The Devil's Disciple HTML version

General John Burgoyne, who is presented in this play for the first time (as far as I am
aware) on the English stage, is not a conventional stage soldier, but as faithful a portrait
as it is in the nature of stage portraits to be. His objection to profane swearing is not
borrowed from Mr. Gilbert's H. M. S. Pinafore: it is taken from the Code of Instructions
drawn up by himself for his officers when he introduced Light Horse into the English
army. His opinion that English soldiers should be treated as thinking beings was no doubt
as unwelcome to the military authorities of his time, when nothing was thought of
ordering a soldier a thousand lashes, as it will be to those modern victims of the
flagellation neurosis who are so anxious to revive that discredited sport. His military
reports are very clever as criticisms, and are humane and enlightened within certain
aristocratic limits, best illustrated perhaps by his declaration, which now sounds so
curious, that he should blush to ask for promotion on any other ground than that of family
influence. As a parliamentary candidate, Burgoyne took our common expression
"fighting an election" so very literally that he led his supporters to the poll at Preston in
1768 with a loaded pistol in each hand, and won the seat, though he was fined 1,000
pounds, and denounced by Junius, for the pistols.
It is only within quite recent years that any general recognition has become possible for
the feeling that led Burgoyne, a professed enemy of oppression in India and elsewhere, to
accept his American command when so many other officers threw up their commissions
rather than serve in a civil war against the Colonies. His biographer De Fonblanque,
writing in 1876, evidently regarded his position as indefensible. Nowadays, it is sufficient
to say that Burgoyne was an Imperialist. He sympathized with the colonists; but when
they proposed as a remedy the disruption of the Empire, he regarded that as a step
backward in civilization. As he put it to the House of Commons, "while we remember
that we are contending against brothers and fellow subjects, we must also remember that
we are contending in this crisis for the fate of the British Empire." Eighty-four years after
his defeat, his republican conquerors themselves engaged in a civil war for the integrity
of their Union. In 1886 the Whigs who represented the anti-Burgoyne tradition of
American Independence in English politics, abandoned Gladstone and made common
cause with their political opponents in defence of the Union between England and
Ireland. Only the other day England sent 200,000 men into the field south of the equator
to fight out the question whether South Africa should develop as a Federation of British
Colonies or as an independent Afrikander United States. In all these cases the Unionists
who were detached from their parties were called renegades, as Burgoyne was. That, of
course, is only one of the unfortunate consequences of the fact that mankind, being for
the most part incapable of politics, accepts vituperation as an easy and congenial
substitute. Whether Burgoyne or Washington, Lincoln or Davis, Gladstone or Bright, Mr.
Chamberlain or Mr. Leonard Courtney was in the right will never be settled, because it
will never be possible to prove that the government of the victor has been better for
mankind than the government of the vanquished would have been. It is true that the