MEN WHO HAVE MADE THE EMPIRE
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
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The Epic of England has yet to be written. It may be that the fulness of time for writing it has not come yet, or it may be that Britain is still waiting for her Homer and her Virgil. Perhaps the matured genius of a Rudyard Kipling, that strong, sweet Singer of the Seven Seas, may some day address itself to the accomplishment of this most splendid of all possible tasks, and then, again, it may be that it is his only to sound the prelude. That is a matter for the gods to decide in their own good time, but this much is certain—that when this work has been worthily done the world will hear echoing through the ages such a thunder-song as has never stirred human hearts before.
It will begin, doubtless, with the battle-cries of the old Sea-Kings of the North, chanted to the music of their churning oars and the rush and roar of the foam swirling away under the bows of their longships, and from them it will go on ringing and thundering through the centuries, ever swelling in depth and volume as more and more of the races of men hear it rolling over the battle-fields of conxivquered lands, until at last—as every loyal man of English speech must truly hope—the roar of the Last Battle has rolled away into eternal silence, and north and south, east and west, the proclaiming of the Pax Britannica heralds the epoch of
“The Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.”
But in the meantime, while we are waiting for the coming of the singer whose master-hand shall blend the song and story of Britain into an epic worthy of his magnificent theme, materials may be gathered together, old facts may be presented in new lights, and the great characters who have played their parts in the most tremendous drama that has ever occupied the Stage of Time may be re-grouped in such fashion as will make their subtler relationships more plain, and all this will make the great work readier to the hand of the Master when he comes.
It is a portion of this minor work that I have set myself here to do. The making of a nation and the building of nations up into empires is, humanly speaking, the greatest and noblest work that human hands and brains can find to do, for the making of an empire means, in its ultimate analysis, the substitution of order for anarchy, of commerce for plunder, of civilisation for savagery—in a word, of peace for strife.
Now, the British Empire as it stands to-day is unquestionably the greatest moral and material Fact in human history, and hence it is permissible toxv assume that the makers of it must, each in his own way, whether of peace or war, have been the greatest empire-builders the world has yet seen, and it is my purpose here to take the greatest of these and tell with such force and vividness as I may, the story of the man and his work. I am not going to write a series of biographies arranged in prim chronological ranks, nor am I going to confine myself to the narration of collated facts so dear to the hearts of educational inspectors and scholastic examiners. Such you will find already cut and dried for you in the school-books and in many ponderous tomes, from the reading of which may your good taste and good sense deliver you!
I shall seek rather to show you the living man doing the living work which his destiny called him to do. The man will not always be found of the best, nor the work, seemingly, of the noblest, but what I shall seek to show you is that the work had to be done in order that a certain end might be accomplished, and that the man who did it was, all things considered, the best and, it may be, the only man to do it. In so far as I do not do this I shall have failed in the doing of my own work.
One more word seems necessary in order to anticipate certain possible misconceptions. Our empire-making is not yet complete, even at home. The centuries of strife during which the hammering and welding together of the nations which now make up the United Kingdom has been progressingxvi have naturally and necessarily left certain national jealousies and antipathies behind them, and the last thing that I should desire would be to arouse any of these.
There are two kinds of patriotism, a smaller and a greater, a National and an Imperial. Both are equally good and noble, and it is necessary that the first should precede the second. But it is equally necessary that it should not supersede or obscure it, and it is to this later and greater, this Imperial patriotism that I shall appeal, and I would ask my readers, whatever their nationality, to remember that on the burning plains of India and the rolling prairies of Canada, in the vast expanses of the Australian Bush and the African Veld, there are neither Englishmen nor Scotsmen, Welshmen nor Irishmen; but only Citizens of the Empire, brothers in blood and speech, and fellow-workers in the building up of the noblest and stateliest fabric that human hands have ever reared or God’s sun has ever shone upon.
WILLIAM THE NORMAN,
PIRATE AND NATION-MAKER
WILLIAM THE NORMAN
IT may strike those of my readers who have only got their history from their school-books as somewhat strange that I should begin my record of British Empire-Makers with a man whom they have been taught to look upon as a foreigner, an invader, a conqueror, and a ruthless oppressor of the English.
The answer is simple, though manifold. The school-books are only filled with potted facts, and are therefore wrong and unreliable. It has been well said that England was made on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the German Ocean. The so-called Englishmen who occupied it at the time of the Conquest were not Englishmen at all, for the simple reason that the true English race had yet to be born, and, after it, the true British.
The England and Scotland of the eleventh century were peopled, not by nations, but by tribes mostly at bitter and constant war with each other. There were still Jutes and Angles, Picts4 and Scots, Danes and Swedes and Norwegians, each occupying their own little stretch of country, and governed, more or less effectually, by their chieftains, in proof of which it is enough to recall the fact that Harold’s last fight but one was against his own brother, who had come across the Narrow Seas at the head of a miscellaneous crowd of hungry pirates to steal as much as he could of the ownerless heritage that Edward the Confessor had left behind him.
A good deal of sentiment, more or less born of deftly-written romances, has glorified the memory of this same Harold. Whether it was deserved or not does not concern us now, any more than does his right or unright to the throne of England. It is enough here to grant him all honour as an able leader of armies, and a man who knew how to snatch victory from defeat, and glory from disaster by dying like a hero surrounded by the corpses of his foes.
The idle question whether he or William had the better right to the crown of England may be left to those who care for such quibbling. Let us, at the outset, in the words of the Sage of Chelsea, “clear our minds of cant.” There is no “right” or “wrong” in these things, saving only the eternal right of the strongest and wisest—the fittest or most suitable, in short, to wield power and dominion whether the less fit like it or not. The peoples are thrust headlong into the fiery5 crucible of War, and, on the adamantine anvil of Destiny, the Thor’s Hammer of Battle beats and crushes them into the shape that God has designed for them. It seems a rude method, but in many thousands of years we have found no other, so at least we may conclude that it is the best one known.
There is a very deep meaning in the seemingly flippant and almost impious saying of Napoleon: “God fights on the side of the biggest battalions.” He does—but you must reckon the bigness of the battalions, not only by their numbers, but by the value of their units, remembering always that one man with a stout heart and a cause he honestly believes in is worth a score who have neither heart nor faith.
Just such a man was William the Norman, son of Robert the Magnificent, otherwise styled the Devil, and Arlette the Fair, daughter of Fulbert the Tanner of Falaise. It is in this birth of his that we find the first clue to his real greatness. He was born of a union unhallowed by the sanction of the Church, among a people proud beyond all modern belief of their royal sea-king ancestry.
How did he come to achieve this almost miraculous triumph over a prejudice and hostility of which we can now form but a very dim idea?
We have to look no farther than his cradle to find the answer. Lying there, the little fellow used6 to grasp the straw in his baby fists with such a grip that it could not be pulled away from him. The straw broke first, and ever in his after life what William the Norman laid hold of he held on to; and that is why he became the first of our Empire-Makers.
No doubt it was the strain of the old pirate blood which ran so strongly in his veins that made him this. If we have successfully cleared our minds of cant, we shall see plainly that, since all nations begin in piracy of some sort, it is natural to expect that the best pirates will prove the best Empire-Makers. That old strain is, happily, not yet exhausted. When it is, Great and Greater Britain will be no more.
Few men have passed unscathed through such a stormy youth as his was. When he was seven years old his father, Duke Robert, having exacted an oath of unwilling fealty from his under-lords to his bonny but base-born heir, went away on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem from which he never returned, leaving him to the wardship of his friend, Alan of Brittany; and soon after Duke Robert’s death became known Alan was poisoned. After that for a dozen years the boy Duke was in constant peril of his life.
One night two lads were lying sleeping side by side in the castle of Vaudreuil, and in the silence and darkness of the night one of the Montgomeries, bitter enemies of the Lords of Falaise, to whose7 hate Alan of Brittany had already fallen a victim, crept up to the bedside with a naked dagger, and drove it blindly into the heart of one of the boys and fled.
Young Duke William—he was only a lad of twelve then—woke up to find himself wet with his playmate’s blood, but all unknowing then how nearly the history of the world had come to being changed by that foul and happily misdirected dagger-stroke. Had it found his heart instead there would have been no Norman Conquest, no blending of the two strains of blood from which has sprung the Imperial Race of earth, no British Empire, no United States of America—without all of which the world would surely have been very different.
Seven more years of plot and intrigue, of strife and turmoil, young Duke William lived through after this, growing ever keener in mind and stronger in body, and, as we may well believe, hardening into the incarnation of ruthless and yet wisely-directed Force which was so soon to make him a power among men. Before he was twenty he shot his arrows from a bow which no other man in his dukedom could bend, and he was already a finished knight, a pattern of the gentleman of his age, good horseman, good swordsman, gentle towards women and stern towards men, pure in his morals and moderate in his living; a good Christian according to his lights and the8 ideas of his day, and above all faithful to the ideals that he had set before himself.
Already at nineteen—that is to say in the year 1044—not only had he shaped his plans for reducing the disorder of his turbulent dukedom to discipline, but he had made his designs so manifest that the lawless lords and robber barons could see for themselves how stern a master he would make—as in good truth he did—and the deadly work of conspiracy started afresh. One night when he was sleeping in his favourite castle of Valognes, Golet, his court fool, came hammering at his bedroom door with his bauble, crying out that some traitor had let the assassins into the stronghold. He leapt out of bed, huddled on a few clothes as he ran to the stable, mounted his horse, and galloped away all through the night toward Falaise along a road which is called the Duke’s Road to this day. No sooner was he safe across the estuary of the Oune and Vire and in the Bayeux district than he pulled his dripping, panting horse up in front of the church of St. Clement, dismounted and knelt down to say his prayers and thank God for his merciful deliverance. Such was the youth who was father to the man justly styled William the Conqueror.
It was not long after this that the years of intrigue and plotting ended in armed revolt. Guy of Burgundy, William’s kinsman and once his playmate, looked with greedy eyes on the fair lands9 of Normandy. He was master of many provinces already, and among his hosts of friends there were not a few of William’s own under-lords, in whose breasts still rankled the shame of owning a bastard for their master. To his side came the Viscount of Coutance, Randolph of Bayeux, Hamon of Thorigny and Creuilly, and that Grimbald of Plessis whose hand was to have slain William that night in Valognes, and in the end this long-gathering storm burst on the grassy slopes of Val-ès-Dunes.
Master Wace the Chronicler, in his “Roman de Rou,” gives us a brilliant little picture of that long-past scene where the future Conqueror won his spurs—of many a brave and gallant gentleman clad cap-à-pie in shining mail, seated on mighty chargers impatiently pawing the ground, of long lances gay with fluttering ribbons tied on by dainty hands that morning, of waving plumes and flaunting pennons, and mild-eyed cattle grazing knee-deep in the long wet grass in peaceful ignorance of the bloody work that was about to be done.
But with all this we have little to do, and one episode must suffice. The starkest warrior among the rebels was Hardrez, Lord of Bayeux, and he, like many another, had sworn to slay William that day with his own hands. The oath had proved fatal to others before it did to him, but at length his turn came. Young Duke William saw him from afar, and with lance in rest made for him at10 a gallop. One of the knights who had followed Hardrez to battle charged at him in mid-course. The next moment horse and man went rolling in the grass, and William, dropping his splintered lance, drew his sword, and, the Lord of Bayeux coming up at the instant, he drove the good steel with one shrewd, strong thrust through mail and flesh and bone, and Hardrez never spoke again.
That stroke won William his dukedom, and the Chronicler, though a man of Bayeux himself, tells in stirring lines how the young lord and his faithful knights hunted the flying rebels off the field and rode them down like sheep.
This was not the last fight that William had for the mastery of his own land, but it left his hands free to begin the work that he had set himself to do, and he did it. To him unity was strength, and he was ready to go to any lengths to get it. His methods then, as afterwards in England, were severe—we should call them brutal nowadays, but these days are not those.
HE DROVE THE GOOD STEEL THROUGH MAIL AND FLESH AND BONE.
When the citizens of Alençon defied him they indulged in the pleasantry of hanging raw hides over the walls and beating them, shouting out the while that here there was plenty for the tanner’s son to do. He set his teeth and swore his favourite oath—by the Splendour of God—that they should have work enough ere he had done with them. When the city lay at his mercy he had two-and-thirty of the humourists sent out to him,11 and cut off their ears and noses and hands and feet, and had them tossed over the walls as a sort of hint that he was not quite the kind of person who could appreciate jokes about his ancestors. It was an inhuman deed, but history records no other public aspersions of the good name of Duke William’s mother.
Yet one more battle the young Duke had to fight before he crossed the Narrow Seas to the famous field of Senlac. Henry of France, his titular overlord, and Geoffrey of Anjou, jealous of the fast-growing power of Normandy, united their forces in an expedition which was half an invasion and half a plundering raid. Duke William, with infinite patience, and a quiet, marvellous self-restraint, held his own fiery temper and the angry ardour of his knights in check, watching the invaders burn town after town and village after village, and turning some of his fairest domains into a wilderness.
He never struck a blow until, one fatal afternoon, he swooped down from Falaise and caught the French army severed in two by the rising flood of the river Dive. Then he struck, and struck hard, and when the bloody work was over, Henry was glad to buy a truce and his liberty from his vassal with the strong castle of Tillièries and all its lands, and so heavy hearted was he at his defeat that, as the Chronicler tells us, “he never bore shield or spear again.”
Normandy had now become the most orderly12 and best governed country in Europe. Robbers, noble and otherwise, were ruthlessly suppressed, and the poorest possessed their goods in peace, while William himself had time to turn his thoughts to the gentler, and yet not less important, concerns of policy and love-making.
The old story of his courtship of the fair Matilda of Flanders with a riding whip is evidently a myth manufactured by some Saxon enemy, for Duke William was in the first place a gentleman, and, moreover, the lady and her parents were as anxious as he was for the marriage, seeing that he was now the most desirable of suitors. The truth is that the Church opposed their union on some shadowy grounds of consanguinity, and it did not take place until after a courtship of four years.
And now, having got our pirate Duke happily married and seen him undisputed lord of his own realm, we may go with him to St. Valery on the coast of Ponthieu and watch him working and praying and offering gifts at the old shrine, during those fifteen long days that he watched the weather-cocks and prayed for the south wind that was to waft his fleet and army over to the English shore.
It was on Wednesday, the 27th of September, that the wind at last veered round. The eager soldiery hailed the change as the granting of their prayers and the consent of Heaven to the beginning of their enterprise, and flung themselves into their ships like a great host of schoolboys setting out on13 a holiday. Soon the grey sea was covered with a swarm of craft, and it must have seemed as though the old Viking days had come back as the great square sails went up to the mast-heads, and the shining shields were hung along the bulwarks.
William himself, in his golden ship Mora, the present of his own dear Duchess, led the way with the sacred banner of the Pope at his mast-head, and the three Lions of Normandy floating astern. The Mora was lighter heeled or lighter loaded than the rest, for when morning dawned she was alone on the sea with the Sussex shore in plain sight. But presently a great forest of masts and clouds of gaily-coloured sails rose up out of the grey waters astern, and the whole vast fleet came on, urged by oar and wind, and by nine o’clock that morning the fore-foot of the Mora, close followed by her consorts, struck the English ground in Pevensey Bay.
It has often been told how William, as he landed, stumbled and fell on his hands and knees, and how those near him cried out that it was a fatal omen. The story may be myth or fact, but nothing could be more characteristic of the true man than his springing to his feet with both hands full of sand and laughing out in that great voice of his:
“Nay, by the Splendour of God, not so. See! Have I not taken seizin of my new kingdom and lawful heritage?”
But the army of the so-called English, that they14 had come to seek was nowhere to be found, and some days were spent in uncertainty and debate as to whether they should march on London or await battle on the shore with their sea communications open, and in the end they took the latter and the wiser course.
Meanwhile, as has been said, Harold was away in the North fighting and beating his brother Tostig and his fellow robbers, and the news of Duke William’s landing was flying northward to him. It must have been something of an anxious time for both—the Norman waiting day after day in that deadly inaction which is most fatal of all things to the courage and discipline of an army, and Harold hurrying southward at the head of his victorious troops, knowing that he was about to try conclusions with the best leader and the finest soldiery in Europe.
It is of little import here and to us now which of them had the best right, as the lawyer-quibble has it, to that which they were about to fight for. The point is that such claims as either had they were going to submit to the stern and final ordeal of battle—and in good truth a stern ordeal it proved to be.
As he came to the South the standard of Harold—the Fighting Man—was joined by troops of recruits attracted by the fame of his northern victory, and it was a great and really formidable army which at length assembled between London and15 the Sussex coast. Meanwhile the Normans, after the fashion of the pitiless warfare of those days, were dividing their time between the building of entrenched camps and ravaging, plundering, and burning throughout the pleasant Southern land.
Of course messages and parleyings passed between them. Harold from his royal house at Westminster bade Duke William come and fight him for his capital and his kingdom, to which Duke William warily replied: “Come and drive us into the sea if you can!” This at length King Harold was forced to attempt. And so it came to pass that, at length, on the 14th of October, the hosts of the Saxon and the Norman confronted each other on the field of Senlac by Hastings, on the morrow to strike blows whose echoes were to ring through many a long century, and to do deeds more mighty in their effect than either Harold or William dreamt of.
The Norman host has been called a horde of mailed robbers and cut-throats, eager only for plunder, and the Saxon army has been almost canonised as a band of heroes, gathered together to die in defence of their native land and their lawful king. Yet, strangely enough, the robbers and cut-throats spent the best part of the night confessing their sins and praying for victory, as well as in making the best dispositions to attain it. The patriots spent the same hours feasting and drinking, and swaggering to each other about16 the brave deeds they had done in the North and the greater things they were going to do on the morrow.
So the night passes, and the morning dawns grey and chill on the two now silent hosts. Then from the Norman ranks rises the solemn cadence of the Te Deum, and as this dies away the archers move out—forerunners of those stout yeomen whose clothyard shafts were one day to win Creçy and Agincourt. Then come the footmen with their long pikes, and after them the mailed and mounted knights, in front of whom rides Taillefer—Iron-Cutter and Minstrel—tossing his sword into the air and catching it, and singing the while the Song of Roland and Roncesvalles. As the archers and pikemen spread out in skirmishing order he sets spurs to his horse and charges at the Saxon line. He kills two men, and then goes down under the battle-axe of a third.
Then the arrows flew fast and thick, and charge after charge was made upon the palisades of stakes that fenced the Saxon position, high above which floated the Dragon Standard of Wessex and the banner of the Fighting Man.
But the double-bladed Saxon axes were no playthings, and they were swung by strong and strenuous arms, and every time the Norman front came up to the breastwork it was hewn down in swathes by the deep-biting blades. The arrows fell blunted and broken on the big Saxon shields and stout Saxon17 armour, and so Duke William, with that ever-ready resource of his, bade his archers shoot up into the air, and then down from the grey sky there fell a rain of whirring, steel-pointed shafts, one of which, winged by Fate, struck gallant Harold in the eye—doubtless as he was looking up wondering at this new manœuvre—and, piercing his brain, laid him lifeless in the midst of his champions.
DUKE WILLIAM ROARED OUT THAT HE WAS ALIVE.
Soon after this a cry went up that Duke William too was dead, and he, hearing this, tore off his helmet—a somewhat unsafe thing to do in such a fight—and roared out that he was alive, swearing—as usual by the Splendour of God—that the land of England should yet be his by nightfall.
So they laid on again. William’s horse went down under a pike-thrust. He clove the pike-man to the chin and asked one of his knights to lend him his horse. The knight refused, thinking more of his skin than his loyalty, whereupon William pitched him out of the saddle, swung himself up, and led another charge against the ever-dwindling ring of heroes who were still hammering away with their battle-axes—and this time the stout line wavers and breaks; the mail-clad warriors pour up the slope, shouting that the day is won; axe and sword ring loud and fast on helm and mail, the Saxons reel back, closing round the body of their king and the staff of his banner.
“Dex aide! Dex aide! Ha-Rou! Ha-Rou!” Duke William’s men yell and roar again as they18 scramble over heaps of mangled corpses filling the trenches and blocking the breaches in the palisades. Another moment or two of brief, bitter, and bloody struggle and the last Saxon ring breaks and melts away, and Hastings and England are won.
What followed is history so familiar that few words more from me will suffice. What Duke William had done in his own land he did after the same methods in the land that had been the Saxons’. Cruel, bloody, and savage they were beyond all doubt, but it is a question whether, even in the doing, they were more disastrous than the ferocious anarchy and the unceasing plunder and outrage and murder that had disgraced the weak and divided rule of the Saxon kings. In their effect they were a thousandfold better. Duke William believed that order was Heaven’s first law, and, by whatever means he had at hand, he was honestly determined to make it earth’s as well. And he succeeded, which after all is not an unsatisfactory test of honest merit. How well he did so let us ask, not one of his own chroniclers or troubadours, but the man who wrote the story of his own conquered people, and this is what he will tell us:
“Truly he was so stark a man and wroth that no man durst do anything against his will. Bishops he set off their bishoprics, and abbots off their abbacies, and thanes in prison. And at last he did not spare his brother Odo. Him he set in prison.19 Betwixt other things we must not forget the good peace that he made in this land, so that a man that was worth aught might travel over the kingdom unhurt with his bosom full of gold. And no man durst slay another though he had suffered never so mickle evil from the other.”
Such was this grim, stern, Thor’s-Hammer of a man, who by his strength and cunning hewed into shape that which in after days was to become the corner-stone of the glorious, world-shadowing fabric which we call the British Empire.
EDWARD OF THE LONG LEGS
“BURY ME NOT TILL YOU HAVE CONQUERED SCOTLAND”
EDWARD OF THE LONG LEGS
TWO centuries all but nine years have passed away since William the Conqueror, unwept, if not unhonoured, lost his life in avenging a paltry joke, and left his work for others to carry on. In the two centuries not much has been done, although no little show has been made meanwhile, and a great clash of arms has resounded through the world.
William the Red has died, as he lived, in a somewhat ignoble and futile manner. Henry I. has done one good thing, wedding, as it were, in his own person and that of the Lady Matilda, the two races which were afterwards to be one.
Stephen and Matilda have settled their differences and died, after the shedding of much wasted blood. Henry II., by the hand of Strongbow and his licensed pirates, has done a piece of good work badly in beginning that conquest of Ireland which is not to be completed until the Battle of the Boyne is lost and won.
Richard Lionheart has won much glory to very24 small profit in the magnificent madness of the Third Crusade. The barons, recognising, however dimly and clumsily, that they are, in good truth, citizens of the infant State whose lusty, turbulent youth already gives promise of its future strength and greatness, have become law-lords as well as landlords, and with mailed hands have guided that unwilling pen of John’s along the bottom of the parchment on which the Great Charter is written.
And, lastly, Simon of Montfort has taken a swift stride through several centuries and, arriving at the modern idea that the making of nations and the ordering of the world can be achieved by Talk, has, after not a little violence and the spilling of considerable blood that might have been better spent, got together that first Parliament or Talking-Machine, whose successors have so sorely hindered the progress of the world and balked the efforts of those appointed by God, and not by the counting of noses, to do its work.
So the two noisy and somewhat foolish centuries have rolled away into a blessed oblivion with a good deal of shouting and swaggering, of strife and bloodshed, but of little progress, saving that one Roger Bacon has lived and written a certain book and made himself a name for ever.
But all this time the work with which we are here most concerned, the making of an empire, has been waiting for the next God-sent man to come and do it, and this man was Edward Plantagenet,25 surnamed Longlegs, next in lineal succession, not as king, but as Empire-Maker, to him who won the fight at Senlac and got himself so well obeyed that “no man durst do anything against his will”—which was a great deal to say of any one in such days as those.
Edward of the Long Legs came on to the stage of History with long, swift, determined, and, in short, wholly characteristic strides. The Talking-Machine of the good Earl Simon had worked noisily, as is usual with such machines, and had produced little but sound and fury.
There was war all round, and the usual anarchy in Ireland and Wales. Llewelyn, Lord of Snowdon, for instance, had pitted himself gallantly against the logic of circumstances, and was seeking to reconstruct the ancient and now impossibly obsolete Celtic empire.
“Be of good courage in the slaughter, cling to thy work, destroy England and plunder its multitudes!” his bards had sung to him, and so he had honestly set himself to do, not recognising the fact that empires are neither made nor re-made by mere methods of miscellaneous blood-letting.
To the north, Scotland was divided by schisms and rent by the bitter jealousies of its nobles and clan-chieftains, savage, rude and poor, but gallant, strong, and very full of fight, as the English were to learn later on.
Over the Narrow Seas the wide domains which26 William the Norman had kept with his sword and which the second Henry had greatly increased by inheritance and marriage, were slipping piecemeal away from the throne to which they did not of right divine belong, and with which it was therefore impossible that they should remain.
Such, in briefest outline, was the scene into which Edward Longlegs strode, and of which he was to be for thirty-five years the central and dominating figure. His first look round, as it were, showed him the nature of the task which it was his destiny to forthwith set about.
