MAXWELL, William Hamilton. Stories of Waterloo (1829)
Monthly Review, n.s. 13 (Feb 1830): 268–77.
We confess that we open a publication, coming from the prolific
manufactory of Messrs. Colburn and Bentley, with some degree of
suspicion. Burlington-street has, within the last three or four
years, ejected upon the town such an amazing number of novels, contracted
for by the ‘three volumes,’ and written for the purpose
of meeting what is called ‘the taste of the day,’ that
they seem, in some instances at least, rather to be the production
of some mechanical power operating upon arranged designs, than of
intellects [268/269] undergoing the ordinary emotions which are
excited by the literary propensity. A tale of ‘fashionable
life,’ a misanthropic romance, sketches at sea, scenes in
the east, west, north, or south, the story of a robber or a seducer,
a gambler, or a lover, seem to be executed per order with as much
facility in that active region as any pattern of lace at Nottingham,
or of chintz at Manchester. The Minerva Press has simply shifted
its quarters, and removed with it a colony of authors, or rather
of scribes, whose great business it is to keep this great town from
looking at any book whose antiquity dates from the last year.
In point of fact, how few of the novels which were published in
1829 will be remembered, not to speak of being read, in 1830? Some,
even of those which we endeavoured to rescue from the grave, have
baffled all our skill, and mocked our fondest hopes. They have gone
off under the effects of consumption,—that dire disease which
has infused itself so fatally into almost every branch of our modern
literature. The patient looks for a while blooming, and full of
promise of a vigorous existence. But a month or two rolls on, the
blossom fades from the cheek, and he is—no more.
This being the case, we hardly know what to say for ‘The
Stories of Waterloo and other Tales.’ There are in the third
volume a few pages really connected with that glorious field of
slaughter, but the remainder of the work is occupied with ‘the
other tales.’ This, to be sure, is an Irish way of nominating
a work. It is as if one should call our Gazetteer of the inhabited
world, the history of Constantinople and ‘other places.’
It reminds us of some of our boyish miscalculations, when we attempted
to fly a kite no larger than a crow, on his journey homeward, with
a tail as long as the monument. But a name, in these delightful
bookselling days, is the summon bonum of the trade. A ‘good
name’—that is the first thing to be found out—that
will sell at least one edition, and the public will be the first
to laugh at the little stratagem which has been invented only for
The ‘other tales,’ to reverse the order of the title,
if we may use the Hibernian privileges of our author, are, notwithstanding
what we have said against Burlington-street novels in general, of
an order which needed no connecting title to recommend them. We
have read them with a degree of interest which perhaps may induce
us, at this moment, to exaggerate their merits; yet we may assert
that they have at least the charm of variety, and of brevity, which
is no common praise to begin with. From deep tragedy we are hurried
on to broad farce, from the sunshine of contentedness to the gloom
of despair, from the tinkling of the light guitar to the thunder
of the battle. Truly we have here the proper picture of a soldier’s
life, than which, if well designed, there are few more favourable
for the touches of a master.
We cannot say of these ‘other tales,’ that they contain
the best written military adventures and sketches we ever read.
It cannot [269/270] be denied, however, that the style in which
they are thrown off is vigorous and eminently picturesque. The author
has carefully avoided that night-mare—sentimentality, and
that frightful old maid of modern novels,—‘fine conversation.’
He adheres, for the most part,—either to the narrative or
the descriptive, and in both he appears to us equally felicitous.
The scene of the first volume is, if we may liken it to a drama,
in Ireland: that of the second on the way from Erin to Quatre-Bras
and Ligny; in the third we at length reach the field of Waterloo.
The chain by which the stories are connected is ingenious enough.
Soldiers on the march to the distant field of action, and reposing
after the battle, amuse each other with their different adventures,
and our author has contrived by some means or other to render each
man’s contribution to the common stock engaging in its own
The story of the ‘outlaw,’ in the first volume, presents
a striking picture of the remote districts of Ireland some twenty
years ago. In the history of ‘Sarsfield,’ the author
has put forth his higher powers both of invention and composition,
each of which faculties he possesses to an eminent degree. We, shall,
however, content ourselves with one or two descriptive passages
from the story of ‘Colonel Nilson,’ which are connected
with the sanguinary insurrection of 1798.
