Retrospection. Chapter 24

  • Posted on: 20 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

Publication - Retrospection by Hester Lynch Piozzi

Chapter XXIV. Last four years of the century from 1796 to 1800

Being arrived at the interesting moment when Retrospection ceases and observation is begun, our book must with this chapter end itself, and be submitted to the reader's Retrospect. If found at last too short for use, too long for entertainment, the writer will be sorry;

Yet if we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended--
That you have but slumber'd here,
While these visions did appear.--Midsummer Night's Dream

The early visions of Rome's glory, papal as imperial, “;are vanished into air, into thin air.”; Her second cycle of twelve centuries is more than flown, and destiny demands his due. That the successors of her last great founder “;have been of late compelled to take the lowest room”; at the long table of our common master, they owe to the coarse struggles he forbade: when pushing for the topmost place1 we saw and felt

The faucy follower grown a sovereign lord,
Exchanging Peter's keys for Peter's sword.--Cowley

If howsoever, when his church was young, i; let us lament rather than triumph over her, “;when now, being old,2 another girdeth and carrieth her whither she would not:”; and as a great preacher of the present day wisely admonishes, “;Let us not, while poring over the monuments of past greatness, neglected to study those inscriptions on them, from which some warning may be drawn for future times.”; Different ideas will be called up in different minds by like events, or by the same narration: each student draws after the giant statue, and takes his view according as he fits to it. Far as the past occurrences have place all this goes well; and to anticipate what is yet to come, transcends alike our limits and our power. When the uncertain figure passes by, and like those of Eliphaz,3 fear makes our bones to shake; we cannot discern the form thereof, thro' the silent night a voice be heard. Kett, King, and Whitaker, with numbers more, have lent learned and grave conjectures towards explaining, after a mortal mode, the awful signs which have distinguished this half century, fertile in wonders above all the rest: and if, beside texts from both Testaments, description of the latter days by the fictitious Esdras were admitted, the strange things he predicts daily arrive: untimely births do indeed live and are raised up,4 while children of a year’s growth as certainly speak with their voices, and are listened to.

“;But woe be to that people (says an old English writer) who live under these young governments! All unripe fruit is harsh (he adds), and they that dwell in new houses be apter to catch diseases than they who inhabit ancient ones well-seasoned.”; What shall we say then if all this be so concerning our own times? when Poland, Holland, North America, all infant states, speak plain, and speak aloud; when new republicks in the north of Italy appear like funguses in fairy rings, produced by tears of the preceding night: when just before the year 1796 France, to the admiration of all Europe, produced her last newborn constitution, being the fourth she had acknowledged such within five revolutions of the sun; when five men called directors took the lead. Before these people, and by their direction, were seen stealing off the camera obscura, those rugged forms of rough fraternity, which like the sons of Œdipus had made the name of brotherhood abhorred; and dresses meant to distinguish and adorn high rank were hung upon these new rulers over twenty-seven millions, which hovering over Europe like locusts darkening the sun, menaced its destruction, and cast a formidable shade around. Nor could men quickly see through the thick gloom, that if this multitude were actually agreed upon the murder of a lamb-like prince, they must have been twenty-seven millions of monsters; and that if they tamely suffered six hundred frantick ruffians to kill him publickly in their despite, they must have been so many millions of cowards. Certain it is the new directory seemed to lament the crush of every virtue by the grand fall of altars and of thrones: they hoped perhaps, while roasting out the substance of the monarchy, morality, and religion, to keep at least the COS, as chemists call the C_olour, _O_dour, _S_apor of all three. But an avowed desire to destroy every other government, gives no good pledge of kind intentions towards our own. Besides that, as Machiavelli says, "“;a revolution is carnival time to a mob;”; and when were boys wearied with barring out their masters? Berquin’s description of children tired with doing their own way, and anxious, after suffering for their folly, to be replaced under papa’s guidance, was no emblem of his countrymen, who now hated all laws and restraint; and were, as Mercier himself confesses, loosed into a state of what he calls general _demoralization. No wonder! Since Louis seize had laid down his authority, the sceptre, the example of Aaron's rod, assumed a serpent’s form, affrighting even those who wished to wield it. And Carnot, to keep turbulent spirits quiet at home, sent to the fighting field his trusted friend Buonaparte. This general, the first who ever wore as a name the title of Destroyer;5 Apollyon Buonaparte burst on Italy, amazing all mankind, not by destruction of his sword alone, but by his powers of fascination too, displayed in their effects among Italian potentates, which, not unlike birds upon a branch, dropt one by one into the mouth of the rattle-snake.

