“The whole thing is certainly grand and complete in itself,” said he, looking around; “and is a monument to the engineering talents of the Count de Lippe. But, after all, constructing a great fortress in Portugal is like building a ducal palace on a dairy farm; the thing may be very fine in itself, but is altogether out of place. Half a dozen such strongholds as Elvas, with its forts, would swallow up the Portuguese army, yet be but half garrisoned, and leave not a man to take the field. See the extent of the works between this and St. Lucia, that other sentinel standing guard over Elvas on the south. It would need twelve thousand men to garrison the city and the forts. I never heard that this fortress was of use to any but the French, who got it without fighting; and the possession of it helped them to obtain the convention of Cintra; but for which we would have tumbled Junot and his fellows into the Tagus. The Count de Lippe was wonderfully successful in regenerating the army, and restoring the military character of Portugal in the last century; but his countryman, Schomberg, in the century before, showed how Portugal could be better defended, and we have now in the country one who understands it better than the Duke de Schomberg himself.”
There was so much truth in what L’Isle said, that Cranfield was obliged to yield up his impregnable fortress as a very fine thing in itself, but quite out of place.
“I gather from your remarks,” said Lady Mabel, “that Portugal has often had a foreigner at the head of its army.”
“Very often, indeed,” answered L’Isle. “This same kingdom, which, in spite of its narrow territory and small population, had, through the enterprise of its rulers and the energy of the people, extended its conquests in the East and the West; which, in the sixteenth century had thirty-two foreign kingdoms and four hundred and thirty garrisoned towns tributary to it—has now so much degenerated in its institutions, that for two centuries it has never been able to defend itself, or even make a decent showing in the field, but by foreign aid and under a foreign leader. The Duke of Schomberg, Archduke Charles, the Count de Lippe the Prince of Waldeck, and other Germans, have in turn led the army, and each had to reorganize it, and revive its discipline. Now, they rely on Beresford to train them for battle, and Wellington to lead them to victory. The Count de Lippe found the military character so sunk, that officers were often seen waiting at the tables of their colonels; and the sense of individual honor was so lost, that one of his first reforms was to insist on his officers fighting when insulted, if they would not be cashiered.”
“The former greatness of Portugal,” said Lady Mabel, “is even more wonderful than its present decay. Yet that is lamentable, indeed, when the government, without striking a blow, could run away from the country on the approach of the invader.”