‘After some hours’ marching, we came up with the rebel
outposts. I was conducted to a place of security, in the centre
of the insurgent army, and as the summer night was nearly passed,
I lay down, guarded by a centinel, on a sward of newly-cut hay,
to repose after my wearying, and, as it had proved, calamitous journey.
‘The morning had dawned some time before I awoke. I had been
much fatigued by the exertions of the preceding day, and, urged
by thirst, had drank a considerable quantity of spirits and water
before I lay down to sleep. I looked about like one bewildered.
I was in a country of whose appearance I was profoundly ignorant,
and, for some time, I imagined the body of men who, I was aware,
had occupied the ground on the last night, had moved off while I
‘But soon, from the rising ground where I stood, I discovered
the cause of the extraordinary stillness of the rebel forces. They
were lying in ambuscade, concealed by the high fences; and from
a careful look-out kept by their leaders, I was aware that an enemy
was speedily expected.
‘The position chosen by the rebels for attempting to surprise
the king's troops was admirably selected for that purpose, but was
a place where a successful attempt at an ambuscade was most unlikely.
Near the villa of Clough, the country, which is flat and open, with
large and spacious fields running parallel with the road, and offering
every facility for an army to deploy and form easily, if necessary,
suddenly changes its character. The road then becomes deep, narrow,
and intricate, with clay banks on each side, having wide ditches
at their bases, and rows of close bush on the top. The fields, also,
are small and difficult, interspersed into [270/271] numerous parks,
and separated by full-grown hedges. At this time of the year, the
trees being in full leaf, and the ground occupied by rich potato
crops, standing corn, and unmown grass, afforded ample concealment
for any force which chose to occupy it. Here, accordingly, the rebels
awaited the attack of the royalists; and the movements of the latter
on the Camdin road were soon apparent.
‘The rising of a dense, continuous cloud of dust gave notice,
that the king’s troops were approaching. For security, I presume,
I was placed about a hundred paces from the insurgents, who lined
the hedges. To enable themselves the better to obtain a view of
the expected conflict, my guards posted me on the crest of a Danish
fort, which not only commanded the rebel position, but had an unbroken
prospect of the road, by which their assailants advanced for several
miles. I had not, fortunately, been deprived of my telescope, and
was thus enabled to remark the occurrences of this calamitous morning
with painful accuracy. A sudden angle of the road cleared the advancing
military of the dust, which had hitherto obscured their march, and
at once I perceived, to my astonishment, that they were moving in
close column, without either flanking parties or skirmishers. The
dragoons were in the front, the infantry succeeded—in the
centre of which I perceived three or four pieces of artillery, and
a squadron of cavalry brought up the rear.
‘The country, as yet, was open. The troops could easily extend,
if required, on the right and left of the road, but still there
was a want of military caution in their order of march, which struck
me as being blameable. Presently they halted—“Now,”
thought I, “the rebel plan is known—we shall soon see
this formidable position turned.” I looked attentively; there
was as yet no partial movement—no light troops extending—no
advanced-guard pushed forward. Did my eyes deceive me?—was
it possible? By heaven! the march in close column was resumed: and
without a single precautionary measure, the doomed leader moved
to his destruction.
‘On came the royalists, and in a short time the leading squadron
of the advanced cavalry entered the fatal pass of Tubberneering.
None but a soldier can conceive the feelings of despair, of madness,
with which I viewed my devoted comrades, in the gorge of those enclosures,
from which few would return with life, and none without dishonour.
In profound silence the rebel ambush lay concealed—not a pike
glittered—not a man was seen, and the advanced-guard rode
on without suspicion. The infantry had now entered the defile. As
the road narrowed, the progress of the column became slow and difficult:
they passed, and the unhappy cause of the day’s disgrace,
surrounded by his aides-de-camp and staff, rode forward.
‘Colonel Walpole, to whom, unfortunately, the direction of
this ill-fated detachment had been entrusted, was a man totally
unfitted for command. He was vain, ignorant, and imprudent; arrogant
in his manners, and averse to communicate with his officers, or
avail himself of the experience of others. He held a situation in
the Castle of Dublin, and had unfortunately been dispatched with
confidential orders to General Loftus from whom he received the
command, which was so fatal to his followers. He was a remarkably
fine-looking man, and being dressed in a field-[271/272] officer’s
full uniform, and mounted on a tall gray charger he formed a most
conspicuous object for his latent enemy.
