Imágenes de página

of a fan suddenly flung open, and, join-
ing in a loud yell or hourra, rush,
each acting individually, upon the
object of attack, whether infantry, ca-
valry, or artillery; to all of which they
have been in this wild way of fighting
formidable assailants."

covering the retreat of their own
army, their velocity, activity, and cour-
age, render pursuit by the enemy's
cavalry peculiarly dangerous; and in
pursuing a flying enemy their qualities
are still more redoubtable. In the
campaign of 1806-7, the Cossacks took
the field in great numbers under their
celebrated Ataman Platof, who, him.
self a Cossack, knew their peculiar
capacity for warfare, and raised their
fame to a pitch which it had not at-
tained in former European wars."

changes were, however, made in their internal organization: their troops, which had hitherto appeared in the field in separate stanitzas, each headed by its own chief, were formed into re. gular regiments of the guard and the line, under officers appointed and commissioned by the crown: a fixed period of military service was rendered obliga. tory on each Cossack as the tenure of his lands and fisheries: and the authority of the Ataman was circumscribed by the establishment at Tcherkask of a Russian chancery under a procuratorgeneral, to which was transferred the control of the allotment of lands, and the revision of judicial sentences. But while the spirit of their government was thus silently undergoing a transformation, nothing was neglected which could foster and inflame their The military history of the Cosmilitary spirit, and convert them from sacks may here be closed; but the the turbulent allies into the zealous political changes which were effected and obedient soldiers of Russia. during this period in their constitution, Honours and rewards were liberally demand attention as containing the showered on their leaders; and Souva- seeds of the present disaffection. The roff, to whose ferocious courage and appointment of Platof to the dignity contempt for modern tactical science of Ataman in 1796, by the sole power in war, their undisciplined bravery of the crown, had abolished the anwas peculiarly congenial, treated them cient right of election; but the popuwith eminent distinction, and employed larity of the new chief reconciled the them as his chosen troops on all occa- Cossacks to the change; and the sions of peril. In the sieges of Ocza- powers of the Ataman, which, accordkow and Ismail, columns of dis- ing to Heber, had extended even to mounted Cossacks were combined with causing men to be summarily bound the regular battalions in the assault; hand and foot and thrown into the but their want of discipline made them Don, were restricted henceforward to inefficient when acting in concert with military matters. Paul, whose wish the other troops: and the total de- was to obliterate, as far as lay in his struction at Ismail of a corps of 5000 power, all that his mother had done, Cossacks, whom their headlong valour at first declared his intention of rehad carried into a situation whence it storing the ancient privileges of the was impossible to rescue them, pre- Don-Cossacks in their pristine vivented the experiment ever being re- gour; but his fickle and wayward peated. But as light cavalry in the temper prevented the realization of field, or in protecting the flanks and any of his promises; and an imperial outposts of an army, the Cossacks con- edict, which assimilated the commistinued to be unrivalled; and their sions of the Cossack officers to those eminent services in this capacity, in the Russian army, and conferred through the various campaigns of the nobility on the children of those who French revolutionary wars, spread the had the military rank of colonel, exrenown of their powers throughout cited great discontent, and was exEurope. Their peculiar mode of claimed against as introducing a new fighting, though not materially differ- aristocracy, to the subversion of the old ing from that of Oriental cavalry democratic institutions of the nation. in general, has been described by The military spirit of a government, Scott in language so vivid and pictu- where formerly all were equal, or had resque, that we cannot refrain from only a temporary but absolute power quoting it in this place :-"Instead of when elected officers, was obviously acting in a line, a body of Cossacks violated by the creation of this priviabout to charge disperse at the word leged class, the numbers of which conof command, very much in the manner tinually increased: and the partiality