With that clearness of vision without which no man has any chance of success in the business of empire-making, he instantly pierced the dust-storms of battle that were rising all about him, and the mist-clouds of debate which Earl Simon’s Talking-Machine had commenced to vomit forth, and behind and beyond these he saw a certain Fact, a prime necessity which had to be faced—in short a real Something of an infinitely greater importance than tribal warfare, the aspirations of bard-inspired princelings, or even parliamentary debates.
This was neither more nor less than the fact that, when the Maker of all things mapped out this part of the world, it pleased Him in His wisdom to put England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland into one little group of islands, and from this fact Edward Longlegs drew the deduction that the King of Kings had intended them to be under one lordship.
It seems a simple thing to say now, a fact so 27patent that the mention of it seems superfluous. So does the larger fact that the world is round; but it was a very different matter in the times and circumstances of Edward Longlegs, and, indeed, his first and greatest claim to stand next in succession to William the Norman in the royal line of empire-makers consists in this: that he was capable of that master-stroke of genius which clearly demonstrated an imperial principle of which six hundred years of history have been the continuous and emphatic endorsement.
No sooner was the bloody fight of Evesham over and the good Earl Simon had breathed out his generous, if somewhat premature soul in that last cry of his: “It is God’s grace!” than Edward Longlegs seems to have set himself to prepare for the task that was to be his. He was not to be king in name for some seven years more, but as the historian of the English People with great pertinence remarked: “With the victory of Evesham, his character seemed to mould itself into nobler form.” In other words he was, perchance unconsciously, performing that indispensable preliminary to all really great and true public reforms, the reformation of himself.
Hitherto his life had been none of the best. He had been the leader of a retinue that had made itself something like infamous in the land. He had intrigued first with one party and then with another.28 He is accused of a faithlessness which, it is said, forced the good, though mistaken, Earl Simon into armed revolt against his liege lord—though this may, after all, only have been a stroke of wise and necessary policy, since he possibly saw even then that Chaos would not reform itself into Cosmos just for being talked at.
Then again, and with curious resemblance to William of Normandy, and later of Hastings and England, he had avenged an insult to his mother by the slaughter of some three thousand men in the rout of Lewes and a quite unjustifiable indulgence in pillage and slaughter when the Barons’ War was finally over.
“It was from Earl Simon,” says John Richard Green in one of those limpid sentences of his, “as the Earl owned with a proud bitterness ere his death, that Edward had learnt the skill in warfare which distinguished him among the princes of his time. But he had learnt from the Earl the far nobler lesson of a self-government which lifted him high above them as ruler among men.”
It seemed, indeed, as though, by this reformation of himself, he was to typify that reformation of England which it was his life-work to begin. The new Edward was to be the maker of the new England.
His first action after the war was characteristic of the man and the work that he was to do. The cessation of the fighting, as was usual in those days,29 had left an undesirable number of truculent warriors of various ranks wandering at large about the kingdom with their legitimate occupation gone. Edward, with that instinct of order characteristic of all true empire-makers, saw in these the possibilities of disorder, and with a happy combination of wisdom and adventure turned their swords and lances away from the bodies of their fellow-citizens by taking them to fight the Paynim in the Holy Land.
An incident of this excursion has been adorned by one of those pleasant fictions which, if the paradox may be pardoned, are none the less true for the fact that they are false. Edward, having sent certain hundreds of Moslems to Paradise with a perhaps unnecessarily ruthless dispatch, was considered by the sect of the Assassins to be a person who would be better dead than alive in Palestine, and so one of them, after several attempts, succeeded, as one may put it, in interviewing him privately with a poisoned dagger. The fiction has it that his consort, Eleanor of Castille, sucked the poison from the wound with her own sweet lips and so saved his life.
It is a pretty story, but, unfortunately for its authenticity, no one seems to have heard of it or thought it worth the telling until Ptolemy of Lucca told it a good half-century afterwards. But the truth underlying it remains, and this truth is that Edward Longlegs was blessed with that greatest of all earthly blessings, a loving and devoted wife.
The facts of the matter are few but eloquent. 30Edward saw the dagger before it struck him, and gripped the would-be murderer with a grip worthy the muscles of Lionheart himself. There was a struggle, during which the dagger-point scratched his arm. A moment after it was buried in the assassin’s own heart. Then some of Edward’s retainers, hearing the scuffling, burst into the tent and satisfied themselves that the wretch had attempted his last murder by the somewhat superfluous method of knocking out his brains with a foot-stool.
Soon after this symptoms of poisoning showed themselves, and Edward, in his usual businesslike way, made his will and his peace with God and prepared to “salute the world” with becoming dignity. In the end not Eleanor’s lips but the surgeon’s knife removed the danger, and so once again a dagger-thrust which had come near to changing the history of Britain missed its mark.
It was during his return from this Crusade, as he was journeying through Calabria, that he met the messengers who told him that his father was dead and that he was King of England. Charles of Anjou, who was riding with him at the moment, wondered at the great grief he showed, and, being himself a man almost incapable of feeling, asked him why he should show more grief at his father’s death than he had done for the loss of his baby son who had died a short time before. The answer was to the point and worthy of the man.
EDWARD GRIPPED THE WOULD-BE MURDERER.
“By the goodness of God,” he said, “the loss 31of my boy may be made good to me, but not even God’s own mercy can give me a father again.”
It was on the same journey that there occurred that curious incident which is called the “Little Battle of Chalons,” and which is also instructive in giving us another view of the man who could use such wise and pious words as these. While he was travelling through Guienne, the Count of Chalons, one of the best and starkest knights of his age, sent a friendly message to request the favour of being allowed to break a lance with him. Edward, though he had been repeatedly warned of plots against his life by those who had designs on his French dominions, and though as a king he had a perfect right to decline the challenge of a vassal, was, as we should say nowadays, too good a sportsman to say no; but he took the precaution of going to the knightly trysting-place with an escort of a thousand men—in doing which he was well justified by the fact that the Count of Chalons was there waiting for him with about two thousand.
During the trouble which inevitably followed, the Count of Chalons did break a lance with Edward, but it was his own lance, and this failing, he gripped him round the neck in the most unknightly fashion and tried to drag him from the saddle. The Count was a strong man, but Edward was a little stronger,32 so he just sat still, and swinging his horse round, pulled him out of the saddle instead, after which, to put it into plain English, he gave him a sound thrashing, and when he at length cried for quarter, Edward, ever generous in the moment of victory, gave him the life that he had forfeited by his treachery, but, as a punishment, which the coroneted scoundrel justly deserved, he compelled him to take his sword back from the hands of a common soldier, and so disgraced him for ever in the eyes of his peers.
It may be added that the Little Battle of Chalons, in spite of the difference of numbers, ended in something like a picnic for the English, after which the king betook himself in leisurely fashion to the throne, and the work that was waiting for him.
No sooner was the crown upon his head, than he got to his task. The Prince of Snowdon, now calling himself Prince of Wales, had not only made himself master of his own country, but had pushed the war into England and reduced several English towns, the chief of which was Shrewsbury. Edward called upon him to restore the peace which he had broken, and to come and do homage for his lands. Llewelyn, in the plentitude of his pride, told him to come and fetch him.
Edward took a note of this, but waited two years while he replenished the royal treasury by more or less justifiable means. During this time, as it happened, the Prince’s promised bride, Eleanor,33 daughter of Earl Simon, fell into his hands. Again and again he summoned the Prince to perform the act of allegiance, holding his sweetheart meanwhile as a hostage in honourable captivity.
At length a fresh defiance from the Welshman roused him to action, and Longlegs strode swiftly across England and struck out hard and heavy. A single blow dissipated the dream of Celtic empire for ever. Llewelyn fled to his mountains and at length sued for peace. By rights his life was forfeit for rebellion, yet Edward not only forgave him but remitted the fine of £50,000 which he had imposed on the Welsh chieftains, and then invited Llewelyn to his court and married him with all due pomp and circumstance to the daughter of his old enemy—from which it will be seen that Edward Longlegs, like William the Norman, and indeed all good and capable empire-makers, was a gentleman.
Unhappily, Llewelyn repaid the kindness and courtesy by new rebellion, which ended, as it deserved, in disaster. Merlin had prophesied that, when money was made round, a Welsh prince should be crowned in London. During this last revolt Edward had caused round halfpence and farthings to be coined. When it was over the head of Llewelyn was sent to London and crowned with a garland of ivy on Tower Hill.
What Longlegs had thus done with Wales he sought by more devious and less effective means to do with Scotland. The dispute between Balliol34 and Bruce gave him the opportunity of intervention, and of this the dismal results are too well known to need detailed description at this time of day.
Here, again, we have nothing to do with personal right or wrong, or with the ethics of national independence. The business of empire-making is too urgent to wait for matters of this kind. It would perhaps have been better if Edward, after the sack and slaughter of Berwick, had hurled the whole weight of the English power against the object of his attack, as William the Norman would have done, and once and for all crushed the opposition into impotence.
It would have been bitter and bloody work, as the work of empire-making is apt to be, but the end might have justified the means. Certainly some centuries of bloodshed and bitterness would have been saved. The high ideal of a United Kingdom would have been realised nearly five hundred years earlier, and the progress of both realms in civilisation, wealth, and power might have been quickened immeasurably.
And after all, neither side in the long struggle would have lost anything worthy of being weighed against the greatness of the gain to both. There would have been no Stirling Bridge, but then there would have been no Falkirk; no Bannockburn, but also no Flodden Field. All this, as it happens, however, was not written in the Book of Destiny, and so it does not concern us here, since35 we have to consider how much of the work of empire-making Edward did, not what he failed to do or left undone.
The surrender of Stirling in 1305 apparently completed the conquest of Scotland, and Edward was for the time being the actual and undisputed sovereign of the whole country from the Pentland Firth to the English Channel, and it is probable that the conquest would have been a permanent one but for the entrance of another power into the field, and this was nothing less than the English Baronage itself. It was as though the chiefs of his own army had turned against him, and, in the fatal dispute which followed, Robert the Bruce saw his opportunity, and in the end re-won for Scotland that independence which has cost her so much and which, however precious as a matter of sentiment, was destined to prove of so little value to her.
All that is past and done with now, but still no one who holds that an empire is greater than a nation, even as the whole is greater than its part, can help looking back with regretful thoughts upon those pages of our history which would have been so much brighter and more glorious if those gallant Scots who fought through those long and bitter wars could have stood, as they have done since, side by side with their brothers of the South, and so made possible centuries ago the beginning of that great work in which they have borne so splendid a part.
Had that been so Edward Longlegs might have 36been the founder instead of only one of the makers of the British Empire, and that last piteous scene by the sandy shores of the Solway Firth would never have been enacted.
But though in the end he neither conquered Scotland nor founded the United Kingdom, he did something else which, as the centuries went by, proved but little less important, for he began to make the British Constitution.
Gallant soldier and great general as he was, he was perhaps an even greater statesman. He saw far ahead of his times, too far indeed, for in his enlightened conviction that in the matter of taxation “what touched all should be allowed of all” we have the real reason for that revolt of the Baronage, which made a United Kingdom of the Fourteenth Century an impossibility.
Yet as law-maker he did work which lasted longer than that which he did on the battle-field. Like William the Norman, he was a stark man who knew how to get himself obeyed, and order, no matter how dearly bought, was the first thing to be got, and he got it. He could “make a wilderness and call it peace,” as he did over and over again with Wales and Scotland—and, indeed, to him a wilderness was better than a place where disorder dwelt—but he also made another peace within his own realms which was the first forerunner of that which we enjoy to-day. The laws37 which he made were for rich and poor, great and small, alike. The hand that was pitiless in destruction was also ready and strong to protect.
The manner of his death is as characteristic as any of the acts, good or bad, of his life. Old and weak and sick, he made the long journey from Westminster to the Solway to fulfil the oath which he had sworn at the knighting of his unworthy son to avenge Bruce’s murder of Comyns and to punish his rebellion.
Too feeble to keep the saddle, he was carried in a litter at the head of the hundred thousand men who were to be the instruments of his vengeance, but at length the news of victory after victory won by the Bruce stung him to a fury which for the time was stronger than his weakness, and at Carlisle the old warrior left his litter and once more mounted his charger. It is a pathetic sight even when looked at through the mists of the intervening centuries. We can picture the gallant struggle that he must have made to sit his horse upright and to bear without fainting the weight of the armour that was oppressing his disease-worn and weary limbs. The mailed hand which had struck the great Count of Chalons down could not now even draw the sword that hung useless at his side.
Only one thing remained strong in the man who had once been the very incarnation of strength. His inflexible will was still unbroken and unswerving in its devotion to the great ideal and master-project38 of his life. Had that will had its way, the flood of English strength and valour that was rolling slowly behind him would have burst in a torrent of death and desolation over the war-wasted fields of southern Scotland, and there can be but little doubt as to what the end would have been.
But it was not to be. The Spectre Horseman was already riding by his side, and, like the wine from a cracked goblet, the dregs of his once splendid strength ebbed away. At last the skeleton hand was outstretched, and he who had never been unhorsed by mortal foe was stricken from the saddle. Yet even then the proud spirit refused to yield. He took his place in the litter again. With almost dying lips he ordered the army forward; and, though the end was very near, he did not submit without a struggle, pathetic in its hopeless heroism, to conquer even Death itself and carry out his purpose in spite of the King of Terrors. Die he must, and that soon, but his spirit should live after him and he would still lead his army.
“Bury me not till you have conquered Scotland!” were almost the last words he spoke. Though they were disobeyed and Scotland was never conquered, yet they were well worthy of the iron-hearted man who said them.
THE QUEEN’S LITTLE PIRATE
“THE MASTER-THIEF OF THE NEW WORLD”
THE QUEEN’S LITTLE PIRATE
ANOTHER couple of centuries with a few added years have slipped away, and the next scene of the slowly-unfolding drama opens on the sea instead of the land. The Idea which Edward of the Long Legs had so clearly conceived and so very nearly realised, the idea that the frontiers of the United Kingdom of which he had dreamt should be its sea-coasts has all the time been growing and deepening, for, like all ideas which faithfully reflect some fact in the universe, it could not die, and was bound some day to become a fact itself.
Politically, England and Scotland were still independent kingdoms, but many old differences had been forgotten and forgiven, and they had come a great deal closer, as it was fitting that they should do on the eve of their final union. Moreover, they were one in their dread and hatred of that cruel and implacable Colossus which, with one foot on the East and the other on the West, bestrode42 the world, drawing vast treasures from hidden El Dorados with which it built countless ships, and hired and armed innumerable men for the enslavement of mankind. For now we have reached those “spacious times of great Elizabeth,” when that lusty young giant of Liberty, recently born into the world, was girding on his armour, and making him ready to grapple with the powers of oppression and darkness which were just then most fitly incarnated in the shape of Spain.
It is almost impossible for us of the present day to understand clearly what the Spain of those days was. She was the first naval and military Power in the world, her ships and armies were everywhere, her wealth was honestly believed to be illimitable, and moreover she was the recognised champion of the Catholic Church, whose spiritual thunders mingled with the roar of her guns, and which supplemented the terror of her arms by all the diabolical enginry of torture and the awful powers of the Holy Office.
The world, in short, was on the eve of great and marvellous doings—on the one hand so terrible in their deadly earnestness and tremendous consequences, and on the other so fantastically splendid in their almost superhuman daring and undreamt-of rewards, that it looked as though the Fates were preparing some gigantic miracle wherewith to astound mankind. And so, in sober truth, they were, and the miracle about to be wrought was43 the making of what we now call the British Empire.
In the beginning of the latter half of the sixteenth century there was a yellow-haired, blue-eyed, round-faced and sturdily-built youngster sailing to and fro as ship’s boy in a tiny cockle-shell of a craft plying with the humbler kinds of merchandise between the Thames and the coasts of France and Flanders. Whether or not he had heard any of those wondrous stories which the western gales were wafting across the Atlantic from the golden Spanish Main we do not know, but probably he had, and, like many another sailor-lad of his day, he had dreamt wild dreams of blue seas and bright skies, of white-walled cities crammed with gold, and of stately galleons staggering across that mysterious sea stuffed to the deck with the treasures they were bringing to pour into the coffers of the King of Spain.
And yet, wild as these dreams may have been, they would have been commonplace in comparison with the bewildering exploits with which this same blue-eyed sailor-lad was one day to realise and excel them. For this was he whose name the mariners of Spain were soon to hear shrieked out by the voice of the tempest, booming in the roar of guns, and echoing through the crash of battle. This, in a word, was Francis Drake—El Draque, the Dragon, child and servant of the Devil himself, Scourge of the Church and Plunderer of the Faithful.
As I say, he may or may not have heard the 44story of the Golden West, but it is quite certain that he did hear much of the black and terrible tales which the refugees and exiles from France and the Netherlands had to tell, for not a few of them crossed over in the little barque in which he served, and he could not fail to hear what they had to say of the murders and massacres, the torturing and outrage with which Spain was disgracing her knightly fame and her ancient faith. They are horrible enough for us to read even here in the security which that gallant struggle won for us, and now when we can only hear the shrieks of the tortured and the groans of the dying echoing faintly across the gulf of three centuries; but what must they have been to Francis Drake when he heard them told by those whose eyes had only just before looked upon the hideous reality—perhaps indeed by some of those racked and mutilated unfortunates who had managed to escape with their lives to seek the sheltering hospitality of Gloriana the Queen? Was it any wonder that deep down in his boyish heart there were planted those seeds of hate and horror which later on were to bear such terrible fruit?
The lad Francis seems to have performed his duties as ship’s boy as well as he did everything else, whether it was leading the Queen’s ships to harry the coast of Spain or raging and storming through one of his piratical raids among the45 Fortunate Isles of the West, for when his master died he made him his heir, and so Francis became a trader on his own account. For a few years he was just a peaceful shipmaster, making an honest and hard-won living; but all this time events were arranging themselves in more and more martial array, and the bursting of the storm was not very far off.
The actual fighting did not begin in the guise of recognised warfare for a very considerable time. Spain and England were at peace, each trying to humbug the other, but between Protestant and Catholic it was otherwise. Armed cruisers manned by angry Protestants made their appearance in the Narrow Seas, and whenever they got a chance fell upon Catholic ships and avenged the sufferings of their fellow-heretics in a fashion at once prompt and pitiless, and this at length so exasperated Philip that he closed his ports to English trade, and Drake’s occupation was gone. Better, in truth, had it been for Philip if he had left him undisturbed in his business!
He sold his little vessel, went to Plymouth, and entered the service of two kinsmen of his, one of whom was soon to prove somewhat of an empire-maker in his own line and whose name, with certain others soon to be mentioned, was destined to go down to everlasting fame indissolubly linked with that of Francis Drake. This was Captain John Hawkins, and when the young trader reached46 Plymouth he had just come back with a shipload of gold and other precious things from his first venture in slave-trading, and now at least Drake, who was still a lad in his teens, must have heard something of the wonders of El Dorado. Yet, curiously enough, when Captain Hawkins went back he did not go with him. He sailed instead, as a sort of supercargo, in another of Hawkins’ ships to Biscay, and there a momentous revelation awaited him, as though to guide him on the path of his destiny.
At San Sebastian about a score of English sailors, once strong and stalwart men of Devon, crept out of the dungeons of the Inquisition and took passage with him home. King Philip had taken off his embargo now, and these men were the remnant of the crew of a Plymouth ship which he had seized in port when the embargo was laid on. The others had rotted to death during the six months that he had bestowed his hospitality upon them. We can imagine what talks they had on the way home, and no doubt El Draque bore the stories of these forlorn mariners well in mind on that most memorable day when he “singed the King of Spain’s beard” at Cadiz.
John Hawkins came back from his second voyage richer than ever, and now all the mariners of the South Coast were beginning to dream golden dreams which were soon to become yet more golden deeds, and King Philip, to whom all such47 ventures were the flattest piracy, began to fear for his monopoly and instructed his ambassador in London to drop the hint that foreign trade with the Indies was forbidden, upon which, foolishly enough, or perhaps not knowing their own true strength, Queen Bess’s councillors backed down and forbade John Hawkins to start again.
He, obediently enough, stayed at home, but a certain George Lovell got together an expedition and slipped out to sea, westward bound. With him went Francis Drake, at length to see for the first time the blue waters and green shores of El Dorado. This time, however, it proved anything but golden for him or his companions, for they came back with shattered ships and still worse broken fortunes. They had drawn a blank in the great lottery which half Europe was wanting to gamble in.
Nothing daunted, he shipped again, this time with George Fenner, bound for Guiana. Again, financially speaking, the voyage ended in disaster, but there was one incident in it destined to bear good fruit. A big Portuguese galleasse, backed up by six gunboats, tried to enforce the prohibition against foreign trade. Fenner had one ship and a pinnace, and with these he fought the “Portugals” and thoroughly convinced them by the logic of shot and steel that he was not the sort of man to be prohibited from doing anything he wanted to do.
This forgotten action is really one of great importance.48 It was Francis Drake’s first taste of fighting, which in itself means a good deal, but it was also the beginning of that lordly and magnificent contempt which the English mariners of that day were soon to feel for all enemies, no matter how strong they might seem. It was this spirit which a few years later was to take Sir Richard Grenville
“With his hundred men on deck and his ninety sick below,”
into the midst of the fifty-three Spanish ships which he fought for an afternoon and a night before he surrendered so sorely against his will and fell dead of his wounds on the deck of the Spanish flagship. It was this, too, which, when that long seven days’ fight against the Armada was raging and roaring up the Channel, brought the flag of the Spanish Rear-Admiral down with a run just because the Little Pirate stamped his foot on the deck of that same Revenge and said that he was Francis Drake and had no time to parley.
Meanwhile the rumblings of the war-storm in Europe had been growing louder. The Netherlanders were at last turning on their torturers, Darnley had been murdered and Mary Queen of Scots put in prison, so Gloriana, feeling herself somewhat at leisure, took a hand in the next buccaneering expedition. It may be noted here, by the way, that there was no more ardent buccaneer and slave-trader in her dominions than49 Good Queen Bess herself. She lent ships though she withheld her commission, and her pirates did the rest. If disaster overtook them or if the Spanish Minister raged against their doings she promptly disowned them and felt sorry for her ships. But if they came back happily filled to the hatches with plundered treasure, she took her dividends and lent more ships.
It was thus with the expedition which sailed out of Plymouth on October 2, 1567, under the command of Admiral John Hawkins, whose second officer was Francis Drake. The diplomacy of the times called it the trading venture of Sir William Garrard and Co., but for all that there were two ships of the Royal Navy in it, the Jesus and the Minion, and the merchandise it carried consisted mainly of cannon and small arms, powder and shot, and cold steel.
The voyage began with a slave-raiding expedition down the Portuguese coast of Africa, whence with five hundred slaves they crossed to the Spanish Main. Here, after varying fortunes, they filled their ships with treasure, and Hawkins turned his prows northward for home. But while crossing the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico a furious hurricane burst upon them and drove his gold-and-pearl-laden vessels so far into it, that he came to the bold decision to put into the Spanish port of Vera Cruz to refit.
In the harbour he found twelve great galleons50 loaded with gold and silver, waiting for the convoy to escort them to Spain. They were utterly at the mercy of the English ships, but John Hawkins, pirate and slave-dealer, was still an English gentleman, so he made a solemn convention to leave the treasure-ships alone on condition of being allowed to refit in the harbour. Hawkins was already known in Spain as the “Enemy of God,” and Don Martin Enriquez, the new Governor of Mexico, had come out with special orders to abolish him by any means that might be found the readiest.
Don Martin seems to have thought that in this case treachery would suit best, so he signed the convention and gave his word of honour as a gentleman of Spain that the English ships should be allowed to come and go unmolested. So for three days the work of dismantling went on in peace, and on the fourth, half-disabled as they were, they were attacked. It was a fierce and bloody fight, and it ended in the sinking of four galleons, the wrecking of the Spanish flag-ship, and the killing of five or six hundred Spaniards.
But on the English side only the Jesus, the Minion, and the Judith got away and, shot-shattered and half-provisioned, began to stagger homeward across the wide Atlantic. On the way the Judith was lost, and took to the bottom with her all the proceeds of many months of trading and fighting and privation.
So the expedition came back poorer than it went,51 and Spain laughed aloud, but, as will be seen, somewhat too soon. Drake got home first, and no sooner did he land at Plymouth than he took horse for London. It so happened that a little while before Spanish ships carrying a huge amount of money to pay Alva’s army in the Netherlands, had been driven into the Thames by the Protestant rovers lately mentioned, and Gloriana, who never liked to let a good thing go, had held on to it on one pretext or another until Drake came hot-footed and angry-hearted to tell of the treachery of Vera Cruz.
Gloriana wanted nothing better. Her buccaneering venture had been a failure and here was a way of paying herself for the two ships she had risked, so she turned upon the Spanish Ambassador and told him point blank that until the injury done to her “honest merchants” was redressed she would hold the treasure in pledge. Naturally after that not a groat of it ever got to Alva or his soldiers.