The prince of Piedmont, whose father was so liberally paid by England for keeping the key of their peninsula, stole it, as a girl does from under her governess's head, to let in the seducer who sings beneath the window: while Venice, unwarned perhaps, perhaps unwilling to believe baseness could lurk where liberty displayed her banner; received and fostered, even against the will of subjects strongly attached to the old way, new masters, who arrived only to scorn, to plunder, and forsake them.

Thus, without one blow struck in its defence, did this ancient and once respectable aristocracy, formed when a former Attila ravaged the earth; tamely yield up its independence to some troops detached by the destroyer Buonaparte, with orders even to burn their bucentoro, golden book, and every mark of former sovereignty, carrying their bronze horses off to Paris, and having (as Frenchmen with no unjust though bitter sarcasm observed) torn the old woman’s night-cap from their doge, and put upon his head their bonnet rouge; ‘twas time to annihilate every rememberance of happier hours, and abolish even masquerading in their streets; sending them all to bed at ten o‘clock, as by a curfew-bell in ancient times, and linking them fast to their new idol Freedom, by chains of iron never to be broken.

Milan and Mantua meanwhile received the sudden shock of more than gothick fury; and Lodi’s bridge crowned the unfeeling conqueror with laurels, every dark leaf of which, though ornamental, will in the end perhaps prove poisonous to him, who shocked the cure de St. Salo by throwing quicklime upon half-dead soldiers, under pretence of general utility, and the necessity of avoiding putrid complaints consequent upon such carnage. A Lombard peasant, when the day was done, was called out by a colonel of brigade to shew him a convenient field of green corn, it was early in May, where he might turn his horses for refreshment. They passed by one, which the officer observed would do well enough, to another fifty yards distant, that was better. “;Why bring us here, kind citizen?”; exclaimed the French commander, “;when I told you the lesser inclosure would have done.”; “;Ah eccellenza!”;replied his melancholy conductor, “;It is because that little field belongs to a poor neighbor of mine who has a wife and child. This meadow is my own; a single man (an't please your lordship) need not outlive the honor of his country; life has a claim on dear Antonia’s husband; he can't like me, whom she refused to make him happy, rush on your swords and lose all sense of sorrow.”; So fared it with the north of Italy. Rome, fatherless, and affrighted, seemed likely to exhibit still deeper distress. Some of her church plunder was sold by French invaders, as it stood, to Jews; who when they had paid for it and claimed their bargain, were beaten off by an incensed populace, which had seen villa Albani long their boast, stript and raz’d quite to earth with infinite displeasure, although care had been taken to enrage them too, against all wealthy individuals; and the sight of princes Colonna and Borghese reduced to eat rice with a horn spoon, affected them but little I believe. ‘Tis said their quondam sovereign borne about, sometimes in open carts for more indignity, sometimes in a close coach for fear such sufferings should excite compassion; found leisure during his last sad captivity, for writing a long letter to his bishops sheltered among us, expressing gratitude torwards heaven for having raised them up friends in a foreign land; and though by nature and by long-fixed prejudice hostile to our opinions, it is supposed that his last breath blessed the brave British nation. They meantime, whilst Buonaparte drove forward like the Assyrian conqueror Rabshake, crying, “;Where are the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? and have they indeed delivered Samaria out of my hand?”;6 They trusting in the God of battles, had under immortal Howe's command secured our highly favoured country's safety by destruction of the French fleet, even when their pride was at its loftiest point of elevation; and that blow striking down all their naval strength at once, protected the wide commerce of Great Britain, and gave her ships to cover the obedient seas, subservient from first of June 1796, to all her purposes whether of traffick, discovery, or defence. It was in happy consequence of this superiority, that Elphinstone captured rather than conquered the Dutch fleet near the Cape of Good Hope, and their possessions - if powers allied to France may be said to possess any thing; fell unresistingly into our hands.

