flim//public domain article
July 13, 2005: Week 2 Laundry Therapeutics Week
from Concerning the Convention of Cintra
And this leads me from the contemplation of their errors in the estimate and application of means, to the contemplation of their heavier errors and worse blindness in regard to ends. The British Generals acted as if they had no purpose but that the enemy should be removed from the country in which they were, upon any terms. Now the evacuation of Portugal was not the prime object, but the manner in which that event was to be brought about; this ought to have been deemed first both in order and importance;—the French were to be subdued, their ferocious warfare and heinous policy to be confounded; and in this way, and no other, was the deliverance of that country to be accomplished. It was not for the soil, or for the cities and forts, that Portugal was valued, but for the human feeling which was there; for the rights of human nature which might be there conspicuously asserted; for a triumph over injustice and oppression there to be achieved, which could neither be concealed nor disguised, and which should penetrate the darkest corner of the dark Continent of Europe by its splendour. We combated for victory in the empire of reason, for strongholds in the imagination. Lisbon and Portugal, as city and soil, were chiefly prized by us as a language; but our Generals mistook the counters of the game for the stake played for. The nation required that the French should surrender at discretion;—grant that the victory of Vimiera had excited some unreasonable impatience—we were not so overweening as to demand that the enemy should surrender within a given time, but that they should surrender. Every thing, short of this, was felt to be below the duties of the occasion; not only no service, but a grievous injury. Only as far as there was a prospect of forcing the enemy to an unconditional submission, did the British Nation deem that they had a right to interfere;—if that prospect failed, they expected that their army would know that it became it to retire, and take care of itself. But our Generals have told us, that the Convention would not have been admitted, if they had not judged it right to effect, even upon these terms, the evacuation of Portugal—as ministerial to their future services in Spain. If this had been a common war between two established governments measuring with each other their regular resources, there might have been some appearance of force in this plea. But who does not cry out at once, that the affections and opinions, that is, the souls of the people of Spain and Portugal, must be the inspiration and the power, if this labour is to be brought to a happy end? Therefore it was worse than folly to think of supporting Spain by physical strength, at the expence of moral. Besides, she was strong in men; she never earnestly solicited troops from us; some of the Provinces had even refused them when offered,—and all had been lukewarm in the acceptance of them. The Spaniards could not ultimately be benefited but by Allies acting under the same impulses of honour, roused by a sense of their wrongs, and sharing their loves and hatreds—above all, their passion for justice. They had themselves given an example, at Baylen, proclaiming to all the world what ought to be aimed at by those who would uphold their cause, and be associated in arms with them. And was the law of justice, which Spaniards, Spanish peasantry, I might almost say, would not relax in favour of Dupont, to be relaxed by a British army in favour of Junot? Had the French commander at Lisbon, or his army, proved themselves less perfidious, less cruel, or less rapacious than the other? Nay, did not the pride and crimes of Junot call for humiliation and punishment far more importunately, inasmuch as his power to do harm, and therefore his will, keeping pace with it, had been greater? Yet, in the noble letter of the Governor of Cadiz to Dupont, he expressly tells him, that his conduct, and that of his army, had been such, that they owed their lives only to that honour which forbad the Spanish army to become executioners. The Portugueze also, as appears from various letters produced before the Board of Inquiry, have shewn to our Generals, as boldly as their respect for the British Nation would permit them to do, what they expected. A Portugueze General, who was also a member of the regency appointed by the Prince Regent, says, in a protest addressed to Sir Hew Dalrymple, that he had been able to drive the French out of the provinces of Algarve and Alentejo; and therefore he could not be convinced, that such a Convention was necessary. What was this but implying that it was dishonourable, and that it would frustrate the efforts which his country was making, and destroy the hopes which it had built upon its own power? Another letter from a magistrate inveighs against the Convention, as leaving the crimes of the French in Portugal unpunished; as giving no indemnification for all the murders, robberies, and atrocities which had been committed by them. But I feel that I shall be wanting in respect to my countrymen if I pursue this argument further. I blush that it should be necessary to speak upon the subject at all. And these are men and things, which we have been reproved for condemning, because evidence was wanting both as to fact and person! If there ever was a case, which could not, in any rational sense of the word, be prejudged, this is one. As to the fact—it appears, and sheds from its own body, like the sun in heaven, the light by which it is seen; as to the person—each has written down with his own hand, I am the man. Condemnation of actions and men like these is not, in the minds of a people, (thanks to the divine Being and to human nature!) a matter of choice; it is like a physical necessity, as the hand must be burned which is thrust into the furnace—the body chilled which stands naked in the freezing north-wind. I am entitled to make this assertion here, when the moral depravity of the Convention, of which I shall have to speak hereafter, has not even been touched upon. Nor let it be blamed in any man, though his station be in private life, that upon this occasion he speaks publicly, and gives a decisive opinion concerning that part of this public event, and those measures, which are more especially military. All have a right to speak, and to make their voices heard, as far as they have power. For these are times, in which the conduct of military men concerns us, perhaps, more intimately than that of any other class; when the business of arms comes unhappily too near to the fire-side; when the character and duties of a soldier ought to be understood by every one who values his liberty, and bears in mind how soon he may have to fight for it. Men will and ought to speak upon things in which they are so deeply interested; how else are right notions to spread, or is error to be destroyed? These are times also in which, if we may judge from the proceedings and result of the Court of Inquiry, the heads of the army, more than at any other period, stand in need of being taught wisdom by the voice of the people. It is their own interest, both as men and as soldiers, that the people should speak fervently and fearlessly of their actions:—from no other quarter can they be so powerfully reminded of the duties which they owe to themselves, to their country, and to human nature. Let any one read the evidence given before that Court, and he will there see, how much the intellectual and moral constitution of many of our military officers, has suffered by a profession, which, if not counteracted by admonitions willingly listened to, and by habits of meditation, does, more than any other, denaturalize—and therefore degrade the human being;—he will note with sorrow, how faint are their sympathies with the best feelings, and how dim their apprehension of some of the most awful truths, relating to the happiness and dignity of man in society. But on this I do not mean to insist at present; it is too weighty a subject to be treated incidentally: and my purpose is—not to invalidate the authority of military men, positively considered, upon a military question, but comparatively;—to maintain that there are military transactions upon which the people have a right to be heard, and upon which their authority is entitled to far more respect than any man or number of men can lay claim to, who speak merely with the ordinary professional views of soldiership;—that there are such military transactions;—and that this is one of them.
All texts ©1996-2005 the authors.
Edited by Chris Piuma.
Calendar by Maryrose Larkin.