That year, which was 1569, Drake went to Rochelle with Sir Thomas Wynter. The next summer he married Mary Newman, and a month or two later he was again steering to the westward in two little vessels, the Dragon and the Swan. The next year he went again, with the Swan alone, and this time he came back with a certain idea in his head which was magnificent to the point of absurdity. The adventures of the last two or three years had deepened his contempt for Spanish52 prowess, and now he laughingly proposed to go back, not to kill the goose that laid the King of Spain’s golden eggs, but to rifle the nest in which they were deposited. This was Nombre de Dios, the strongest city in the New World, and the richest to boot.
The means employed were, as was usual in this age of wonders, ridiculously inadequate to the end to which they were devoted. Of late years certain bold mariners have sought to win an ephemeral notoriety by crossing the Atlantic in open boats. Francis Drake set out on a serious and momentous expedition to the Spanish Main in the Pasha of 70 tons followed by the Swan of 25—that is to say in a couple of fishing-boats. These two cockle-shells were manned by seventy-three men all told, only one of whom had reached the age of thirty. It must have looked more like a parcel of lads going afloat on a holiday spree than an expedition with which all the world was soon to ring.
There is no space here to tell of all that befel these absurd adventurers on their devious and tedious way to Nombre de Dios, though no romancer ever imagined such a story as their adventures make. So it must suffice to say that on July 29th he started out across the Isthmus of Darien at the head of seventy-three men to attack a strong city as big as Plymouth, and with these he actually fought his way into the town, established himself in the centre of it and held it for some hours.
THEY CARRIED HIM DOWN TO THE BOATS.
If his men had been the seasoned buccaneers of his later raids he would probably have taken it altogether, but they unhappily found in the Governor’s house a stack of silver bars twelve feet high, ten feet broad, and seventy feet long. This was a little too much for the nerves of the Devon boys, but Drake would not let them touch it, since the town was not yet theirs. Then a fearful rain-storm came on just about dawn and put out their matches and ruined their bow-strings, and then a terrible misfortune happened. Drake had been severely wounded in the leg, but he had concealed his hurt until the supreme moment came, and then, as he was leading his handful of heroes to the last attack, he went down with his boot full of blood. Something very like a panic now took his men, not for their own sakes but for his. In vain he stormed at them, and cried angrily:
“I have brought you to the door of the Treasure-house of the World! Will ye be fools enough to go away empty?”
“Your life is more precious to us and England than all the gold of the Indies!” they replied, and so by kindly force they carried him down to the boats and rowed away, having accomplished perhaps the most splendid failure in history.
The fame of this exploit instantly echoed through the whole Spanish Main and thence across the Atlantic to Europe. A few days later he avenged his failure at Nombre de Dios by cutting a big ship54 out from under the guns of Cartagena. Then he vanished, leaving no other trace behind him than the poor little abandoned Swan. For the next few months nothing was seen of him, though his hand was felt far and wide along the coast. Spanish store-ships disappeared, dispatch boats were intercepted, and coast-towns were raided with bewildering rapidity and effectiveness.
But all this time the deadly tropical fever was playing havoc with his little handful of men. His brother John died of it, and man after man was struck down till at last, out of the seventy-three who had sailed with him from Plymouth, he could only muster eighteen fighting men when he at length started to plunder the mule-train from Panama.
On the fourth day of the journey a very memorable thing happened, for that noon he reached the top of the dividing ridge of the Isthmus, and lo! there before him, only a few miles away, lay the smooth, shining expanse of the Pacific Ocean, that long-hidden, jealously-guarded sea on which his were the first English eyes that had ever gazed. He did just what such a man would have done in such circumstances. He fell on his knees and, raising his hands to heaven, cried aloud:
“Almighty God, of Thy goodness, give me life and leave once to sail an English ship on yonder sea!”
Years afterwards the prayer was granted, and not55 only did he sail on the Golden Sea, but crossed it while he was making the first voyage that an Englishman ever made round the world.
Were I writing a book instead of an essay I could tell of the plundering of the mule-trains, of the taking of Vera Cruz—where, to the astonishment of the Spaniards, he would not allow a single woman or an unarmed man to be hurt—and Nombre de Dios, which did not resist him so well the second time. It must, however, be enough to say that this time everything ended happily for the remnant that survived, and that on Sunday morning, August 9, 1573, while the good folks of Plymouth were in church, they heard a roar of artillery from the batteries followed by an answering salute from the sea and, straightway quitting their devotions, they ran out to learn the good news that Gloriana’s Little Pirate had come back safe at last and well loaded up with plunder.
His next venture was nothing less than that famous voyage of his round the world, with the fairy-story of which we have here nothing to do save to say that the fame of it, no less than the enormous treasure, the plunder of a hundred ships and a score of towns, with which the poor sea-worn, worm-eaten, wind-weary Golden Hind, staggered one Michaelmas morning into Plymouth Sound, at last convinced Queen Bess that in her dear Little Pirate—whom, by the way, she had never yet openly recognised—she had a champion56 who was worth a good many thousands of King Philip’s soldiers and sailors.
But now the first of Drake’s open rewards was to be his. The Golden Hind was hauled on to the slips at Deptford, and Gloriana and her court dined on board. When the dinner was over she bade her Little Pirate kneel before her, touched him on the shoulder with his own sword and bade him rise Sir Francis Drake. The Spaniards, by the way, had another title for him, no less honourable in his eyes, and this was “the Master-Thief of the New World.”
For some considerable time nothing happened beyond the failure of one or two trifling expeditions—which failure was Gloriana’s fault, and not Drake’s—and the setting of a price of £40,000 by favour of the King of Spain on the Little Pirate’s head—an investment of which Drake was soon to pay the dividend in the craft-crowded harbour of Cadiz.
Meanwhile, matters between England and Spain were going from bad to worse. For a few months unscrupulous intrigue, backed up by wholesale lying, hampered Drake most sorely in the preparation of that great work which was nothing less than the establishment of the sea-power of England. Everything that the fickleness of his mistress, the weathercock support of so-called friends at court, and the still more dangerous machinations of English statesmen in the pay of Spain could do,57 was done. The fleet, to his unutterable rage and disgust, was even placed on a peace-footing, despite the fact that the noise of the Armada’s preparations was still sounding across the Narrow Seas.
But at last, by some means or other, a certain Spanish spy had got himself suspected and stretched on the rack. Now the rack, as an aid to cross-examination, is not an ideal instrument, but it certainly served its purpose this time, for the spy in his torment gave away all the details of a vast scheme which embraced an alliance between France, Spain, and Scotland, together with a general Catholic uprising in England, which was to take place simultaneously with the Triple Invasion.
Never had England, and with her the cause of liberty, stood in such great and deadly peril. Gloriana at last flung diplomatic dalliance to the winds, stopped her lying and chicanery, kicked the Spanish Ambassador out of the country, and let her Little Pirate loose. Yet even now there was another lull before the storm, and this lull Philip took advantage of to invite a fleet of English corn-ships to his ports, where he seized them to feed that ever-growing sea-monster which he was going to pit against El Draque.
This settled the matter. Drake, only half ready for sea, put out with every ship that could move for fear more orders would come to stop him and, with an insolent assurance which augured well for the58 great things that he was about to do, actually ran his ships into Vigo Bay and forced the Spanish Governor to allow him to finish his preparations in Spanish waters. Then he turned his eager prows westward, stopping on the way at the Cape Verde Islands to lay waste Vera Cruz and make Santiago a heap of ashes.
Five years before young William Hawkins had been taken prisoner here and burnt alive with several of his crew, and this was El Draque’s way of wiping out the old score.
Then he sped on again, spent Christmas at Santa Dominica, refitted his ships and refreshed his men, and then fell like a thunderbolt on the famous city of Santo Domingo, the oldest in the Indies, founded by Columbus himself and ruled over by his brother. It was this that the Little Pirate had been preparing for during those other mysterious voyages of his. The blow was as crushing as it was unexpected, and the prestige of Spain in the West never recovered from it. The town was utterly stripped and dismantled by the victors. Fifty thousand pounds in cash, two hundred and forty guns of all calibres, and an immense amount of other spoil was brought away, and the whole fleet, after living at free quarters for a month, sailed southward, completely refitted and re-victualled, as usual, at the Spaniards’ expense.
When the news got to Europe, it was said that Philip had had “such a cooling as he had never59 had since he was King of Spain.” It is both interesting and instructive to learn that not the least part of the booty took the shape of a hundred English sailors who were found toiling as slaves in the Spanish galleys.
Reinforced by these, Gloriana’s Little Pirate crossed the Caribbean Sea and fell on Cartagena, the capital of the Spanish Main, and now the richest city in the Indies. Paralysed by the insolence of the attack, it soon fell under its fury and real strength. The booty was enormous, but the moral effect was still greater. The new-born sea-power of England had vindicated itself with triumphant suddenness, and Drake, having picked up the unfortunate remnants of Raleigh’s colony in Virginia—the time for colonising not having come yet—entered Plymouth Sound again in the Elizabeth Bonaventura at the head of his loot-laden fleet, and reported his arrival, piously regretting that on the way home he had missed the Spanish plate-fleet by twelve hours “for reasons best known to God.”
“A great gap hath been opened which is very little to the King of Spain’s liking,” was the Little Pirate’s own comment on the brilliant achievement which had ushered a new power into the world. He might also have put it another way, and said that with his well-directed shot he had plugged the source whence flowed the golden stream of Spanish wealth, for indeed it was nothing less than this. The Spanish Colossus60 suddenly found itself with empty pockets, Spanish credit was ruined at a single blow, the Bank of Seville closed its doors, and when King Philip tried to raise a loan of half a million ducats, he was flatly refused.
How hard hit he was may be seen from the fact that instead of hurling the whole strength of his laboriously-prepared Armada on the English coasts, he asked for explanations. Gloriana, with an almost splendid mendacity, disowned her Little Pirate once more and swore she had nothing whatever to do with him. But this Drake expected, and went on with his own plans, having no doubt honestly paid up the Queen’s full share of the plunder.
A few months more of diplomatic dodgery followed, and then came the final opening of Gloriana’s eyes. A letter stolen from the Pope’s own cabinet proved to her beyond all possibility of doubt that the Great Armada was intended for the invasion of England and nothing else. Then she called her Little Pirate to her again and took counsel with him, with the result that the next time he hoisted his flag he did so on board the great Merchant Royal at the head of twenty-three sail including five battleships, two first-class cruisers, seven second-class, and about a dozen gunboats. Nor did he go this time as the Queen’s licensed pirate but as her Admiral of the Fleet, duly commissioned in her name to burn, sink, and destroy, and to use61 all means whatever to prevent the various divisions of the Armada coming together.
Even now, at the last minute of the eleventh hour, treachery almost did its work, for there was an Opposition and Peace-at-any-price Party in those days, as there has been in later ones. Drake seems to have known what was coming, for, when the Queen’s messenger dashed into Plymouth bearing the fatal orders, he had gone.
Happily there was no telegraph in those days. If there had been it would probably have proved the ruin of England and the triumph of Spain. As it was the next news that came was from Drake himself, telling, laconically as usual, how he had “singed the King of Spain’s beard in Cadiz.” When the facts came out, the said singeing was seen to amount to the destruction by burning and sinking of 12,000 tons of shipping, including some of the finest ships of war that floated. The whole English fleet had, as had now become the custom on such occasions, been revictualled at Spanish expense, and four large ships full of provisions were captured intact.
From Cadiz the triumphant Admiral raged up and down the terror-stricken coast, storming strongholds, and burning and scuttling the store-ships of the Great Armada. He went to Lisbon, where Santa Cruz, said to be the greatest sea-captain in Europe, lay, and, after vainly challenging him to come out and fight, politely offered to convoy him62 and his fleet to England “if by chance his course should lie that way.” The fact was that the Colossus was paralysed. Drake had struck out straight at its heart, and so doing had proved two principles of no small moment to the making of the British Empire: first, the true frontiers of a maritime nation are its enemies’ coasts; second, the only effective method of defence for such a nation is attack.
It was on his way home from this expedition, storm-shattered and disgusted at missing the Plate-Fleet, which had once more slipped through his fingers, that Gloriana’s Little Pirate took the richest prize of his life. This was the San Felipe. She was the King of Spain’s own treasure-ship, and she came, not from the West, but from the East. Though he knew it not, Drake had that day done a very great thing for England and the making of her Empire, for not only did the San Felipe carry treasure and rich stuffs to the value of something like a million and a quarter of our money, but she had on board dispatches, letters, and account-books which let the English merchants into all the secrets of Spain’s East Indian trade, and led to the almost instant formation of the Honourable East India Company, itself an Empire-Maker of no small account.
The epic of the Elizabethan era was now beginning to hurry towards its climax. But Gloriana was still surrounded by traitors, and even now temporising was the order of the day. She was cast63 down by remorse for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and she even reprimanded her Little Pirate for doing her too good service, and told Philip that he was in disgrace for exceeding instructions.
It was in vain that Drake and the other friends of England prayed and entreated and stormed and swore. In vain they pointed across the Narrow Seas to Parma in the Netherlands at the head of 30,000 of the finest troops in Europe, and to the ports of Spain and Portugal, once more swarming with shipping and echoing with the noise of warlike preparations. For a time the liars and traitors had things their own way again. Drake and Howard implored her to let them get their ships fitted and go and fight the Armada in its own ports. No, she would do nothing. And she did nothing till at last arrived that fatal evening on which—
“There came a gallant merchant-ship full sail to Plymouth Bay.”
Golden weeks and priceless opportunities had been wasted by the fatal lethargy of the Court. Drake and Howard, instead of falling, as they longed to do, on the wind-bound Armada in Vigo Bay, and doing with it as Drake had done at Cadiz, were kept on the defensive, straining like bloodhounds at the leash, knowing that every moment that the good wind lasted was heavily fraught with fate for England and perhaps the world.
At length the wind went round, and Drake, marvelling64 in angry wonder “how God could have sent a south-west wind just then,” found himself baffled and beaten back, while Medina-Sidonia with his released Armada sailed triumphantly for the Channel. There was only one thing now to do if England was to be saved. Valour and heroism, self-devotion and skill, must repair the damage that treason, lying, and weakness of head or heart had done. By this time the Armada should have been a crushed and tangled mass of burning wreckage, and so it would have been if Drake had had his way, and now here it was stronger than ever, its ships covering the hitherto Inviolate Sea; and there was Parma, with his transports still undestroyed, only waiting to join hands with Sidonia to once for all strangle the Heretic in their pitiless grip.
In the mighty and memorable fight that followed, our Little Pirate commanded on his own ship, the immortal Revenge. With almost incredible labour and skill the English fleet was somehow worked and warped out to the westward until, when that famous Sunday morning dawned, the sun looked, as has been truly said, upon a sight glorious for England. There was the great Armada, crescent-shaped, rolling up the Channel, and there, right in the wind’s eye and on its rear, were two English squadrons, and a third was gallantly advancing out of Plymouth.
This one, with true Elizabethan insolence, steered65 right across the front of the huge fleet, firing into such of the Dons as came within range. Then it went about, and joined the other English ships to windward.
Every one has read of the long, running, seven-day fight that followed; every one knows how the little, light-heeled English ships ran in and out among the great unwieldy galleons, tempting them out of their formation, and, having isolated one, fell on her like a pack of dogs on a wolf; and how, in spite of all that the English Admiral and his captains could do, the ever-changing wind and the ever-succeeding calms so helped the Spaniards, that in the end they reached the Straits of Dover but little worse off than they started.
If Drake could have had his way, these tactics would have been pushed farther, and every mile of the way would have been disputed; but Lord Howard, though a brave man, lacked the all-daring assurance of the conqueror of Santo Domingo and Cartagena. He would not fight until he had joined with Seymour and Wynter in the Straits. So it came about that on the seventh day—that is to say, Saturday afternoon—the Great Armada, the poorer only by some dozen craft that had been captured or battered into wreck and ruin, was sailing gloriously past Calais with the French and English land well in sight, and Dunkirk, the trysting-place with Parma, only eighteen miles away.
England has never passed through such anxious 66hours as she did that afternoon and night. It seemed as though, after all, her new-found sea-strength had failed her, and that, despite all the brilliant exploits of Gloriana’s Little Pirate in the West, he was powerless to protect her nearer home. What would have happened in the ordinary course of events no one now knows, for the Spaniards, stricken by some inexplicable madness, suddenly altered the whole course of events by what can only be called a freak of idiocy.
Medina-Sidonia, after having accomplished the most brilliant feat of seamanship that his age had seen, gave orders for the Armada to anchor! A few hours more and its work would have been done, with what results to England one scarcely cares to picture. So unexpected was this piece of priceless good fortune by the English captains that they had to drop their own anchors within range of the Spanish guns to save entangling themselves with the big Spanish ships.
All Sunday the two fleets lay within sight of each other; anxious councils of war were held on both sides, and so night fell without a shot being fired or anything done. By midnight the tide was swirling strong and swift from the English to the Spanish ships, and Drake was busy preparing his crowning piece of devilry for the edification of the Dons.
At about one o’clock on that calm, moonless67 morning, patches of flickering, leaping flame began to show among the twinkling English lights, and these grew swiftly higher and broader, and a few minutes later the terrified Dons saw eight fire-ships crowned mast-high with leaping flames, come reeling and roaring into their midst.
Then there was cutting of cables and slipping of moorings, and labouring with frantic haste to get the ships under sail. Galleon crashed into galleasse, and galleasse into cruiser in the wild haste and fatal confusion.
Marvellous to say, not a single Spanish ship took fire, but behind the fire-craft there was something more terrible and deadly still—El Draque and his guns. At the supreme moment Lord Howard weakly and foolishly turned aside to capture or sink a disabled galleasse. If the rest of the fleet had followed him there might have been no Battle of Gravelines, and the Trafalgar of the Sixteenth Century might never have been fought. But, as has been well said, it was the hour for which Francis Drake had been born. He set the Revenge on the wind, and, followed by the rest of the squadron, bore down in grim and ominous silence on the huddled, entangled Dons. Within pistol range of the great San Martin the Revenge burst into sudden thunder and flame, and drove on enwreathed in smoke. In her wake ship after ship came on in perfect order, each raining her iron storm into the rent and splintering sides of the Dons as they passed.
Then from Dover way came the roar of guns 68telling that Wynter and Seymour had got to work, and so for three hours they went at it, the Little Pirate ever first, and revelling in the work that he loved to do for his dear England. He had forgotten all his mistress’s slights and fickleness, all the harm that Court traitors had done him, all his suffering and privation on the windless seas and burning lands of the West. It was the hour of England’s fate and his own, and there he was in the thick of it, and he was happy.
After three hours Howard and his laggards came up, and the fight roared on flank and front and rear. Although the school-books say but little about it, there had never been such a sea-fight in the world before, nor one on whose end such great issues hung. The Spaniards, caught between El Draque and the sands of Dunkirk—which to them was something worse than being between the devil and the deep sea—fought with all their ancient valour, but ship after ship, as the battle roared on through the day, went down riddled with shot or took fire and blew up, till at length out of the forty battleships and cruisers which Sidonia had somehow got together to protect his rear, only sixteen were left, and they were little better than shot-shattered, fire-blackened hulks.
The powder on both sides was nearly done, but so too was the work of Drake and his ships. Fathom by fathom the north-west wind was driving69 the Dons on to the mud-banks of the Netherland shore, and the Little Pirate in his well-named Revenge was hanging on their weather quarter watching—and I doubt not praying—for the moment of their final ruin.
And yet he was not to see it, for when there was but five fathoms of water between the Spanish keels and the Dutch mud the north-wester dropped to a calm, a fresh south-wester sprang up in its place, and for the fourth time in seven days the Armada was saved from utter destruction by those fickle winds to which a pious sentiment has ascribed its ruin.
Down went the Spanish helms, and round came the dripping, labouring, Spanish prows, and ere long all that was left of King Philip’s fleet was staggering away to the northward to begin that awful voyage round the north of Scotland and past the wild Irish coast from which so few were to return. Meanwhile the Little Pirate hung on to the heels of the flying Armada for two days and nights, until at length a tempest came rolling up over the Dogger Bank, and he ran in for safety under the Scottish shore, cheerfully leaving the Dons to the winds of heaven, and the rocks that were waiting to finish what his own guns had begun.
With the victory of Gravelines, Drake’s work as an Empire-maker comes to an end. The expedition to Portugal, for all its booty, was a failure and70 did nothing to enhance his fame. If his advice had been taken Spain might have been crushed and humbled for ever, but such was the hopeless weakness and vacillation at Court that, even after the Armada had shown her the true designs of Philip, Gloriana got into negotiations with him again. Over and over again her Little Pirate besought her to give him the means of striking the blow that should crush Spain and make England undisputed mistress of the seas, but it was not to be, and so at length, sick and sore at heart, he sailed away again to his beloved West, never to return.
There is nothing in this last expedition of his that is noteworthy save its continued misfortunes. It seemed as though when the little Revenge went down, as she did in the midst of the fifty-three Spanish ships which she had fought “for a day and a night,” she had taken her old commander’s good luck down with her. At last on the deadly island of Escudo de Veragua the two guardian demons of El Dorado, fever and dysentry, struck him down with many another of his men. He lived to get away, but not for long, and six days afterwards, when his fleet came to anchor off Puerto Bello, the heroic Little Pirate breathed his last and his gallant soul went to its account, passing away from earth on the very spot that had been the scene of his first sea-fight and his first victory.
“HEALER AND SETTLER”
“HE is perhaps the only example which history affords of one man having governed the most opposite events and proved sufficient for the most various destinies.”
No man’s character was ever so completely and so tersely summed up as the great Oliver’s is here in these few words of a critic belonging to another race and nation, and, as regards his varied destinies, it may be added that no man ever was raised up and set to work by the Controller of human destinies as opportunely as he was.
History shows no parallel to it, not even in the oft-quoted story of Cincinnatus, and certainly in all the long array of our rulers there is none other whose story is so crammed with wonders or who crowded so many notable and pregnant acts into the busy days of a few years as this gentleman-farmer of Huntingdonshire, who at forty-three left his farming and vestry-meetings and the like and girded on his sword to go and fight the good fight of freedom, and who at fifty-two laid it aside to74 prove himself as good a statesman and ruler as he had been soldier and general.
His claim to a foremost place among the Makers of Britain is a twofold one, for he was a restorer, a reinvigorator, as it were, of this realm, as well as a very considerable widener of it. When the futile and inglorious reign of “the most learned fool in Christendom” came to an end, all the brilliant promise of the Elizabethan age had been wofully obscured, and the glories of the great Queen and her pirates looked like those of a summer sun setting behind a bank of fog.
As Macaulay justly put the case: “On the day of the accession of James I. England descended from the rank which she had hitherto held and began to be regarded as a Power hardly of the second order…. He began his administration by putting an end to the war which had raged many years between England and Spain, and from that time he shunned hostilities with a caution which was proof against the insults of his neighbours and the clamour of his subjects.”
How different this from the gallant days of Gloriana and her knights! And yet this poor crowned and sceptred ninny aspired to be a despot even as his son after him did. It is true that these realms were beginning to need a despot and that badly, but not such a one as could ever have been born of that hopeless House of Stuart. A despot who is a strong man may be good or evil as he uses75 his opportunities and his powers, but the whole stage of history has not yet held a despot who was also a weak man who did not prove himself at once a curse to his country and the world.
The story of the feeble violence and silly cunning with which Charles the First sought to enforce that ridiculous theory of his about the Divine Right of Kings has been too often and too variously told for us to need to trouble with it here. There is a Divine Right of Kings, as the great Oliver was very soon to show with most unmistakable and most unanswerable logic, but the kind of king who really has Divine rights does not usually have them because he is the son of his father, and especially of such a father as James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland.
Our present concern is with the fact that this Empire of ours, in a most critical state of its process of making which came very near to one of unmaking, was saved and transformed from weakness to strength by the substitution of the real despotism of the Lord Protector from the sham or histrionic despotism of Charles the First.
The fact was that the body-corporate of this infant empire was assailed by the worst of all national disorders, internal disintegration. England, the very heart and centre of it, was about to be rent in twain by the frenzied and pitiless talons of civil war, and that is a war in which the right side—which, of course, is always the best side—must76 not only win, but utterly crush and pulverise the other unless wreck and chaos irretrievable are to follow.
This was the central idea that the Great Oliver grasped just as Edward of the Long Legs had grasped his brilliantly premature idea of the United Kingdom. He was the latest of that series of iron-handed men that had begun with William the Norman. The watchword of his whole public life was “healing and settling.” The wounds of his country had to be healed and its disorders settled, no matter by what means, so long as it was done, and in this deep-rooted conviction we see at a glance his kinship with the other Empire-makers who had gone before him.
Of his early life there is little to be said, though it is noteworthy that he was once fined £10 for neglecting a summons to appear at the King’s coronation and receive the honour of knighthood. He little thought then that he would one day find it his duty to refuse the crown and sceptre of England.