‘The column had now completely entangled itself; and, at
once, from the enclosures a wild yell burst forth, accompanied by
a stream of musketry. Colonel Walpole fell in the first fire; the
confusion was tremendous and to fight or retreat impossible. The
height and number of the fences on every side made the ground most
favourable for irregular and desultory warfare, and the long pikes
of the rebels reached nearly across the narrow road; and those of
the distracted soldiers who escaped the first close fire, were perforated
from behind the hedges by invisible opponents. The surprise of the
troops was complete; dragoons and infantry were thrown, in helpless
disorder, on each other, and a scene of butchery ensued.
‘I mentioned that I had been placed apart from the rebel
body; my guard had been gradually diminished, after the mélée
commenced, by their savage anxiety to join in the work of slaughter;
but two now remained, I looked down the next enclosure; it was entirely
open; for those who had originally lined it had advanced to close
with the struggling soldiery.
‘I was aware that escape was practicable. A pikeman and a
musketeer were my retainers. I waited till the latter had discharged
his piece, and then flinging the spearman down the steep bank, I
sprang over the next fence, and rushed towards the flank of the
‘Fortunately, some of the officers had managed to disengage
the rear-guard, and form them across an open field, to cover the
broken column, A steep and expansive rock rose abruptly within a
few paces of the road and was crowded by the rebel musketry, who,
from its superior elevation were enabled to throw a destructive
fire into the helpless mass below. To extricate the column, while
that commanding spot was occupied, was impossible. I instantly took
command of the artillery and having levelled a hedge, got one of
the six-pounders across the fence, where its fire would traverse
the rebel position. The gunners behaved with admirable steadiness;
with a few discharges we swept the rock of its occupants ; and a
few of the 4th Dragoons, and the Ancient British cavalry, having
threatened a flank movement on the rebels, the remains of the column
were disengaged. We were reluctantly obliged to abandon the guns;
for the horses, being untrained to fire, carried off the limbers
in the commencement of the attack, and made it impracticable to
remove them. We fell back in great confusion, and retreated through
the town of Gorey, followed closely by the insurgents, and annoyed,
as we retreated through the streets, by the rebel inhabitants, who
fired on us from their houses.’—vol. i. pp. 310–317.
The author’s account of the celebrated battle of ‘Vinegar
Hill,’ is also well given, as far as it goes.
‘General Duff, to whom I was attached with the artillery,
advanced on the Ferns road, having his right flank on the river
Slaney. Our march was parallel to the rebel lines upon the hills;
and, during this movement, I protected the columns, throwing shells
into the lines from the howitzers while the light infantry under
General Loftus supported me by a flanking fire. Late in the evening
we arrived on the ground we were directed to occupy, and after a
day of immense fatigue, rested on our arms on Vinegar Hill, in front
of the rebel position. Our’s being the light brigade, was,
of [272/273] course, considerably advanced, and I employed the little
remaining light before the night closed, in surveying the ground
and selecting a fit position for placing the guns in battery.
‘The night was mild and warm; the rebel fires were lighted
along their lines, and in the fort which crowned the crest of their
camp. Every necessary precaution against surprise was taken, and
we lay down to sleep, and refresh ourselves for the exertions of
‘We were already apprised that the assault upon the rebel
camp would commence with the morning’s dawn. All but the pickets
and centries [sic] were consequently anxious to obtain as
much refreshment and repose as possible. A soldier’s supper
is readily disposed of; and soon after dark our bivouac was profoundly
silent, and no sound or step was heard but those of the guards and
‘Not so the rebel camp. All within their lines was mirth
and music: groups of figures were seen moving opaquely round the
watch-fires, and the dance, and laugh, and song, only ceased a short
time before their lines were formed for the engagement.
‘The short hours of the summer night passed, and the first
blush of morning was expected anxiously. We were all at our posts.
A highland regiment was formed on the left of the ground, where
my guns, six six-pounders and two howitzers, were in battery, and
the light brigade, being the flank companies of the Irish militia,
and forming the finest battalion I ever saw, were extended on the
right. Our watches were momently consulted: in a few minutes the
gray dawn would break, and then the work of death was to commence!
