Years of Victory, 1802-1812

Years of Victory, 1802-1812

Years of Victory, 1802-1812

Years of Victory, 1802-1812

Excerpt

I wrote The Years of Endurance -- the story of how England survived a flood which overwhelmed Europe -- when she was again alone, withstanding a worse and greater flood. I wrote it for the ordinary man who in this, as in other things, has been robbed of his heritage. The sequel tells how the British people -- triumphing in turn over appeasement, attempted invasion, Napoleon's grand design to break their power at sea, the long enslavement of Europe and their own commercial isolation -- put a ring of salt-water round the tyrant's dominion, slowly tightened it, and then, greatly daring, sent in their armies to assail his inner fortress. The events of the past four years have made this story, too, strangely familiar.

More familiar, perhaps, than to our fathers. Those who grew up in the long Victorian peace tended to see the Napoleonic Wars as a picturesque contest needlessly prolonged by reactionaries, who used it as a pretext to stifle reforms and persecute reformers. Long immunity from organised violence had a little blinded good men to the harsh realities of this world. They were not familiar as we with the tyrant's bludgeon and the triumph of his blood-stained symbols; the victory of their forebears had given them a peace and security till then unknown. Their historic vision was bounded by the sight of Pitt suspending Habeas Corpus and a Home Secretary hounding the pioneers of progressive movements. They could not see the stormy horizon beyond, the waves of invasion lapping our shores, the shadow of Giant Despair over an enslaved Europe.

Because we forgot our history we have had to re-live it. We, too, have stood where our ancestors stood in Napoleon's day. Like them I have therefore concentrated on the external struggle rather than on the grim internal revolution that accompanied it. With its attendant agrarian revolution the Industrial Revolution involved millions in misery and degradation. Yet though its products -- abundant arms, munitions and manufactured goods -- were one of the chief causes of Napoleon's defeat, the social calamities to which it gave rise never weakened the British people's will to resist. Then as now it was their strength and weakness to concentrate on immediate essentials and avert their gaze as long as possible from impending evils. From 1793 till 1815 they grappled with the greatest military power known on earth and slowly wore it down. The magnitude of that achievement may explain, though it cannot excuse, the stubborn reverse of John Bull's qualities: the blind bigotry and mental rigidity of petty jacks-in-office which a generation earlier had . . .

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