Spain saw with envious sorrow, not unnatural, the triumphs of a kingdom which kept Castilian ports from grasp of Castilian natives; and soon through Gibraltar’s streights dispatched a willing fleet, doubling his numbers, to attack brave Jervis, whose little squadron’s earliest intention, seems to have been separating the Spanish vessels, so to compensate his own inferior force. But true good-will confers surprisingly those powers it stands in need of. Our gallant captains found their greatest difficulty was dragging home ther large unweildy prizes. One huge ship carrying, if I remember right, the admiral’s flag , remained a hopeless wreck on the wide ocean, which upon that day humbly recognized Britannia lawful ruler over his waves. A happy victory was this to England, and happier still the moment it was gained in: for France, which successfully applied her tragick dagger to every other form of Government in Europe, presented to us here her poisoned bowl; and having sown with diligence the seeds of mutiny among men, who long had prided themselves on being loved and praised and paid as our defenders, followed their menaces of an invasion up by a descent on Wales. There the bold Cambrians, nothing intimidated by this extraordinary stroke of policy, applied the remedy of ready valour, and recollecting perhaps, how a small vessel bound from Caernarvon had a few months before beaten off a French privateer only with mop-sticks, which they chanced to have on board; the Penbrokeshire peasantry, actuated by equal spirit, came forward with their scythes and pitchforks, headed by a gentleman residing in the country, before whom these far-renowned marauders laid down their arms, whilst Sir Harry Burrard Neale catched up the frigates that conveyed them. These events happened in February 1707, but Duncan’s scarcely hoped for success at Camperdown, was necessary to free us from future annoyance of an enemy that hoped, through interference of Winter and Story, two Dutch admirals, to vanquish the Venerable, a leaky ship, which, notwithstanding every obstacle, led on our flag to fame; nobly supported by officers, whom to praise justly, we should praise separately; while Retrospection can but look on with pleasure, and like Imogen, follow their standards streaming through the air, till our tired eye-strings crack almost with loyalty and love. After this blissful, this decisive day, was the word mutiny erased from our brave seamens’ brief vocabulary: and before Christmas, 1797, the king had pardoned some mistaken fellows; then, having thanked his numerous and incomparable subjects, who made him rich amends by their still matchless valour, for that short burst of momentary folly, he consecrated his new acquired colours in the church, and called by piety fresh blessings on his arms. Invasion was a fear no longer fashionable, after the nest of mischief was blown up among the dykes of Bruges and Ostend; to destroy which, some self-devoted warriors braved even the elements, and went, as we may say, triumphantly to prison after their duty done-retreat from danger being found the only service difficult to Britons. This may perhaps be called inflated language, but those who swell less, feel less; of pleasure or of pain. Towards shrinking up our vanity by severe mortification, our sister kingdom largely contributed. When turning westward, our Retrospect amazed, beholds poor Ireland turned to a theatre of civil blood-shed and religious war; misled by their new light, and new teachers, to adopt French modes of cruelty; encouraged too in their old prejudice for Romish tenets, while these insidious instigators found them useful. The Irish peasantry constructed pikes, and spitted unresisting Protestants upon them, with the alacrity of a duke d’Alva, licking the blood from off their reeking spears with the more fiend-like fury of Marat. The popish priests indeed, from time to time, did wait a moment to baptize an Englishman (as if he were not of Christ’s flock before) with something like the Moor’s care for Desdemona, when going to murder that poor innocent, he says,

I would not kill thy unprepared spirit,
No, Heaven foresend! I would not kill thy foul.

How tedious must this strange process have appeared to their still more inhuman agitators, who sighed to see the moment arrive when each idea, however erroneous, of conciliating Heaven, should be put a final end to: nor could the invaders, led by Hoche or Humbert, so often called for, believe, without even ocular demonstration, that the pope, whom as they said they had just driven from Italy, should thus be found in Ireland; and that their cause should have been mistaken even by Hibernian heads, for the cause of piety. Murder and massacre however stalked around, and nothing breathed but mutual accusation. Such was the effervescence formed, by pouring a large portion of modern philosophy upon the obsolete superstition and slumbering ignorance of our forefathers, never rouzed from its stagnant putridity, till the illuminees of our day delighted in throwing up by this unnatural mixture an artificial gas, meant for the suffocation of both church and state; and with the Anglican establishment to extinguish the last resort of true religion, honour, valour, virtue.

