January-September 1856

The Collected Letters, Volume 31


TC TO LORD ASHBURTON ; 18 January 1856; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18560118-TC-LOA-01; CL 31: 7-8


Chelsea, 18 jany, 1856—

Dear Lord Ashburton,

Many thanks for your active remembrance of my wants and me; to you and to another high Personage,1 I am surely much indebted in these days!

It is the opinion, then, that some important, not superficial but essential, improvement in military tactics has been introduced, in the Prussian and all Armies, since Frederick had done with them? I wish much to know accurately what; who did it, and at least who says it was done. I used to hear the same assertion about Frederick's Strategies (this of tactics is quite new to me); but I find after long examination, that such does not appear; that Napoleon did not “improve” upon Frederick in this respect, but perhaps considerably the reverse; that in fact he did not differ from Fredk, except as a blazing Corsican Pirate, of wondrous gifts, and commanding a Nation gone wholly mad, must differ from a veritable Sovereign Man, also of wondrous gifts, whose poor Nation has not gone mad at all, but has to depend on the sober truth of things for any success it may have. Fredk could not spend “10,000 men aweek,” nor blaze away gunpowder and resources at that rate:—what a dreadful expense was that in mendacities alone (the account of it not yet settled in France by any means)! Fredk never wrote a bulletin; nor thought one.2 I believe it will turn out that his feats of soldiership were far ahead of Napoleon's, so soon as men recover their eyesight, and learn to discriminate greatness from bulk. Wellington,3 in his way, was a soldier of the Frederick kind. Anybody that tries the Napoleon line, without a “mad” Nation to depend on will certainly run his head against stone walls,—of which these have been instances in our day!

All this however has nothing to do with special improvements in tactics, drilling of men &c &c: and I am very anxious to get to the bottom of what you assert on that head.

I read Jomini, for many painful weeks, with great diligence, some years ago,4 all that he had to say about Fredk and his campaigns; but gained absolutely nothing from Jomini, except the growing suspicion (now become a private conviction with me) that nothing could be gained from him; that he had not even studied this matter well; that he had, with very much to say for himself, a most feeble unfurnished intellect, was not to be depended on for common honesty (steals Tempelhof's5 Plates &c), and in short would avail a sincere inquirer almost nothing, in spite of the big name. He is continually adoring Buonaparte at the expense of Fredk and others, and had bow-wowed me into that opinion, till I saw better into some things. That is my experience of Jomini.

Clausewitz I had heard of lately, as a truly superior man and writer: I must decidedly look into Clausewitz for this new opinion.6 Coll Sterling (who knows nothing about the “opinion”) has a Copy of Clausewitz, which he promises to search out for me tonight,—if he can; for he is off to the Crimea again tomorrow morning,7 and may fail in the Clausewitz! If he do, I will (with thankful surprise) apply to the High Quarter you indicate,—will ask you to apply, that is. I suppose it is not seemly for the like of me to thank H.R.H.8 in word or message of any kind; but I hope you will, on some good occasion, indicate for me how sensible I am to this mark of humanity in high places.

Not having any chance to see you tonight, I have scribbled all this,—which, unless you like, you need not read! I should have desired much to hear how the Gout is,9—how The Grange generally is,—all this while. I have been utterly weak, and incapable of work, ever since I returned; but feel as if beginning to improve.

Ever sincerely yours

T. Carlyle—