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THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH.-ESTIMATE OF HIS
MILITARY GENIUS. HIS RANK AS A STATESMAN.
LECKY'S “ENGLAND IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.” This estimate of Marlborough can not fail to excite the interest of the student. Marlborough was the greatest of English generals. His most brilliant successes were achieved during the great war of the Spanish succession. Marlborough's genius was of a versatile order. He was a politician, a diplomatist, a courtier, and a soldier. His character has been variously estimated. Some have accused him of avarice and rapacity, while others have vindicated him from these charges. In regard to his intellectual greatness, all are agreed.
(See Alison's “Life of Marlborough.”) 1 BEYOND comparison the greatest of English generals,
Marlborough had raised his country to a height of military glory such as it had never attained since the days of Poitiers and of Agincourt, and his victories appeared all the more dazzling after the ignominious reigns of the two last Stuarts, and after the many failures that checkered the enterprises of William. His military genius, though once bitterly decried by party malignity, will now be universally acknowledged, and it was sufficient to place him among the greatest captains who have ever lived. Hardly any other modern general combined to an equal degree the three great attributes of daring, caution, and sagacity, or conducted military enterprises of equal magnitude and duration without losing a single battle or 2 failing in a single siege. He was one of the very few
commanders who appear to have shown equal skill in directing a campaign, in winning a battle, and in improving a victory. It can not, indeed, be said of him, as it may be said of Frederick the Great, that he was at the head of a small power, with almost all Europe in arms against it, and that nearly every victory he won was
snatched from an army enormously outnumbering his own. At Blenheim and Oudenarde the French exceeded by a few thousands the armies of the allies. At Ramillies the army of Marlborough was slightly superior. At Malplaquet the opposing forces were almost equal. Nor did the circumstances of Marlborough admit of a military career of the same brilliancy, variety, and magnitude of enterprise as that of Napoleon. But both Frederick and 3 Napoleon experienced crushing disasters, and both of them had some advantages which Marlborough did not possess. Frederick was the absolute ruler of a state which had for many years been governed exclusively on the military principle, in which the first and almost the sole object of the government had been to train and discipline the largest and most perfect army the nation could support. Napoleon was the absolute ruler of the foremost military power on the Continent at a time when the enthusiasm of a great revolution had given it an unparalleled energy, when the destruction of the old hierarchy of rank and the opening of all posts to talent had brought an extraordinary amount of ability to the forefront, and when the military administrations of surrounding nations were singularly decrepit and corrupt. Marlborough, on the other hand, commanded armies con-4 sisting in a great degree of confederates and mercenaries of many different nationalities, and under many different rulers. He was thwarted at every step by political obstacles, and by the much graver obstacles arising from divided command and personal or national jealousies; he contended against the first military nation of the Continent, at a time when its military organization had attained the highest perfection, and when a long succession of brilliant wars had given it a school of officers of consum. mate skill.
5 But great as were his military gifts, they would have been insufficient had they not been allied with other qualities well fitted to win the admiration of men. Adam Smith has said, with scarcely an exaggeration, that “it is a characteristic almost peculiar to the great Duke of Marlborough, that ten years of such uninterrupted and such splendid successes as scarce any other general could boast of, never betrayed him into a single rash action, scarcely into a single rash word or expression.” Nothing in his career is more admirable than the unwearied patience, the inimitable skill, the courtesy, the tact, the selfcommand with which he employed himself during many years in reconciling the incessant differences, overcoming the incessant opposition, and soothing the incessant jealousies of those with whom he was compelled to coöperate. His private correspondence abundantly shows how gross was the provocation he endured, how keenly he felt it, 6 how nobly he bore it. As a negotiator he ranks with the
most skillful diplomatists of his age, and it was no doubt his great tact in managing men that induced his old rival Bolingbroke, in one of his latest writings, to describe him as not only the greatest general, but also “the greatest minister our country or any other has produced." Chesterfield, while absurdly depreciating his intellect, admitted that “his manner was irresistible,” and he added that, of all men he had ever known, Marlborough “possessed the graces in the highest degree.” Nor was his character without its softer side. Though he can not, I think, be acquitted of a desire to prolong war in the interests of his personal or political ambition, it is at least true that no general ever studied more, by admirable discipline and 7 by uniform humanity, to mitigate its horrors. Very few friendships among great political or military leaders have been as constant or as unclouded by any shade of jealousy
as the friendship between Marlborough and Godolphin, and between Marlborough and Eugene. His conjugal fidelity, in a time of great laxity, and under temptations and provocations of no common order, was beyond reproach. His attachment to the Church of England was at one time the great obstacle to his advancement. It appears never to have wavered through all the vicissitudes of his life; and no one who reads his most private letters with candor can fail to perceive that a certain vein of genuine piety ran through his nature, however inconsistent it may appear with some portions of his career.
Yet it may be questioned whether, even in the zenith 8 of his fame, he was really popular. He had grave vices, and they were precisely of that kind which is most fatal to public men. His extreme rapacity in acquiring and his extreme avarice in hoarding money contrasted forcibly with the lavish generosity of Ormond, and alone gave weight to the charges of peculation that were brought against him. It is true that this, like all his passions, was under control. Torcy soon found that it was useless to attempt to bribe him, and he declined, as we have seen, with little hesitation the enormously lucrative post of Governor of the Austrian Netherlands, when he found that the appointment aroused the strong and dangerous hostility of the Dutch. In these cases his keen and far-9 seeing judgment perceived clearly his true interest, and he had sufficient resolution to follow it. Yet still, like many men who have risen from great poverty to great wealth, avarice was the passion of his life, and the rapacity both of himself and of his wife was insatiable. Besides immense grants for Blenheim, and marriage portions given by the queen to their daughters, they at one time received between them an annual income of public money of more than sixty-four thousand pounds.
10 Nor can he be acquitted of very gross and aggravated
treachery to those he served. It is, indeed, not easy to form a fair estimate in this respect of the conduct of public men at the period of the Revolution. Historians rarely make sufficient allowance for the degree in which the judgments and dispositions even of the best men are colored by the moral tone of the age, society, or profession in which they live, or for the temptations of men of great genius and of natural ambition in times when no highly scrupulous man could possibly succeed in public life Marlborough struggled into greatness from a very humble position, in one of the most profligate periods of English politics, and he lived through a long period when
the ultimate succession of the crown was very doubtful. 11 A very large proportion of the leading statesmen during
this long season of suspense made such overtures to the deposed dynasty as would at least secure them from absolute ruin in the event of a change; and their conduct is surely susceptible of much palliation. The apparent interests and the apparent wishes of the nation hung so evenly and oscillated so frequently that strong convictions were rare, and even good men might often be in doubt. But the obligations of Churchill to James were of no common order, and his treachery was of no common dye. He had been raised by the special favor of his sovereign from the position of a page to the peerage, to great wealth, to high command in the army. He had been trusted by him with the most absolute trust. He not only abandoned him in the crisis of his fate, with circumstances of the most deliberate and aggravated treachery, but also employed his influence over the
daughter of his benefactor to induce her to fly from her 12 father, and to array herself with his enemies. Such con
duct, if it had, indeed, been dictated, as he alleged, solely