From this grotta del cane7 our active administration, our exemplary sovereign, aided by the energy and spirit of a loyal body armed to protect, did after many an effort, drag us out alive; and it is, perhaps, to national obedience of a meek Saviour’s precepts graciously accepted, that England owes her own tranquillity, amid the tumult and horror of such times. We have, as much as in us lay, loved even our enemies; blessed them who cursed, and kindly treated those who have despitefully used us. We sheltered fugitives from that Bourbon-house, which, well we know, has ever hated us; and sighed when we beheld the sessent flower, concealing itself low in the grass like a violet: that hour so little distant too, when high on the aspiring stalk it reared the head, and flourished under its own native skies.

Monastick institutions likewise, although expensive, troublesome and inimical to all our old ideas of propriety; have found refuge in our generous island: which thus extends her tenderest toleration to those who will not even pray for our prosperity, but only our conversion, as if we were a nation of all heathens; devoted souls till we return to Rome, and own subjection to her higher power. Were these fit times for such faint feverish dreams? when Paris poured out her starving multitudes to war, incapable of finding food or fire at home, where Mercier says, “; six theatres were filled every night with those, who, sitting close, wanted no other warmth, and cheated hunger by the help of amusement.”; From these scenes Buonaparte led a willing number of wise men destined to make observation on another continent, and men before whose observation the face of ours had been almost wholly changed.

A fanatastick lady in London, some fifteen years ago, said to her friend, “;That she had always found geography a tedious repetition of the same thing: because, in fine, it is only so many monarchies, said she, and so many republicks; I am tired with telling them over!”;.

To vary lectures for such students, France, since that day, slung in chaotik heaps, the empires, kingdoms, and commonwealth of Europe; and, after a fashion so very new and strange, ran them all oddly one into another; that uniformity could at least no longer be complained of, and nothing was wanted but the destroyer, with his quick lime, to consume all at once.

His course was bent towards Asia, where our ever irreconcileable enemy Tippoo Saib waited his help to drive us from possessions, greater than any we possessed at home; and capable of causing in the Sultan of Mysore’s dusky bosom, envy unquenched even by the kindness shewn to his dear-loved children. This chief had sworn never to sleep in calico, it is said, until the country which had produced Cornwallis should be humbled; and Buonaparte, for his purpose, was found a willing tool. To effect this humiliation every artifice was tried. The son of Hyder Ali in French letters, was one day called his highness, and in one refuge of all the world; according to the ideas they entertained of oriental diction. In a while we read of theIr addressing him by the familiar name Citizen Tippoo, trying with vain endeavour to imbue an eastern despot with their new philosophy, and the doctrine of equal rights.

That the plunder of Rome, by whose command the long-venerated sanctuary of Loretto had been torn in pieces, for the sake of carrying off those treasures it contained; should hope to possess Mecca by a bold exertion of similar principles in similar pillage, need amaze no one : but the Sultan of Mysore saw only his own projects ripening by Gallick heat, and heard, of course with horror, how his great ally was crossed and thwarted on his first arrival in Egypt, “;That key of earth and water too,”; as Buonaparte not unjustly termed it, after the opinion of Augustus Ceasar, delivered not less than eighteen centuries ago; and likelier now than ever to deserve such appellation, when Malta and her knights tamely resigned the ring to which the important key was hung.

Our Nelson following with press of sail, although blown forward by all England's wishes, and driven along by his own martial ardour, overtook not the enemy's fleet till anchored safe at Alexandria; where, having adopted the fame mode of placing themselves which had made Barrington's squadron impregnable to Monsieur D’Estaing in a former war, their captains sate them down in full security, and one friend was employed in taking another's portrait, when the bold Goliah, passing a head of their van ship, poured into her a most destructive fire.

