Saturday, 25 January 2014

THE BATTLE OF DORKING

JOHN BULL, although he is credited with the possession of proud self-reliance, must be a good-humored, humble-minded being after all. How else could he have read with smiling patience two such brochures as "Dame Europa's School" and "The Battle of Dorking," which represent him in a state of abject helplessness, and hold him up to pity and contempt? On seeing the melancholy picture of himself which the authors of these productions have drawn, he exhibits as much complacency as eminent statesmen are said to do when they recognise their own features in the cartoons of Punch. Of the two little publications named above, the first which appeared when the Franco-German war was in progress, and was reproduced by most of the colonial journals, including our own, has already run its course; and has gone the way of all ephemeral literature. The second reprinted with emendations from the May number of "Blackwood," and also transferred to the columns of many of the Australasian newspapers, may still be regarded as in the hey-day of popularity. Apart altogether from its subject-matter, the literary merits of the publication would suffice to ensure for it a wide perusal. It is evidently written by a military man, and therefore we are not surprised to find the Pall Mall Gazette stating with confidence that though the authorship has been ascribed to a great many persons, it really was written by Colonel George Chesney, the author of " Indian Polity." In style it is racy, fresh, and graphic—just the sort of thing, in fact, we might expect from some accomplished "special" attached to the volunteers in the event, of a German invasion of England. But, having said this much, there remains little else about the work to commend. It is simply a contribution to that literature of panic which has enormously increased the army estimates, and, made the income-tax, in the experience of thousands in the old country, a burden grievous to be borne. In his anxiety to reconcile the country to the necessity of lavish military expenditure, the author overshoots his mark, and makes of his fanciful dream of conquest a frightful nightmare. He represents the German invasion taking place at a time when a rising in India has called off a part of our small army; when ten thousand men, including three battalions of the Guards, were needed to defend Canada against an American attack; when large bodies of troops were quartered in Ireland to check an anticipated Fenian descent; and when the fleet was scattered abroad, the best part of it at the Dardanelles, some ships in the West Indies, some in the China seas, and others protecting the British colonies on the Northern Pacific shores of America. The writer does not seek to show that the troops and ships of the fleet were not required at the various places where they happened to be when the great crash of German invasion came upon England; and therefore if the Teuton conquerors of Gaul acted on the persuasion that England's extremity was Germany's opportunity, it would have been quite impossible for Britain in the circumstances, by any amount of preparation and outlay, to make a better resistance than she is represented as doing in the reminiscences of a volunteer. For the purpose of giving the serried ranks of spiked helmets the easiest possible descent upon the British Isles, the author of this wild dream of conquest took a very effective way of disposing of the only portion of the fleet that could be of service in interposing between the enemy and the shore. All the ships, with the exception of a solitary ironclad which escaped to Portsmouth, were sent to the bottom by the heavy fire of the terrible Teutons, or blown up by torpedoes. The set time for the final effacement of Britain, unpreventible by the reconstruction of its military and naval systems, must surely have come when a disaster so complete overwhelms the ships that guard the seas—the only approaches to the British coasts.  
We may express a hope that "The Battle of Dorking,"' which is the reductio ad absurdum of the late panic in England, when Mr Cardwell shouldered his Army Regulation Bill, will be the last specimen of invasion literature we shall see for some time to come. Some of the German newspapers, elated by the glories of the late war, may amuse their readers by speculating on the feasibility of the annexation of England by Germany; but the great heart of the German people, now that their enthusiasm has gone off in festal celebrations, is intently set on pursuing the conquests of peace, and in helping onward the great cause of Christian civilisation.
 Launceston Examiner 3 October 1871,

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