, in its nature, independently of its barbarity, to the last degree ignominious and degrading. The man who suffers it, is, from that moment, sunk, never to rise again; and the depth of his degradation, and extent of his wretchedness, are generally in proportion to the respectability of his former character. The brave and high-minded soldier, who, after having spent his blood in many a well-fought field, is tied up to the halberts, in consequence of some momentary forgetfulness of his duty, arising perhaps from temptations which even in a higher sphere it requires no common virtue to withstand, becomes, from that time, an altered man. The continued sense of his degradation seizes upon his mind, and soon reduces it to a level with his situation. The pride and high spirit, which made his duty a pleasure, are gone. Repetitions of his offence are followed by repetitions of his punishment; till, by this brutalizing process, every principle of virtue and honour is extinguished, and he becomes a debased wretch,-mean, ferocious, and profligate. On the spectators of such scenes the effects are not much more salutary. In the officers, they produce either unutterable aversion and horror,-many brave men, who could, with unshaken nerves, march up to a battery of cannon, being wholly unable to bear the sight of them, or, if these feelings are overcome by habit, they give place to a callous indifference to human suffering, and even, in some instances, to a certain pleasure in the exercise of cruelty. As to the men, those who have witnessed such scenes, describe

the appearance of the surrounding circle as full of indignation at the cruelty of the infliction. Every eye is burning with resentment, and every tongue seems on the point of imprecating curses, not loud, but deep, on the authors of such barbarity. It is well known, that officers, who, by their proneness to such punishments, have incurred the hatred of their men, have often, when opportunity offered, been sacrificed to their vengeance, Punishments can never be salutary in their effects, if it is not apparent to the spectators that they are justly inflicted, duly proportioned to the offence, and as free as possible from cruelty. But the punishments in question produce impressions exactly the reverse of all these. While they are often inflicted for offences of a venial kind, they are barbarous in their nature, and more grievous than even death itself, for which, in many instances, they would willingly be exchanged. When it was once attempt ed to revive, in the French army, the old punishment of beating the culprit with the flat of a sabre, a soldier, on be ing brought out to receive this punishment, exclaimed, “Je n'aime du sabre que le tranchant !" A phrase which became proverbial in the army, and contributed to the abolition of that punishment. Is it, then, possible to justify punishments so shocking in their character, and baneful in their effects, on the ground of necessity? Is there no gentler way than this, of preserving order and discipline among our gallant soldiers? Corporal punishments have been abolished in the French army, the Prussian army, the Austrian army; in short, in every army in Europe but our own. Is this, because the British troops are more prone to disorder, or more insensible to the more liberal incitements to duty, than those of other nations? But the experiment has been tried, even in the British army. Differ

ent commanding officers have renounced the punishment of the lash, and have substituted other modes of enforcing discipline, more congenial to the high spirit of a British soldier; and the result is, in our apprehension, decisive of the ques tion, as the regiments, so governed, have been found to be among the best in the service. The case appears perfectly analogous to that of the education of youth, in which the lash was, till very lately, held to be a very necessary agent. In the literal and conscientious application of the saying of Solomon, that "he who spareth the rod hateth the child," many a youth of spirit and talents has had his spirit broken, and his talents rendered useless, for life. It has now been found, however, that the proverb of Solomon is susceptible of a more liberal interpretation; and the total disappearance of the rods of our pedagogues, which were nearly as terrible as those that of yore frightened the Egyptians in the shape of serpents,

is one of the greatest blessings of our time. We may add, that the scourge is no longer an instrument of punishment in our judicial sentences. An improvement of manners and feeling, without any special legal enactment, has occasioned its falling into very general disuse, though once the com on punishment for petty offences. It is fervently to be hoped, that the cat-o-nine-tails, both naval and military, will soon disappear in like manner; and we have no apprehension that means will not still be found to preserve the good order and discipline of our soldiers.