At this instant an aide-de-camp came up with orders. When the light
broke sufficiently to lay the guns, my fire was to open and that
would be the signal for the columns who were now resting round the
hill to press forward.
‘But natural causes, for a time, forbade the flow of human
blood. Suddenly a thick dense fog rolled in huge fleeces across
the hill; the soldier could scarcely distinguish his next file,
and all around was enveloped in dark continuous clouds, into which
the human eye found it impossible to penetrate.
‘It was six o’clock before the light broke upon the
morning of the 21st June. The mist rose gradually from the low grounds,
and as it rolled up the hill, the columns of Generals Wilford, Dundas,
and Duff, commenced ascending with it. When I heard the advance
sounded on their bugles, I apprised General Loftus, who had stationed
himself beside me, that the fog was now dispersing. The word of
readiness was given to the light troops, and immediately the mist
curled upwards in one huge fleece, and showed us the advancing columns
below displayed in a dazzling glare of sunshine. The cloud rolled
majestically forward, and in a few minutes more, the double lines
of the insurgents, five or six files deep, appeared encircling the
ridge and summit of the mountain.
‘The opening light showed me that, on the preceding evening,
I had not calculated my distance wrong, when I chose the ground
on which I had parked my guns. A long deep ditch and breastwork
had been thrown up in front of their position by the rebels, and
to defend it they had filled it with their choicest musketry. A
few paces from me the ground rose, and I ascertained that from that
elevation I could enfilade their whole line. I changed the guns
instantly, and waited orders to commence firing. [273/274]
‘The mist had now cleared off the rebel fort, which was situated
on the cone of the mountain, and the scene around was beautiful
and imposing. Above, the rebel lines displayed a forest of glittering
pikes; along the ranks a number of green flags were waving; and
their leaders mounted and dismounted, were seen completing the necessary
arrangements. One was particularly remarkable, and seemed to hold
a principal command. He was a man of huge stature, arrayed in green
uniform with cross-belts and cavalry pistols; and being mounted
on a showy gray horse, and constantly engaged in reconnoitring,
he had greatly attracted the attention of the soldiery. He appeared
to remark the change of my guns, and rode forward to the breast
of the hill to observe my battery nearer.
‘As yet not a shot was fired; the troops pressed up the hill
at a moderate step, and in perfect silence; and the rebels waited
steadily and quietly for them to close. General Duff rode up—“Hilson
are you ready to open?” I answered in the affirmative. “Well,
begin in God’s name!”
‘The rebel chieftain on the gray horse was now within good
range. He was observing us through a glass, with the reins on the
neck of his charger which I afterward learned had belonged to the
unfortunate Colonel Walpole.
‘I laid the gun carefully, and desiring those around to observe
the rebel leader, applied the match, and horse and man were hurled
lifeless to the earth. Instantly the guns, loaded with grape and
canister, opened with destructive effect on the crowded trenches,
and the howitzers shelled the fort with fatal precision. The bugle
sounded the assault: under cover of the cannon the light brigade,
with a tremendous cheer, rushed up the hill, and after a short resistance,
the rebel breastwork was carried by the bayonet.
‘On their several points of attack the columns were equally
successful. The rebel position was every where forced, and the cavalry
having got open ground to charge, rushed forward and completed their
overthrow. Fortunately for the insurgents, one of the columns failed
in reaching its destination in sufficient time to co-operate with
the others, and thus afforded them an opening to escape by. Owing
to this mistake, an immense column succeeded in retreating by the
eastern bank of the Slaney; and the troops, after a long and bloody
pursuit, halted for the night.
‘With the loss of their camp the energies of the insurgents
appeared to decline. All their cannon, fifteen pieces with a large
quantity of arms and military stores, fell into the hands of the
royalists. Wexford next day was re-taken, and their forces from
that time were constantly harassed and broken by the King’s
troops, and never afterwards were capable of any formidable opposition.’—vol.
i. pp. 320–326.
These passages would almost induce us to suggest to the author,
that the history of the Irish rebellion is still untold, and that
it would afford his vigorous pen a favourable field for exercise.