Pliney in his thirty-fifth book, tenth chapter, tells how Protogenes painted his finest work when the town he lived in was nearly taken by assault, and pinxit sub gladio8 in his quaint expression. This might have applied well to the Gallick artist, but a less classick jest expressed out triumph; and when some foreigner was saying afterwards how the French admiral pris fon caffe at the same critical instant, our reply was, that Nelson came toute-fuite with the chasse-casse. He did indeed; a victory so won, and such a victory, was new upon the annals even of British seamanship, when Egypt’s echoes answered to the names of Berry, Ball, and Trowbridge; less appropriate perhaps than that of Bellerophon when employed against l'Orient, with the success annexed to that old appellation; when in half fabulous times we read how fell Chimera yielded to his power. Was our brave leader on that glorious day ever to read this trifling summary, he might condemn me as Canute his minstrel, for thus compressing deeds of such distinguished merit into a few weak lines; but how else must I find room to notice even for a moment, the consequent recapture of Malta by our troops, the joy of Austria and hopes of Italy, reanimated by this turn in favour of princes ill combined against the power of France, which to oppose required equal exertion among all the allies; and it was found only on England’s part. The kings of Naples and Sardinia sent away for safety to their insulate dominions, could but applaud: the plundered dukes of Modena and Parma could but pray; and Switzerland's brave, but thinly spread inhabitants could only die in defence of a cause, which rotting at the core, shewed private interest and base intrigue working their way even to the softening surface. Among those that were in serious earnest, let us however stop to celebrate the Bernoife women, six hundred of whom at least wore soldiers coats, and fell in honours’s field; selling their lives dearly in the disguise to Frenchmen, who when they found them spinning in their cottages, had stuck their infants upon points of spears; and violated their free will by force of arms, under pretence of giving them liberty. Vengence is virtue in a cause like this; but life must have endured sad change in Europe, when female honour could find no security save from a musket in a female hand. Arts, sciences, and commerce, prospered we must own; while princedoms, virtues, powers felt decay. Manufacturers in our own realm surprisingly enriched, rose to respectability and justly: they only wondered (when they bought up old family estates) why they were made to pay such price for labour: nor had sir Richard Arkwrite possibly ever reflected that the wonder was, why any body tilled the earth at all; when for attendance on his spinning jennies, a man might gain more in one day, than he could carry home for toiling at a plough or cart best part of the week, in many an English county. High payment for provisions was most natural, where money flowing in with every tide, augmented in a degree quite unexampled the circulating medium; and mouths to feed increased beyond imagination under a mild government and laws protecting every individual against all possibility of oppression. Union was next in consequence of this fame gentle spirit, offered to Irishmen; at length accepted, not suddenly, or without much of that hesitation which did but little flatter, to say true, this spread of such attraction: but they perhaps thought, that as touched iron loses all its magnetick qualities when once bent into form of a ring, the marriage might be found less beneficial than ‘twas at first supposed. Be this as it may, France must have suffered some mortification surely, when shewn her evil influence recoiled upon herself; incapable of separating the British Isles, or lessening the love borne to their exemplary sovereign, by each individual of his now widely extended domain.

Meanwhile discoveries were diligently pursued, and christianity disseminated in places where it appear to have been driven, as much for the accomplishment of prophecy, as for the benefit of ignorance. A Maroon9 was, as it was not ill called, against and among the chesnut coloured people, desolated our West Indies indeed, and horrible cruelties were perpetrated there by wicked chieftains: characters which, as the writer of a book called the Pursuits of Literature observes, are better left for ever in oblivion, than dragged to light only that they may be execrated. During that time however, Moravian missionaries had been successful in countries of later discovery, and the same annual registers record much happiness as well as misery diffused over the new hemisphere.