On the 29th of June, it was moved, and unanimously agreed to, that an address should be presented to the Prince Regent, that he might give directions that a great national monument should be erected in honour of the victory of Waterloo, and to commemorate the fame of those who fell

[ocr errors]

on the 16th and 18th June, particularly Sir Thomas Picton and Sir W. Ponsonby. It was, besides, suggested and agreed to, that monuments should be erected to each of those officers in St Paul's Church. It is melancholy to reflect, that, in the case of the gallant Picton, these honours came too late to cure the anguish of a wounded spirit. It was stated in the House, that nearly the last words which he uttered before he left this country, were to express a hope, that if he should fall, which he seemed to anticipate, he might not be forgotten, but receive the same distinction as had been conferred upon other officers. When it is recollected how marked was the neglect of the former services of this gallant officer, when honours and rewards were showered down on all the others who shared in those services, it may easily be imagined, how bitter were the feelings which wrung from him such an expression. From the moment that he left this country till he joined the army, he had never slept in a bed. On the day before the great conflict of the 18th, he had received a wound, from the effects of which his body, it is said, was much swelled, and even blackened. Notwithstanding this, he fell at the head of his column, firmly maintaining a position, the loss of which might have been fatal to our army. It would be painful to think that his last moments may have, been embittered by the doubt, whether he had purchased, even with his blood, those marks of public gratitude, which are so dear to the mind of a soldier.-In revolving these great national deprivations, it is impossible to avoid quoting the expressions of the Duke of Wellington himself to the Earl of Aberdeen, condaling with him upon the death of his gallant brother, Sir Alexander Gordon. "I cannot express, in adequate terms, the grief which I feel in contemplating the loss which we have

sustained in the death of so many va lued friends. The glory of such actions is no consolation to me, and I cannot suggest it as a consolation to you; but a result so decisive will, in all probability, be followed by the early attainment of the just object of our wishes and exertions, and this may afford us some consolation for our loss."

A suggestion was made, but most properly rejected, that as Paris was, in all probability, by that time in the possession of Wellington, a portion of the plunder of Europe, collected in that capital, could not be better employed than in commemorating the deliverance of Europe. It was said, that a national monument to our army ought never to be ornamented by pillage from the capital of another country; and that the conduct of our illustrious commander was a powerful authority against such a proposition. When he was reminded, while advancing into France after his victory, that, on the last occasion on which the English army entered France, they behaved with extreme delicacy towards that country, his answer was, “I promise you that, if it is in my power, they shall behave with equal delicacy now;" a magnanimous declaration, which did as much honour to the man as to the soldier.

Proceedings of precisely the same nature took place in the House of Lords.

Several high honours and important privileges were conferred on the troops who fought at Waterloo. The Prince Regent declared himself colonel-in-chief of both the regiments of Life-guards, as a mark of his full approbation of their conduct; and he granted permission to all the regiments of cavalry and infantry who had been engaged in the battle, to bear on their colours and appointments the word "WATERLOO," in

this immense subscription has been intrusted, appear to be employing it in the most judicious and beneficial manner. They have adopted, as far as possible, the mode of granting annuities. Besides annuities for life to the widows of the killed, and to soldiers disabled by the loss of limbs, annuities are granted for limited periods, not only for the maintenance of the orphan-children, but adequate to afford them an education suited to their different situations in life. In cases where annuities were not applicable, donations of money have been given to the wounded officers and soldiers, and to the parents, and other dependent relatives of the killed, who have left no children. The sum invested in annuities down to the 31st May, 1817, amounts to 20,9921.; and the donations amount to 162,203/.* The gentlemen employed in this most benevolent work are busily continuing their labours; and we are well warranted in believing, from what we have seen, that the magnificent fund in their hands will produce its full measure of benefit. Such a statement as this requires no commentary. Happy the nation, who, in her time of need, can rely on such troops as those who fought at Waterloo! and happy the troops whose services are so munificently rewarded by a grateful country! Who will, after this, talk of the hard fate of a soldier, who falls, among thousands like himself, unpitied and unknown, to swell the triumph of some great commander? The Duke of Wellington, in a circle of princes and nobles, is not greater than the humblest Waterloo man, who, in the midst of an admiring throng of his old rustic friends, shews his scars, and tells how the field was won. The meanest soldier who fell, receives in the persons of his dearest relatives,

