LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The “Pope” of Holland House
Henry Holland to John Whishaw, 12 August 1812

Chapter I: 1813
Chapter II: 1814
Chapter III: 1815
Chapter IV: 1816
Chapter V: 1817
Chapter VI: 1818
Chapter VII: 1819
Chapter VIII: 1820
Chapter IX: 1821
Chapter X: 1822
Chapter XI: 1824-33
Chapter XII: 1833-35
Chapter XIII: 1806-40
Chapter XIV: Appendix
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The Mediterranean, Aug. 12, 1812.

You see, my dear Sir, a very indefinite date for a letter, but the truth is I can give no other, as no land at present appears in sight from which to derive a name to the place where I now am writing. I may tell you, however, in the outset that I am on my passage between Gibraltar and Sicily, that the vessel on her voyage will stop a day or two at the capital of his Sardinian Majesty, and that I purpose to leave there for a conveyance to England. This, among other letters which the leisure of a voyage will enable me to write. I trust you will not consider this long delay in addressing you a breach of the promise I made when last I saw you in London. For the three months just elapsed I have been passing so rapidly from one object to another that though moments of leisure have now and then come in between, I have always been disposed to wait till the tide was completely gone by, more especially as the leisure was not always accompanied with secure means of transmitting the letter I might have written. There are two sides of some questions in Portugal as well as elsewhere, if one chooses to say a little on both, it is well to know that a letter gets into no other hands than those to which it is addressed. Having thus shortly explained to you my reasons for delay, I will mention a few of the circumstances which struck my attention while travelling through Portugal, such only, however, as I conceive may interest you from the connection with the great
contest we are at present carrying on in the Peninsula. My object, you probably know, in throwing myself so near a scene of warfare, was to see the practice of the military hospitals, from which I conceived that a great deal of practical advantage might be derived, and so in fact I have found it. Of these great establishments, I do not speak to you further than to say that they are in the highest degree creditable to the military system of the country. I have seen hospitals in England, Scotland, and Ireland, but none superior, or even equal, in their arrangement and interior economy, to some of those which I visited in Portugal; and I would particularly mention those at Santarem and Alicantes, as complete models of what such establishments ought to be, whether military or otherwise.

Of Portugal and the Portuguese at large what shall I say to you? Nature has created a fine country, and a soil teeming with riches; the progressive changes of national form and character have covered it with people, whom their own sufficiency and the courtesy of other nations have called civilised, but who are in truth still living in the Middle Ages, who want the energy to become great, and who, in their modes of society, their literature, and their arts, are unquestionably among the lowest in the scale of the communities of Europe. If I were called upon for an epithet, I should say that the Portuguese was a paltry character; his physiognomy is poor, with little expression but that of an ignorant self-sufficiency; his dress carries the same features with it, a slovenly tawdriness, without propriety or
From Dr. Holland
meaning; his conversation is insipid and ill-informed; he crouches equally under the oppression of civil and ecclesiastical tyranny; he is indolent in his habits both of body and of mind. I am aware of the caution that is necessary in speaking of national character, and especially when it is a stranger who speaks. I would request you, therefore, to consider the opinion just given as a very general one, and to make all the deductions from it that you think proper.

If Portugal survives the present contest she will come out of the furnace with many of her impurities done away. The monks are every day declining in number, wealth, and reputation, freedom of thought and speech are gradually extending, the aristocracy of birth is in some way giving way to that of merit, and the restoration of the military character to the nation may introduce some of those sterner virtues which nevertheless separated from their origin are virtues among a people.