Although we, and most of our readers, have perused at least a hundred
different accounts of Napoleon’s return from Elba, yet we
venture to say, that our author’s brief and animated narrative
of that ominous event, as well as his description of the scenes
[274/275] which followed it, in Paris and Belgium will be perused
with unwearied interest. We cannot resist the pleasure of extracting
the chapter which is devoted to the ‘Champ de Mai.’
‘A hundred cannon, discharged from the Bridge of Jena ushered
in the Champ de Mai. In front of the Military School, a mighty amphitheatre
was formed for the accommodation of the spectators, as well as of
those who were to assist in the ceremony. An altar, surmounted with
a canopy, and surrounded by seats for priests and choristers, occupied
the centre of the immense temporary building, which was supposed
to be capable of containing twenty thousand persons. A throne, destined
for Napoleon, stood before an extensive pyramidical platform; and
benches, ornamented with eagles, were divided into several tiers,
and, each inscribed with the name of the respective department,
were filled by the Deputies who represented them.
‘The intervening spaces of this mighty area were crowded
by the grand officers of the court and the members of the public
bodies. Arrayed in dresses of unequalled splendour, the appearance
of the assembled dignitaries was strikingly grand; and the élite
of the French army, comprising Buonaparte’s own guards, and
the finest regiments of the line, with their glittering arms and
appointments, completed a spectacle of majestic brilliancy.
‘Amid the thunder of artillery, and the acclamations of thousands
of the citizens who occupied the exterior of the splendid ampitheatre,
surrounded by the marshals and nobles of the empire, Napoleon presented
himself to the assembly, and placed himself upon the throne. His
dress was sumptuous: he wore a mantle of purple velvet, ornamented
with ermine and embroidery, with a black Spanish hat, richly plumed,
and looped in front with a diamond of transcendant beauty. For a
time, the roar of cannon, and the acclamation of the populace that
hailed his entrée, were deafening. Bowing repeatedly
to the assembly, while all beside remain uncovered, he seated himself
on the throne, with his brothers Joseph, Jerome, and Lucian, on
either side; and the artillery being silenced, the ceremony opened
by the celebration of mass by the Archbishop of Tours, and Cardinal
‘The religious portion of the pageant appeared to excite
little interest in Napoleon’s mind. His opera-glass wandered
over the countless multitude who composed the spectacle; and his
attention was not recalled until the mass was concluded, and the
central deputations from the electors of the empire, comprising
five members of each electoral college, marshalled by the conductor
of the ceremonies, ascended the platform and stood before the throne.
Dubois, deputy of Maine and Loire, in a loud and commanding voice,
then proceeded with his address. The harangue teemed with sentiments
of patriotic attachment, and breathed towards the person of the
emperor expressions of inviolable fidelity.
‘As the orator proceeded, Napoleon marked his approbation
with nods and smiles, till Dubois, after alluding to the pacific
overtures which had been just submitted to the Allies, concluded
with these bold and ominous words:—“If they leave us
only the choice between war and infamy, the entire nation will rise
to war. It absolves you from the too moderate offer which you have
made to save Europe from fresh convulsions. All Frenchmen are soldiers.
Victory will attend our eagles; and our ene-[275/276]mies, who calculate
upon our discord, will bitterly repent that they have incensed us.”
‘Amidst thunders of applause, the deputy ceased speaking;
when the Arch-Chancellor arose, and advancing to Napoleon, notified
the acceptance of the constitution. It was ratified by a million
and a half of affirmative suffrages; and with a flourish of trumpets,
a herald proclaimed, in the name of the Emperor, that the additional
acts to the constitutions of the empire were accepted by the French
‘Again the batteries saluted, and a sustained cheer resounded
from the assembly. A golden table and standish were placed before
the Emperor; and while the Arch-Chancellor unfolded the parchment,
and Joseph Buonaparte presented the pen, Napoleon ratified the deed
by placing his signature to the Constitution.
‘When the popular approbation, which this part of the ceremonial
occasioned, had subsided, the Emperor prepared to address the assembly.