Every one who has read even the school-books knows that when the war actually began all the apparent advantages were on the side of the Royalists. Though the first battles afforded the extraordinary spectacle of mere conflicts of amateur soldiers, few of whom had ever seen a real fight before, the Cavaliers, trained to horsemanship and the use of arms, and versed in all manly sports,77 made far finer fighting material than the raw levies of the Parliament. Had this difference continued victory must have remained, as it began, with the Royalists, with results to the nation that could hardly have failed to be of the very worst sort. This is what Cromwell himself says on this all-important subject:
“At my first going out into this engagement I saw our men were beaten at every hand. Your troops, said I, are most of them old, decayed serving-men, and tapsters and such kind of fellows, and, said I, their troops are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons and persons of quality. Do you think that the spirits of such base, mean fellows will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have honour and courage and resolution in them? You must get men of spirit and, take it not ill what I say—I know you will not—of a spirit that is likely to go on as far as gentlemen will go, or else you will be beaten still.”
These wise words, which, by the way, were said to no less a man than John Hampden himself, form a key to all the battles of the Civil War. No sooner did Oliver come on to the field as a plain captain of yeomanry horse than his keen, if untaught, eye instantly recognised the one great virtue and strength of the Royalist party. They had an Idea, a devotion, a principle for the sake of which men were ready to sell their lands, melt their plate, beggar their families, and lose their own lives, and men so78 equipped could only be successfully met and withstood by men who, as he himself put it in that quaintly eloquent phraseology of his, “made some conscience of what they did,” and thereupon he set himself to find such men and make soldiers of them.
How well he succeeded the following extract from a contemporary news-letter written some ten months after the outbreak of war will sufficiently tell:
“As for Colonel Cromwell”—promotion, it will be seen, was somewhat rapid in those stormy days—“he hath two thousand brave men, well disciplined. No man swears but he pays his twelve pence. If he be drunk he is set in the stocks, or worse. If one calls the other Roundhead he is cashiered; insomuch that the countries where they come leap for joy of them and come in and join with them. How happy it were if all the forces were thus disciplined!”
On the field of Marston Moor, Prince Rupert nicknamed Cromwell “Old Ironsides,” and from that day to this the most invincible troops that ever marched to battle have been named after him. Years afterwards, when his work and theirs was done, their leader was able to say of them: “From that day forward they were never beaten and wherever they were engaged against the enemy they beat continually.”
This is literally true. Whether in skirmish or79 battle, at home or abroad, whether pitted against the disorderly chivalry of the Loyalists or the rigid discipline of the finest Continental troops; whether storming a breach or bearing the brunt of a half-lost battle, these psalm-singing, hard-hitting Crusaders of the new Church Militant not only were never beaten, but never once failed to hurl the enemy back in confusion and disaster.
In them, in short, that stubborn English valour which has since pushed its way all over the world was first disciplined. They formed the first model ever seen of an English regiment, a combination of many units of strength and valour moving and fighting as one, and the fact that “Old Ironsides” was the first man thus to add discipline to valour is in itself no small portion of his title to fame as an Empire-Maker.
The first occasion on which these Ironsides made their mark in battle is one of even greater importance than the battle itself, for it marks the entrance on to the stage of history of the first regularly disciplined English regiment, the parent of those who, on a thousand fields since then, have proved themselves worthy of their grim but splendid ancestors. It was the first time, too, that they had a chance to try conclusions with Rupert and his Cavaliers, hitherto unconquered and irresistible.
It was July 2, 1644, on a dull and storm-threatening afternoon, that Cavalier and Roundhead first met in a really serious fashion. Compared80 with what was now to be done Edgehill and all that had come after it had been trifles, for so far the conflicts had been those of amateurs at the art of war, each engaged, as it were, in licking the other into shape, and the conclusion that they now had to try was which of them had got into the best shape. There were about four-and-twenty thousand each of them as they stood through the anxious hours of that summer afternoon on either side of a ditch running across Marston Moor, each watching for a chance to attack, but feeling, no doubt, that the doings of the next few hours would decide an issue which needed a certain amount of thinking over.
The two armies were drawn up upon what is now the regulation pattern, right and left wings and centre. Cromwell with his Ironsides on the left of the Parliamentary army faced Rupert on the right of the Royalists, and he was supported by the infantry of what was then known as the Eastern Association. The King’s centre was held by Newcastle, and against it was the Parliamentary centre reinforced by nine thousand Scots infantry. The Royal left wing was composed of Goring’s cavalry regiments and was faced by the Parliamentary right wing under the two Fairfaxes.
During the afternoon there was an exchange of cannon shots which doesn’t seem to have done very much harm on either side. Prince Rupert, with his usual impetuosity, had been for some hours81 wanting to get over the ditch and try conclusions with the Ironsides, who were posted on a little eminence amidst standing corn, and who had wiled away the anxious hours of waiting with mutual exhortations and psalm singing, not a little to the amusement of Rupert and his gallant scapegraces, who were yet to learn that these close-cropped, grim-visaged Puritans could ride and fight a great deal better than they could sing.
The King’s older generals, no doubt contemplating Continental etiquette, had decided that it was too late to fight that evening and had withdrawn to their quarters. Cromwell, laughing at etiquette as he did at everything else that was not of practical utility, saw his chance, jumped the ditch, and went hot-footed and hot-handed into Rupert’s ranks. A bullet scored his neck, and hearing some one cry out that he was wounded he shouted: “All’s well. A miss is as good as a mile!” and charged on. Whether or not he was the first to use this now favourite expression I am not able to say, but at least it was characteristic.
The charge was met in a fashion worthy of Rupert and the gallant gentlemen who followed him, and we learn that after the first onset the Ironsides reeled back, but it was only for a moment. Some Scots cavalry came up behind them, they surged forward again, discipline and valour did their work, and a few minutes afterwards Prince Rupert and his merry men had met more than their match, and,82 ere long, to use his own words, Colonel Cromwell “had scattered them before him like a little dust.” The remnants of them were chased and cut down with a ruthless severity which was then part of the Puritan character, almost to the gates of York, eight miles away.
But Cromwell, profiting by the mistakes which Rupert himself had made in his headlong charges, kept his men well in hand, and when once the Royalist right wing was broken, led them round to see how the battle had gone on the Parliamentary right and centre.
If he had not done so Marston Moor might have replaced Charles Stuart on the throne of England. Goring had broken up Fairfax’s cavalry as completely as Oliver had broken up Rupert’s. He had flung them back upon their infantry supports, breaking these in turn, after which he flung himself with the seemingly triumphant Royalists of the centre on the Scots Infantry, taking them in flank and almost routing them, too. Only three regiments of them out of nine held their ground, the rest had broken and fled, and the Earl of Leven, their leader, was already making the best of his way towards Leeds.
The battle at this moment presented one of the strangest spectacles in the history of warfare. On the one side Prince Rupert with his broken brigades was flying towards the North, on the other Leven and Manchester and Fairfax, believing the day hopelessly lost, were making equal haste towards83 the South. Such was the juncture at which the Man of Destiny arrived. He was in command of the only really disciplined force on the field.
HE SWOOPED WITH HIS CAVALRY ROUND THE REAR OF THE KING’S ARMY.
Mr. Frederic Harrison, in his excellent monograph on Cromwell, thus graphically describes what happened: “In an hour the genius of Cromwell had changed disaster into victory. Launching the Scotch troopers of his own wing against Newcastle’s Whitecoats, and the infantry of the Eastern Association to succour the remnants of the Scots in the centre, he swooped with the bulk of his own cavalry round the rear of the King’s army, and fell upon Goring’s victorious troopers on the opposite side of the field. Taking them in the rear, all disordered as they were in the chase and the plunder, he utterly crushed and dispersed them. Having thus with his own squadron annihilated the cavalry of the enemy’s both wings, he closed round upon the Royalist centre, and there the Whitecoats and the remnants of the King’s infantry were cut to pieces almost to a man.”
Such was Marston Moor, and how completely it was the work of the one man of destiny may be seen in the fact that, complete and crushing as the victory was, its advantages were almost entirely negatived by the incapacity and imbecility of the Parliamentary leaders in the West and South. Every one of any consequence wanted to be supreme leader; no one had either definite plans or the capacity to carry them through; and when84 at last there was a prospect of bringing matters to an issue on the field of Newberry, the Royalist forces, though half-beaten, were allowed to get away with all their guns, stores, and ammunition in spite of the fact that Manchester was in command of a very superior force.
This was as good as a defeat for the forces of the Parliament, for it was the cause of dividing their councils. Manchester and those who sided with him had apparently begun to fear the terrible earnestness of the Captain of the Ironsides, and were for making peace with the King and patching matters up somehow. But Cromwell, with deeper insight, saw that the quarrel had now gone too far and that it could not stop till one side or the other had had a thorough and decisive beating, and that side he was fully determined should be the King’s.
The dispute ended in the fall of Manchester and the triumph of Cromwell. Then came the reorganisation of the Parliamentary forces under what was at this time the New Model, and this New Model, be it noted, was the first standing army of professional soldiers that the United Kingdom had ever seen. Its nominal Commander-in-Chief was Sir Thomas Fairfax, but its master spirit and guiding genius was Oliver Cromwell.
But meanwhile the tide of Royalism had been on the rise again, sweeping up from the West and South. The armies faced each other on the borders85 of Leicestershire, but Cromwell was not there. Fairfax, no doubt knowing his own weakness, entreated that he might come and command the horse. He came, and then, as Clarendon pathetically remarks, “the evil genius of the Kingdom in a moment shifted the whole scene,” and it is related that when, after rumours had been for some days flying through both armies as to his arrival, “Old Ironsides” at last came upon the field of action, all the cavalry of the Parliament raised a great shout of joy.
The battle that he came to fight was Naseby, and, saving for the superior discipline displayed on both sides, almost exactly the same things happened as at Marston Moor. Cromwell this time commanded on the right wing, but Rupert was placed at the Royalist’s right, and was therefore opposed, not to Cromwell, but to Ireton, his son-in-law and second self. Once more the left wing of the Parliament was broken and scattered by the furious charge of the gallant Cavaliers, once more the centre under Fairfax was “sore overpressed” and thrown into confusion, and once more Cromwell and his Ironsides, having ridden down everything that opposed them, swung round behind the rear of the victorious Royalists, swooped in a hurricane of irresistible valour and determination on their flanks and rear, turned defeat into victory, and snatched triumph out of disaster.
It is true that even then there seemed so great86 a chance of the Royalists retrieving the day that Charles, who had put himself at the head of the flower of his cavalry, had thought himself warranted in crying: “One charge more, gentlemen, and the days is ours!” But while he was thinking about this, Cromwell, Fairfax, and Ireton had, by the exercise of almost superhuman energy, reformed the whole of their army, horse, foot, and artillery, into complete battle-array on a new front, and against this the fiery valour of the Cavaliers dashed itself in vain.
Once more valour with generalship had conquered valour without it. The defeat was utter and crushing. For fourteen long miles the pursuit went on and only stayed when the walls of Leicester were in sight. The King’s army was utterly destroyed and he himself never again appeared at the head of a force in the field.
During the twelve months that followed we see the erstwhile Farmer of Huntingdon in a new light as the besieger and reducer of strong places. His methods were logical, effective and, we may fairly add, pitiless. Those days were not these any more than William the Norman’s or Edward Longlegs’ were Cromwell’s, and moreover we must remember that he had set himself with all the strength of his mighty nature to stamping the plague of civil war out of the Three Kingdoms with such dispatch as was possible, and it had got to be done speedily, for outside were the enemies of Britain waiting to87 take advantage of the weakness that this plague might leave her with.
First he summons the stronghold to surrender, threatening all with the sword. If this is refused he selects his point of attack, batters away at it till he makes a practicable breach, then he gives another chance of surrender, this time with somewhat better terms, but this is the last grace. Refusal now means wave after wave of his irresistible iron and leather-clad soldiery pouring into the breach, till at last all opposition is beaten down and then massacre—for which, it may be added, he and those with him are never at a loss to find a biblical precedent.
The victories that he won by this method were simply amazing. In about sixteen months he was engaged in some sixty battles and sieges, and took fifty fortified towns and cities with over a thousand pieces of artillery, forty thousand stand of arms, and between two and three hundred colours. The end of this wonderful campaign was the Storm of Bristol. This happened on the 10th and 11th of September, 1646. As a feat of warfare it is almost incredible. The second city in the kingdom, defended by properly constructed earthworks and fortifications, and garrisoned by four thousand troops with a hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, was stormed and taken with a loss of under two hundred men!
It reads more like one of Drake’s insolently88 valiant attacks upon a Spanish treasure-city than a desperate conflict between Englishmen and Englishmen. There can only be one explanation of it, and that explanation is summed up in the two words: Oliver Cromwell. We are bound to grant that the valour was equal on both sides, but equally we are forced to admit that all the genius and generalship were on one.
Looked at from our point of view, there were terrible blemishes on these triumphs. Every advantage was pursued with the unsparing ferocity which was possible only to religious bigotry fired to a white heat. It is only reasonable to suppose that these Puritan champions of the new faith were fired with just the same furious and pitiless zeal as that which inspired the Israelites in their attack on Canaan, or the first armies of Islam in their assaults on the idolaters of the East. They slew and spared not, they hewed their enemies in pieces as Samuel hewed Agag “before the Lord,” and they honestly believed that the Lord looked down with approval on them and their bloody work.
Priceless treasures of art were destroyed, not only without remorse, but with grim exultation. To them they were abominations of the heathen, just as the Canaanite idols of silver and gold were to the armies of Israel. But however ferociously it was done, the work was done thoroughly, and by August, 1646, the fall of Ragland Castle following on the surrender of Oxford, brought down the89 curtain on the first act of the Civil War. Charles gave himself up to the Scots at Newark, and Oliver turned to fight the enemies of his own household.
The chief of these enemies, curiously enough, was that same Parliament in whose name he had won all his brilliant triumphs, and a conflict, very interesting to the student of humanity, now began between the Man of Action and one of those Talking Machines which the good Earl Simon some four centuries before had found so singularly ineffective.
There is no need to tell in detail how the struggle went. Every one knows how Cromwell preached and prayed and stormed at the self-sufficient busybodies who thought themselves a power in the land because they called themselves a parliament. Then, seeing that no other method would stop their gabble, he brought in his soldiers and turned them out to talk in the streets or wherever else they could get any one to listen to them, while he went on with his work.
It is not very many years since Thomas Carlyle, who perhaps understood Cromwell better than any other man not living in his own age, was walking over Westminster Bridge with a very distinguished British officer one night when the Mother of Parliaments was busy tearing her hair and rending her garments over some wordy futility or other, and, jerking his thumb towards the lighted windows,90 he said: “Ah, my lord, I should like to see the good day when you would go in there with a file of Grenadiers as old Noll did with his dragoons and clear that nest of cacklers out. Maybe the nation would get some of its business done then instead of only getting it talked about.”
From this there is a certain moral to be drawn by the wise. For my own part I should dearly love to know with what words old Noll himself would have answered the Sage of Chelsea.
The payment of the Scots’ arrears by the Parliament, their surrender of the king—who, by the way, was a great deal stronger in helpless captivity than he had ever been at the head of an army—and his seizure by Cromwell through the instrumentality of Cornet Joyce and his troop of horse, now led up to a very singular situation. Cromwell, the conqueror, went over to the side of Charles Stuart the captive, and if it had not been for that fatal twist in the king’s moral nature, there is no telling but that he might have been re-seated on a throne supported and surrounded by the pikes and sabres of the Ironsides.
But unhappily for him, it was not in Charles Stuart’s nature to “go straight,” and, in the end, after Cromwell had faced and quelled a mutiny among his own men on his account, he discovered that the king was playing him false, that he did not honestly wish to follow his policy of “healing and settling,” but only to regain his freedom and try the hazard of battle again.
From that moment Cromwell was his unsparing 91enemy. Now he saw in Charles “The Man of Blood” who, for the sake of a personal aspiration and for personal profit, was eager to once more set his subjects by the ears and light the flame of war from end to end of the country.
West and South and North the Loyalists were arming and rising again and the Scots were marching across the Border, so the Man of Destiny stopped talking and preaching, buckled on his sword and strode out to battle once more.
The first rising was in Wales, and that he crushed as promptly as he did pitilessly. Then he turned with a weary and war-worn army of some seven thousand men, so wasted with marching and privation and sickness that, as a record of the time tells us, “they seemed rather fit for a hospital than a battle,” to face the invading Scots in the North.
He met them at Preston. They were three to one—or rather, to be more exact, twenty-four thousand to seven thousand—well armed and found and confident of victory. Yet never did the military genius of the great Oliver shine out more brilliantly than now. What followed was not a battle; it was an onset, a chase, and a massacre which lasted three days and extended over some thirty miles of country. When it was over Cromwell wrote in one of those marvellous dispatches of his: “We have quite tired our horses in pursuit of the enemy. We have killed and disabled all their foot and left them92 only some horse. If my horse could but trot after them I would take them all.”
The next act in the swiftly-moving drama was the trial and execution of him who to this day is considered by some to have been a royal martyr, who only exchanged an earthly for a heavenly crown, and by others is looked upon as the man who deliberately made himself guilty of the worst of all blood-guiltiness, the guilt of civil war. That is a matter for each one to decide according to his own convictions, which, be it noted, some two and a half centuries of argument have not yet altered. Here we are only concerned with Cromwell’s share in it.
There can be no doubt to an unbiassed mind that at one period he honestly tried for a monarchical settlement of the difficulty. It is equally undeniable that he considered Charles’s double-dealing responsible for what he held to be the unpardonable crime of the Second Civil War and therefore as having incurred for a second time the guilt of blood. That the execution, or murder, of the king met with his entire approval cannot be doubted, since before it happened he said to Algernon Sidney: “I tell you we will cut off his head with the crown upon it.”
So, whether crime or act of justice, it was done, and Cromwell, perhaps more than any one else, was responsible for it.
The next act is the Dictatorship, and the first93 scene in it the re-conquest of Ireland, with its massacres and bitter, pitiless persecutions in revenge or punishment, as you will, for other massacres which had gone before. It is a piteous story, and one of no great credit to any one, but, to borrow the maxim of Strafford, the former tyrant of Ireland, it was “thorough.” In nine months, with about fifteen thousand men, the Dictator had stamped the Irish rebellion out and made “the curse of Cromwell” a phrase that will dwell on Hibernian lips for many a generation.
But no sooner was the Irish revolt drowned in blood and flame than Prince Charles, afterwards Charles II. of infamous memory, took the Oath to the Covenant, and the Scots rose to support him. Cromwell crossed the Border on July 22, 1650.
As it happened, the Scottish general was Leslie, the old comrade who had fought at his side at Marston Moor. For some weeks the Scots played a waiting game, and Cromwell, with his men wearied and falling sick, and with no other base than his ships on the coast, hurled texts and biblical harangues at the enemy. In fact, as Mr. Harrison cleverly puts it, “it was not so much a battle between two armies as between two rival congregations in arms.”
Leslie and his preachers fired other texts back at him and kept out of his way until the fatal 3rd of September came. By this time Cromwell had only eleven thousand men capable of bearing arms, and94 they were in no great state for fighting. Leslie had twenty-two or three thousand Scots and all the advantage of the position, but the Fates had already taken the matter into their own hands. On the afternoon of the 2nd, Cromwell saw that the wary Scot, as some say, driven by the frantic exhortation of the preachers, had forsaken his post of vantage. “The Lord hath delivered them into our hands!” he cried, and straightway began to set his battle in order.
The next morning, while it was yet moonlight, they came to blows. In an hour or so it was all over. The Scots fled in utter panic and confusion, “being made by the Lord of Hosts as stubble to our swords,” to use Oliver’s own words. When the rout was at its height the sun rose, scattering the morning mists. “Let God arise and His enemies be scattered!” he shouted exultantly through the roar of the battle, and then—how characteristic it was of the man!—he halted his army in the very moment of triumph and sang the one hundred and seventeenth psalm, beginning: “O praise the Lord all ye people, for His merciful kindness is great towards us!” Then he unleashed his bloodhounds again, and the rest was massacre.
HE HALTED HIS ARMY … AND SANG THE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEENTH PSALM.
Another year passed in miscellaneous fighting and arguing, slaughter and psalm-singing, and once more the sun of the 3rd of September, Cromwell’s Day of Fate, or, as Byron puts it:
“His day of double victory and death,”
95dawned, this time over Worcester, the scene of “the Crowning Mercy.” The same miracles of generalship were accomplished, the same tremendous victory was won at a ridiculously small expense—under two hundred men to conquer an entrenched army of fifteen thousand—and this was the end of the fighting at home.
But meanwhile there was fighting abroad, and, more than that, the fame of the great Oliver and his marvellous doings had been ringing from end to end of Europe. As Clarendon, the historian of the Royalists, candidly admits: “His greatness at home was but a shadow of the glory he had abroad.” The mastery of the seas was wrenched out of the hands of the Dutch by Blake, the sea-power of England was organised as its land-power was, and Britain rose at a bound from the degradation to which she had sunk under the first Stuart to the proud position of the first naval and military Power of the world, and the greatest ministers and monarchs in Europe, even the Pope himself, were forced to respect the prowess and cringe for the friendship of the Farmer of Huntingdon.
If, as has been aptly suggested, the great Oliver could have lived to an age which is now a normal one for statesmen, the disgraceful and ruinous interval occupied by the reigns of the second Charles and the second James might have been spared with all their infamy and national loss, and William of Orange might worthily have continued the work96 which Cromwell so well began. But the time was not yet, and so it was not to be. The great ideal of his life, a Protestant Alliance, was never realised. His last days were days of darkness and suffering, social, mental, and physical.
Once more the Day of Fate came round, and between three and four in the afternoon the watchers by his bedside heard him sigh deeply and heavily. Some say that he whispered: “My work is done!”—and then he died. This may be fact or fancy, but, be that as it may, no man had a better right to pass out of the mystery of the things that are into the mystery of the things that are to be with such words on his lips than Oliver Cromwell, General, Statesman, and King in everything but the empty name.
WILLIAM OF ORANGE,
OVERCOMER OF DIFFICULTIES
WILLIAM OF ORANGE
IT is perhaps one of the most curious facts of our history that the Empire-Maker who, as it were, finally completed the work begun by his namesake William the Norman, should, like him, have been a foreigner, should have sprung from similar ancestry, and should have been his exact reverse in every mental and physical quality save one—an inflexible determination to do the work which he was appointed to do in spite of every conceivable kind of obstacle.
It is noteworthy also that this man should have come from those same Low Countries from whose shores our Saxon ancestors had first come on their plundering forays to do their share of the work of making the English people. The ancestry of the great-grandson of William the Silent stretched far back, probably even into those remote and turbulent times, and it is within the limits of possibility that some stalwart ancestor of the ancient House of Nassau may himself have had something to do in100 the early making of that Realm, over which, a thousand years later, his descendant was to rule during one of the most critical and perilous periods of its existence.
Be that, however, as it may, the central fact which stands out in the story of William III. is this: Whatever his country or ancestry, he was, so far as we have any means of judging, the one man in the world just then who could have accomplished the difficult and, as it must often have seemed even to him, almost impossible task which had to be performed if the work of the other Empire-Makers who had gone before him was not to be sadly marred, if not altogether undone.
William of Orange may perhaps be most truthfully described as an overcomer of difficulties. Probably no other man ever had so many difficulties to conquer as he had, and his triumph over them is one of the finest examples of irresistible will-power and purely intellectual force that all history has to show. Mentally he was a giant, and as such he acquitted himself in what was undoubtedly a battle of giants fighting for the spoils of Europe. Physically he was a miserable weakling, shattered by disease, seldom free from bodily pain, and foredoomed from his youth by an exhausting and incurable malady.
Yet even his sports and pastimes were those, not only of a healthy, but even of a robust constitution. His pale, sickly, small-pox-pitted face never flushed101 save under the stimulus of battle or the chase. He fought his fight with Fate and won it by sheer intellectual strength, yet none of the pleasures of intellect were his. He knew nothing of science, little of literature, and less of art.
Apparently fitted by Nature only for the pursuits of the study, he found his rare moments of real happiness when riding down a stag or a boar in the forests of Windsor or the woods of Flanders, or, sword in hand, leading his men wherever the battle was hottest or the danger the greatest. A creature of contradictions, in short, determined to make himself that which Nature had seemingly not made him, and to do that which he appeared least fitted to do.
No one possessing an intelligent grasp of the deplorable state of affairs which obtained in England, and the threatening aspect of matters on the Continent during the last decade but one of the seventeenth century, would have guessed for a moment that this “asthmatic skeleton,” as Macaulay somewhat roughly describes his hero, was the man to turn England’s weakness into strength, and even in defeat to grapple successfully with the colossal Power which was threatening the liberties of Europe.
In England the weakness and baseness of the two last Stuart kings had more than undone the work of the great Oliver. He had, as has been shown, made England one of the first Powers in the102 world, strong at home and respected and even courted abroad. Charles II. had sold his country, or at any rate his own independence and what should have been his royal honour, to France. He had, in fact, exhibited to the world the disgraceful spectacle of an English king who was the pensioner of a foreign monarch.