addition to the badges or devices which they formerly bore. The Earl of Uxbridge was created Marquis of Anglesea; and a very extensive promotion took place of the officers who had been engaged. Besides these honours, several valuable privileges were conferred both on the officers and men. Every subaltern officer who served in the battle of Waterleo, or in any of the actions which immediately preceded it, was allowed to account two years service in virtue of that victory, in reckoning his services for increase of pay given to lieutenants of seven years standing. It was also ordered, that every noncommissioned officer and private who served in these battles should be borne upon the muster-rolls of their corps as "Waterloo men ;" and that every Waterloo man should be allowed to count two years in virtue of that victory, in reckoning his services for increase of pay, or for pension when discharged.

But the most splendid and substantial monument of national gratitude to the deliverers of Europe, was the subscription for the relief of the wounded, and of the relatives of those who fell at Waterloo. It was set on foot immediately after the battle, and was eagerly entered into by all classes of the community, from the prince to the peasant. The inhabitants of the most obscure villages, and of the most remote districts, contributed sums al most incredible, when contrasted with the circumstances of the contributors; as an instance of which, it is worthy of being recorded, that the poor inhabitants of the small parish of Morven, in the West Highlands, subscribed the sum of twenty-four pounds. The sum received amounts to above half a million sterling; and those to whom the management of

* See Report of the Committee, dated June 18th, 1817.

[ocr errors]

the most substantial tokens of his country's gratitude; and the disabled veteran, who is placed, while he lives, beyond the reach of want or distress, will receive with pride the bounty of his country, as the reward for his exploits and sufferings at Waterloo. The sword is now in the scabbard, where, we hope and trust, it will long continue; but when the day again shall come, as come it must, when Britain must array herself to resist foreign aggression or injustice, her soldiers will march to the field with redoubled energy, when they remember the honours and rewards which were shower ed on the heroes of Waterloo.

On the 4th of July, Sir John Marjoribanks moved a vote of thanks to the Duke of York, for his conduct as commander-in-chief of the army. This motion produced a long discussion, arising from several objections, not one of which, however, had the slightest reference to any doubt as to the claims of the duke to the gratitude of the country for his services as commander-in-chief. In the greatness of those services all parties agreed. It was universally admitted, that the duke performed the duties of an arduous office with unremitting zeal and assiduity, and that it was by a course of great exertion on his part, that the British army had attained a degree of discipline, and of organization, which had contributed, in a great measure, to the late glorious results. When the duke was placed at the head of the army, the system of military promotion was unfair and unequal. Mere interest could effect the most rapid promotion; and boys frequently were to be seen in the command of regiments. The Duke of York put an end to this system; and introduced the present wholesome regulations, by which every officer, whatever his connections may be, must go through a certain course

of service before he can be promoted. It was also admitted, that the excellence of the present system of military tactics is to be attributed to the duke. Our readers, who have followed us through the details of the splendid achievements of our troops, under the Duke of Wellington, cannot fail to be struck with the rapidity and precision, with which they appear to have executed the most complicated movements, and with the confidence with which these movements were ordered, when there was hardly an instant to execute them-circumstances which prove the tactics of our army to be of the highest excellence. The motion, however, was objected to, on the grounds, that it ought not to have been brought forward till the close of the services in which the army was engaged; and, besides, that it was unconstitutional, in consequence of the individual in question uniting the character of a member of the royal family, and that of the commander of the forces.-Mr Whitbread, after expressing his concurrence, in some degree, in these objections, said, that "still looking to the compliments which had been paid to the Duke of York-compliments, the result, not of partiality, but of conviction, he conceived the House ought to agree to the resolution. When it was recol. lected, that, by the excellence of the system which had been matured by the Duke of York, a number of troops were enabled to act together, who had never before been employed in an united operation, no person could deny his royal highness praise; and, admitting praise to be due, it would be rather extraordinary, when the question came before them, to say, that, on account of any collateral circumstances, it ought to be withheld." The resolution was carried without a division.

« AnteriorContinua »