shown to them in the allotment of lands, and appointment to commissions, (which were conferred even on children in the cradle,) widened the breach between the new nobles and the common Cossacks, and excited jealousy against the former, as the partisans and creatures of the Russians. On the death of Platof, the dignity of Ataman ceased to exist as a local title, and was reserved by the crown till the present emperor conferred it on his son, the heir-apparent the routine duties of the office were, in the mean time, per formed by an officer styled nakazniiataman, or vice-ataman, whose residence was fixed at Tcherkask; but the limited power possessed by this functionary, and the insignificance into which the staroshines, and other local authorities, had by this time sunk, left the real administration in the hands of the procurator-general at Teherkask, and the council of war at Petersburg, and deprived the Cossacks of the channels throughwhich their complaints had hitherto reached the ear of the sovereign. The continued alienation of lands from the common territory in favour of the new nobles, and even of Russians, was viewed with discontent and suspicion by the commonalty, who anticipated the introduction of compulsory labour as the inevitable consequence of these appropriations: and an attempt, shortly after the accession of the present Emperor, to introduce the payment of customs on some of the articles which they had hitherto received duty-free, was met by such violent reclamations, that it was found necessary to abandon the project before the commencement of the last Turkish war. The severe and harassing warfare against the Circassians, and the neglect to withdraw several Cossack regiments from this unpopular service at the end of their stipulated period of duty, excited murmurs and discontent, which the imprudent ukases of 1837, and the attempt to coerce the disaffected corps by severity, have inflamed into the present spirit of resistance; and though the rigid surveillance which has been exercised, to prevent the transactions in the interior of Russia from being divulged beyond the frontier, has rendered the accounts which have hither

to transpired vague and imperfect, their uniform tenor sufficiently proves, that the love of freedom which in by. gone days animated the Cossacks against the Tartars, is not yet extinct, and that any attempt to narrow still further the already restricted circle of their liberties, must produce a convulsion which would seriously affect the stability of Russian sway in her southeastern acquisitions.

The vulnerability of Russia on the side of the Black Sea, in the event of her engaging in war with a maritime power, has been long felt by herself, and can now be no longer concealed from the eyes of Europe. When Alexander spoke of the Dardanelles as "the key of my house," he used the phrase in the full consciousness of the danger to his empire which must follow the passage, by a hostile power, of that important barrier; and in our hands especially, if the energies of England were wielded by men of a different stamp from those who now direct them, the knowledge of Russian weakness in this quarter might be converted into a better security than we now possess for the pacific policy of the Czar, from the ease with which a revolt might be excited and maintained among the tribes which cover his southern frontier from the Dniepr to Ghilan, all more or less oppressed and discontented, some but recently subdued, and some still maintaining, against fearful odds, the struggle for freedom. Little cohesion, beyond that which results from a uniform system of military occupation, exists among the various races which have been brought within the geographical boun. daries of the Russian empire sincé the time of Peter the Great: and, in regarding the present protracted war in Circassia simply as the gallant but isolated resistance of a warlike nation against the power of Russia, the European public has erroneously estimated the importance of the contest. It is not the prowess of a single people which Russia has encountered on the heights of the Caucasus, but the accumulated hatred of the wrecks of tribes and nations once independent, which have turned to bay in the fastnesses of this ancient barrier against northern irruption. Many thousands

* The Persians term the Caucasus Seddi-Iskender, "the barrier of Alexander:"from the mythological traditions of the East, which attribute to him the erection of

of the Tartars, Kabardions, and Lesghis, driven from their ancient seats by the advance of Russian conquest, have sought a last refuge in the inaccessible mountains of Circassia, and become amalgamated with the Circassian people: the last descendants of Zingis, the race of the dethroned Kherais of the Krim, are at their head and aid is secretly afforded to their co-religionists by the neighbouring Moslem tribes in the Russian dominions, to an extent which the severe punishment consequent on detection has been unable to check. The success of the Caucasian mountaineers, and the present disaffection of the Cossacks, may be hailed as the first signs of reflux in the tide of aggression which Russia has for more than a century been steadily carrying forward: and, when we remember the eagerness with which the Cossacks of Poltava and the Ukraine, on the invasion of Russia by Napoleon,* held themselves in readiness to welcome the French as deliverers, we may estimate the probable effect which might be produced if Great Britain, following the example set by her professed ally in the late case of Herat, should retaliate by sending her Mediterranean fleet into the Black Sea, and thus demonstrating to the tribes on its shores that the power of the "Padishah of the Sea" (as the Circassians term the British sovereign) is less exaggerated, and less kept in check by Russia, than the Russians have constantly endeavoured to represent it.†

