Old Maids

Time wore on, and spring matured. The surface of England began to look pleasant; her fields grew green, her hills fresh, her gardens blooming; but at heart she was no better; still her poor were wretched, still their employers were harassed; commerce, in some of its branches, seemed threatened with paralysis, for the war continued; England’s blood was shed and her wealth lavished, all, it seemed, to attain most inadequate ends. Some tidings there were indeed occasionally of successes in the Peninsula, but these came in slowly; long intervals occurred between, in which no note was heard but the insolent self-felicitations of Bonaparte on his continued triumphs. Those who suffered from the results of the war felt this tedious and—as they thought—hopeless struggle against what their fears or their interests taught them to regard as an invincible power, most insufferable: they demanded peace on any terms; men like Yorke and Moore—and there were thousands whom the war placed where it placed them, shuddering on the verge of bankruptcy—insisted on peace with the energy of desperation. They held meetings; they made speeches; they got up petitions to extort this boon; on what terms it was made they cared not.

All men, taken singly, are more or less selfish, and taken in bodies they are intensely so. The British merchant is no exception to this rule; the mercantile classes illustrate it strikingly. These classes certainly think too exclusively of making money; they are too oblivious of every national consideration but that of extending England’s (i.e., their own) commerce. Chivalrous feeling, disinterestedness, pride in honour, is too dead in their hearts. A land ruled by them alone would too often make ignominious submission—not at all from the motives Christ teaches, but rather from those Mammon instils. During the late war, the tradesmen of England would have endured buffets from the French on the right cheek and on the left; their cloak they would have given to Napoleon, and then have politely offered him their coat also, nor would they have withheld their waistcoat if urged; they would have prayed permission only to retain their one other garment, for the sake of the purse in its pocket. Not one spark of spirit, not one symptom of resistance, would they have shown till the hand of the Corsican bandit had grasped that beloved purse; then, perhaps, transfigured at once into British bulldogs, they would have sprung at the robber’s throat, and there they would have fastened, and there hung—inveterate, insatiable—till the treasure had been restored. Tradesmen, when they speak against war, always profess to hate it because it is a bloody and barbarous proceeding; you would think, to hear them talk, that they are peculiarly civilized, especially gentle and kindly of disposition to their fellow-men. This is not the case. Many of them are extremely narrow and cold-hearted, have no good feeling for any class but their own, are distant—even hostile—to all others; call them useless; seem to question their right to exist; seem to grudge them the very air they breathe, and to think the circumstance of their eating, drinking, and living in decent houses, quite unjustifiable. They do not know what others do in the way of helping, pleasing, or teaching their race; they will not trouble themselves to inquire; whoever is not in trade is accused of eating the bread of idleness, of passing a useless existence. Long may it be ere England really becomes a nation of shopkeepers!

We have already said that Moore was no self-sacrificing patriot, and we have also explained what circumstances rendered him specially prone to confine his attention and efforts to the furtherance of his individual interest. Accordingly, when he felt himself urged a second time to the brink of ruin, none struggled harder than he against the influences which would have thrust him over. What he could do towards stirring agitation in the north against the war he did, and he instigated others whose money and connections gave them more power than he possessed. Sometimes, by flashes, he felt there was little reason in the demands his party made on Government; when he heard of all Europe threatened by Bonaparte, and of all Europe arming to resist him; when he saw Russia menaced, and beheld Russia rising, incensed and stern, to defend her frozen soil, her wild provinces of serfs, her dark native despotism, from the tread, the yoke, the tyranny of a foreign victor, he knew that England, a free realm, could not then depute her sons to make concessions and propose terms to the unjust, grasping French leader. When news came from time to time of the movements of that Man then representing England in the Peninsula; of his advance from success to success—that advance so deliberate but so unswerving, so circumspect but so certain, so ‘unhasting’ but so ‘unresting’; when he read Lord Wellington’s own despatches in the columns of the newspapers, documents written by Modesty to the dictation of Truth—Moore confessed at heart that a power was with the troops of Britain, of that vigilant, enduring, genuine, unostentatious sort which must win victory to the side it led in the end. In the end! But that end, he thought, was yet far off; and

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