The for-ever infamous Treaty of Dover had brought the prestige of England to its lowest ebb. For the first time in nearly seven hundred years the Isle Inviolate had been seriously threatened with invasion, and London, for the first time since it had been a city, had heard the sound of hostile guns. Now this of itself, taking the whole history of these islands into consideration, is a fact of absolutely unparalleled infamy, and yet if such infamy could have been equalled, the brother and successor of Charles II. would have done so. Indeed, from one point of view it may be said that he excelled it.
The guns of William’s countrymen were heard in the Thames because Charles II., having his brother James for Lord High Admiral, had so scandalously wasted the funds which should have been devoted to the maintenance of the Navy that no adequate defence was really possible; but it was left for James II., the last and most contemptible, if not in all respects the worst king of the royal and miserable House of Stuart, to be the only British monarch who ever brought a foreign army on to103 British soil for the purpose of coercing by force the will of the British people. More than this, too, it must be remembered that these foreign troops were Frenchmen supported by renegade English, Irish, or Scotsmen who had deliberately deserted their own country to serve under the standard of a man who was to the seventeenth century what Phillip II. of Spain had been to the sixteenth.
So low, then, had Britain sunk in the scale of nations when William of Orange made his entry upon the stage of British history. The fact which made his entry possible is hardly of the sort that would commend itself to people of a romantic turn of mind, although few romances have been really more romantic than his own life-story.
He could never have become King of England, nor is it likely that he could even have been asked to constitute himself the protector of English liberties, had it not been for the fact that he was married to the daughter of James II., and of this marriage Lord Macaulay truly says: “His choice had been determined chiefly by political considerations, nor did it seem likely that any strong affection would grow up between a handsome girl of sixteen, well-disposed, indeed, and naturally intelligent, but ignorant and simple, and a bridegroom who, though he had not completed his twenty-eighth year, was in constitution older than her father; whose manner was chilling, and whose head was constantly occupied by public business or by field sports.”
His marriage was, in short, “a marriage of convenience,” 104and yet, in defiance of all the rules that are supposed to govern the most intimate of all human relationships, it was one of the best and, in the end, most devoted unions that history has to record. It is hardly possible to doubt that William of Orange married Mary Stuart because he saw with that keenly penetrating foresight of his that such a union would strengthen him in his life-long combat with the arch-enemy of his faith, his family, and his nation; and this enemy was that same Louis of France who had made Charles II. his pensioner, and was soon to make James II. his dependent.
To quote Lord Macaulay again: “He saved England, it is true, but he never loved her, and he never obtained her love…. Whatever patriotic feeling he had was for Holland … yet even his affection for the land of his birth was subordinate to another feeling which early became supreme in his soul, which mixed itself with all his passions and compelled him to marvellous enterprises, which supported him when sinking under mortification, pain, sickness, and sorrow … and continued to animate him even while the prayer for the departing was read at his bedside.”
It was this hatred of France and her king which nerved him to do for the liberties of Europe and Great Britain what Francis Drake had done for England against Philip of Spain, and in the doing105 of this he won the conspicuous glory of forcing the paymaster of the two English sovereigns whom he succeeded, to make peace with him on equal terms; and this, too, although he lost more battles than he won, and had to surrender more strong cities than he took.
It is comparatively easy for a conqueror to take triumph out of victory, but it is a higher quality which patiently endures defeat and confronts disaster, and by sheer genius wins triumph in the end. This is what William of Orange did, and it is from this fact that he derives his title to be ranked among the Makers of that Empire to whose throne he came as an alien, and whose honour he restored and upheld, as one might say, in spite of herself.
So far as England is concerned, the male line of Stuart came in with a fool and went out with a coward. One does not even care to imagine what would have happened if James II. had remained on the throne; or if William of Orange, with his hereditary and deep-rooted hatred of Louis XIV. and his policy, had not come to take his most miserably-vacated place in the nick of time.
The sentimentality which makes such a fuss about loyalty to persons as distinguished from loyalty to country, and the lawyer-quibbles which occupied men’s minds in the dispute as to whether James II. was King de facto or de jure, or both, of the country from which he had run away like an absconding106 debtor, may be dismissed, just as Harold the Saxon’s claims had been some six hundred years before. It is merely a question of the Fit and the Unfit, and James was Unfit.
James Stuart deserted his post as ruler of these realms because he found himself assailed by difficulties which the most ordinary ability ought to have overcome. William assumed the same position in the face of difficulties which only the highest qualities of kingcraft and statesmanship could have enabled him to successfully grapple with. In a word, James possessed no ideal that qualified him to be a king, much less an Empire-Maker. William did possess such an ideal, and that is the only reason why he became King of England, vice James Stuart, absconded.
Next, perhaps, to Henry VII., William was the most business-like sovereign who has occupied the British throne. With him all men and things, all beliefs and sentiments, were subordinated to the achievement of the one great end—the curbing of the power of France, and consequently the furtherance of political and theological liberty in Europe. He was, in fact, only incidentally an Empire-Maker, although without him and without the broad and firm basis of popular liberty and national strength which he laid down, as it were, in the doing of his greater work, the building up of the Imperial fabric would undoubtedly have been long delayed and seriously impeded.
He got himself made King of Great Britain 107and Ireland, not because he wanted to occupy the throne, but because from that eminence he would be able to look the Grand Monarch more equally in the face.
We get a luminous insight into the character of the man in his reply to the Convention or conference of the two Houses of Parliament which had proposed that his wife as actual and lawful heir to the throne which her father had forsaken, should occupy it as queen, and that he should reign by her authority as a sort of Royal Executive.
“My lords and gentlemen,” he said, “no man can esteem a woman more than I do the Princess, but I am so made that I cannot think of holding anything by apron-strings, nor can I think it reasonable to have any share in the government unless it be put in my own person, and that for the term of my life. If you think fit to settle it otherwise I will not oppose you, but will go back to Holland and meddle no more in your affairs.”
That was the kind of man William of Orange was. He had come to be a king, and a king he would be or nothing. And so king he was, and it was not very long before he was to show how well his self-confidence was justified. He had scarcely seated himself on the throne before the Parliament, recognising the fact that his work was something other than merely filling James’s place, deliberately suggested that he should resume as King of England108 the hostilities which he had begun against Louis as Stadtholder of the Netherlands, and he on his part showed how ready he was to take up the task by exclaiming, in one of his rare bursts of exultation, after reading the address:
“This is the first day of my reign!”
This address, however, welcome as it was, was somewhat belated. For more than a month before it was presented, Louis, under the pretence of helping the runaway, whom for his own purposes he affected to believe still lawful King of England, had committed the gravest of all acts of war, and James had crowned the disgrace of his flight by the infamy of heading an invasion of British territory by foreign mercenaries. On the 12th of March, 1689, he landed at Kinsale as enemy and invader of his own country, convoyed by fifteen French men-of-war, and supported by 2,500 French troops.
The story of this Irish war needs no re-telling here, save in so far as it brings out the contrast between William and James as the Fit and the Unfit for the doing of that work which had just then got to be done if England was not to sink back to the degrading position of a French dependency, and if the way of future progress and Imperial expansion was to be left open. William no sooner saw that the scene of the fight for constitutional liberty and religious freedom had shifted for the time being from the Low Countries to Ireland109 than he sent Marshal Schomberg, who was then one of the most skilful soldiers in Europe, with an army of sixteen thousand men to the scene of action.
Meanwhile the heroically stubborn resistance which has won immortal fame for the men of Londonderry had proved, not only to James and his foreign mercenaries, but to Louis himself and all Europe, that the struggle which was just then renewed was no mere war of dynasties, and that something very much greater than the mere question as to who should be king of England had got to be decided before the trouble was over.
James in Ireland and Louis in France stood for the already discredited and exploded doctrine of the divine right of kings to rule as they pleased because they were the sons of their fathers; for the dark tyranny of Rome, now almost equally discredited; and for the domination of Europe by the French autocracy. In Holland and England and Germany William and his allies stood for the very reverse of all this, so that it was not only the destinies of the United Kingdom, but those of the greater part of the civilised world that had to be decided, and it was by procuring through mingled victory and defeat, confronted by powerful enemies abroad and by conspiracy and threatened assassination at home, that the worthy descendant of William the Silent proved his real right divine as king of these realms and champion of those principles of which the110 British Empire of to-day is the concrete expression.
It was really on the shores of an insignificant Irish stream that William fought and won the battle of European liberty. But before he did this he had another battle to fight, as it were, in front of his newly-given throne.
His reign, unhappily, saw the commencement of that system of government which an intelligent Chinese Minister to the Court of St. James’ once described as “the election of one party to do the business of the nation, and of another to stop them doing it.” In other words, it was William’s fate, among all his other difficulties, to have to contend with the bitter and usually dishonest strife of Parliamentary parties, and so keen did this strife become after the foreign enemy had actually landed on British soil, that he was even then on the point of throwing up the whole business in disgust, and going back to Holland to fight his battles out there.
What would have happened if he had done so is anything but a pleasant subject for speculation. Happily, at the eleventh hour he refused to acknowledge himself beaten. Sick of the strife of words and longing for the reality of deeds, he announced his intention to place himself at the head of the English forces in Ireland, “and with the blessing of God Almighty endeavour to reduce that kingdom that it may no longer be a charge to this.”
In this we may see more than the expression of 111a pious hope. As statesman and soldier William had seen that Ireland was the back-door of Great Britain, and that so long as it remained open so long would the whole kingdom be vulnerable to foreign invasion, and so he went to close it.
It was a strange position for any man to be placed in. He was going to fight for everything that he held dear. He knew that if he lost in Ireland he must lose also in England and the Netherlands, but he was also going to fight against the father of the woman whom he had now come to love so dearly that her death, when it happened, came nearer to wrecking his imperial intellect than all the other trials and troubles of his laborious and almost joyless life. He had no feeling of personal enmity against James as he had against Louis, and it was duty, and duty alone, which took him to the Irish war. Almost the last words that he said to his wife concerning the enemy whom he was about to meet on the battlefield were:
“God send that no harm may come to him!”
Mr. Traill has thus tersely summed up the condition of affairs at this moment: “Ireland in the hands of a hostile army, the shores of England threatened by a hostile fleet, a dangerous conspiracy only detected on the eve of success, a formidable insurrection imminent in the country he was leaving behind him….”
And yet, gloomy as the outlook seemed, his spirits 112rose as they ever did when he saw the moment for doing instead of talking draw near, and Bishop Burnett tells us that he said to him on the eve of his departure: “As for me, but for one thing I should enjoy the prospect of being on horseback and under canvas again, for I am sure that I am fitter to direct a campaign than to manage your Houses of Lords and Commons.”
These words were well worthy of the man who, not many days later, quietly sat down to breakfast in the open air beside Boyne Water, within full sight of the enemy and within easy range of their guns. Breakfast over, he mounted his horse and was promptly fired at. The first shot from two field-pieces which had been trained on him and his staff killed a man and two horses. The second grazed his shoulder and made him reel in his saddle.
“There was no need for any bullet to come nearer than that!” was his remark on the occurrence. Certainly not many bullets have ever come nearer to changing the history of Britain, and therefore of the British Empire, than that one.
MADE HIM REEL IN HIS SADDLE.
After the wound had been dressed, instead of taking the rest which a good many strong men would have taken, this consumptive and asthmatic invalid re-mounted his horse and remained until nightfall in the saddle, making his dispositions for the battle of the morrow, and attending to every113 detail himself. His prudent uncle and father-in-law, apparently bent on fulfilling William’s pious wish, was meanwhile taking very good care to keep himself out of harm’s way.
“MEN OF ENNISKILLEN, WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR ME?” HE CRIED.
The battle itself, which, as every one knows, was fought on the 1st of July, brought out with startling clearness the contrast between the man who was king in his own right and the man who called himself king because his name was James Stuart.
“Men of Enniskillen, what will you do for me?” he cried at the critical moment of the fight, when Caillemot and Schomberg, his two best captains, had been killed, and he, drawing his sword and swinging it aloft with his wounded arm, led his trusty Dutch guards and Ulstermen against the Irish centre. James, meanwhile, having watched the first part of the fight on which all his fortunes depended from the safe eminence of the Hill of Donore, had already given up for lost the day which he had done nothing to win, and was making the best of his way to Dublin, whence, in due course, leaving the beaten and demoralised rabble that had once been his army to its fate, he fled to the congenial ignominy of his safe retreat at St. Germain, and the fostering care of his country’s worst enemy.
The Battle of the Boyne not only settled the fate of the Stuart dynasty for good; it decided the question whether this country was to be ruled by114 a feeble despotism under the patronage of France, or by that constitutional monarchy under which Great Britain has so worthily proved her title to be called the Mother of Free Nations, and in winning this battle and deciding this all-important question, William of Orange won the right to be counted among the wisest and strongest of our Empire-Makers. The disgusted Irishmen, too, had some reason on their side when they said to the victors after the battle: “Change leaders, and we’ll fight you again!”
The story of his wars in those countries which have been aptly termed the cockpit of Europe is the story of the continuation of that work which he came to England to do; not, as has already been pointed out, for England as a country, but for the establishment of those principles for which the British Constitution, of which he was one of the makers, stands. Ignorant or prejudiced critics have accused him of sacrificing English blood and treasure to the furtherance of his own ambition. The fact is that he employed them upon the best and most necessary work that there was for them to do just then.
“Look at my brave English!” he said to the Elector of Bavaria one day during the siege of Namur, while a British regiment was carrying the outworks on one side of the city. But they were doing more than carrying earthworks. They were fighting for the principles which their descendants115 crowned with everlasting glory at Trafalgar and Waterloo. They were showing the soldiers and generals of France, then held to be the best in the world, the sort of stuff that they were made of, and giving promise of future prowess that was soon to be splendidly redeemed at Blenheim and Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet.
It was a singular war, and by all the rules of warfare the issue should have been the reverse of what it was. But again and again William’s wonderful genius and indomitable persistence snatched victory out of defeat, and turned disaster into advantage, until at last the Grand Monarch himself had to confess the power of the enemy whom he had once thought so insignificant, and the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick left William triumphant if somewhat dissatisfied.
The results would no doubt have been much greater if William could have had his own way, and if the strife of parties in the British Parliament had not so sorely crippled him. But at least he had the satisfaction of knowing before he died that, whereas a few months before the French men-of-war had with impunity insulted and threatened the English coasts, and landed a small army on Irish soil, a few months afterwards every invader had been driven from British ground, and the French fleet almost destroyed, while the Mediterranean, on which British ships had sailed only by sufferance, was now well on the way to becoming a British lake.
And yet, in spite of all the triumphs that he had 116won over so many difficulties and so many dangers, and in spite of the consciousness of work well and nobly, if quietly and unostentatiously, done, William’s last days, like those of many another man who has deserved well of the world, were full of sorrow and suffering.
The death of his now adored queen had so shaken his mighty nature that for some days his reason was despaired of, and there can be no doubt but that it hastened his own end. And yet, weak and far advanced in disease as he was when he went out for that fatal ride from Kensington to Hampton Court, he was even then going a-hunting. The brutal Jacobite toast: “To the little gentleman in black velvet who works underground!” still serves to remind us of the mole-hill over which his horse stumbled and fell, breaking his rider’s collar-bone, and inflicting the death-wound which he had escaped on a score of battle-fields.
His death was worthy of his life, for it was the death of a brave, patient man and a Christian gentleman. No doubt he himself would have preferred to have died at the head of a charge, or in the thick of an assault on a French fortress, but his destiny ordered it otherwise, and the man who had a hundred times faced death in the most reckless fashion for the purpose of inspiring his followers with his own courage and enthusiasm, died quietly in his bed, leaving behind him the117 greatest work ever done by an individual British sovereign, and a fame which, but for the one dark and inexplicable blot of Glencoe, is as fairly entitled to be called spotless as that of any man who ever sat upon a throne and accomplished great things with such means as came to his hand.
ONCE more I am going to ask you to take your seat with me on the ideal equivalent of the Magic Carpet and skim across another time-gulf some half-century wide. This time we alight on the morning of Monday, July 5, 1742, before the door of a double-fronted shop, one side of which is devoted to the sale of groceries and the other to the drapery business. This shop is situated in a little village on the Yorkshire coast a few miles from Whitby, Staithes, or more exactly The Staithes, so called from the local name for a pier or sea-wall of wood jutting out a few feet into the German Ocean, and built partly to protect the little bay from the North Sea rollers and partly to afford accommodation for the fishing-boats and colliers.
The shop belongs to a substantial citizen of Staithes named Saunderson, and this morning Mr. Saunderson is a very angry man. In fact, if we go into the shop, which is not yet open, we shall find him with a cane or some similar weapon in122 his hand, leaning behind the counter and hitting blindly at a bed there is beneath it, shouting the while sundry excellent maxims on the virtue of early rising, especially modified for the benefit of apprentices.
But no response comes from the bed, and Mr. Saunderson stoops down to make closer investigation. The bed is empty, and the fact dawns on him that his last apprentice has followed the example of all the others and run away to sea. It was a very common event on the Yorkshire coast in those days, but this particular running away was destined to be a very memorable one for the world, for the lad who, instead of being in the bed under the counter, was just then striding rapidly away over the fields to Whitby with one extra shirt and a jack-knife for his sole possessions, was James Cook, a name as dear to the lovers of the romance of travel and adventure as Robinson Crusoe, and one of infinitely more importance in the annals of mankind.
In following his fortunes, so far as the brief limits of such a sketch as this will permit, we shall bid a perhaps welcome adieu for a while to the roar of guns and the shock of battle, to the blaze of burning towns and the fierce cries ringing along the decks of captured treasure-ships, to watch the contest of a clear head and a strong will against those foes which may be overcome without bloodshed, although not always without loss of life—the hidden123 dangers of unknown oceans strewn with uncharted reefs and shoals lying in wait for unwary keels, the sudden hurricanes of the Tropics, and the storms and fogs and the floating ice-navies of the far North and South. It was these that Captain Cook went out to fight and overcome, and in doing so to prove eloquently that:
“Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.”
Nevertheless there are certain points of likeness between James Cook, Geographer and Circumnavigator, and that other Circumnavigator, Francis Drake, Pirate and Scourge of Spain. Both began life as ship-boys, and both rose, by sheer ability and strength of purpose, far above their original station in life to positions of command in the service of their country. Both were men of iron will, far-reaching design, unshakeable self-reliance, and passionate temper, and, lastly, both were possessed by that irresistible spirit of roving and adventure which, when it once seizes a man, but seldom lets him rest in peace. In short, though the vocation of one was piracy and war, and that of the other the peaceful, but none the less adventurous service of science, both were stamped with the supreme and essential characteristics of the Empire-Maker.
Naturally, the world had changed a good deal by the time James Cook started out to add so enormously to men’s knowledge of it. Spain had fallen124 from her high estate and was living in slothful ease on the dregs and lees of that strong wine which she had drunk to intoxication in the golden days of Cortez and Pizarro. But Britain, no longer only England, had become Great Britain, and was fast expanding into Greater Britain. Cowley, Dampier, Clapperton and Anson had circumnavigated the globe more than once, and people were beginning to have something like a definite notion of how very big a place was this world which now seems so small to us. The Imperial Idea was beginning to take hold of men’s minds. They wanted to know, not so much how big the world was, but what other unknown lands might be lying waiting for the discoverer, hidden away among the vast expanses which were still an utter blank upon the map.
The maritime nations of the world, too, and Britain, now foremost among them, had unconsciously taken a very great stride along the pathway of real progress, and they were beginning to grasp the higher ideal of colonisation as distinguished from mere conquest, and to James Cook belongs the high honour, if not of discovering, at least of first definitely locating and in part mapping out the greatest of all the British colonies.
Indeed, it may be said that, in sober fact, he added a whole continent to the British Empire, and that without the striking of a single blow or the loss of a single life in battle.
The first few years of James Cook’s seafaring life 125were eventless, just as Francis Drake’s were, but for all that he, like Gloriana’s Little Pirate, was doing that minor but no less essential part of his life-work which was the necessary preparation for the greater. He was doing his work first as ship’s boy, then as sailor before the mast, then as second mate, first mate, and so on up the laborious ladder which was to lead him in the end to an unequalled eminence among mariners.
Thus for thirteen years he served what may be called his apprenticeship to his life’s work; learning in the most practical of all schools, a North Sea collier of the eighteenth century, not only the science of seamanship in all its details, but also what was hardly less important—that science of taking things as they came, of looking upon hardship, privation and danger as the commonplaces of a seaman’s life, incidents in his day’s work, as it were, and as such scarcely worth even the mention, and hence much less worth troubling about.
A curiously instructive fact strikes one in contrasting Captain Cook’s own account of his voyages with those of others, such as Anderson and Gilbert, who sailed with him. They expatiate largely on the miseries of heat and cold, ice and mist, the almost uneatable character of the sea-fare of those days, disease among the crew, and so on; but Captain Cook hardly ever mentions them, saving only the scurvy, of which more hereafter.
But there was something else that James Cook 126had already learnt long ago while he was yet a boy. When he was a lad of six or seven he had been set to work on a farm belonging to a man named William Walker, and this William had a wife named Mary who, taking a fancy to the lad, taught him his letters and encouraged him to read, and so, without knowing it, put into his hands the talisman which was to win his way to future greatness. She not only aroused in him that passion for reading which distinguished him among the sailors of his time, but she gave him what might have been the only means of gratifying it, for not every farm-lad and ship’s-boy of the middle of the eighteenth century had learnt, or ever did learn, to read and write.
It may have been that James Cook’s latent ambition had never looked beyond the possibility of becoming master of one of the vessels of which he had been mate, and it is also possible that he might never in reality have been anything more, but it so happened that his ship, the Friendship, was lying in London river in May, 1756, and that at the same time the war with France, which had been brewing for a year, broke out.
As usual the Press Gang set instantly to work, and now came Cook’s chance. He was mate of a ship, albeit only a collier brig; still he was a thorough seaman, an excellent navigator, and, more than that, he seems to have known something of127 the theory as well as the practice of his science. These accomplishments, however, did not put him beyond the reach of the Press Gang.
Now, in those days there were two ranks of seamen before the mast in the King’s navy—the pressed man, who might be anything from a raw land-lubber to an escaped convict, and the volunteer, who was probably and usually a good sailor, if not something better, as Cook was, and he, guided either by inspiration or deliberate resolve, eluded the Press Gang by offering himself as a volunteer, and so in due course took his rating as able-seaman before the mast on board his Majesty’s frigate Eagle, of sixty guns, of which shortly afterwards the good genius of his life, Sir Hugh Palliser, was appointed captain.
During the next four years there was fighting, but we have no record of any share that Cook took in it. What we do know is that by the time he was thirty he had risen to the rank of master of the Mercury, a King’s ship which went with the fleet to the St. Lawrence at a very critical juncture in British colonial history.
So far it would appear that he had worked himself up by sheer ability and industry, but now his chance was to come. The river St. Lawrence at that time had never been surveyed, and it was absolutely necessary that soundings should be taken and the river correctly charted before the fleet could go in and with its guns cover Wolfe’s attack on128 Quebec. The all-important work was entrusted to the master of the Mercury, and although the river was swarming with the canoes of hostile Indians in the service of the French, and though he had to do his work at night, he did it so thoroughly that not only did the fleet go in and out again with perfect safety, but the work has needed but little re-doing from that day to this.
Thus did James Cook, not as sailor or fighting-man, but as good mariner and skilful workman play his first part as Empire-Maker, and in an unostentatious fashion contribute his share towards the capture of Quebec and the acquisition of one of the widest and fairest portions of Greater Britain.
He was at this time, as has been said, only thirty. As regards the outer aspect of the man he stood something over six feet, spare, hard, and active. His face was a good one and suited to the man, broad forehead, bright, brown, well-set eyes, yet rather small, a long, well-shaped nose with good nostrils, a firm mouth, and full, strong chin.
In short, his best portraits show you just the kind of man you would expect Captain Cook to be. For the rest he was a man of iron frame, tireless at work, resting only when it was a physical necessity, with few friends and fewer confidants, cool of judgment save during his rare and deplorable fits of passion, self-contained and self-reliant—just such a sea-king, in short, as we may imagine Heaven to have commissioned to carry the British flag three129 times round the world and to the uttermost parts of the known earth, and to plant it on lands which until then no white man’s eye had seen or foot had trodden.
In the same year Cook was promoted from the Mercury to the Northumberland, the Admiral’s flag-ship, and in her he came back to England, and at St. Margaret’s Church, Barking, married Elizabeth Batts, a young lady of great beauty and of social standing far above that of the grocer’s apprentice and collier’s knockabout boy, but not above that of the Master of a King’s ship. His married life lasted some seventeen years, and of these he spent a little over four in the enjoyment of the delights of home.
For the next four years or so he was regularly employed in surveying and exploring work off the Atlantic coast of America, and this of itself shows that he had already made his mark in his chosen profession. But much greater things were now to be in store for him. It will be remembered how Drake, when he first saw the smooth waters of the Pacific, prayed God that He would give him life and leave to sail an English ship on its waters. That prayer had been granted, and his and many another English ship had crossed the great Sea of the South.