Although short of stature, and not gifted with the commanding exterior
which is so requisite to arrest the attention of the populace, the
fire of his penetrating eye, and the peculiar energy of his action,
amply compensated for inelegant demeanour, and the defects of a
voice, neither sweet nor powerful—and now, when raised beyond
its compass, shrill and indistinct. He read his speech from a written
paper, and the style and language left little doubt that the composition
was his own:—
‘ “Emperor—consul—soldier I hold every
thing from the people. In prosperity, in adversity, in the field
and in the council, in power and in exile, France has been the sole
and constant object of my thoughts and actions.” A tissue
of invective against the monarchs, “violators of all principles,”
mingled with allusions to the national attachment towards himself,
succeeded, until he thus wound up his harangue:—“Were
it not my country alone which the enemies of France aim at, I would
surrender to their mercy the life which they so inveterately pursue.
But say to the citizens, that so long as they preserve for me those
sentiments of affection which they have so frequently manifested,
the rage of our enemies shall be impotent. Frenchmen! my will is
that of the people—my rights are theirs—my honour, my
glory, my happiness, can never be separated from the honour, glory,
and happiness of France.”
‘He ceased amid rapturous applause. When the tumult excited
by his address had subsided the Archbishop of Bourges, Grand Almoner
of the Empire, presented the Evangelists, on his knees, to Napoleon,
who swore to observe, and cause the Constitution to be observed.
The Arch-Chancellor then tendered his obedience to the Constitution
and the Emperor—and, animated with one feeling, the whole
assembly swore submission to the laws, and fidelity to Napoleon.
‘When this act of allegiance had been performed, the steps
of the throne were cleared, and the central deputation was withdrawn,
displaying a long line of dazzling splendour, from the throne to
the altar. Carnot in a white Spanish dress of great magnificence,
carried the eagle of the national guard. Davoust bore that of the
first regiment of the line, and that of the marine corps was supported
by Decrès. A scene, unequalled in effect, followed.
‘Buonaparte sprang from his throne, and, casting aside his
purple mantle, rushed on to meet his eagles; the momentary silence
was instantly [276/277]changed into an enthusiastic shout, which
seemed to thrill through the hearts of all. Taking the eagles respectfully
from the bearers, he returned them to each, with a spirited exhortation
to follow them to glory, and perish in their defence; while at the
close of each address the oaths of the excited soldiery responded
to the adjurations of their Emperor.
‘Buonaparte, habited in a crimson tunic, and surrounded by
marshals, nobles, and dignitaries, from the platform in the open
area distributed the eagles to the different regiments, and viewed
the troops attentively as they filed off in slow time before him.
Nothing could be more imposing than this part of the splendid pageant.
Amid the crash of military music, the blaze of martial decoration,
and the glitter of innumerable arms, fifty thousand men passed by.
The countless concourse of spectators, their prolonged vociferation,
the occasion, the man, the mighty events which hung in suspense,
all concurred to excite feelings and reflections which only such
a scene could have produced.
‘Nor was Napoleon himself unmoved. When the last files of
the long array had passed, he boldly resumed his seat upon the throne;
and while his face beamed pride and joy, and confidence, he witnessed
the close of the ceremony; and retiring amidst fresh bursts of enthusiastic
approbation which he repeatedly and graciously acknowledged, in
all the pomp and glory of a king, and a conqueror, under the thunder
of artillery, he again alighted at the Tuileries.
‘Thus ended the Champ de Mai, a spectacle of unrivalled grandeur,
a ceremony which seemed to mark the dynasty of France as settled
for ever, and the diadem placed upon Napoleon’s brow beyond
the possibility of being removed. But, in one short month, the red
field of Waterloo too fatally demonstrated the fallacy of human
calculations.’—Vol. II. pp. 15–24.
The reader must not conclude that, because we have extracted from
these volumes sketches which are exclusively of a military character,
there is nothing in them that touches the gentler sympathies. Had
that been the case, our author would but have accomplished half
the picture of a soldier’s life, who for one day dedicated
to Mars, sacrifices months to the deity of love. There are, in fact,
few of his stories that do not turn upon some adventure, in which
a woman is of course the presiding power. The tale of Maurice Mac
Carthy which occupies a considerable portion of the second and third
volumes, is particularly fraught with this kind of attraction. It
is a story of fearful interest, and marked by great boldness as
well as originality of invention.
Notes: Format: 3 vols 8vo. Publisher: Colburn & Bentley.
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