DIRECTOR   Rutger Cruickshank


Any one who has set thus about the study of military history seriously and honestly, will probably admit that he found himself at once involved in great perplexity. The map shows the theatre of any series of great operations to be immense. Of that vast and various complication of roads and rivers, plains and mountains, is he to take all into account ? or, if not, how much, and what can he venture to neglect ? How reduce that seeming confusion to manageable limits ? how deduce from it order and design? And in a general history of a certain epoch, such as that of Thiers, he finds that not only are events recorded, but opinions are freely given. But on what principles, he asks, are these opinions, generally dogmatic in expression, based ? Why was a certain movement judicious, though unsuccessful ? Why did a certain action of a certain leader show him to be a great commander? And, when historians differ, which is right? Clearer prospects are opened to the student in military histories written by experienced soldiers, such as the works of Napier, Jomini, and the Archduke Charles. He has here a detailed military narrative by aid of which he can follow on the map all the movements of all the troops throughout a series of campaigns ; and so far he has tolerably firm footing. But he does not find the comments and scientific expositions of these historians by any means so easy to understand, for an amount of knowledge greater than he possesses seems always to be presupposed in the reader. These writers had made military science the subject of deep and protracted consideration, had formed theories about it for themselves, and they argue, perhaps unconsciously, on grounds which are, to the beginner, inaccessible. Here too, then, he is often at a loss, and feels that he must by thought and study increase his knowledge if he would thoroughly understand his author. Anxious to acquire the requisite rudiments, the student betakes himself to elementary works. But (unless his experience is very uncommon) he will by no means find that they greatly diminish his difficulties. For their fault almost always is that they treat their subject in too abstract a form, and become obscure in attempting to be scientific. It is common, for instance, to find military treatises affecting a mathematical precision, commencing with definitions, and illustrated with diagrams, like propositions of Euclid. Now, most military terms are easy enough to understand; and they do not require to be defined formally, because the solution of military problems does not depend on the exactitude of the definitions. Thus the subject is at the very outset uselessly encumbered—worse than uselessly indeed, for the definitions are often much more difficult to understand than the original phrase, and are therefore confusing. Everybody knows, for instance, sufficiently well what is meant by the term "Theatre of War." Is anything gained, or rather is not something lost—namely, simplicity and clearness—in defining it (as it is defined in a modern English work on strategy) as "the whole area of ground which it is necessary to take into consideration at any time during a campaign, in order to construct correctly a strategical combination " ? And when in this way plain terms are transmuted into elaborate definitions no use can be made of them. It is a method which, in exchange for a good shilling, gives you a pocketful of bad halfpence.