Meanwhile the realised dream of El Dorado had been replaced in men’s minds by another, even more vast, shadowy, and splendid. This was the130 dream of the Great Southern Continent, and in this imagination revelled and ran riot. Grave scientists, too, demonstrated beyond all doubt that there must be such a land far away to the south since how, without it as a counterpoise to the continents of the north, was the rolling world to be kept in equilibrium?
So they took it for granted, laid it down upon the maps, and wrote glowing descriptions of the varieties of climate, the splendour of scenery, the wealth of treasures and the strange peoples and animals that it must of necessity contain. Above all, it would be a new El Dorado which would not be under the control of Spain.
What more could men want, unless indeed it was the actual discovery of the Terra Incognita Australis? This was the new world of which Cook was to be the Columbus. Others had seen parts of it just as others had seen parts of America before the great Genoese reached the West Indies, but he was the man who was to do the work of putting its existence beyond all doubt.
The Royal Society found that there would be a transit of Venus in the year 1769, and that it would be best observed from some point in the great Southern Ocean, say Amsterdam Island or the Marquesas Group, lately discovered by the Dutch and Portuguese, and as the result of representations made to the King, an expedition was set on foot to carry out suitable persons to observe it. Of this131 expedition James Cook, raised from the rank of master to that of lieutenant, was placed in command. On his own recommendation the ship chosen for the purpose was the Endeavour, a Whitby-built craft of 370 tons, broad of bow and stern and fairly light of draft, and built for strength and endurance rather than speed.
She sailed, carrying a complement all told of eighty-five men, from Plymouth on August 26, 1768, which as Cook’s latest biographer happily remarks, was a Friday, and the starting-day of what was, all things considered, the most successful voyage of discovery ever made. Just before she sailed Captain Wallace had come back bringing the news of the discovery of Otaheite, otherwise known as Tahiti, and as this island was considered a more favourable position, Captain Cook, as we may now fairly call him, was ordered to proceed there first.
It is of course utterly out of the question to attempt any connected account even of one voyage round the world, let alone three, within such limits as these, therefore I cannot do better than let the great navigator describe his achievements, as he actually did, in three modest paragraphs:
“I endeavoured to make a direct course to Otaheite” (this was after he had crossed the Atlantic and doubled the Horn, which doubling, by the way, took thirty-three days), “and in part succeeded, but I made no discovery till I got within the Tropic, where I fell in with Lagoon Island, The Groups,132 Verde Island, Chain Island, and on the 13th of April arrived at Otaheite, where I remained three months, during which time the observations on the transit were taken.
“I then left it, discovered and visited the Society Islands and Ohetoroa; thence proceeded to the south till I arrived in latitude 40°22 south, longitude 147°29 east, then on the 6th of October, fell in with the east side of New Zealand.
“I continued exploring the coast of this country till the 31st of March, 1770, when I quitted it and proceeded to New Holland; and having surveyed the eastern coast of that vast country, which part had never before been visited, I passed between its northern extremity and New Guinea, and landed on the latter, touched at the island of Savu, Batavia, Cape of Good Hope, and St. Helena, and arrived in England on the 2nd of July, 1771.”
I have seldom come across such a masterpiece of eloquent simplicity as this, but then, of course, Cook’s voyages were made before the days of the lecture-exploiter and the Age of Booms. There is, however, one remark that may be made on it. What Cook calls New Holland we call Australia, and Botany Bay, the first point he touched at, is hard by Port Jackson, on the flowery shores of which now stands the lovely capital of New South Wales. Terra Incognita Australis was unknown no longer, but the days when it was to prove itself133 even more golden than El Dorado were yet distant nearly a hundred years.
If you would read the marvellous tale of frozen lands and seas, of the sunlit coral-islands gemming the sparkling waters as thickly as the stars stud the Heavens, of the delights of Paradise and the terrors of Nifflheim told and written by sundry members of this expedition after their return, you must go to your library and find them in the originals, for there is no space to give them here. Suffice it to say that, though somewhat prolix and diffuse, you will, if you are blessed with an intelligent taste for that kind of thing, find them more delightful reading than any of the countless romances whose writers have taken their materials out of them.
But there is one circumstance which for the honour of James Cook ought to be mentioned. The curse of sea-voyaging in those days was scurvy. Out of forty sick, nearly half of the little company, no fewer than twenty-three died, and this terrible fact set the captain thinking, with the result that he, first of all mariners, grappled with and conquered this worst of the dangers of the ocean. If he had never done anything else he would have deserved a niche in the Temple of Fame. In his second voyage round the world, which lasted three years and sixteen days, he only lost four men, three of whom died by accident and the fourth not of scurvy.
The Circumnavigator was now promoted to the 134rank of Commander, a modest enough reward for the achievement of the greatest work of his generation. He remained ashore just a year, probably the longest period he had ever spent on land since he first went to sea.
During this time the publication of a collection of travels started people talking about the Southern Continent again. Captain Cook had found it, but that didn’t matter. His discovery was not splendid enough by any means, so it was decided to send another expedition, this time of two ships, “to complete the discovery of the southern hemisphere” (!) and Cook sailed again in command aboard the Resolution of 462 tons having for consort the Adventure of 336 tons.
They sailed on July 13, 1772, and on October 30th reached Table Bay—a hundred and nine days, think of that, you who take a run out to the Cape and back again for a winter holiday! Truly the world was somewhat larger in those days.
From Cape Town they steered straight away for the South, and on December 10th they sighted for the first time the ice-fringe of what we know now to be the true Terra Incognita Australis.
The landsmen on board seem to have had a dreadful time during this part of the voyage and Foster, one of the naturalists of the expedition, bewails “the gloomy uniformity with which they had slowly passed dull hours, days and months in135 this desolate part of the world.” What a change it must have been from the rigours and horrors of Antarctica to the paradisaical delights of Tahiti, which, after surveying the coast of New Zealand and deciding that it consisted of two islands and not one, the expedition reached on the 16th of the following August.
There is perhaps no other spot on earth which so completely fulfils one’s ideas of what Paradise ought to be as this same island of Tahiti even now, but what must it have been in those days, when white men first saw it in all the beauty and simplicity of its primeval innocence. Now, alas, it is very different, cursed by the diseases and vices of civilisation and afflicted by a cast-iron régime which the people seem to think a little worse than death, since they are dying as fast as they can to get away from it.
After this again New Zealand was visited, and once more the two ships plunged into the icy solitudes of Antarctica, only to return again, baffled by the impenetrable ice-wall. From here the ships steered northwards for Easter Island and Crusoe’s Island. It is noteworthy that on the way Captain Cook, the great Medicine Man of the sailors, himself fell sick, and that, for want of anything better, “a dog was killed to make soup for him”—from which it will be seen that voyages of discovery were not exactly picnics in his time.
From Juan Fernandez he steered for the Marquesas136 again, once more visited New Zealand, and once more his sea-worn crews revelled in the unrestrained delights of Tahiti. Then again to the south, this time not to rest until the whole circle of the Southern hemisphere had been made without the finding of any other southern continent than the unapproachable Antarctica, and so in due course and without mishap came the Sunday morning, July 30, 1775, when the Resolution and the Adventure, having well vindicated their names, dropped their willing anchors into the waters of Spithead.
More honours, though not of the nineteenth-century-boom order, were now most justly bestowed on the Circumnavigator. He was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain in the Navy, and made a Captain of Greenwich Hospital, a post which carried with it a home and honourable retirement for the rest of his life—of which he was the very last man in the world to avail himself. He was also elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and presented with the gold medal for his treatment of scurvy.
Captain Cook as sailor, as scientific navigator, and as explorer was now at the height of his fame. He was forty-eight years old, and had spent thirty-four years at sea, and it is no exaggeration to say that during this time he had added more geographical knowledge to the history of the world than any one had ever done before, and had probably covered a larger portion of its surface. He had at once proved and disproved the dream of137 the Southern Continent, and, potentially speaking, he had added enormous areas to the ever-growing realms of Greater Britain.
He might well have rested on such laurels as these, but there was more work for him to do, and he went to do it. One of the greatest questions of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, was the possibility of the North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. So far every attempt had ended in failure, and generally in disaster, but now, when men’s minds were full of the wonders Captain Cook had achieved, there arose another question: Might not a North-East passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic be possible, and, if so, who better to try it than the great Circumnavigator? An expedition was promptly decided on. Captain Cook was not offered the command, as the Government probably and rightly thought he had won his laurels. But one fatal evening he dined with Lord Sandwich, the promoter of the expedition, and at table he met his old patron, Sir Hugh Palliser, and his friend, Mr. Stephens, Secretary to the Admiralty. Ostensibly the object of the dinner was to consult him as to the best leader for the new venture, but the moment the subject was broached the unquenchable passion for travel blazed up again, and the great Navigator rose to his feet and said gravely:
“My lord and gentlemen, if you will have me I will go myself.”
So was decided the fatal voyage which was 138destined to end a glorious and almost blameless career by an ignoble and unworthy death.
The expedition consisted of the old Resolution and the Discovery, a vessel of three hundred tons. The voyage lasted four years and nine months, but the loss of life by sickness was only five men, of whom three were ill when they started. A good deal of the old ground was gone over, more islands were discovered, more unknown coasts surveyed. Fair Tahiti was visited once more, and the expedition, so far as its principal object was concerned, came to an end, as the search for the Southern Continent had done, in a way blocked by impenetrable barriers of ice—this time the ice of the North.
Thus turned back, they steered southward, and on December 1, 1778, they discovered Hawai, which discovery the great Navigator in his last written words somewhat strangely says, “seemed in many respects to be the most important that had hitherto been made by Europeans throughout the extent of the Pacific Ocean.”
It was here, as all the world knows, that he met his death, and the story of it is, unhappily, at sad variance with that of his life.
The one blemish on Captain Cook’s otherwise noble character was a liability to outbursts of ungovernable temper, and during these he seems to have behaved on more occasions than one in a manner almost befitting one of the old buccaneers.139 For instance, he would punish paltry thefts by cutting off the ears of the islanders, firing small shot at them as they swam to the shore, chasing them in boats, and ordering his men to strike and stab them with boat-hooks as they struggled out of the way. On one occasion he punished a Kanaka who had pilfered some trifle by “making two cuts upon his arm to the bone, one across and the other close below his shoulder.”
Again, at the island of Eimeo, because a goat was stolen, he landed thirty-five armed men, blockaded the island with armed boats, and burnt every house and canoe that he came across, and, as an eye-witness says, “several women and old men still remained by the houses, whose lamentations were very great, but all their tears and entreaties could not move Captain Cook to desist in the smallest degree from those cruel ravages.”
Now it was undoubtedly this anger-madness of his, combined with an equally incomprehensible act of duplicity, which cost him his life. When he returned from his attempt to find the North-East passage and landed at Hawai, he was hailed by the natives as Lono, a god who had disappeared ages before, saying that he would return in huge canoes with cocoa-nut trees for masts. Now unhappily there is no doubt that Captain Cook, for some reason or other, took advantage of this belief. Not only did he not undeceive the natives, but he permitted divine honours to be paid to him.
From personal knowledge of the Pacific Islanders 140I am able to say that in their pristine state they look upon deception and lying as the gravest of crimes, and usually punish them with death, and Captain Cook, with his vast experience of them, must have known this also, and therefore he must have been fully aware that the moment anything happened to show the natives that he was not a god, his life would not be worth a moment’s purchase.
Shortly after this the ships sailed, and it would have been well for Cook, who had been guilty of some very high-handed acts, if he had never returned. But they came back a week afterwards to find the island under the mysterious tabu—which is the Kanaka equivalent for an interdict, and by far the most sacred institution known to the Polynesians. Some of his marines broke this tabu in the most flagrant fashion. In revenge one of the Discovery’s cutters was stolen. When anything of this sort happened Captain Cook was accustomed to inveigle a chief or two on board his ship and keep them there till the thing stolen was restored. He tried to do this with the King of Hawai, but the people suspected his design, and at the critical moment news came that a canoe had been burnt and a chief killed. The King refused to go another step, and then Captain Cook, who was armed with a hanger and a double-barrelled gun, did a terribly foolish thing for such a man to do.
MISSED HIM AND KILLED ANOTHER MAN BEHIND HIM.
He began to walk away to his boat, turning his back on the armed and angry natives. To do so was to invite certain death, and one of the warriors attacked him with his spear. He turned and shot at the man, missed him, and killed another man behind him. A shower of stones followed, and the marines fired on the natives.
Cook appears now to have seen the seriousness of the situation, and signalled to those in the boat to stop firing. While he was doing this a chief ran up and drove his spear through his body. Some accounts say that it was an iron dagger, others that he was clubbed on the head simultaneously. At any rate he staggered forward and fell face downwards in the water, on which the natives “immediately leapt in after and kept him under for a few minutes, then hauled him out upon the rocks and beat his head against them several times, so that there is no doubt but that he quickly expired.”
Such was the end of the great Circumnavigator, the greatest seaman of his time, and a man honoured wherever the science of navigation was known. It was a miserable end to such a brilliant career, miserable as was that of the great Magellan, who lost his life and the deathless honour of being the first sea-captain to sail round the world in just such a petty and ignoble squabble on the beach of a lonely islet in the Phillipines.
But though his death was ignoble, it can detract nothing from the splendour of his life’s work. He142 was not perfect—no great man is—and it is only the mournful truth to say that the meanest and most unlovable trait in his character was the direct and culpable cause of his death. Among sailors this is already forgotten, and they only remember him, as they are well warranted in doing, as the greatest of English mariners, and the man who conquered their most terrible enemy and their deadliest destroyer.
QUILL-DRIVER AND CONQUEROR
IT is one of the distinctions of Robert Clive to be at once the model of all bad boys and the forlorn hope of their despairing fathers. He was probably the very worst boy that ever became a really great man. Of his early youth there is absolutely nothing good to be said, saving only the fact that he was possessed of that brute, bulldog courage which thousands of English boys, whose names have never been heard beyond their native towns, have possessed in common with him.
He was idle, passionate, aggressive, not over truthful, and of a distinctly turbulent, not to say piratical disposition. For instance, he had not reached his teens before he established a sort of juvenile reign of terror in the sleepy old town of Market Drayton, which had at once the misfortune and the honour of being his birthplace.
Even the school-books have not omitted to tell us how the boy became the father of the future pirate and Empire-Maker, by organising the kindred146 spirits of the town into a buccaneering band, as captain of which he levied blackmail in the shape of nuts, apples, sweetmeats, and even coin of the realm on the shopkeepers.
If the tribute were punctually paid, well and good; but if one rebelled or defaulted, the odds were that he very soon had a heavy bill to pay for window-repairing, or else there would be sudden deaths in his fowl-house, or, peradventure, his errand-boy, if not an accomplice of the gang, would return prematurely from his rounds with his goods missing and undelivered, and his person in a somewhat battered and dishevelled condition.
The most respectable feat that he appears to have accomplished in these days would, after all, appear to be the climbing of the lofty church steeple, and his enjoyment on that dizzy eminence of the horror and consternation of the townsfolk. This feat was, in its way, as characteristic of the man that was to be as was his first essay in world-piracy, for later on we shall see how he reached a far more dizzy eminence than this and kept his head as few others would have done.
His school life appears to have been as unsatisfactory as his home life. He was sent to academy after academy, and at each, ushers and pedagogues struggled with him in vain—although of itself this fact was not greatly to his discredit, since the methods of alleged education in the first half of the eighteenth century were even more unnatural than147 they are now. Still, the fact remains that he was a hopeless dunce, self-willed and idle, and of an unlovable disposition, redeemed only by the one good quality of intrepid pluck.
One of his uncles, in a family letter, says, semi-prophetically of him: “Fighting, to which he is out of measure addicted, gives his temper such a fierceness and imperiousness that it flies out on every trifling occasion.”
It is also said that one of his schoolmasters saw signs of future greatness in the dullard of whom neither he nor any of his brethren could make even a presentable schoolboy, but this is probably a story of the “I told you so” order, possibly invented by the worthy pedagogue some time after the event. Be this, however, as it may, the fact is that in the end the last of the pedagogues seems to have thrown the job up in despair and returned him back on his father’s hands as a hopelessly hard case.
Now it so happened that in those days there was a refuge for the destitute, or perhaps it would be more correct to say the ne’er-do-well, which in these days is hardly represented by any portion of our Colonial Empire.
If there appeared to be no chance of a lad doing anything decent at home; if his parents were too poor to buy him a commission in the Army, and hadn’t interest enough to get him into the Navy, and if he were, as Clive undoubtedly was, too much of a dunce to have a chance in any other respectable148 profession, the last thing that could be done for him was to get him a writership in the service of the East India Company.
If this could be done, two prospects were open to him. He would die of fever in a year or two, after a hard struggle to live upon his miserable pay, or he would “shake the Pagoda Tree,” and come home a wealthy nabob, with a brick-dust complexion, a sun-dried and somewhat shrivelled conscience, and a liver perpetually on strike. As it happened, however, Robert Clive availed himself of neither of these prospects, since the mysterious Fates had a third one in store for him.
Certainly they were very mysterious Fates which presided over the early fortunes of the future Conqueror of India, and upon none of their darlings have they frowned so blackly and then suddenly turned round and smiled so brightly as upon the scapegrace of Market Drayton.
To begin with, the voyage to India in those days, even for people with large means, was a weary and miserable business. Ocean greyhounds, the Suez Canal, and the Peninsular Railway, were undreamt of; and the heavy Indiamen lumbered toilfully round the Cape, across the Indian Ocean, and up the Bay of Bengal, taking their time about it—sometimes six months, sometimes a year, or more. In Clive’s case it was more, for his ship first crossed the Atlantic to the Brazils, and stopped there for some months. Here he spent all his money, and149 got in return a smattering of Portuguese, which he afterwards found useful.
When he eventually landed on the surf-beaten beach of Madras, he was not only penniless but in debt. The only person of influence to whom he had an introduction had left for England. His duties were both laborious and distasteful. He had no friends and was too shy and awkwardly proud to make any, and for months he was veritably a stranger in a strange land, and, to crown all, he became wretchedly ill.
How mournful he really felt his position to be, and how far the stern discipline of misery had already softened his intractable disposition, may be seen from one of his letters home, in which he says:
“I have not enjoyed one happy day since I left my native country. If I should be so far blest as to revisit it again, but more especially Manchester” (this, by the way, was his mother’s native place) “the centre of all my wishes, all that I could hope or desire for would be presented before me in one view.”
How little did the despairing lad dream as he wrote thus in some interval of his weary drudgery that when he did revisit his native land it would be as a conqueror, laurel-crowned, and hailed as one worthy to rank with the first soldiers of his age!
But, bright as his fortune was to be, he appears just now to have been doing very little to deserve150 it. Macaulay tells us, in that brilliant essay of his, that he behaved just as badly to his official superiors as he had done to his schoolmasters, and came several times very near to being dismissed, and at length, so heavily did sickness of body and weariness of soul lie upon him, that twice in quick succession he attempted to blow his brains out, and twice the pistol missed fire.
If those had been the days of central-fire, self-cocking revolvers, instead of flint-lock pistols, the history of Asia would have been changed, and what is now our Indian Empire would probably have been a French possession.
It will be necessary just here to quote a little history with a view to seeing how matters stood in India at the time when Clive, as it is said, flung away the second useless pistol, and, like Wallenstein, exclaimed that after all he must have been born for something great.
The map of India then was very different to what it is now. There was no red about it at all. In the East, France was practically mistress of the seas, whatever she might be elsewhere. The British flag only flew over one spot, and that only by sufferance. This was the little trading settlement of Madras, which was rented from the Nabob of the Carnatic, who was only the deputy of the deputy of the once mighty prince whom Europe knew vaguely as the Great Mogul.
Fort St. George and Fort St. David were mere151 parodies of military stations, and the nucleus of the army which was to conquer the whole Peninsula consisted chiefly of half-trained natives, miscellaneously armed with bows and arrows, swords and bucklers, and here and there a firelock. On the other hand, France possessed the Island of Mauritius and the town and district of Pondicherry, the former governed by Labourdonnais and the latter by Dupleix, both men of great capacity and still greater ambition.
France and England were just then at war in Europe, and Labourdonnais thought it a good time to crush English trade in India while it was yet in its infancy, so, in spite of all the British East Indian fleet could do to stop him, he appeared with his ships off Madras, landed a large body of troops, forced Fort St. George to surrender, and hoisted the French flag on its battlements.
Happily, this roused the jealousy of Dupleix. Labourdonnais had pledged his honour that Madras should be restored on the payment of a moderate ransom. Dupleix, who had already dreamt of being sole master of India, was determined that it should be wiped off the map altogether, so he accused his fellow Governor of trespassing on his preserves, and in the end succeeded in annulling his conditions and marching the Governor of Fort St. George, with the principal servants of the Company, in triumph off to Pondicherry.
Unfortunately for him, there was one whom he152 did not take, not a principal servant by any means, only an insignificant, underpaid quill-driver, who had slipped out of the town disguised as a Mussulman, and yet Dupleix would have made a very good bargain if he could have exchanged all his other prisoners of war for him.
Clive reached Fort St. David, a dependency of Fort St. George, in safety, and there, taking advantage of the anger roused by this gross breach of faith, he exchanged the pen for the sword, and the writer became an ensign in the East India Company’s army, such as it was.
Scarcely, however, had he done so than peace was made in Europe, and therefore in India. Clive, no doubt in great disgust, was sent back to his desk, but, happily for him and the British Empire, not for long. Fortunately, too, submarine telegraphs had not been invented then, and India was almost always a year behind Europe, so Governor Dupleix made up his mind to have a war on his own account, and the prize of this war was to be, as Macaulay puts it, “nothing less than the magnificent inheritance of the House of Tamerlane.”
To this end he took such skilful advantage of the disputes of the pretenders to the throne of Nizam al Mulk, the last of the great Viceroys of the Deccan, that within a very short time he secured the triumph of Mirzapha Jung, his protégé, and rose himself to such a position that, in the name of this puppet, he was the virtual ruler of thirty millions of people,153 and master of the whole Carnatic, saving only the city of Trichinopoly, which was all that was left to Mohammed Ali, the candidate with whom the English Company had sided in a half-hearted and wholly futile fashion.
At this juncture, Clive, who was now twenty-five years old, and who occupied a sort of hybrid post with the title of Commissary of the forces, took upon himself to represent to his superiors that unless something very decided was done, the French must invariably become Lords Paramount of the whole Peninsula. They hadn’t a notion what was to be done, but Clive had, and the brazen effrontery of his plan seems to have paralysed the authorities into giving him a free hand.
The situation was this: The triumphant Frenchman, believing his quickly-acquired dominion a permanent one, had raised a tall pillar to his own glory on the site of his greatest victory, and round this was growing up a city, the name of which in English meant the City of the Victory of Dupleix. Chunda Sahib, successor of Mirzapha, was besieging Trichinopoly, supported by several hundred trained French soldiers. Major Lawrence, commander of the English garrison at Madras, had gone to England, and the English Company possessed no officer of proved ability. The natives, dazzled by the rapid and brilliant triumphs of Dupleix, and remembering the times when they had seen his colours flying over Fort St. George, looked with154 contemptuous pity on the English as a remnant of feeble shopkeepers who were soon to be cast into the sea. And so, in all probability, they would have been if that historic pistol had gone off a few years before.
Clive, viewing the situation with true military genius, saw two facts: first, that it would be ridiculous with the force at his disposal to attack the besiegers of Trichinopoly; and second, that, if a dash were made at Arcot, the capital and favourite residence of the Nabobs of the Carnatic, which is rather less than a hundred miles inland from Madras, the siege of Trichinopoly would probably be raised, and so this he determined to do.
His army consisted of two hundred English soldiers and three hundred Sepoys, with eight English officers, of whom only two had ever seen an action. He made the journey by forced marches through the thunder and lightning and rain of the wet season, and so astounded the garrison of Arcot by his utterly unexpected appearance before the gates that they ran without striking a blow.
Clive now found himself master of a half-ruined fort, which he at once proceeded to strengthen and victual as best he might, well knowing that he would have to fight for what he had got. Presently the panic-stricken garrison came back, and brought with it reinforcements which gave it the respectable strength of three thousand men. In the middle of155 the night on which they arrived and sat down before the town to think matters over, Clive, without waiting to be besieged as he should have done by all the rules of Eastern warfare, marched out, caught them napping, cut them to pieces, and marched back again without losing a man.
Naturally the news of such doings as this flew fast to Trichinopoly and Pondicherry, and clearly something had to be done to crush this insolent upstart before he gave any further trouble. To this end four thousand men were sent by Chunda Sahib, under his son Rajah, and by the time these reached the walls of the old fort they had been increased by reinforcements to ten thousand, and had, moreover, been joined by a detachment of a hundred and fifty French soldiers whom Dupleix had dispatched in hot haste from Pondicherry.
