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Sir Robert Wilson's secret history of the
Russian campaign of 1812.

We made a brief notice of this work, with extracts, some short time since. We propose now, not so much to enter into its merits, as to give some account of the writer, and to let the reader draw his own inference with regard to its credibility. In his own day, Sir Ronert acquired the reputation of the most fanciful writer that ever undertook to relate matters of fact. But his contemporary reputation seems to have died away, with the circulation of his books. He exaggerated, misrepresented, and if he did not in vent, yet gave credit to anything which might be said to the disadvantage of Napoleon so readily, that he obtained the character of an inventor almost as ingenious as Homer or Tasso. Napoleon was the great bugbear of his existence, as long as he was fulfilling his astonishing mission.--He fought against him wherever he appeared in arms. In Egypt, in Poland, in Portugal, in Spain, in Russia, in Germany, and in France. In fact, he was one of the most thorough fighting men that ever existed. He could not live out of the smell of gunpowder. It was to him what the order of sacrifice and Frankincense was to the gods of the heathen. He went any distance, and underwent any toils, to get a sniff at it. He was an officer in the English army, but when the English army was not fighting he got leave of absence and went somewhere where fighting was going on. He was as fond of scribbling as he was of fighting, and he could not touch a pen, any more than a pistol, without producing an explosion. He was a warm-hearted, generous, impulsive man, with strong affections and bitter animosities. He wrote under the impulse of his feelings, and there was nothing he would not say, and believe, too, against any man whom he hated.

Sir Robert was born in London, in 1777, and educated at Westminster. When he was but seventeen, his inordinate love of fighting carried him over to Holland, with the Duke of York's army, in 1794, where, having no commission, he entered as a volunteer. He soon distinguished himself by a succession of daring exploits, in one of which he was so fortunate as to rescue the Emperor of Austria, when he was on the point of being captured by the French. His gallantry attracted attention, and he soon received a commission.-- In 1797, he was a captain, and during the next year, served in Ireland, on the staff of Gen. St. John. In 1799 he made the campaign of Holland, and in 1801 he accompanied the expedition of Sir Ralph Abercrombie to Egypt, and was personally engaged in all the battles. In 1802, having returned to England in consequence of the peace, he published his history of the English expedition to Egypt, in the course of which he indulged his hatred of Bonaparte in a series of gross and unfounded charges, by which that General, now first Consul, was so much irritated that he made it the subject of a formal complaint to the government of Great Britain. Finding that he could obtain no redress, but that, on the contrary, the book was specially patronized by royalty, on account of its calumnies with respect to himself, the first Consul directed General Sebastiani to draw up a counter statement. This book of Wilson's, and the vile abuse of the English press, had great influence, it was supposed, upon the rupture of the treaty of Amiens. Wilson, it was said, was deceived by one Roworth, a printer, who assisted him in compiling his history, and who produced an obscure pamphlet, published at Constantinople, and of no sort of authority, in proof of the monstrous crimes attributed to General Bonaparte.--It was not in Wilson's nature to examine very strictly anything which tended to the discredit of Bonaparte, and so he readily adopted the lies of the pamphlet. About the same time he published a work upon the organization of the British army, in which he denounced the practice of corporal punishment with all the vehemence peculiar to his character, for he was no half-way man about anything.

The war broke out again in 1803, but as the English sent no army to the continent, Wilson, no doubt much to his discomfort, was compelled to remain quiet until 1806, when he went abroad with the embassy of Lord Hutchinson. In December he joined the Russian army in Poland, and was once more in his element. He participated in all the terrible battles of that terrible campaign, was present at Pultusk, Eylan, Friedland, and many other less decisive actions, fought like a lion in all of them, and attracted the particular attention and regard of the Emperor Alexander In 1811 he published a narrative of this campaign, so full of exaggerations; misrepresentations, and errors of every description, that it could not go down even in England. It was handled unmercifully by the Edinburgh Review, and the question was significantly asked, "If the Russians are such heroes, and beat the French so continually on all occasions, why did Napoleon obtain all the objects of the war, and why did the Russians always give way before him?" In the meantime, however, the peace of Tilsit destroyed all Sir Robert's hopes of smelling any more gunpowder in that part of Europe, and he forthwith removed his quarters to the Peninsula, where there was a very pretty prospect of a row. In 1808 he organized the Lusitanian legion, and engaged in innumerable conflicts with French detachments, but was finally routed, with almost the entire destruction of his force at Banos. He contrived to reorganize it, but it was never so effective as it had been before its defeat. In 1812 we find him at Constantinople, whence he was sent on a secret mission to the Emperor Alexander. This mission forms the subject of the posthumous book, the title of which stands at the head of this article. Its statements with regard to well known historical facts seem to have been drawn from publications made since that time — such as the works of Labaume and Segur --and not to have been derived from his own observation. He was present at the battle of Smolensk, but not at that of Borodino. He was in most of the actions on the retreat, and went with the Russian army to Germany, where he made the campaign of 1813. He was engaged in all the battles of that gigantic campaign — Lutzen, (where he distinguished himself,) Bautzen, Wurchen, Dresden, Leipzig. He continued with the allies during the campaign of 1814 in France, and was engaged in all the battles.

After the return of Napoleon from Elba, and his defeat at Waterloo, Sir Robert Wilson won the applause of all Europe, by assisting Lavalette to escape, at his own imminent personal risk. For this exploit, he was reprimanded in general orders, by the Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the British army. In 1816, finding Europe at peace, he went to South America, and took service under Bolivar, but becoming dissatisfied, he returned to England, and was in 1818 returned to Parliament from the borough of Southwark. In the trial of Queen Caroline, which took place in the autumn of 1820, he distinguished himself by the zeal with which he embraced the cause of that unfortunate Princess. George IV. never forgave him. At the funeral of the Queen, in 1821, the popular sympathy was so great, and the demonstration so threatening, that an outbreak appeared inevitable. Sir Robert exerted himself with all his accustomed energy to prevent the effusion of blood, and he succeeded. For this service the King, shortly after, in 1822, struck his name from the army roll. It was a serious matter for him, for he had expended several thousand pounds in the purchase of commissions; but his constituents immediately opened a subscription, which more than reimbursed him. He had soon an opportunity of gratifying his favorite passion. France declared war against the Spanish Cortez in 1823. Wilson immediately repaired to Spain, and entered the service of the Cortez. He was desperately wounded at the battle of Corunna, and escaped with difficulty to Lisbon, just in time to witness the complete overthrow of the Cortez. We are under the impression that he was imprisoned, but we are not sure. At any rate, the King of Portugal, the King of Spain, the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Russia, and Franci of Austria, (whom he had saved from captivity,) all recalled the Orders which they had bestowed on him.

Such was Wilson. He figured no more in public life that we recollect, but his career was certainly a most romantic one. To his credit be it said, he always fought for what he conceived to be the just cause, and no consideration could induce him to fight for any other. Strange to say, he died in his bed an old man, after all the dangers he had been through.

We propose, hereafter, to make a few comments upon this book, and upon Blackwood's essay on it.

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