Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Unholy Alliance

Review of:
The Unholy Alliance: an American View of the War in the East (by Charles B. Norton, 1855).

This book, written partly in prose, partly in verse, and partly in something between the two, is intended to explain to us what a particular class of Americans think of the Eastern question. We will, therefore, try to state as fairly as we can the nature of the views which it advocates.

Mr. Dix starts with the proposition that “Sentiment is sometimes the best of arguments, because the most intuitive and simple." He therefore discusses the whole question of the war from the sentimental point of view. About thirty years ago, we are told, “poetry hung wreaths mixed with the cypress and the laurel upon the ruins of the Parthenon, and sighed as she looked on Salamis—” which was at once the occasion and the justification of the battle of Navarino. Christianity, in Mr. Dix's opinion, is more important than Greek freedom. We should have admitted this without argument, but as Mr. Dix's reason is novel in statement, we give the reader the benefit of it. It is, that certain texts of Scripture become applicable “when the robe of clay is fading, when earthly comfort ads and earthly blessings die-- when Plato has no charm, and Homer sings in vain—when skill cannot assuage and friendship strives in vain—when love can only weep, try once again to cure, then turn again to weep"—in short, we suppose, when people are dying. It is the inconvenience of the argumentum ex sentimentalitate, that though nothing can be clearer than the logician's principles, their application is perhaps less obvious. We quite appreciate Mr. Dix's high opinion of Christianity, but we do not see why, because it is more important than Greek freedom, he should apostrophize England—“Oh, Mother, Isle of Nations”—or why he should ask Oxford, “Has the sun of Oxford set?" Nor do we perceive why he should recommend Great Britain to "go to any one of the surviving soldiers of the (American) Revolution, and tell him" about the sufferings of the arm in the Crimea, in order to see tears “glisten in the dim eyes which in youth . . . fixed the still and mortal aim." Still less do we understand why he should “place a leaf" of thirty-two decasyllabic lines on the grave of Henry Clay-the point of which is, that if you want a man to look up when he is dying, you need only
In the chilled car speak softly—Henry Clay.
Perhaps the most curious argument of all is his exhortation to Louis Napoleon to canonize Mahomet, Judas Iscariot, and Julian the Apostate; and to Lord Palmerston,—“who, in one respect, and of course in one respect only—resembles the devil," to found a professorship for teaching the Koran at “synthetic Oxford or analytic Cambridge." By one means or another, however, Mr. Dix arrives at his principles, and goes on to their application. “The rest northern eagle," he says, “has arisen from is eyrie of ice,” so that “men quake at the doom of the vulture of Mecca." However, “the lion of England and the eagle of France defend the vulture." So that it is, in Mr. Dix's opinion, “a wonder of mercy" that such of our churches as have crosses upon them have not been swallowed up by earthquakes.

At page 52 we get to “the real question," which is, " Whether the Cross shall keep or lose its aggressive tendency?" And after some parenthetical denunciation of that "Judas Iscariot of the New is Dispensation"—the balance of power-we arrive at a statement of the true principle which solves all territorial questions about Turkey.  It is that, “wherever Christianity has once established itself, its claims receive the seal of perpetual right." To deny this is to deny the divine origin of the Creed. The consequence is, that “from the accession of Constantine the Great, Christianity acquired a right over all the dominions then comprised within the Roman empire, which cannot be alienated until the sun shall be blotted out, and the elements dissolved with fervent heat." Who is to exercise this perpetual right of entry on behalf of “Christianity" is not pointed out; nor is it stated whether it accrued at the death of Constantius, 25th of July, 306, or at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, 28th of October, 312.  We are, however, informed that the sooner Russia “takes Constantinople, the better for herself, Turkey, England, and the whole world."

