"Ob fas est aquam hostis venere," etc. "Tut, tut, it's not allowed. But here are some of the enemy in a barn? What about that?" "Ob fas est hostem incendio," etc. "Yes; he says we may. Quick, Ambrose, up with the straw and the tinder box." Warfare was no child's play about the time when Tilly sacked Magdeburg, and Cromwell turned his hand from the mash tub to the sword. It might not be much better now in a long campaign, when men were hardened and embittered. Many of these laws are unrepealed, and it is less than a century since highly disciplined British troops claimed their dreadful rights at Badajos and Rodrigo. Recent European wars have been so short that discipline and humanity have not had time to go to pieces, but a long war would show that man is ever the same, and that civilization is the thinnest of veneers.
Now you see that whole row of books which takes you at one sweep nearly across the shelf? I am rather proud of those, for they are my collection of Napoleonic military memoirs. There is a story told of an illiterate millionaire who gave a wholesale dealer an order for a copy of all books in any language treating of any aspect of Napoleon's career. He thought it would fill a case in his library. He was somewhat taken aback, however, when in a few weeks he received a message from the dealer that he had got 40,000 volumes, and awaited instructions as to whether he should send them on as an instalment, or wait for a complete set. The figures may not be exact, but at least they bring home the impossibility of exhausting the subject, and the danger of losing one's self for years in a huge labyrinth of reading, which may end by leaving no very definite impression upon your mind. But one might, perhaps, take a corner of it, as I have done here in the military memoirs, and there one might hope to get some finality.
Here is Marbot at this end--the first of all soldier books in the world. This is the complete three-volume French edition, with red and gold cover, smart and debonnaire like its author. Here he is in one frontispiece with his pleasant, round, boyish face, as a Captain of his beloved Chasseurs. And here in the other is the grizzled old bull-dog as a full general, looking as full of fight as ever. It was a real blow to me when some one began to throw doubts upon the authenticity of Marbot's memoirs. Homer may be dissolved into a crowd of skin-clad bards. Even Shakespeare may be jostled in his throne of honour by plausible Baconians; but the human, the gallant, the inimitable Marbot! His book is that which gives us the best picture by far of the Napoleonic soldiers, and to me they are even more interesting than their great leader, though his must ever be the most singular figure in history. But those soldiers, with their huge shakoes, their hairy knapsacks, and their hearts of steel--what men they were! And what a latent power there must be in this French nation which could go on pouring out the blood of its sons for twenty-three years with hardly a pause!
It took all that time to work off the hot ferment which the Revolution had left in men's veins. And they were not exhausted, for the very last fight which the French fought was the finest of all. Proud as we are of our infantry at Waterloo, it was really with the French cavalry that the greenest laurels of that great epic rested. They got the better of our own cavalry, they took our guns again and again, they swept a large portion of our allies from the field, and finally they rode off unbroken, and as full of fight as ever. Read Gronow's "Memoirs," that chatty little yellow volume yonder which brings all that age back to us more vividly than any more pretentious work, and you will find the chivalrous admiration which our officers expressed at the fine performance of the French horsemen.
It must be admitted that, looking back upon history, we have not always been good allies, nor yet generous co-partners in the battlefield. The first is the fault of our politics, where one party rejoices to break what the other has bound.