Truths, Universally Acknowledged

After Great Britain’s successful Mauritius campaign against Napoleon’s forces in 1810 and early 1811 (props to Jack Aubrey), the Admiralty turned its collective attention to the Dutch possessions in Java.  The British fleet assembled itself off the coast of India, and then sailed for Java under the command of Commodore Broughton, of the 74-gun HMS Illustrious.  They came in view of the island on June 30th, and Broughton dispatched a Colonel Mackenzie to…gather what he could about possible landing places.

This was, as far as I can make out (although I am not certain), the same Colin Mackenzie who was in fact the first head of the General Survey of India, a Scotsman, an engineer, a mathematical dilettante, ethnologist, and natural historian, a colonel attached to the Madras Army,  and apparently a sometime spy.  He would have been at that time 57 years old; a portrait shows a tall, distinguished-looking redcoat, with a mouth that could tell more than it chooses to.  The India Office library has, or had, his journal and notes from this expedition.  It is not available online.

Serving as both intelligence gatherer and analyst, Mackenzie advised that the fleet could find itself a good anchorage at the small fishing village of Cilincing, just east of their first target, the rich trading port of Batavia.  His investigations seem to have taken upwards of a month– or perhaps that was the time it took to arrange the order of landing that Sir William Thorn includes as a footnote in his account of the campaign, the most complete that I could find.  It is a General Order of great detail and precision, greatly elaborated, and Sir William speaks of it with fondness:  “The arrangements ordered for the landing were most judicious,” he says admiringly, “but,” –regretfully–

a considerable delay in the operation occurred, owing to the insurmountable obstacles the boats met with in their attempt to assemble around their respective rendezvous ships: both wind and tide were against them, and prevented their proceeding in the prescribed order.  It became therefore necessary at last to direct the boats to land as expeditiously as they could, without attending to order.  Fortunately there was no opposition, and though certainly this was the most convenient place near Batavia for the purpose of defense, not a man in arms was found in the village.

Mackenzie, it seems, had done his work well.

That was on August 4, at 2 in the afternoon, at the mouth of the Marandi river. The French and Dutch defenders apparently didn’t figure out what was going on until 8000 British troops were already on Javanese soil.  By eight that night, Jan Janssens, in command of the combined forces meant to defend the city, finally got at least some soldiers to the landing site, but with no seaborne support, it was hopeless, and he withdrew his men to a better position.

Commodore Broughton offered the city guarantees of respect for private property, and the city surrendered to the invaders, who were disappointed to find that the inhabitants had set fire to all the warehouses down by the docks.  It must have been a fragrant conflagration, as spices, especially nutmeg, were the main wealth of Java.

Janssen and his men garrisoned themselves in the formidable stronghold of Fort Cornelis.  A mile long by 600 yard wide, this fortress was eminently defensible, and Janssen settled in as the British prepared their siege works, and, on the 9th of August, a new British commander– Rear-Admiral Robert Stopford– arrived to take over command from Broughton, whom the Admiralty judged to be too cautious; perhaps too respectful of enemy property.


Meanwhile, in Hertfordshire, the sizable town of Meryton is playing host–whether it will or not– to a regiment of the militia.  Essentially this is the national guard, on duty to protect the Home Counties against the French troops which might or might not be coming across the Channel.  The officers of this militia are quartered on the locals, and the men are encamped around the town: it is a situation which is superficially similar to that which had infuriated the citizens of Boston some 37 years earlier.

And just outside of Meryton, at that same time, just before Michaelmas in 1811, Mr. Charles Bingley takes possession of Netherfield Hall, where he is soon joined by his friend Darcy…

Jane Austen’s commentators often assert that she never wrote about politics. We’ll just see about that.  I’ve got me an article in the works.

This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the ancient chivalry …It was this which, without confounding ranks, had produced a noble equality and handed it down through all the gradations of social life. It was this opinion which mitigated kings into companions and raised private men to be fellows with kings. Without force or opposition, it subdued the fierceness of pride and power, it obliged sovereigns to submit to the soft collar of social esteem, compelled stern authority to submit to elegance, and gave a domination, vanquisher of laws, to be subdued by manners.

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns and the understanding ratifies as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

On this scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paid to the sex in general as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded as romance and folly. Regicide, and parricide, and sacrilege are but fictions of superstition, corrupting jurisprudence by destroying its simplicity. The murder of a king, or a queen, or a bishop, or a father are only common homicide; and if the people are by any chance or in any way gainers by it, a sort of homicide much the most pardonable, and into which we ought not to make too severe a scrutiny. On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors and by the concern which each individual may find in them from his own private speculations or can spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, paras. 127-130

“By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? — I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”

“If you mean Darcy,” cried her brother, “he may go to bed, if he chuses, before it begins — but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.”

“I should like balls infinitely better,” she replied, “if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”

–Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813, Chapter 11

When all the frauds, impostures, violences, rapines, burnings, murders, confiscations, compulsory paper currencies, and every description of tyranny and cruelty employed to bring about and to uphold this Revolution, have their natural effect, that is, to shock the moral sentiments of all virtuous and sober minds, the abettors of this philosophic system immediately strain their throats in a declamation against the old monarchical government of France. When they have rendered that deposed power sufficiently black, they then proceed in argument, as if all those who disapprove of their new abuses must of course be partisans of the old; that those who reprobate their crude and violent schemes of liberty ought do be treated as advocates for servitude. I admit that their necessities to compel them to this base and contemptible fraud. Nothing can reconcile men to their proceedings and projects, but the supposition that there is no third option between them and some tyranny as odious as can be furnished by the records of history, or by the invention of poets. This prattling of theirs hardly deserves the name of sophistry. It is nothing but plain impudence. Have these gentlemen never heard, in the whole circle of the worlds of theory and practice, of anything between the despotism the monarch and the despotism of the multitude? Have they never heard of a monarchy directed by laws, controlled and balanced by the great hereditary wealth and hereditary dignity of a nation; and both again controlled by a judicious check from the reason and feeling of the people at large, acting by a suitable and permanent organ? Is it then impossible that a man may be found, who, without criminal ill intention, or pitiable absurdity, shall prefer such a mixed and tempered government to either of the extremes; and who may repute that nation to be destitute of all wisdom and of all virtue, which, having in its choice to obtain such a government with ease, or rather to confirm it when actually possessed, thought proper to commit a thousand crimes, and to subject their country to a thousand evils, in order to avoid it?

Is it then a truth so universally acknowledged, that a pure democracy is the only tolerable form into which human society can be thrown, that a man is not permitted to hesitate about its merits, without the suspicion of being a friend to tyranny, that is, of being a foe to mankind?

–Burke, para. 215

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Austen, p. 1


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