Of the war in the Peninsula and its prospects I am at a loss how to speak to you, and it is not impossible that your judgments at home may on the whole be more accurate than the often partial ones which are formed on the spot. Even at this time you may have heard of the victory of Lord W. near Salamanca, and before you receive my letter will be acquainted with all the more immediate consequences of this event. They cannot fail to be very important at a time when the distant occupation of the French armies prevents any considerable reinforcement being given to those in Spain. From all the information I have been able to collect in Portugal, and more lately
in Gibraltar, I am induced to believe that before
Marmont’s defeat, the actual number of the French in Spain was about 120,000 men, of whom 30,000 continue with Soult in Andalusia. Reduced now to 100,000 men, supposing this statement to be correct, there is every reason to believe that they are insufficient to maintain their ground over the extent of the Peninsula. Diminution of numbers, in fact, is a threefold evil to them; since, beyond the immediate injury, it has the effect of facilitating the desertion of foreigners from their army, and of increasing the amount and activity of the guerilla force, which is composed of Germans, Poles, Swiss, and Italians, as well as of Spaniards and which has comparatively little efficiency against a numerous army broken, dispirited, and declining in numbers. Speaking of discretion, I can mention to you a fact on the best authority, that between the entrance of the French into Andalusia and the present time, upwards of 12,000 men from the armies, chiefly Germans, have fled into the garrison of Gibraltar. The perseverance of Soult in the south of Spain is wonderfully great, arising, it is said, from the positive orders of Napoleon, on no account to relinquish the siege of Cadiz. Every one admires his talents in meeting the numerous difficulties opposed to him, the necessity of maintaining the siege, the army of General Hill, the troops of Balisteros1 and the difficulty of provisioning his soldiers, this situation would now appear to be critical in the extreme; and I doubt not that before you receive this letter you will have heard of his

1 Commander of the Spanish forces.

From Dr. Holland
having withdrawn before Cadiz, a mortifying circumstance to the French, who have constructed works there on a vast scale, and have just attained the means of throwing their shells from distances of four miles into the very heart of the city. Even when at the mouth of the Guadiana, I listened with a sort of awe to the dull, heavy sound of their distant artillery, and near to the bay of Cadiz the report of their morning and evening bombardment became tremendous.

You will conjecture from what I say that I have hopes of the eventual success of the cause in the Peninsula. I certainly have so, and yet I can hardly persuade myself that the Spaniards deserve or that they will adequately avail themselves of the liberty which they seem not unlikely to obtain. I have not myself seen much of them, but every account I have obtained bears testimony to the general indifference they show as to the issues of the war, and speaks also of the strong dislike they frequently manifest to their English allies. I hope that recent events may make some change in this feeling, but it has certainly hitherto existed to a great extent. The Spanish regular armies are slowly recruited, badly officered, and deficient, it would seem, with the spirit and discipline of war. At Alicantes, in the centre of Portugal, I saw a brigade of their artillery which had come there without order, and for no other evident purpose than that of plundering the English commissariat stock. Balisteros is unquestionably one of the most active and independent of their generals. He has at present 12,000 troops with him in the
neighbourhood of Gibraltar, but judging from those I saw, they must be in a wretched state of equipment. The guerilla bands bear only a partial testimony in favour of the native exertion of the Spaniards. They are, as I have remarked before, variously composed, and not a small part of them by deserters from the French service rendered desperate by their circumstances. The importance of the guerilla warfare, however, cannot be too highly noted, and if Spain should finally obtain good generals, and men of enlarged public talents, they will probably be drawn from this source.

As regards our own part in this extraordinary war, if I were asked what circumstance I have thought of greatest importance in it, I should say, the amount of the property tax, and the life of Lord Wellington. Even knowing the total supernumerary expense of the Peninsular War to England, one cannot help being astonished and confounded by the magnitude of the items, as they strike the attention in passing through the country. The commissariat department, for instance, which carries provisions 2, 3, or even 400 miles, for an immense moving population of more than 50,000 people exclusive of the horses in our cavalry, and all the innumerable beasts of burden attached to the army. Nearly 1,000 boats, 10,000 mules, besides oxen and asses, are perpetually employed in that great service of transport. I do not exaggerate the fact in saying that the expenses of the muleteer establishment alone fall little short of £1,000,000 a year. If Mr. Vansittart1 can keep this