As has been said, the place they had come to attack was a half-ruined old fort, with dry ditches and hardly any defences worth serious mention, and its garrison by this time consisted only of a hundred and twenty Englishmen and two hundred Sepoys. Four of the eight officers were dead, and the commander of what looked very like a forlorn hope was an ex-quill-driver twenty-five years old.
And yet for fifty days and nights the besiegers hurled themselves in vain against the rotten and crumbling battlements behind which that dauntless handful of half-starved men had made up their156 minds either to stand till help came, or to fall like the heroes that they were.
The confidence and affection which the gallant young commander inspired in his men—European and native alike—during this terrible time is one of the most splendid tributes to his fame. When there was nothing left but rice to live and fight on, the very Sepoys came to him of their own will to ask that all the grain should be given to the Europeans, who wanted more nourishment than they did. As for them, they would gladly be content with the water that it was boiled in! Men like this are bad to beat, and so Rajah Sahib found in spite of all his enormous advantages.
But the splendid defence of Arcot had by this time done something more than hold the French and their allies in check. One Morari Row, the chief of a body of six thousand Mahrattas—the bandit ancestors of some of the finest soldiery that now fights under the flag of Britain—had been hired to defend Mohammed Ali against his enemies, but so far, instead of helping, he had been waiting to see which way the cat would jump. His personal experience of the British had taught him that, if they were not dogs or old women, they were seemingly only fit for the bazaar and the counting-house, and certainly no worthy allies for a race of warriors. But now the gallantry of Clive and his men was ringing all through the Carnatic, and Morari swore by all his gods that, since the English157 really could fight after all, and were able to help themselves to such purpose, he hadn’t the slightest objection to helping them.
Having decided this in his own prudent mind, he gave his warriors orders to march, and no sooner did it transpire that their objective was the sorely beleaguered fortress of Arcot than Rajah Sahib came to the conclusion that he had got a harder nut between his teeth than his jaws could crack, and so he made overtures of peace in the true Oriental style—that is to say, he offered a huge bribe for an unconditional surrender, and accompanied the offer with a threat of general assault and subsequent extermination if the offer were refused. The young quill-driver’s reply was characteristic.
“Tell Rajah Sahib,” he said to the envoy, “that I refuse his bribe with as much scorn as I receive his threat. Tell him also that his master and father is a usurper and his army a rabble, and bid him beware how he brings them into a breach defended by English soldiers.”
Rajah Sahib declined the warning, and prepared for attack by making his fanatic followers gloriously drunk with bhang and ether assorted drugs. He also selected the day of a great Moslem festival for the assault, and enlisted the services of some elephants, whose heads he covered with spiked plates of iron, and these, when the attack was delivered, were driven against the gates to act as living battering-rams.
But Clive had already foreseen that living battering-rams 158had the disadvantage of working both ways, and so the elephants were received with such a galling fire that, instead of charging the gates, they turned round and made lanes through the army behind them with distinctly demoralising effect.
This was a bad beginning, but the end was worse. Clive acted not only as general-in-command, but also as an ordinary gunner, and he seems, moreover, to have pretty well filled all the posts between. He worked as hard as any soldier or Sepoy of them all. There were more weapons than men to use them, so the rear ranks loaded and primed the muskets, and passed them up to the front as fast as they could be fired, and Rajah Sahib speedily learnt what Clive had meant by a breach defended by English soldiers, for the fire was so fast and fierce that the more men that he sent into the breach the more stopped there—and that was about all there was in it from his point of view.
Three times the onset was repeated, and three times the attacking swarms were mown down by the leaden hail-storm that swept the breach, and after the third time the Rajah and his merry men had had enough of it and retreated to their lines.
INSTEAD OF CHARGING THEY TURNED ROUND AND MADE LANES THROUGH THE ARMY BEHIND THEM.
The night passed in anxious watching, every man in his place and every gun loaded, but their last shot had been fired and the morning light159 showed that Rajah Sahib and what was left of his army had found the work too much highly seasoned for their taste; that they had just run away, leaving all their guns, ammunition, and stores to be picked up by the victors at their leisure.
Such was the forever memorable defence of Arcot, and such too was the practical foundation of the British Empire in India. It was the work of a hundred and twenty-five English soldiers and two hundred Sepoys, inspired to heroism by a young man whom Fortune had suddenly plucked out of the wrong place and set down in the right one.
Clive was by no means the man to look upon work as done because it was well begun. The authorities at Fort St. George promptly sent him two hundred more English soldiers and seven hundred Sepoys, and with this force—which was quite a large army for him—he marched out to join hands with Morari Row, attacked Rajah Sahib at the head of five thousand men with a stiffening of three hundred French regulars, hit him very hard, and generally convinced people that an Englishman worthy of his name and race had at length taken matters in hand.
Unhappily, however, the English were not as strong in the council-chamber as they were in the field, and while the authorities were hesitating, Rajah Sahib and Dupleix retrieved their loss to such purpose that a native army supported by four hundred French troops marched almost up to the160 walls of Fort St. George and proceeded to amuse themselves by laying the settlement waste, with the result that Captain Clive had to come to the rescue, and the end was another overwhelming defeat, during which about half of the French regulars were either killed or taken prisoners.
This physical victory was followed by a moral one no less effective. The vaingloriously-named City of the Victory of Dupleix, surmounted by its magniloquently inscribed pillar, lay at Clive’s mercy and directly in his path, and he promptly pulled the pillar down and wiped the city off the face of the earth. He didn’t do this because he personally disliked either Dupleix or his nation, but in doing it he showed that he was statesman as well as soldier, for, as he well knew, the destruction of the City of Victory was to the waiting and watching millions of India the symbol of the destruction and discredit of the French power, and the establishment and vindication of the British. From that day to this Britain’s star in the East has been in the ascendant and that of France on the decline.
How completely all this and what followed was the work of one man, and one only is eloquently shown by the pronouncement of old Morari Row to the effect that the English who followed Clive must be of quite a different tribe or breed to those who followed anybody else, and further by the fact that he inflicted two decisive defeats upon the French at Covelong and Chingleput, with a force161 consisting of five hundred raw Sepoy levies, and two hundred newly-imported scourings of the London slums, who had so little of the soldier in them that when a shot killed one in the first skirmish all the rest turned round and ran away; while on another occasion the report of a cannon so frightened the sentries that they all left their posts, and one of them was discovered occupying a strategic position at the bottom of a well!
And yet Clive, somehow, made steady, disciplined soldiers out of this miserable rabble, and, though at last he was so ill that he could hardly stand, led them to victory and turned the French out of their forts—which was perhaps a miracle even greater than the making of Cromwell’s Ironsides.
After this the young man, having well earned a holiday, got married and came home for his honeymoon. He was at once hailed as the saviour of India—or at any rate of the East India Company, the directors of which drained many a good bottle of port to the toast of “General” Clive; and even his father half incredulously admitted that “after all it seemed that the booby had something in him.”
But “the booby,” who had come back moderately rich, bore no malice, and at once began to repair the evil of his youth by paying off all the debts of his family. He then proceeded to waste his substance and his time by getting into Parliament and getting turned out again on petition, after162 which he very properly went back to India to do work that parliamentary orators couldn’t do.
His first exploit was the reduction of the pirate stronghold of Gheriah, which had long dominated the whole Arabian Gulf, the next was the Avenging of one of the blackest crimes in history. There is no need to tell of it here, for is not the story of the Black Hole of Calcutta deep-graven in the memory of every man and woman, boy and girl, of Anglo-Saxon blood? Forty-eight hours after the news reached Madras Clive was given the command of nine hundred British infantry and fifteen hundred Sepoys, and with this army, supported by a fleet under Admiral Watson, he marched to the conquest of an empire half as large as Europe.
Curiously enough, however, he began by treating with Surajah Dowlah—the arch-criminal of the Black Hole—instead of crushing him, and, more amazing still, during the course of the negotiations, he deliberately forged Admiral Watson’s name to a treaty intended to deceive an adherent whom he knew to have made terms with the other side. It is the most inexplicable act in his career, and, being so, it is only a waste of words to try and explain it away. He did it, and there’s an end of it.
The next act in the now swiftly passing drama was the first and only council of war that Clive ever held. It was the eve of Plassey, an occasion ever memorable in the annals, not only of Britain but of163 the whole Orient. He was on one bank of the river, Surajah Dowlah was on the other with an army outnumbering his by twenty to one, splendidly equipped, very strong in artillery, and, as usual, supported and officered by the inevitable Frenchmen. The river was the Rubicon which lay between Clive and the Empire of India—and for once in his life he hesitated.
He called a council of war. It decided against crossing the river with three thousand men in face of sixty thousand, and Clive endorsed the verdict. Then he went apart under some palm trees and held another and a wiser council with himself, and this council promptly and utterly revoked the decision of the other.
The next morning the river was crossed and the next night the little army encamped within a mile of the Nabob’s host. At sunrise the next day Surajah Dowlah, who in the midst of his myriads had passed a night haunted, as has been suggested, by the ghosts of the men and women who perished in the Black Hole, sent forth his forty thousand infantry, his fifteen thousand cavalry, his batteries of fifty guns, and his iron-plated war-elephants to crush the invader once and for all, and on they went like some huge tidal wave, roaring and rushing, to overwhelm some little tree-clad island—and then, just as the human avalanche was in mid-career, the despot weakling’s will wavered, or, more probably, his mind broke down, and he gave the164 order to halt and retreat, almost before a blow was struck.
It was the moment of grace for Clive and he seized it. The three thousand charged the sixty thousand, and all of a sudden the impending tragedy on which the fate of all India from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin depended, was turned into a farce. Of the sixty thousand only five hundred were slain; of the three thousand twenty-two were killed and fifty wounded. The whole thing was over in an hour, and India was won.
To Clive himself the result was an appointment as Governor-General over the whole of the Company’s territory in Bengal, and this virtually raised him to an authority higher than that of a throne, and, to his everlasting honour be it said, that in an age and country of almost universal corruption, he never abused it. Victory after victory in the field, and triumph after triumph in policy now followed fast upon each other, till French, Dutch, and native princes alike were crushed to impotence or reduced to grovelling submission, and the crowning victory of Chinsurah set the seal of absolute supremacy upon British rule in India.
Three months after this Clive again came home, the possessor of fairly won wealth which was only exceeded by the magnitude of his fame, to be hailed as the greatest of British living Commanders, and165 to be rewarded, first with a place in the Irish, and then with one in the British Peerage.
The story of his five years’ stay in England is not an edifying one. It is a story of wild extravagance, fierce and unworthy jealousies in the very councils of that Company to which he had given more lands and subjects than any European monarch possessed, and of general dissatisfaction and disillusion.
But meanwhile the way to his last and perhaps his greatest triumph was being prepared for him. As year after year passed it became more and more plain that the empire he had created could not get on without him. The men put in authority after him by the Company had but one object in life and that was to “shake the Pagoda Tree.” In other words, to set prince against prince and state against state for the sole purpose of making money out of their differences, and generally to squeeze the utmost amount of gold out of the country in the shortest possible time.
Corruption which scandalised even that corrupt age revelled in hitherto unheard-of excesses. Everything was neglected but money-making, and the lately-terrible English name was fast becoming a scoff and a by-word even to the plundered and the oppressed. So in the end Clive went out again, it being seen that he only could end a situation fast becoming impossible.
But this time it was not to fight French, or Indian, or Dutchman, but his own countrymen, and166 to win in the Council Chamber a victory that was perhaps greater than any he had won on the battlefield. In eighteen months he did what he had said he would do, and replaced chaos with cosmos. It was a fitting climax to his life’s work, and yet such is the irony of Fate and the baseness of human nature that it also came near to proving his personal ruin.
He had fought and conquered the evil spirits of greed, corruption, and private extortion, but he had not killed them. The hatred of the evil-doer pursued him across the seas and roused up all the old jealousies at home. On his first and second returns he had been hailed, first as a man of the most brilliant promise and then as a man who had splendidly fulfilled that promise. But now, in the country which he had enriched by the addition of a whole empire no charge was so base that it was not believed against him. He had put down the oppressor, the extortioner, and the money-grubber, and he came back to his native land to be arraigned before a committee of the House of Commons as all these and something of a criminal to boot!
But with this third home-coming of his, his story as an Empire-Maker ends. It is well to know that he came triumphantly out of all the toils that his jealous and unworthy enemies had laid for him, and in this he was happier than his great rival Dupleix, who sank through all the gradations of poverty and misery into a nameless grave. But still the work167 of his foes and that of the terrible Indian climate had not been without effect. Crippled both in mind and body, he at last sought refuge in opium from the tortures of the diseases which he had contracted in the service of his country.
Time after time his genius blazed out again through the glooms that were settling over his later days, and so great was the faith of the Government in him that he was actually asked to go and do for North America what he had done for India.
If the broken invalid of those days had been the same man as the defender of Arcot and the victor of Plassey, the history of the Anglo-Saxon race might well have been changed, for Robert Clive would not only have been strong to crush the rebels, but also just and generous to procure them afterwards those equal rights of citizenship the denial of which split Anglo-Saxondom in two.
Of this, at least, we may be fairly certain: there would have been no Bunker’s Hill and no Brandywine River save as geographical expressions, and there would have been neither a Saratoga nor a Yorktown save as towns and nothing more.
But this was not to be. Clive’s genius had given forth its last flash and the eclipse had come. On November 22, 1774, some ten weeks after the assembly of the Revolutionary Congress at Philadelphia, Robert, Lord Clive, Baron of Plassey, and Conqueror of the domains of the great Tamerlane,168 for the third time put a pistol to his head—and this time it went off.
It was, as Macaulay says, an awful close to such a career, and yet, after all, granted even everything that his worst enemies said against him, Robert Clive had well and worthily earned a place in the front rank of Britain’s Empire-Makers.
On Sir Thomas Wren’s tomb in St. Paul’s stands the Latin legend which translated reads: “If you seek his monument look around you!” If a man could be endowed with an infinite range of vision he might be placed on the highest pinnacle of the Himalayas, and as he looked east and west and south the same might be said to him as the epitaph of Robert Clive; for all that he could see from the Arabian Gulf to the Bay of Bengal, and from the Himalayan slopes to the coral reefs of Cape Comorin, would be the monument of his eternal fame—and is there man born of woman who could desire a worthier?
THE FIRST UNCROWNED KING OF INDIA
BOTH in point of time and personal capacity, Warren Hastings, first Governor-General of the British Empire in India, was the successor of Robert, Lord Clive. At the same time it may be as well to point out in this connection that there might be more literal correctness in describing Warren Hastings as an Empire-Preserver rather than an Empire-Maker.
It was the victor of Plassey who rough-hewed the stones upon which the now gorgeous fabric of our Indian Empire stands. It was Hastings who, in spite of stupendous difficulties, took those stones and laid them down according to that plan which he had formed, and which has been followed in the main by all who have added to the structure.
As was said in other words of William of Orange, one of the greatest claims that the great Governor has to the interest and admiration of those who have a share in the splendid inheritance that he172 built up, lies in the fact that he did his work in the face of everlasting hindrances and in the midst of perpetual embarrassments, which must infallibly have discouraged and bewildered any but a man upon whom the gods had set the stamp of greatness, and, in their own way, crowned him one of the kings of men. In short, like the grandson of William the Silent, Warren Hastings was first and foremost an overcomer of difficulties.
Great and splendid and enduring as his work undoubtedly was, it would not, after all, have been very difficult to do if he had just been left to do it—not helped, because he wasn’t the kind of man who wanted help, but just left alone. Instead of this, however, as though it were not enough that his work of organising and consolidating what the sword of Clive had won, and combating the infinity of complications arising out of the rivalry of a dozen warring native potentates, he was purposely surrounded in his own council-chamber by unscrupulous enemies of his own blood and country, whose only title to historical recognition is now the infamy that they have earned by failing to prevent the doing of that work which Warren Hastings saw had got to be done, and which he, with an inflexible heroism, decided to do in spite of everything that his enemies, white or brown, Mohammedan, Hindoo or British, could do to cripple him.
Sir Alfred Lyall, his most recent biographer, has173 very happily said of him that “perhaps no man of undisputed genius ever inherited less in mind or money from his parents or owed them fewer obligations of any kind.” His father, Pynaston Hastings, was the vagrant ne’er-do-well son of a fine old family. He married when only fifteen without any means or prospect of supporting a family. Warren was the second son. His father was only seventeen at his birth, and his mother died a few days later. As soon as he was old enough Pynaston took holy orders, married again, obtained a living in the West Indies, and there died, leaving his son to be put into a charity school by his grandfather.
This is not much for a father to do for a son, but there was something else that Pynaston Hastings did which was of very great consequence, though in the nature of the case no credit is due to him for it. He transmitted to him the blood of a long line of ancestors, which stretched away back through one of the followers of William the Norman to the days of those old pirate kings of the Northland who, as I have pointed out before, were none the worse fathers of Empire-Makers because they were pirates as well.
One of his ancestors, John Hastings, Lord of the Manors of Yelford-Hastings in Oxfordshire, and of Dalesford in Worcestershire, lost about half of his worldly goods, including the plate that he sent to be coined at the Oxford Mint, in helping174 Charles Stuart to fight the great Oliver, and afterwards spent most of the remainder in buying his peace from the Parliament. It was on the ancient estate of Dalesford, long before sold to the stranger and the alien, that Warren Hastings was born, some two hundred years later, practically a pauper and almost an outcast, under the shadow of his ancestral home.
When he came to reasoning years he made a boyish resolve, challenging fate with all the splendid insolence of a seven-year-old dreamer, that some day he would make his fortune and buy the old place back—which in due course he did, although in those days his prospect of doing so was about as small as it was of reigning over the millions of subjects whose descendants to-day revere his memory almost as that of one of their own demigods.
When he was twelve years old Warren was taken away from the charity school by one of his uncles and sent to Westminster, where he distinguished himself by winning a King’s scholarship in the year 1747. Even when his poor old grandfather, the last Hastings of Dalesford, and the miserably paid rector of the parish which his ancestors had owned, sent Warren to sit beside the little rustics of the village school, he immediately singled himself out from them by the willing intelligence with which he took to his work and afterwards the headmaster of Westminster had175 high hopes of university distinctions for him. It was indeed a somewhat curious coincidence that Robert Clive should have been such an exceedingly bad boy and the completer of his work such a good one.
But the Fates had already decided that Warren Hastings was to graduate with honours in a very much bigger university than that on the banks of the Isis or the Cam. His uncle died suddenly, and the orphan lad was passed on to the care of a distant connection who happened to be a director of the East India Company.
His headmaster remonstrated strongly, but happily without effect, against his immediate removal to Christ’s Hospital to learn account-keeping before going out to Bengal as a writer in the service of “John Company.”
It seems as though the worthy Dr. Nichols had a very high opinion of his intellectual abilities, for, when all his protests failed, he actually offered to send his brilliant young pupil to Oxford at his own expense.
Happily for the British Empire Mr. Director Chiswick, the relative aforesaid, stuck to his selfish project of getting him off his hands as quickly and permanently as possible by sending him out to Calcutta to take jungle fever or make a fortune, just in the same way that Clive’s despairing parents had done.
He sailed for Calcutta when he was seventeen,176 the same age as his precious father was when he was born. He had been two years at the desk in Calcutta when there came the news that Clive had taken Arcot and put a very different complexion on the struggle between the English and French Companies for the supremacy of India.
About that time he was sent to a little town on the Hooghly about a mile from Moorshedabad, and while he was here driving bargains with native silk-weavers and tea merchants, Surajah Dowlah marched into Calcutta and cast such English prisoners as he could lay hold of into the Black Hole.
Hastings was also taken prisoner, but most fortunately did not get into the Black Hole, and he appears to have been set at large on the intercession of the chief of the Dutch factory. During the period which followed his partial release—for he was still under surveillance at Moorshedabad—he made his first essay in diplomacy, or what would perhaps be more correctly described as political intrigue, with the result that the city got too hot for him, and he fled to Fulda, an island below Calcutta, where, as has been pithily said, the English fugitives from Fort William “were encamped like a shipwrecked crew awaiting rescue.”
The rescue came in the shape of the combined naval and military expedition, commanded by Admiral Watson and Robert Clive, which was destined to end in the triumph of Plassey, and177 Warren Hastings, as Macaulay aptly suggests in his brilliant but singularly misinformed essay, doubtless inspired by the example of Clive and the similarity of their entrance on to the stage of Indian affairs, like him exchanged the pen for the sword, and fought through the campaign. But Clive saw “that there was more in his head than his arm,” and after the battle of Plassey he sent him as resident Agent of the Company to the Court of Meer Jaffier, the puppet-nabob who had been set up in the place of Surajah Dowlah.
He held this post until he was made a Member of Council in 1761, and was obliged to remove to Calcutta. Clive was at home now, and the interregnum of oppression, extortion, and general mismanagement was in full swing; but the man who was afterwards so grossly wronged and falsely impeached, and who passed through the most celebrated trial in English history charged with just such crimes, had so little taste for them that three years later he came back a comparatively poor man, and the fortune he had he either gave away to his relations or lost through the failure of a Dutch trading-house.
After a stay of four years, during which he renewed his intimacy with his old schoolfellow, the creator of the immortal John Gilpin, and made the acquaintance of Johnson and Boswell, he found himself so reduced in circumstances that he not only had to ask the Directors of the Company to178 give him more employment in India, but when he got it he was forced to borrow the money to pay his passage out again.
It is quite impossible to form any just and reasonable judgment of the work which Warren Hastings now went out to do unless one first gets an adequate idea of the condition of things obtaining in India before the English went there, and of the conditions that would have obtained, if men like Clive, Hastings, Cornwallis, and Wellesley had not by one means and another—some good, some bad, but all just what were possible under the circumstances—succeeded in imposing the Pax Britannica upon the rival and constantly warring potentates who governed the native populations.
No doubt the war on the Rohillas, or the so-called spoliation of the Begums of Oude, together with more or less magnified incidentals, formed famous themes in after years for the inflated eloquence and grandiloquent over-statements of Edmund Burke and Sheridan, and for the far less comprehensible or excusable special pleading of Lord Macaulay.
It was, no doubt, very affecting to see the patched and powdered fine ladies who paid their fifty guineas a seat in Westminster Hall to watch the men of words mangling the reputation of the man of deeds, weeping and fainting at the harrowing pictures they drew—mostly on their own imaginations—of the sufferings which he had not179 caused; but we of to-day are sufficiently far removed from the personal spite and the passion and rivalry which inspired the enemies and accusers of the great Governor to be able to look at things as they actually were, and in doing so we shall see that, however heavy was the hand that Warren Hastings laid upon the subject peoples, it was but as a caress to a blow when compared with the oppression and extortion with which conqueror after conqueror, Mohammedan and Hindoo, Sikh, Afghan, and Mahratta, had ground down and despoiled the helpless races which successively passed under their sway.
Order, however dearly bought, is always less expensive than anarchy, and the impassioned periods of Burke and Sheridan look somewhat silly when we compare them with the sober facts. It never seems to have struck them or their audience to make any comparison between the English gentleman and loyal servant of his country whom they would have handed down to history as a monster of iniquity, and those real tyrants of the type of Surajah Dowlah, Hyder-Ali, and Nana-Sahib, whose brutal rule and ruthless wars of conquest and extermination must have been, under the circumstances, the only possible alternative to the strong and steady control of the Englishman.
The first thing that Warren Hastings did on his return was to reorganise the trade of the Province,180 and in this he succeeded so well that the Directors rewarded him in 1772 with the Governorship of Bengal; and if they could have stopped there, leaving him to do the rest, the immediately subsequent history of India might have been very much more creditable to the rulers and more pleasant reading for the descendants of the ruled than it was. But unhappily a body of traders and shareholders became possessed with the idea that they were the proper sort of people to rule a country divided by political and religious factions, with a history of almost constant warfare stretching back for centuries, and situated fifteen thousand miles away.
This, on the face of it, was an impossibility. When they had found their Governor they should have trusted him to govern, instead of sending out his personal enemies to sit at his council-table to spy upon his actions and hamper and oppose him in everything that he did.
But there was something else in its way quite as serious as this. Practically all the charges that were brought against Warren Hastings on his impeachment are answered and disposed of by the fact that the only condition upon which he could retain his position and do the work that he had set his soul upon doing was, in three words, making India pay. John Company looked upon his new possession as a trader on a market. With the Directors, who, after all were Hastings’ masters, it was business181 first, and policy and government a good distance after.
Even Macaulay admits that every exhortation to govern leniently and respect the rights of the native princes and their subjects was accompanied by a demand for increased contributions. “The inconsistency was at once manifest to their vice-regent at Calcutta, who, with an empty treasury, with an unpaid army, with his own salary often in arrear, with deficient crops, with Government tenants daily running away, was called upon to remit home another half-million without fail.”
There is another thing to be remembered before we can judge Warren Hastings fairly in the matter of his forced contributions. The tea that was flung overboard in Boston Harbour in the December of 1773 was imported by the East India Company. The connection will appear more obvious when we look at what followed.