This art of the subject concludes with a poetical reply to Mr. Gerald Massey, who, in one of his poems," as mingled striking incongruities of sentiment as a Christian poet with marked melodies of expression." It addresses England thus:—
‘England, complete thy work of shame;
Renounce in Parliamentary halls,
By public vote, the Christian name;
Then rear the Crescent on St. Pauls.’
Pending such a resolution, Mr. Dix proceeds to show that the objects of the Allies involve “false philosophy, false politics, false religion.” False philosophy, because their policy is envious, and therefore “negative.”  Now it is, we are told, a notorious truth, that “positive politics” improve, and that “negative politics” injure, a State, because the last “find their complement in a crowd of positive evils, of which the greatest may be transient success.” Our conduct involves “false policy" for a great variety of reasons. We have only room for two or three. First, it is grounded on “a charge of insanity" brought by the English press against the Russians. In madmen, however, “the law of association is completely overturned; their figures of speech are distorted; their phrases are incoherent and disconnected; their dress is fantastic; their language is frivolous at solemn times; their whole bearing is disordered"—all which symptoms are commoner in England than in Russia. A second reason is, that we are mistaken in supposing Russia to be grasping, because the English “title to Gibraltar" is not “as immaculate as the record of an angel's orisons" (like that of land bought under the Encumbered Estates’ Act). Besides, all our wars in India are worse than anything done by Russia; and if our ministers can find a single instance to the contrary, let them “rise in their places in Parliament," and advocate the war with “faces glowing with the angelic light of conscious innocence." Moreover, if Russia is barbarous, “Was Stonehenge a Christian temple, and were the Druids Christian priests? What was the state of the arts in those distant days? Who was the Homer of the early Britons -- the Phidias, the Plato?" If we have a fault to find with such eloquence as this, it is that it displays a trifling tendency to plagiarism. Perhaps, however, Mr. Dix had on unconsciously in is mind the famous charges (recorded in the life of Mr. Martin Chuzzlewit) brought by General Cyrus Choke against the British Lion. “I advert with indignation and disgust to that accursed animal with gore-stained whiskers. . . . . Where, sir, are the Cormorans, the Blunderbores, the Great Feefofums, mentioned in history? All, all exterminated by its destroying hand!"

Our conjectures as to the source of our author's inspiration are confirmed by a suspicious similarity between another passage recorded by Mr. Dickens, and one of Mr. Dix’s proofs that the Allies are committed to “false religion." His argument turns upon an alleged informality in the execution of a certain bond:—
“England, Christian England,” cries Mr. Dix; “in God's name speak! -- Where is the bond which consigns the protection of Christianity to its most bitter and persistent enemy? . . . . Where, in the archives of Heaven, earth, or hell," (an Americanism, apparently, for “where the devil?’') "is that bond to
be found? Find it, produce it, read it! What Court has sanctioned it? Does it bear the seal and signature of the Great Chancellor of Human Salvation? If not, it is void--away with it."
Now for the parallel passage from Mr. Dickens:--
“Lion?” cried the orator of the Watertonst Sympathizers; “where is he?” – who is he? – what is he? Show him to me.  Let me have him here – here, upon this sacred altar,” cried the young Columbian, idealizing the dining-table; “alone I dare him – I taunt that Lion.  I tell that Lion, that freedom’s hand once twisted in his mane, he rolls a corse before me; and the Eagles of the Great Republic laugh – Ha! Ha!”
Mr. Dix and the young Columbian are “perhaps as remarkable men as any in our country;" and we have no doubt that both of them are spectacles calculated to make the “British Lion put his tail between his legs, and howl with anguish."
The deed is, however, important in another way. It gives Mr. Dix occasion to assert a principle which would confer upon all persons of English descent an indefensible right to a distributive share in the crops grown on Runnymede and Mngna Charta island. The principle is, that “All Englishmen endowed with the simple piety of the shepherd of Salisbury Plain;" all Frenchmen and all Germans, subject to cognate restrictions— in short, "all Christian men everywhere, clerical or lay, have as valid a right to Jerusalem" as anybody else.