1 Chancellor of the Exchequer.

From Dr. Holland
up, well and good; I hope he can, for it is indispensable to the existence and activity of our armies in this country.
Mr. Perceval, in as far as we can understand the ground of dispute between him and the Marquess of Wellesley, seemed to have had his doubts on the subject. Then with respect to Lord Wellington, the best testimony to the superiority of his talent is the general impression that were anything untoward to befall him, all must be given up. He undoubtedly is one of the most extraordinary men we have had in these our later days of history, and with certain characteristics which admirably well fit him for his present exalted but difficult situation. One remarkable quality which distinguishes him is the singleness of his decisions, and the steady resolution with which he carries his decisions into effect. Not even his generals know until the moment of action what is to be done, A division or a regiment march a hundred miles, without being aware how other divisions or regiments are employed; they are astonished when, at a certain spot and time, the whole army is instantaneously assembled from different places and lines of march. Some generals, it is said, are offended by this perpetual reserve in their leader, but the confidence of the army at large is kept up, and every attempt at espionage rendered fruitless. This you will recognise as the feature of a great mind. Another striking fact in Lord Wellington’s military character (and on that I have myself had several opportunities of knowing) is his singularly minute attention to every department in the army. He knows more of his commissariat, of his army hospitals, of his waggon train, &c, than any
person even immediately connected with these several departments, and there is no transaction relating to any one of them which does not pass more or less directly through his hands. This gives a unity and a fitting in of parts which were before very little known to the British army. With these great qualities as a general, Lord Wellington is said to have the further one of a remarkably even temper, or at least to have a facility in assuming that tone of countenance and manner which suits with the occasions of the time. In short, whatever
Mr. Cobbett may say, there are features about the man’s character which entitle him to command, and that on a great scale. I fancy, from what I heard his friend Mr. Sydenham say (who is lately come to Portugal from Cadiz), that it is likely the Spanish Government will now entrust him with some administrative powers of a more enlarged kind.

With respect to our army as distinct from its general, it is a brave army, and a well-disciplined army, superior to the French in equipment, and in many points of military conduct. But I believe we pride ourselves too much in England on the idea that our soldiers are superior to the French in generosity of feeling, in refraining from plunder, and from the various outrages common to military campaigns. I would willingly believe, and I do believe, that our officers would not have permitted under any circumstances the dreadful work of barbarity and destruction which was not only permitted but incited and encouraged by the principal French officers during Massena’s retreat. But I imagine that the common soldier is much the same in all countries and ages of the world,
From Dr. Holland
The work of war has everywhere one object, and the lower agents in it, whatever their original national habits and feelings are in the progress of time, pretty much identified in character. That English soldiers in Portugal will plunder if they can, and that even young English officers can behave in the most uncourteous and brutal manner to the population of the country, I am reluctantly compelled to admit by the instances I have myself seen; but at the same time I will state it as most highly to the honour of
Lord Wellington, and the principal officers of the army that they assist themselves in every possible way to moderate and abridge these almost necessary evils. Lord Wellington’s efforts of this kind have been great beyond measure, risking in some degree even his popularity with the army. He has deserved and obtained the gratitude of the Portuguese nation, who, I believe, are all sensible to his endeavours on their behalf.

I wish that those among our countrymen who think little of the importance of Ireland were present for a short time with our army in the Peninsula. At the time I first came to the military hospitals in Portugal, they were filled with the wounded from Badajos, and I think I do not exaggerate the matter in saying that half the whole number were Irishmen. It is, indeed, probable that the proportion in the army at large may be somewhat less considerable, but even this is a demonstration what are the troops resorted to on the most trying and desperate occasions.

I had intended to say something to you about the state of the country in Portugal, but I have not left
myself room to do this. In a few words I may say that it is everywhere marked by the ravages of war. I have been at Santander, which for some months was the headquarters of Massena. It is a ruined city, I have followed the track of his army in various directions; the track is marked by deserted villages, by roofless houses, by the misery of the remaining inhabitants. I have seen the sepulchres of the Portuguese kings torn open by their hands and the bones scattered abroad. The deplorable poverty and wretchedness of the people on the frontiers is equally great. This district has so long been the scene of contest, of alternate advance and retreat, that everything in it is ruin and desolation. The difficulties of travelling through the country are very great, and I have now and then been subjected to grievances as great as any I recall to have experienced in Iceland.

An interval of a few days has expired in the midst of this letter which gives me the means of telling you that we are near Alicante, in Valencia. The day before yesterday I landed at a small village in Murcia, and amused myself by dancing fandango with the peasants, a noble race of people, open and generous in feature, strong in limb and nerve, who merit all the amount of contrast which Lord Byron draws between them and the Portuguese.

With respect to my future plans I can tell you little more than that I think of spending two months in rambling through Sicily. I once thought of Greece, but I believe I must give that up—non cuivis homini contingit adire corinthum. It is not improbable that this letter may reach London when
From Dr.Holland
you are absent from it, but for want of another I must necessarily use the direction to Lincoln’s Inn.

How much of extraordinary event has occurred among you since I left England, and how much is still on the tapis! I do hope all may end well but they are strange times in which we live.

Adieu, my dear Sir,
Ever believe me most truly yours,
Henry Holland.