Whilst the northern shores likewise of Africa shook with the cannon of contending Europeans, Mungo Parke proceeded silently upon his travels eastward, hoping to reach its heart, tracing at least the course of the majestick Yolibah, which appears still to have kept that Ethiopick name among its natives, reminding us of the Almighty’s threatenings against Jerusalem, when for her love of the idolatries, Ezekial was inspired to call her by that appellation, saying, “;Son of man! wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? and declare unto them their abominations.”;10

Names have endured few changes in the east: a parfee, native of Ifpahan, and resident in London, was enquired of whether his countrymen remembered still the victories of Alexander the Great. “;Oh, yes,”; was the reply, “;I once did hear about a Shiek who came from Macedonia, and destroyed the elephants and armies of our Rajah Pore,”; so he described King Porus, as we learned to call him from the Roman historians. But Bounaparte now with an adroitness and celerity of which no ages past afford example, and most resembling the abrupt transitions found in this short epitome of facts, returned from scenes of discord and dismay at Cairo, and at Alexandria, to Paris; whence by a sudden revolution, best represented in mock-tragedies, such as our duke of Buckingham's Rehearsal -- he drove the wonder-struck directory, and yet escaped as if by miracle himself, from that fierce spirit of assassination, lately deemed the duty of one sect of Frenchmen, and seemingly the favourite amusement of them all. When firmly fixed upon the seat of power: to which he neither rose by conquest, nor was called by election, still less pretending to hereditary right; his first care seems to have been the restoration of that catholicism in Europe, the very foundation of which he had fought in other continents completely to destroy. Having by publick proclamation told the Turks that God had no son or associate in his kingdom: that the faith of Musselmen had his peculiar approbation, and that his business among them was but to abolish the tyranny of Mamelucks and Beys, barons of the east in short, and tributary princes trenching on the Grand Signor's authority, his first care when arrived at home appears to have been, making the Roman state and Romish sectaries, believe him tender of Christ’s vicar here on earth; digging up Pius fextus from the garden plot whitner some soldiers had interred the body, and paying it, who can guess why? Funeral honours. Add to this the farce of not appearing in their choice of a new pope, near cousin to poor Braschi, whose election he contrived, encouraging him to undertake the journey from insulted Venice where he was chosen, to the still worse-insulted capital of once proud Italy. His influence over the successor in Russia, was not so carefully concealed. That Prince, placed on his throne, shewed signs if close resemblance to Czar Peter, his anti-predecessor, husband to cooler-headed Catherine. Paul dug his corpse up, shewing it extraordinary veneration; yet, contrary to those appearances of preference, pursued his mother’s steps in many things, and gave the coalition hopes, that her loss would not be felt by Europe. The habits of his private life indeed grew coarser after the queen was gone, who watched and who controuled them; but such rough manners were not inconsistent with his apparent predilection for a general, the only one which the world was in humour to acknowledge as a competitor for Buonaparte; his rugged character, his conduct at Ishmaeloff and Ockzackow were likely enough to ensure him the good will of a sovereign determined upon conquest and renown: for if men were to wade through blood of enemies to fame, no man less feared to dip his foot than Suwarroff. In effect, such were the glories of his first campaign as to draw from his emperor a publick letter, expressing more than we had ever read of kindness or esteem, not unlike Pharaoh's11 ample grant to Hebrew Joseph, when he had saved the realm of Egypt for his master. “;Only in the throne henceforth will I be greater than thou,”; but vehemence, whether exhibited upon occasions of indulgence of severity is without difficulty make to defeat its own immediate purpose. French diplomacy knew how to turn such tempers to advantage. Suwarroff received a check in Switzerland, and gained no consolation from his king. In a few months this veteran commander, who never spared the feelings of another, expired of grief, a martyr to his own. The world’s pity seldom embalms a fallen favourite; he died, and with him died the hoped of the whole Bourbon house.