The remainder of the book is devoted to a considerable number of rather obscure speculations, and is pervaded by a somewhat rhythmical tendency. Mr. Dix's love of England wrings from him a denunciation of English corruptions, which concludes with the following burst of tenderness: “England has four needs— universal religion, universal education, universal suffrage, and a man moved by the spirit of the living God to press an unyielding subsoil ploughshare through all the civil and ecclesiastical abuses of the British empire." We have not room for many more beauties. There is a touching euthanasia shadowed out as the appropriate fate of Rome:—“If she is to die, let her expire by slow decay, in the soft Italian twilight, with limbs decently composed.’ And we have an exquisite allusion to the beauty of Turkey in Europe—“Lands whose fertility and beauty would move the heart of the devil himself, could he see them, to send a colony from perdition to sow and reap." We should like to know whether the Dutch found any such colonists in New York when they landed, and if so, whether they have left any representatives. And finally, there is a concluding burst of poetry, from which we select the following, on the massacre of Scio:--
‘On Scio grazed that Moslem lamb,
With teeth of sharp and bitter woe,
Dear Scio’s vales that Moslem lamb,
Made deep with tides of blood to flow.
That lamb tore all our vines away,
And trampled with too careless feet,
Until our eyes saw not the day
And hoarsely seemed that lamb to bleat.'
There are five stanzas more, which cannot fail to reduce the Moslem lamb to the same condition as the British lion, but we have no room for them.  We conclude our extracts with the following soothing reflection, which Mr. Dix wishes to be “heeded well,” and which will, we hope, console our readers under double income-tax and Extraordinary Gazettes:—“The wheels of time are concentric with the cycles of eternity, and the globe is upheld by an infinite hand."

If Mr. W. G. Dix had been simply a fool, we should have left him to rant and scream, and write what he calls poetry, unmolested; but as maggots and dungflies are evidence of the carrion from which they are bred, this book throws light upon some of the American sympathies with Russia of which we have heard so much of late. Apart from some incomprehensible nonsense about the Church of England, for which we are sorry to say Mr. Dix professes great admiration, the only gleam of reason in his imbecile ravings is his admiration for despotism. As it can hardly be imagined that he is capable of originating any thought at all, we suppose he must have derived his nonsense from some one a stage or two further removed from idiotcy than himself. We have inflicted upon our readers too many of his absurdities to feel justified in laying before them his political schemes in his own language. They consist, in a few words, in recommending an allotment of Asia Minor and S ria to England, of Africa to France, of Turkey and Hungary to Russia, of Portugal to Spain, and of all Germany to Prussia under Prince Albert, together with the dismemberment of Austria, and the consolidation of Italy into a kingdom, under that “young American, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte." We collect from this wicked nonsense that there are persons in America to whom it appears that the absorption of weaker States by stronger ones, and the disregard of all that is generally known by the name of the law of nations, are necessary conditions of political progress. Such an error, more or less fully embrace by stronger minds, produces in weak ones the absurdities which we have remarked in Mr. Dix. It appears to us perfectly intelligible, and equally lamentable, that such opinions should have a certain currency in America. Its history has been that of a political Jacob, supplanting innumerable Esaus by force or by policy. We do not mean to deny that the progress of the Unite States has been, on the whole, a great blessing to the world; but if they allow themselves to be seduced into the notion that the eternal rules of justice are suspended in their favour, their power will become the greatest of curses. Respect for other people's rights and possessions lies at the bottom of all prosperity. No man is entitled to pronounce sentence of confiscation in his own favour against another's property, because that other makes a bad use of it. The most glorious ages in history are those which record the resistance of small states to great ones. What does not Great Britain owe to the manful resistance which the Scotch made against the English for many centuries? What has not the United Kingdom suffered from the comparatively slight opposition of the Irish to their English conquerors? In Dr. Arnold's opinion, the destruction of Carthage was the greatest of all misfortunes to Rome, and we cannot imagine a more horrible issue of modern civilization than the fusing, for the second time, of all nationalities into one unwieldy mass like the old Roman empire. We are as yet far enough removed from such a state of things; but the very same excuses which now justify the Americans in their own eyes for annexations and wars of conquest, and which excite their sympathy in favour of a Power which repeats their own processes on this side of the Atlantic, might have been urged in justification of the crimes which have inflicted the worst calamities upon the human race.

Saturday Review, November 24, 1855.

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