Biographical Study of A.W. Kinglake HTML version

"The Invasion Of The Crimea"
Was the history of the Crimean War worth writing? Not as a magnified newspaper
report,--that had been already done--but as a permanent work of art from the pen of a
great literary expert? Very many of us, I think, after the lapse of fifty years, feel
compelled to say that it was not. The struggle represented no great principles, begot no
far-reaching consequences. It was not inspired by the "holy glee" with which in
Wordsworth's sonnet Liberty fights against a tyrant, but by the faltering boldness, the
drifting, purposeless unresolve of statesmen who did not desire it, and by the irrational
violence of a Press which did not understand it. It was not a necessary war; its avowed
object would have been attained within a few weeks or months by bloodless European
concert. It was not a glorious war; crippled by an incompatible alliance and governed by
the Evil Genius who had initiated it for personal and sordid ends, it brought discredit on
baffled generals in the field, on Crown, Cabinet, populace, at home. It was not a fruitful
war; the detailed results purchased by its squandered life and treasure lapsed in swift
succession during twenty sequent years, until the last sheet of the treaty which secured
them was contemptuously torn up by Gortschakoff in 1870. But a right sense of historical
proportion is in no time the heritage of the many, and is least of all attainable while the
memory of a campaign is fresh. On Englishmen who welcomed home their army in 1855,
the strife from which shattered but victorious it had returned, loomed as epoch-making
and colossal, as claiming therefore permanent record from some eloquent artist of
attested descriptive power. Soon the report gained ground that the destined chronicler
was Kinglake, and all men hailed the selection; yet the sceptic who in looking back to-
day decries the greatness of the campaign may perhaps no less hesitate to approve the
fitness of its chosen annalist. His fame was due to the perfection of a single book; he
ranked as a potentate in STYLE. But literary perfection, whether in prose or poetry, is a
fragile quality, an afflatus irregular, independent, unamenable to orders; the official
tributes of a Laureate we compliment at their best with the northern farmer's verdict on
the pulpit performances of his parson:
"An' I niver knaw'd wot a mean'd but I thow't a 'ad summut to saay,
And I thowt a said wot a owt to 'a said an' I comed awaay."
Set to compile a biography from thirty years of "Moniteurs," the author of Waverley, like
Lord Chesterfield's diamond pencil, produced one miracle of dulness; it might well be
feared that Kinglake's volatile pen, when linked with forceful feeling and bound to rigid
task-work, might lose the charm of casual epigram, easy luxuriance, playful egotism,
vagrant allusion, which established "Eothen" as a classic. On the other hand, he had been
for twenty years conversant with Eastern history, geography, politics; was, more than
most professional soldiers, an adept in military science; had sate in the centre of the
campaign as its general's guest and comrade; was intrusted, above all, by Lady Raglan
with the entire collection of her husband's papers: her wish, implied though not
expressed, that they should be utilized for the vindication of the great field-marshal's
fame, he accepted as a sacred charge; her confidence not only governed his decision to
become the historian of the war, but imparted a personal character to the narrative.