Meanwhile the streets of Naples streamed with blood, where Championet, amazed he could make no impression on the Lazaroni but by blows, which they were active to return with interest, after a four days battle in the town, hit on the way to cajole them to peace. An elephant will lie down at the word of command, ‘tis said, can you but catch hold of her by the ear, and speak in a tone of authority. By treachery of their own countrymen, the youthful prince de Moliterno, France had discovered their vulnerable part. “;Respect St. Januarius, and be still,”; cried the republican General, with a loud voice. The elephant lay down, her ear was caught, and Championet calling immediately for the archbishop bid him prepare his popular miracle--it should be done directly. “;Tis not the time of year,”; replied the other. “;Oh, Sir, you know not Frenchmen,”; was the reply; “;our miracles are always in season. Fetch out the saint's blood, I say, he will declare in favour of freedom: and let it liquefy sans phrases, (without hesitation) or your head shall answer it.”; The phial was produced--the function performed; and the oft-cheated Neapolitans cried out, “;Long live the great Republick, long live St. Januarius.”; Those who believe this world will quickly end, must surely think its folly at the full. More horrors may remain for future exhibition, but madness and fatuity have no further to go: while even the Turk that expected to see, though blind, through an eye made of glass, could alone match such imbecillity. Poor Selim indeed, needed no spectacles to observe his once enormous power giving way. Pressed on every side, the reble Baffas hoped to drive him down the great precipice prepared for princes of this century; and among many foes, all unprovoked, Paffwan Oglou had for some years led the way. A man of mysterious character was he; his ultimate intentions undisclosed, we vainly fought to find them in his conduct, which showd him one moment as if attached most powerfully to the Mahometan religion, and breathing vengeance against every one whom that religion deems an infidel; though underhand it has been much believed he kept a secret correspondence with Greek Christians, and was perhaps a distant tool to France. That artful, that insidious cabinet managed alike the headlong Muscovite and crafty Oriental; dark hypocrisy shews plainer in this enlightened age than it did in the semi-barbarous centuries, as masses of deep shadow make more impression on minds unprepared, viewed among Grecian, than old Gothick architecture. Tippoo Sultan, of nobler carriage, and a soul more lofty, fell, in the last year of the century, a bloody but majestick sacrifice to his opinion of his Parisian friends and fellow citizens. He saw not how the huma, emblem of sovereignty, was departing from earth, no more to hover over heads crowned and anointed;--a bird of paradise! whose happy region ought from henceforth to bound and to concentrate all royal hopes and cares. The storming of his capital, Seringapatam, brought Tippoo for the last time to the field of honour; and though obliged to yield where British intrepidity pressed forward in the warm chace of profit and renown, his sceptre lost, he grasped the trustier sabre in his hand, which, faithful to his valour, was found clenched in it, nor could death suddenly force them to separate.

The Emperor of Germany meanwhile, merits more tenderness and more concern. His counsels all perplexed, his arms betrayed,12 his honour suffering, and his metropolis endangered; obliged to make peace, and obliged to break it; seeing the family he loves too, clinging round him for succour and support he scarce can give; and looking now and then, no doubt, on Francis with something not very unlike reproach, to find their great name nearly perishing under his care, yet for a moment to be called Imperial. Misfortune scarcely ever comes alone, or from the quarter whence she has been expected. Vienna, like the one-eyed doe in Æsop, was always on her guard against the Ottomans: but although

Now gliding far off on the verge of the sky
The moon half-extinct, her wan crescent displays,
Where lately we mark'd how majestick on high,
She shone till the planets were loft in her blaze.

'Tis infidelity at last, though 'tis not turcism that ruins the once Christian, and once holy Roman empire. The year 1680 told those who had leisure for listening after such events, that having caught a daring atheist in Poland, they tied him to a cannon's mouth pointed towards Tartary, whether they meant, ‘twas said, to shoot his ashes. A change of wind _perhaps, blew a large portion of them into Germany, and formed a future Weishaupt. Siberia's wilds remained innocent of such disseminated mischief; and far south-east of these the Afghan’s also, mentioned by Hanway, and since him more fully by Sir William Jones, as Jews settled remotely in a region little known, a distant land, the Arsareth of Esdras, 13th chapter and 45th verse; the Hazeroth of modern travellers; some of whose books, added to the surprising scenes under reviewal, have led innumerable minds of late towards a belief, that the conclusion _now is hard at hand. The last act of the grand drama, and Dr. Young calls it, does seem indeed begun, perhaps advanced: and whilst each glowing fancy has been struck by some peculiar and unlooked-for combination, like that in Pithaeana, one hardly can help thinking that Baronius had some concealed meaning (more than was supposed) in this old technical verses, which explained the alphabet into numerals, as it seemed then merely for the amusement of young students. My memory just retains the first line and last.

Possidet A numeros quingentos ordine recto,
Ultima Z tenens, finem bis mille tenebit.