The country occupied by the Don

Cossacks extends about 350 versts in length on both sides of the Don, and about 300 in extreme width, containing 3611 geographic square miles: it contains 119 stanitzas, varying from 50 to 300 houses; each stanitza is still surrounded by a rampart and ditch, but the khutor or stable is outside. The male population is supposed to be about half a million, of whom 200,000 are able to bear arms, and have each consequently an allotment of lands and fisheries; the officers have double and treble shares. Every Cossack is liable to be called upon to serve three years in any part of the world, mounted, equipped, and armed at his own expense, but receiving pay when on actual service. After three years' service he is liable to service only in the frontier cordon, the police, &c.: after twenty years he serves in the home police only, and after twenty-five years he is free entirely. The Cossacks are mostly in easy circumstances, and are exempt from most taxes, particularly the salt and capitation taxes; most of them possess three or four horses, and many have studs of upwards of 1000: their country, with the Ukraine and the neighbouring cavalry colonies, supplies nearly all Russia with horses. Bremner says, that "with the exception of the cavalry of the guard stationed at Petersburg, and the longnecked pets of some Cossack policemen, scarcely a single mounted soldier is seen by the traveller till he reach the southern districts. There are 45,000 cavalry in Little Russia alone."‡

this mighty chain of mountains, as a curb upon Hejaj und Mejaj, or Gog and Magog: the barbarous tribes of the North.

* Bremner's Russia, ii. 405.

+ The present force of the Cossacks is estimated by Mr Bremner on the (authority of Schnitzler and others) at 101,760 men, divided into 164 regiments. Of these the Don-Cossacks supply 70 regiments of the line, and 19 of the guards; the Tchernomorskis 21 of the line, and one of the guards; the Siberian Cossacks 30 of the line; the Cossacks of the Ukraine 18 of the line, (organized in 1831 as a partial revival of this branch, under the title of Cossacks of Little Russia ;) the remaining five regiments are supplied by the Cossacks of the Ural, Terek, and Volga. Each polk or regiment is divided into ten sotnikas or troops; its staff consisting of a polkovnik (colonel), yessawul (major), and a standard-bearer.

Bremner's Russia, ii. 381.



How many, we would ask, of the poets of the present day, have proposed to themselves any model of exalted beauty, to which, in their works, they have longed and laboured to conform; any radiant image of the first fair, finished and faultless in all its parts and proportions, that has robbed them of their rest, and haunted them in their dreams, still attracting them to a nearer contemplation of its excellence, and animating them to some effort by which they might gratify in themselves, and in some degree communicate to others, the love and delight with which it has filled their souls? How many of them even have dwelt with humbler admiration on the reflection of that primary excellence presented in the compositions of timehonoured genius, and have attempted to pro on their own age and country, anu with themes of their own choice, analogous if not similar effects to those which have for ever embalmed the memory and influence of their classic prototypes? How many of our poets have asked of themselves with a heartfelt and assiduous importunity

"What shall I do to be for ever known, And make the age to come my own ?"

How many have answered the enquiry by the exclamation—

"Hence all the flattering vanities that lay

Nets of roses in my way;

Hence, the desire of honours and estate, And all that is not above fate !"

How many again have been actuated by the still nobler feeling, that the gift of poetry was bestowed upon them as a divine instrument for doing good, as much as for imparting pleasure, to their species, and that of this talent, as of every other, the God who gave it would demand a strict account?

But a few, we suspect, of those who have in our day desired or attained a poetical reputation, could lay claim to feelings or motives such as we have described. Yet, without some of these sources of inspiration, and, perhaps, more particularly without the highest and rarest that we have named, we do

[ocr errors]

not believe that genuine poetical excellence, or lasting poetical fame, can possibly be achieved.

We know not the precise nature of the devotional sentiment that prompted the Pagan poet when he said— "Me vero primum dulces ante omnia Musæ,

QUARUM SACRA FERO, ingenti percussus



But the sentiment, however shadowy, that he was the servant and priest of the virgin daughters of Jove, must, amidst all the errors of heathenism, have supported the sweetest and stateliest of poets in his noble aspirations after piety and wisdom-after the beautiful and the good. In the days of Christianity the poetical office is not less than ever a sacred ministry; and poets are an anointed priesthood, who have still holier and higher truths to proclaim, and feelings to infuse, than even the imagination that led Æneas into Hades could conjecture or comprehend. While living in a clearer light, and under a purer dispensation, it is still to us a virtual truth, that poetry is a virgin daughter of heaven, whose service can only be well and worthily performed by those who remember the sacredness of her origin, and the benevolence of her errand to the earth.

