« AnteriorContinuar »
friends." Circumstances had previously made me acquainted with a good deal of the more important information thus laid before me; but there is a completeness in this body of authentic records which enables me to tread with more confidence than would have been right or possible if I had had a less perfect survey of the knowledge which belonged to headquarters. And so methodical was Lord Raglan, and so well was he served by Colonel Steele, his military secretary, that all this mass of authentic matter lies ranged in perfect order. The strategic plans of the much-contriving Emperor—still carrying the odour of the havannahs which aid the ingenuity of the Tuileries—are ranged with all due care, and can be got at in a few moments; but, not less carefully ranged, and equally easy to find, is the rival scheme of the enthusiastic nosologist who advised that the Russians should be destroyed by the action of malaria, and the elaborate proposal of the English general who submitted a plan for taking Sebastopol with bows and arrows. Here and there, the neatness of the arranging hand is in strange contrast with the fiery contents of the papers arranged; for, along with reports and returns, and things precise, the most hurried scrawl of the commander who writes to his chief under stress of deep emotion, lies flat, and hushed, and docketed. It would seem as though no paper addressed to the English Headquarters was ever destroyed or mislaid.
* I have never looked at it since 1856, but it struck me then, that the letter which Mr Sidney Herbert addressed to Lord Raglan in the winter of the first campaign was the very ideal of what, in such circumstances, might be written by an English statesman who dearly loved his friend, but who loved his country yet more.
With respect to my right to make public any of the papers intrusted to me, I have this, and this only, to say: circumstances have enabled me to know who ought to be consulted before any State Paper or private letter hitherto kept secret is sent abroad into the world; and, having this knowledge, I have done what I judge to be right.
The papers intrusted to me by Lady Kaglan contain a part only of the knowledge which, without any energy on my part, I was destined to have cast upon me; for when it became known that the papers of the English Headquarters were in my hands, and that I was really engaged in the task which rumour had prematurely assigned to me, information of the highest value was poured in upon me from many quarters. Nor was this all. Great as was the quantity of information thus actually imparted to me, I found that the information which lay at my command was yet more abundant; for I do not recollect that to any one man in this country I have ever expressed any wish for the information which he might be able to give me, without receiving at once what I believe to be a full and honest disclosure of all he could tell on the subject. This facility embarrassed me; for I never could find that there was any limit to my power of getting at what was known in this country. I rarely asked a question without eliciting something which added, more or less, to my labour, and tended to cause delay.
And now I have that to state which will not surprise my own countrymen, but which still, in the eyes of the foreigner, will seem to be passing strange. For some years, our statesmen, our admirals, and our generals, have known that the whole correspondence of the English Headquarters was in my hands; and very many of them have from time to time conversed and corresponded with me on the business of the war. Yet I declare I do not remember that any one of these public men has ever said to me that there was anything which, for the honour of our arms, or for the credit of the nation, it would be well to keep concealed. Every man has taken it for granted that what is best for the repute of England is, the truth.
I have received a most courteous, clear, and abundant answer to every inquiry which I have ventured to address to any French Commander; and, indeed, the willingness to communicate with me from that quarter was so strong, that an officer of great experience, and highly gifted with all the qualities which make an accomplished soldier, was despatched to this country with instructions to impart ample statements to me respecting some of the operations of the French army. I seize upon this occasion of acknowledging the advantage I derived from the admirably lucid statements which were furnished to me by this highly-instructed officer; and I know that those friends of mine to whom I had the honour of presen ting him, will join with me in expressing the gratification which we all derived from his society.
I thought it right to apprise the authorities of the French War Department, that, if they desired it, the journals of their divisions, and any other unpublished papers in their War Office which they might be pleased to show, would be looked over by a gifted friend of mine, now a member of the House of Commons, who had kindly offered to undertake this task for me. The French authorities did not avail themselves of my offer; but any obscurity which might otherwise have resulted from this concealment has been effectually dispersed by the information I afterwards obtained from Russian sources.
Of all the materials on which I found my account of the battle of the Alma, hardly any have been more valuable to me than the narratives of the three Divisional Generals who there held command under Prince Mentschikoff. The gifted young Russian officer who obtained for me these deeply interesting narratives, and who kindly translated them from their Russian originals, has not only conferred upon me an important favour, but has also done that which will uplift the repute of the far-famed Russian infantry, by helping to show to Europe the true character of the conflict which it sustained on the banks of the Alma.
My knowledge respecting the battles of Balaclava and Inkerman, and the subsequent fights before Sebastopol, is still incomplete; and I shall welcome any information respecting these conflicts which men may be pleased to intrust to me. From the Russians, especially, I hope that I may receive communications of this kind. Their defence of Sebastopol ranges high in the annals of warfare; and I imagine that the more the truth is known, the more it will redound to the honour of the Russian arms.
I do not in general appeal for proof to my personal observation, but I have departed from this abstinence in two or three instances where it seemed to me that I might prevent a waste of controversial energy by saying at once that the thing told had been seen or heard by myself.
With regard to the portion of the work which is founded upon unpublished documents and private information, I had intended at one time not to give the documents nor the names of my informants, nor the words they have written or spoken, but to indicate the nature of the statements on which I rely; as, for instance, to say in notes at the foot of a page, 'The 'Raglan Papers,' 'Letter from an officer engaged,' 'Oral statement made to me by one who was pre'sent,' and the like. But, upon reflection, I judged that I could not venture to do this. When a published authority is referred to, any want of correspondence between the assertion and the proof can be detected by a reader who takes the trouble to ascend to the originals; but I do not hke to assert that a document or a personal narrative withheld (for the present) from this wholesome scrutiny is the designated, yet hidden foundation of a statement which I make freely, in my own way, and in my own Ian