The cardinal might have had it in his head perhaps, although a better Latin Scholar than a Greek one, how God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; and how the fathers thought it probable, that when bis mille (two thousand years) were past after the birth of Christ, he would return again and judge the world. --Quingentos are alluded to in an abraxas stone possessed as I believe by Mr Townley, not withstanding the true gem should be white, and abra-fax its name; composed of the Perfick word for fair, and the Latin word, or half on’t, for a stone. Fifteen had merit as a mystick number, when meaning was attached to such strange matters three hundred years ago.

But these conjectures tire my readers’ patience: Oh! let them then at least kindly prefer A for absolvo, in the Roman mode, to C, that meant condemno: for whether the world's end be coming soon or not, ‘tis sure the last short chapter of this summary draws towards its final period. We have presented you a passing show; less durable than pleasing, less pleasing than uncommon; while Empires, sciences, opinions, states, took each their momentary turn and vanished; as in the appearance now and then exhibited when morning dawns on Faro di Meffina, and the high mountains rising like a wall behind it, give to the glassy surface of the sea, powers far exceeding that of any mirror: reflecting every object for an instant to him who, standing with his back turned towards the east, desires to enjoy the transient Retrospection, supposed, as Mr. Swinburne says, by the near residents, to be indeed a fairy vision, which they call after the presiding sylph, Fata Morgana. An English friend told me the other day he once had seen a fight of this same kind from Falmouth. But whilst each image on Sicilia's shores passed rapidly along in sweet succession, melting at length and mingling with pure ether, as the bright fun advancing stopt the mind, and fixed it on the present brilliant moment; our Cornish appearance, if I am right, escaped his observation lost in haze. --So will this book, I fear. --A vaporous veil precludes all further looking on life’s ocean; and

What these awful glooms conceal
Fancy's glass can ne'er reveal

We may however safely assert, that systems, schemes; hopes, hazards, and hypotheses, all bred of heat in the warm regions of controversy, will, like the meteors either of a troubled or a sportive atmosphere, split off and leave no trace of their existence; but holy writ, eternal and inspired, shall shine the full perfection of His Word who laid the first foundations of the earth, and the work of whose hand is the heavens. “;They shall perish (exclaims his servant David) but thou shalt endure; yea all of them shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed; but thou are the same, and thy years shall not fail.”;


  • 1. [14th Chapter of St Luke's gospel]2, 8th & 9th verses.
  • 2. [21st Chapter St Luke's Gospel]4, 18th verse.
  • 3. [14th Chapter of the Book of Job]6, verses 14-16.
  • 4. 6th Chaper, second book of Esdras, verse 21.
  • 5. See the 9th chapter of St John's Apocalypse, 11th verse--The Greek word is Apollyon. The Corsican pronunciation makes it Napollione.
  • 6. See 18th Chapter of the second Book of Kings, verse 34.
  • 7. The grotto filled with mephitic air at Naples.
  • 8. He drew his line under the dagger's point.
  • 9. Maron is French for chesnut--whence marone colour.
  • 10. See 23rd Chapter Ezekiel, verse 36.
  • 11. 41st Chapter Book of Genesis, verse 40.
  • 12. His arms were perhaps most apparently betrayed at Genoa, where the repub­lican general Massena, plundered the bank; after which reinforcement of their finances, Melas, with 1100 full-fed Austrians, safely posted upon a high hill over the town, quietly laid down their arms to 500 starving Frenchmen, unable from weakness to walk up and fetch them. It had been secretly stipulated. however, that the gulled emperor's troops should (or six days remain possessors of the city, where a dog's head had, during the siege sold for five shillings English, and half a cat, I think. for three shillings and sixpence. So miserably too had France shared in the woes she had caused, that a true Briton who relates the anecdote, was himself called upon by mere humanity to keep life warm in the centinels that watched his house, by putting bits of chocolate into their mouths, and now and then a drop of cordial, stolen by himself from his own private hoard, which they were not unlikely to betray.

Retrospection: or, a review of the most striking and important events, characters, situations and their consequences, which the last eighteen hundred years have presented to the view of mankind by Hester Lynch Piozzi nee Thrale. Published 1801 in two volumes by John Stockdale . Full text available at Google books, Volume 1, Volume 2.

Hester Thrale's spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalisation, some of which may not conform to today's standards, are reproduced faithfully throughout. More writings by Hester Thrale

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