We are not about to enter on any denunciation of those who have perverted poetry to purposes or propensities of an unworthy nature, and have attempted to lend a new or an additional impulse to self-indulgence, by those graces and embellishments which were intended to adorn the awful form of virtue, and render her features more familiar and more attractive. We are not disposed to think that the influence of such writers is so extensively or so enduringly pernicious, as might at first be thought. We, indeed, consider that it is idle and unjust to declaim in this respect against the perversions of genius, or to exhort the true poet to employ his powers on such objects only as are glorious to himself, and profitable to his species.

We doubt whether genius can exist at all, at least genius of a high class, without carrying in its own constitution a practical security against error and vice. There can be no great genius without an ardent longing, and an inextinguishable preference, for what is truly beautiful: and no highly endowed spirit can fail to see almost intuitively that virtue is beauty, and vice deformity. All the better parts of our nature-all the nobler views of our destiny-must have a charm in the eyes of the true poet which never can adorn their opposites. They must be more delightful as objects of contemplation-more inspiring and more satisfying as subjects of representation and development. If we could conceive a painter, with an exquisite sense of form and colouring, who yet preferred to delineate the lifeless desert or the sickly swamp, before the fertile valley or the heaven-kissing hill; or whose human figures more readily exhibited the loathsomeness of disease and decay, than the purple light of health and happiness-we should imagine an anomaly something akin to that of a great poet, whose sensibility and enthusiasm were yet content to dwell on themes of frivolity and folly, to the exclusion of what was truly noble and touching in human character.

It is not our object here to enquire, in connexion with this view, in what manner some of the greatest poets have been led to devote a part of their powers to subjects of levity and license. Perhaps, in reference to the age and people whom they addressed, even this lowering of their tone was necessary or serviceable to the perfect success of their mighty mission. The greatest poets, we are inclined to think, ought to embody in themselves the image both of the real and of the ideal world, to enable them the more effectually to convert the sensual vulgarities of the one into the spiritual sublimities of the other. Not without a profound and important meaning of this nature, is the glorious description of his own power by the noblest and wisest of his brotherhood:

"The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from

earth to heaven."

Heaven must be the first object of its contemplation; but on the earth too, and on all objects of earthly inte


rest, its glance must rest, till from this meaner world it is able to raise and refine its earthly disciples to an aptness for that region from which its power is derived, and in which its purposes terminate. The ribald or the rustic, who should be allured, by the merriment of Shakspeare's buffoons or of Chaucer's churls, to obtain even a glimpse of those exquisite revelations of purity and goodness to which these blemishes seem strangely united, would prove to us the magic efficacy of those master-minds, who, from their universal sympathies, even with the failings of their species, were able, by winning their confidence, to promote their amendment more quickly and more completely than a more rigid and repulsive instructor could have done.


But the apparent anomaly we have glanced at is no exception to our proposition-that genius is essentially pure. No great poet ever attempted to embellish error or vice with the charms of poetry, or to practise those deceptions in morality which are alone dangerous. A great poet is as incapable of deceiving others by specious vices or false combinations, as he is of being himself deceived by them. The wand of true genius is an Ithuriel's spear :— "No falsehood can endure Touch of celestial temper, but returns Of force to its own likeness."

When we are told, then, of any who waste their genius upon unworthy subjects, we are inclined to conclude that they are not in reality possessed of that genius which they are accused of degrading. We infer that they are destitute of those powers and faculties which would enable them to contemplate and to create what was beautiful and pure, and would necessarily secure their affections from wandering to objects of moral aversion.

In like manner, we are in general inclined to think that where genius exists, it must be accompanied by the power, and must feel the necessity, of giving a high finish in language and imagery to all its works. The love of the beautiful combined with the creative faculty, cannot fail to produce in comparative perfection the object that it loves and labours to realize. The powers of thought and of expression were never known to be separated in the authors of classical antiquity;

2 A

« AnteriorContinuar »