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London: Saturday, August 1, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1215, p. 106.

August 1, 1863

London: Saturday, August 1, 1863.

Record, not comment, and far less prediction, seems the only philosophic treatment of the great Transatlantic struggle. For every prophecy has in its turn been falsified, and the sagest arguments are made ridiculous by the latest telegram. A very short time ago, and no colour could be too roseate for depicting the condition of the South. Its fortresses were impregnable, while its gallant armies were advancing to hoist the secession flag upon the steeples of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Again all changed, for the tenth time. A new Federal General (in his childhood known to the Duke of Wellington, it is said, though dates smile scornfully at the statement) has confronted the Southern victor, prevented his advance, and made his retreat an act of probable wisdom. Two of the great fortresses have fallen, and the third is menaced by a more powerful force than has yet assailed it. The resources of the North are telling fearfully upon the Confederates.

Yet the next mail, or its successor, may have a new story to tell. Meade may have followed his foe, been led into a trap, and been discomfited; or some new and brilliant stroke of Southern tactics may have thrown some hitherto unattached territory into the alarm which shook Philadelphia and almost roused New York. The dread game is being played on so large a board, and with such utter absence of rules, that none of its chances should surprise us. In the meantime, and at the very moment when Meade's skill and valour had excited the enthusiasm of his countrymen, New York was suddenly delivered over to a worse enemy than the Confederate. Riot was rampant, the negro was hunted down by the light of a score of conflagrations kindled in various quarters, the authorities were defied and outraged, and some of them murdered, and violence and plunder were the order--or disorder--of the hour. The rabble had broken loose. We hear since that the military have used shot and steel freely, that large numbers of the rioters have been slaughtered, and that the law is once more master, and will enforce the conscription. But the scenes, which are presented to us with a general exaggeration, corrected by the elaborate detail which the American reader loves, will scarcely pass from the memory of the New Yorker. He had previously only heard of slaughter: he has now seen it, and in its most repulsive form.

No Englishman can read of such work without regret. Upon the war itself there may be two opinions, and there can be no doubt that there are many British partisans of the South as of the North, though the majority of us cordially approve the policy of our Government and agree with the sentiment expressed in the Royal Speech; but all of us deplore the New York outrages. We never tolerate at home the interference of rioters or the mob in settling a question; and, where there are two sides actively espoused, and a rabble thrusts itself into the struggle, both sides coalesce and put down the rioters. We have the Anglo-Saxon liking for seeing any dispute settled by legitimate means. Hence the people of New York, who have been exposed to the brutalities of a fractional portion of its dangerous classes, have our sympathy, and we shall all be glad to know that the strong hand has restored order. It is a libel upon Englishmen to allege that they have the slightest toleration for the perpetrators of atrocities like those which are described by the American correspondents. It is possible that there may have been some in the riots who hate or fear the conscription, but it is obvious that the majority of the rioters are scoundrels whose ferocity and greediness have been roused, and who took advantage of the absence of troops to commit these outrages. We hope to hear that the castigation has been ample and effectual; and we have a right to expect our relatives in New York to believe that we feel towards them in the matter as they would feel towards us if they heard that a St. Giles's mob had broken loose, had ravaged certain districts of the metropolis, and had been met by a cavalry regiment and dealt with according to desert. We are almost ashamed to have to insist upon this, but certain writers have made it necessary that such an assurance should go forth to the West.

We may add another, and we do so in all heartiness and sincerity. The London season is over, a portion of our population has already escaped from town, and those who remain are but devising plans for recreation and amusement. Another fortnight and our notables will either be in their country houses, regaining their own health and ministering to the pleasures of their friends, or they will be hastening away over Europe, many with their faces set for other continents. The middle class, after a prosperous season, will be imitating their leaders, but in a modified degree. A noble harvest is all but ready. We are assured, on the highest authority, that European complications and American war have not materially injured our commerce. Care has been taken for the class most affected by the latter casualty, and there will not be much "complaining in our streets." We are at peace with the world, and we have no epidemic among our people or among our flocks. We have every reason to be thankful; and most of us are about to endeavour to enjoy ourselves. It would be unworthy of us did we, in our own hour of comfort, forget our kinsmen whose fortune is now so different. We speak of the whole of the States of America; we speak not of Federals and Confederates, but of our brethren who talk our language and who think of England as the mother country. At this moment how opposite is their condition. Their best men, their citizens, fathers, husbands, brothers are in arms, and engaged in a war which offers no promise of conclusion. Their commerce is hindered, their produce belongs to the armies, and they are struggling with a taxation which must grind them cruelly. A conscription calls Northern and Southern alike into the field. And they have to deplore the loss of thousands and thousands who have fallen in the field, or by a less enviable fate, and who, if this weary war continues, will be followed to the grave by other thousands. Such is the autumn to which our American brethren are looking. Let them, throughout the length and breadth of their noble country, accept the assurance that, though they turn a cold and scornful eye towards those who will take neither one side nor the other, the sympathy of Englishmen and Englishwomen goes forth to them, and that those who seek to persuade them otherwise utter cowardly and wicked untruth. Without, we dare assert, any mingling of a selfish motive in the feeling, the news that the quarrel had been somehow adjusted, and that the sword was sheathed, would cause a shout of joy over the island, and as warm thanksgiving would ascend as on the day which President Lincoln has set apart for a religious service. These are not idle words, and, inasmuch as we know that they will be read in most parts of the States, we call upon American readers to note them, and to remember them when the time of slaughter shall have passed away.

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