Great Britain was about to plunge into war, east and west, north and south. Criminal misgovernment at home had produced revolt abroad. Disaster after disaster and disgrace after disgrace were soon to befall the British arms. The Anglo-Saxon race was about to be split in two, and England herself was to fight, if not for her very existence, at least for her honourable place among the nations.
All this Warren Hastings foresaw with that marvellous prevision which made some of his182 actions look almost prophetic, and determined that, come what might elsewhere, the Star of the East should not be plucked from the British Crown. He was not a soldier. He was an administrator. His task was not to increase but to hold. He was by no means always successful in war, and in all his long rule he never added a province or a district to the area of British India; but what Clive won he held and strengthened during those fateful years when the destiny of Britain as an empire was trembling in the balances of Fate.
Now, to keep India, money was absolutely necessary, and the getting of it was not always work that could be done with kid gloves on, and the greatness of Warren Hastings as Empire-Maker or Holder may be seen in the fact that he deliberately, and with his eyes open, risked his future fortune and reputation in the doing of this work by the only means available.
He knew that his methods would be censured by his masters and made unscrupulous use of by his enemies, and he said so in so many words, and, careless of criticism and undeterred by the most virulent and treasonable opposition, he succeeded so far that he was able to say with truth that he had rescued one province from infamy, and two from total ruin. It is simply amazing to the dispassionate reader of the present day to watch the needless struggles which were imposed upon this man, already confronted by a titanic task, by the183 very men who ought to have been the first, for their own sakes and their country’s, to have made his way as smooth and his burdens as light as possible.
The man who may be fairly described as the evil genius of Warren Hastings’ career was that Sir Philip Francis who is generally looked upon as the author of the far-famed Letters of Junius. He and Sir John Clavering, both personal enemies of the Governor-General—as he was now—were sent out as members of the Council, and to the days of their death they never ceased to thwart and embarrass him by every means in their power.
One reason for their enmity was undoubtedly the sordid motive of getting him turned out of the Governor-Generalship in order that one of them might succeed to his office, and that both might share in the fruits of the extortions which, in him, they condemned.
This was not only unjust to Hastings, but it was also a crime against their country, committed at a moment when she had all too much need of such men as he was.
To my mind, at least, there is a very strong resemblance between the savage invective of Junius and the consistent and unscrupulous malevolence with which Sir Philip Francis tried to wreck the life-work of a man at whose table he was not worthy to sit.
Those were days in which political rivalry and184 personal enmity entailed personal consequences if they were pushed too far. Hastings seemed to have come at length to the conclusion that India was not large enough to hold himself and Francis. He had submitted to insult after insult, and he would have been something more than human if his enemy’s unceasing efforts to make his life a misery and his work a failure had not left some bitterness in his soul, and so one fine day he sat down and embodied his opinion of him in a Minute to the Council, and in this he purposely put words which meant inevitable bloodshed:
“I do not trust to his promise of candour; convinced that he is incapable of it, and that his sole purpose and wish are to embarrass and defeat every measure which I may undertake or which may tend even to promote the public interest if my credit is connected with them…. Every disappointment and misfortune have been aggravated by him, and every fabricated tale of armies devoted to famine and massacre have found their first and most ready way to his office, where it is known they would meet with most welcome reception…. I judge of his public conduct by my experience of his private, which I have found void of truth and honour. This is a severe charge but temperately and deliberately made.”
These were not words which a man in those days could write without taking his chance of a bullet or the point of a small-sword, and Hastings knew185 this perfectly well. Francis challenged him on the spot, and the day but one after they confronted each other with pistols at fourteen paces. Francis’s pistol missed fire, and Hastings obligingly waited until he had reprimed. The second time the pistol went off, but the ball flew wide. Hastings returned it very deliberately and his enemy went down with a bullet in the right side.
HIS ENEMY WENT DOWN WITH A BULLET IN THE RIGHT SIDE.
The difference between the two men may be seen from what followed. After his adversary had been carried home, the Governor-General sent him a friendly message offering to visit him and bury the hatchet for good, as was customary in such affairs between gentlemen. Francis, not being a gentleman, refused, and as soon as he was well enough to travel he came home to England to injure by backstairs-intrigue and the most unscrupulous lying and misrepresentation the man who, in the midst of his difficulties and dangers, had proved all too strong for him in the open.
To use his own words, “after a service of thirty-five years from its commencement, and almost thirteen of them passed in the charge and exercise of the first nominal office of the government,” Warren Hastings at last laid down his thankless task and came home to render an account of his stewardship before a tribunal which possessed neither adequate knowledge to judge of his actions nor that judicial spirit of calmness and impartiality which could alone have guaranteed him such a186 trial as English justice accords to the vilest criminal.
His impeachment is not only the most notable but altogether the most amazing trial in the history of British Law. It would be alike superfluous and presumptuous to reproduce here an account of that which has been described in the incomparable sentences of Lord Macaulay. His essay on Warren Hastings has been considered by many to be the finest of that magnificent collection of Essays and Reviews, and the story of the Impeachment is undoubtedly the finest portion of it. Hence those who read these lines cannot do better than read it as well. If they have read it before they will simply be repeating a pleasure; if they have not, then a new pleasure awaits them.
What we are concerned with here are the bare facts of the matter; but we may first pause for a moment to look at the man as he was when he came across the world to face his mostly incompetent and prejudiced judges. This is how his picture is drawn by Wraxall, a contemporary and a personal acquaintance. The portrait is certainly more faithful than the ridiculous caricatures drawn by Burke and Sheridan.
“When he landed in his native country he had attained his fifty-second year. In his person he was thin, but not tall, of a spare habit, very bald, with a countenance placidly thoughtful, but when animated full of intelligence. Placed in a situation187 where he might have amassed immense wealth without exciting censure, he revisited England with only a modest competence. In private life he was playful and gay to a degree hardly conceivable; never carrying his political vexations into the bosom of his family. Of a temper so buoyant and elastic that the instant he quitted the council-board where he had been assailed by every species of opposition, often heightened by personal acrimony, he mixed in society like a youth upon whom care had never intruded.”
Such was the man who, in a period of national dejection which almost amounted to disgrace, came back, the one man of his generation who had upheld the honour of the British name abroad in a post of great difficulty and danger, to receive, not reward, but impeachment.
He first faced his judges on February 13, 1788, “looking very infirm and much indisposed, and dressed in a plain, poppy-coloured suit of clothes.” He was finally acquitted on March 1, 1794! The trial thus languished through seven sessions of Parliament, the total hearing occupied one hundred and eighteen sittings of the Court, and the vindication of his personal and official character from the slanders of enemies, who were at last refuted with complete discredit to his slanderers cost him about £100,000, of which no less than £75,000 were actually certified legal costs—and this was the reward that England gave to the one man who was188 capable of preserving to her the fruit of the victories of Clive and his gallant lieutenants!
Modern opinion, endorsed by the high legal authority of the late Sir James Stephen, has completely rejected alike the personal vilifications of such self-interested traitors as Francis and Clavering, and the emotional special-pleading of Burke and Sheridan.
“The impeachment of Warren Hastings,” he says, “is, I think, a blot on the judicial history of the country. It was monstrous that a man should be tortured at irregular intervals for seven years, in order that a singularly incompetent tribunal might be addressed before an excited audience by Burke and Sheridan, in language far removed from the calmness with which an advocate for the prosecution ought to address a criminal court.”
To some extent Hastings was recouped for the cost of his persecution, even if he was not rewarded for his distinguished services. He was granted a pension of £4,000 a year for twenty-eight and a half years, part paid in advance, and a loan of £50,000 free of interest. But meanwhile he had been fulfilling the dream of his boyhood by buying back his ancestral estate for £60,000, and another £60,000 was still owing to the lawyers.
Henceforth, disgusted, as he may well have been, with the ingratitude of the country he had served so well in so difficult a time, he retired to his old home and spent the remaining years of his life in the189 calm pursuits of a country gentleman, diversified by the cultivation of letters and the writing of verses.
It was in these days that he used to tell his friends how, as a little lad of seven, he had lain in the long grass on the banks of a stream that flowed through the old domain of Dalesford and dreamt the wild dream whose fulfilment had, after all, been stranger than the dream itself—for not even his boyish romance could be compared with the fact that, during the winning of the means to buy back the home of his fathers, he had risen to be the actual ruler of something like fifty millions of people, and the dictator of terms of peace and war to princes who governed territories half as large as Europe and even more populous.
But in the end he outlived both his enemies and the discredit they had tried to cast upon him. Two years before the battle of Waterloo he was summoned before the Houses of Parliament in the evening of his days to give evidence on the work of his manhood, and when he retired, after nearly four hours’ examination, the whole crowded House of Commons rose and stood uncovered and in silence as the old Empire-Keeper walked out of the Chamber.
He lived to see that empire, for which he had striven so painfully and so manfully, redeemed by the genius and valour of Rodney and Nelson and Wellington from the disgrace and degradation190 which had threatened it during the last decades of the eighteenth century, and three years after Waterloo he died.
His remains lie in the family church at Dalesford, and, to once more quote the words of Sir Alfred Lyall, “in Westminster Abbey a bust and an inscription commemorate the name and career of a man who, rising early to high place and power, held an office of the greatest importance to his country for thirteen years, by sheer force of character and tenaciousness against adversity, and who spent the next seven years in defending himself before a nation which accepted the benefits but disliked the ways of his too masterly activity.”
Lord Macaulay, who throughout his famous essay does him less than justice, concludes it by making almost generous amends. “Not only had the poor orphan retrieved the fallen fortunes of his line—not only had he re-purchased the old lands and rebuilt the old dwelling—he had preserved and extended an empire.1 He had founded a policy. He had administered government and war with more than the capacity of Richelieu. He patronised learning with the judicious liberality of Cosmo. He had been attacked by the most formidable combination of enemies that ever sought the destruction of a191 single victim; and over that combination, after a struggle of ten years, he had triumphed. He had at length gone down to his grave in the fulness of age, in peace after so many troubles, in honour after so much obloquy.”
1 In the territorial sense this is hardly correct. The great essayist probably meant extension in the sense of increase of prestige and influence over the still independent states of the Peninsula.
“ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY.”
Iam conscious of more difficulties ahead in beginning this sketch than I have felt with regard to any other of the series, for, while on the one hand it would be absurd to omit from the glorious ranks of our Empire-Makers the most glorious of them all, it is at the same time practically impossible to say anything fresh or even anything that is not very generally known about the man who, however much he may once have been slighted, and however inadequately his earlier services may have been rewarded during his life, has now come to be the idol of the country that he saved from invasion and the Empire that he preserved from destruction.
His life has been written and re-written, his character and his actions have been discussed and rediscussed, the most private acts and thoughts of his life have been dragged out into the full glare of publicity—a fate which any great man would have to be a very great sinner to deserve—but when all this has been said and done there remains a196 single, sharply-defined individuality of this incomparable naval captain whom the whole world now acknowledges and reveres, quite apart from all national considerations, as the greatest sailor who ever trod a deck and the greatest naval strategist who ever planned a battle or took a fleet into action.
It has been said that when a nation is on the brink of ruin the Fates either hasten its end or send some great man to restore its fortunes. It certainly was thus with the Britain of Nelson’s early youth. On the 17th of October, 1781, Lord Hawke, the victor of Quiberon Bay, and the last of the great line of seamen of whom Admiral Blake was the first, died, leaving, as Horace Walpole said the next day in the House of Commons, his mantle to nobody.
Apparently, there was no one worthy to wear it. The fortunes of England were indeed at a low ebb. Both her naval and military prestige had very seriously declined. The American colonies had been lost by the worst of statesmanship at home and the worst of bungling incompetence and cowardice abroad. We had been beaten by the raw colonists on land and by the French and Dutch at sea.
At home the very highest circles of the realm were polluted by such corruption and crippled by such imbecility as would be absolutely incredible to us now, Imagine, for instance, what would be197 thought to-day of the post of Secretary of State for War being given to a man who had been explicitly declared by a court martial to be absolutely incapable of serving his country in any military capacity!—and yet this is only one example out of many of the flagrant abuses of this amazingly disgraceful period.
Happily, however, for the honour of the race and the safety of the Empire there had been born, twenty-three years before to a country parson in Norfolk, a boy, the fifth in a family of eleven, who fourteen years later was destined to die in the moment of victory, happy in the knowledge that he had not left his country a single enemy to fight throughout the length and breadth of the High Seas. When Horace Walpole spoke his panegyric on Lord Hawke he would probably have been very much surprised if he had been told that it was this then insignificant and unknown cousin of his own who was not only to take up the mantle of the hero of Quiberon, but to bequeath it in his turn, not to a rival or a successor, but to the country which his last triumph left mistress of the seas.
Although there doesn’t seem to be any direct proof, it may be admitted that there is sufficiently strong presumption to warrant us in believing, if we choose to do so, that Horatio Nelson, son of the Rev. Edmund Nelson, Rector of Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk, could one way or another have traced a lineage back to the old Sea Kings of the North.
Certainly he must have had some of the blood of 198those who fought the Armada in his veins, and it is noteworthy that a Danish poet in celebrating his valour, wisdom, and clemency during and after the great battle of Copenhagen, attempted to soothe the wounded pride of his countrymen by pointing out that Nelson was indubitably a Danish name and that after all they had only been beaten by the descendant of one of their old Sea Kings.
But however this may be, the immediate facts all show that the man who crowned and completed the work which Francis Drake and his brother pirates began came of a stock that seemed to promise but little in the way of hereditary battle-winning.
Every one on his father’s side appears either to have been a parson or to have married one. His mother’s father was a parson too, but happily she had a brother Maurice who was a captain in the Navy, and had done some very good work at a time when good work was badly wanted.
This gallant sailor was a great grand-nephew of Sir John Suckling, the poet, and it may be noticed, in passing, that on the 21st of October, 1757, the day which we now know as the anniversary of Trafalgar—Captain Maurice Suckling in the Dreadnought, in company with two other sixty-gun ships, attacked seven large French men-of-war off Cape François in the West Indies, and gave them such a hammering that they were very thankful for the wind which enabled them to escape.
But still more noteworthy is the opinion of 199Captain Maurice Suckling of his nephew when he first received his father’s request to give him a place on board his ship.
“What,” he wrote in reply to the application, “has poor Horatio done, who is so weak, that he above all the rest should be sent to rough it out at sea? But let him come, and the first time we go into action a cannon-ball may knock off his head and provide for him at once.”
The weakness here somewhat grimly alluded to was the curse of Nelson’s existence from the day that he first set foot on the deck of a ship to the moment when the bullet from the mizen-top of the Redoubtable made his almost constant bodily suffering a matter of minutes.
His physical infirmities, or at any rate the weakness of his body as compared with the vast strength and tireless energy of his mind, bring him into very close relationship with William of Orange. Putting nationality aside, he was, in fact, on the sea what William was on land, and the central point in his policy was also the same—tireless and unsparing hostility to France.
With Nelson, indeed, this appears to have gone very near to the borders of fanaticism. Some of his sayings with regard to the Frenchmen of his day are absolutely ferocious. Hatred and contempt are about equally blended in them. “Hate a Frenchman as you would hate the devil!” was200 with him an axiom and was his usual form of advice to midshipmen on entering the service.
On one occasion in the Mediterranean he said to one of his captains who had got into a dispute about the property which the defeated French garrison at Gaieta were to be allowed to take away with them:
“I am sorry that you had any altercation with them. There is no way to deal with a Frenchman but to knock him down. To be civil to him is only to be laughed at when they are enemies.”
The same spirit breathes through nearly all his letters. Thus, for instance, he concluded a letter to the British Minister at Vienna with these words: “Down, down with the French ought to be written in the council-room of every country in the world, and may Almighty God give right thoughts to every sovereign is my constant prayer.”
He seems to have had respect for every other enemy that he met; but for the French he had nothing save contemptuous and unsparing hostility. “Close with a Frenchman, but out-manœuvre a Russian” was another of his favourite sayings. This, it is to be hoped, is all past and gone; but it is instructive as giving us the key, not only to Nelson’s policy, but also to that spirit which made the British man-of-warsmen of the day absolutely prefer to fight the French at long odds than on even terms.
It was this spirit which was embodied in another201 of Nelson’s pet phrases: “Any Englishman is worth three Frenchmen.” Of course that would be all nonsense now; but in justice to our neighbours it ought to be remembered that the Frenchmen whom Nelson and his sailors met and conquered were the worst and not the best of their nation.
The old navy of France, the navy which had commanded the Eastern Seas in the days of Clive and which had with impunity insulted the English shores and brought an invading force into Ireland in the time of William the Third no longer existed. It had been essentially an aristocratic service like our own, its officers were gentlemen and thorough sailors, and its seamen were brave, disciplined, and obedient.
But in her blood-drunkenness France had either murdered or banished nearly every man who was fit to command a ship or who knew how to point a gun. The fleets of revolutionary France were for the most part commanded by ignoramuses or poltroons, or both, and manned by a rabble who had neither stamina, training, or discipline.
Without the slightest wish to detract from the splendour of the victories of Nelson or his comrades, I still think it is only fair to point out again, as has once or twice been done before, that when we read of French Admirals declining battle even when they had superior force, or of running away before the battle was over, or of a small British squadron202 crumpling up a whole fleet with very trifling loss to itself, we ought to remember that the French Admirals had little or no confidence in their officers, while the officers had still less either in their admirals or their men.
On the other hand, such a man as Nelson, Collingwood, or Hardy had simply to say that he was going to do a certain thing to convince every one serving under him that it was about as good as already done.
This brings me naturally to one of Nelson’s most striking characteristics. No man who rose to distinction in the Navy was ever guilty of so many barefaced acts of insubordination as he was. Happily for him and for us his disobedience or neglect of orders was always justified by victory. The genius for supreme command, which was far and away the strongest point in his character, manifested itself very early in his career. The event proved that he was the superior of every naval officer then afloat, whether admiral or midshipman, and he seemed instinctively to know it.
When he was commanding the old Agamemnon in the Mediterranean, at the time when it was in dispute whether Corsica should fall under the rule of France or Britain, he fought two French ships, the Ça Ira and the Sans Culottes, for a whole day and beat them. The next day a sort of general action was fought, Admiral Hotham being in command of the British fleet. Nelson naturally wanted203 a fight to a finish, but the Admiral was content with the capture of two ships and the flight of the rest, and in reply to Nelson’s remonstrances he said: “We must be contented. We have done very well.”
In a letter home on the subject of this action, Nelson penned a sentence which was at once prophetic in itself and closely characteristic of the writer. It was this: “I wish to be an Admiral and in command of the English fleet. I should very soon either do much or be ruined. My disposition cannot bear tame and slow measures. Sure I am had I commanded on the 14th, that either the whole French fleet would have graced my triumph or I should have been in a confounded scrape.”
That is Nelson’s mental portrait drawn by himself. No half measures would ever do for him, and in most of the letters that he sent home from his various scenes of action, whether they were written to his wife, his private friends, or the Lords of the Admiralty, we find the constant complaint, made with an insistence amounting almost to petulance, that when he saw complete triumph within his grasp his superiors either would not help him to secure it or forced him to be content with a mere temporary advantage.
Under such circumstances it was only natural that such a man should now and then break loose. He saw quite plainly that there were confused204 councils at home, and timid tactics afloat. He saw also that under Napoleon the power of France was growing every day.
The Board of Admiralty was apparently both corrupt and incompetent. The Mediterranean fleet had been so shamefully neglected that after Nelson had fought an action off Toulon even he was afraid to risk another without the certainty of victory because there was “not so much as a mast to be had east of Gibraltar,” and he could not possibly have re-fitted his ships. It was about this time that he said in one of his letters home:
“I am acting, not only without the orders of my commander-in-chief, but in some measure contrary to him.”
If the authorities at home had only had the same opinion of his abilities as those had who were able to watch his operations on the spot, and particularly in Italy, it is quite possible that the whole history of Europe might have been changed and that Napoleon would never have won that series of brilliant victories which cost such an infinity of blood and treasure, and which bore no fruits but such as resembled all too closely the fabled Dead Sea apples.
Nelson’s patriotism may have been of a somewhat narrow-minded order, and his hatred of the French may have partaken somewhat of the nature of bigotry, but there can be no doubt that he was the one man in Europe who saw what was205 coming and had the ability, if he had only had the power, to save the world from the horrors of the Napoleonic wars.
Thus, for instance, if his advice had been taken, the splendid victory of Aboukir Bay might have been turned into the decisive battle of the war which only ended with Waterloo. As it was, he to some extent took the law into his own hands. He saw perfectly well that Napoleon’s ultimate point of attack was not Egypt but India. He sent an officer with dispatches to the Governor of Bombay, advising him of the defeat of the French Fleet, and in this dispatch he said:
“I know that Bombay was their first object if they could get there, but I trust that now Almighty God will overthrow in Egypt these pests of the human race. Buonaparte has never yet had to contend with an English officer, and I shall endeavour to make him respect us.”
In another dispatch to the Admiralty he taught a lesson which we have only lately begun to learn. In those days of the old wooden-walls the handy, light-heeled frigate was to the ships of the line what the swift cruisers of to-day are to the big battleships. They were the eyes and ears of the fleet, and they could be sent on errands which were impossible to the huge three-deckers. After the battle of the Nile was won he said in this dispatch:
“Were I to die this moment want of frigates206 would be found stamped on my heart. No words of mine can express what I have suffered, and am suffering, for want of them.”
The inner meaning of these bitter words was one of vast importance, not only to Britain, but to all Europe. They meant really that the most splendid victory that had so far been won at sea had been robbed of half its results. For want of the lighter craft, even of a few bomb-vessels and fire-ships which he had implored the authorities to send him, Napoleon’s store-ships and transports in the harbour of Alexandria escaped attack and certain destruction.
Their destruction would have enabled Nelson to carry out the policy which his genius had told him was the only true one to pursue at this momentous crisis. He would have cut off Napoleon’s communications and deprived him of his supplies. Then he would have blockaded the Egyptian Coast and left the future conqueror of Austerlitz to perish amidst the sands of Egypt. As he said to himself: “To Egypt they went with their own consent, and there they shall remain while Nelson commands this squadron—for never, never will he consent to the return of one ship or Frenchman. I wish them to perish in Egypt and give an awful lesson to the world of the justice of the Almighty.”
This was a pitiless pronouncement, but no one who has read the history of the Napoleonic wars207 can doubt the accuracy of Nelson’s foresight or the true humanity of his policy, for, if this had happened only a few thousands out of the five million lives which these wars are computed to have cost would have been lost. There would have been no Austerlitz, or Wagram, or Jena for France to boast of; but, on the other hand, there would have been no Leipsic, no Moscow, and no Waterloo.
As usual, however, Nelson, although he had magnificently restored the credit of the British arms at sea, was crippled by shortness of means and baulked by the stupidity and incompetence of his masters at home. Sir Sidney Smith’s policy was preferred to his, with the result that Napoleon was permitted to desert his army and live to become the curse of Europe for the next seventeen years.
But, if he did not do all he wanted to do, when Nelson won the battle of the Nile he completely established his claim to be considered one of the Empire-makers of Britain, for if he had not followed the French with that unerring judgment of his, and if he had not, in defiance of all accepted naval tactics, attacked them in what was considered to be an unassailable position—that is to say, moored off shore in two lines with both ends protected by batteries—all the work that Clive and Hastings had done in India might have been undone, and, considering the miserable208 state of our national defences, we might either have lost India or had to wage such an exhausting war for it that we could not possibly have taken the decisive share that we afterwards did in the overthrow of the French power.
As he said in one of his most famous utterances while the British fleet was streaming into the bay: “Where there is room for a Frenchman to swing, there is room for an Englishman to get alongside him.”
That was Nelson. His idea was always to get alongside, to get as close as possible to the enemy and to hit him as hard as he could. Mere defeat was not enough for him. He wanted a fight to a finish, the finish being the absolute destruction or capture of the hostile force.
This was not because there was anything particularly ferocious in his nature. On the contrary, a more tender-hearted man never lived.
Before that one defeat of his at Teneriffe when he lost his arm, he wrote to his Commander-in-chief—this letter, by the way, was the last he ever wrote with his right hand—expressing solicitude for everybody but himself. None knew better than he the desperate nature of the venture, for in this very letter he said that on the morrow his head would probably be crowned either with laurel or cypress, and the last thing he did before he left his ship was to call his stepson to help him in burning his wife’s letters,209 and then ordered him to remain behind, saying: “Should we both fall, what would become of your poor mother?”
Happily Lieutenant Nisbet disobeyed the order to his face and went. When the bullet shattered Nelson’s arm at the elbow, it was his stepson who had the presence of mind to whip off his silk handkerchief and bind it round above the wound. But for this, Nelson would never have fought another battle, for he must have bled to death before he reached his ship.
It so happened that he could have been put much sooner on board the Sea Horse, but her commander, Captain Freemantle, was still on shore, and, for all he knew, might be dead or alive. His wife was on board the Sea Horse, and Nelson, wounded and bleeding as he was, insisted on going on, saying: “I would rather suffer death than alarm Mrs. Freemantle by letting her see me in this state when I can give her no tidings of her husband.” Freemantle, as it turned out, had been wounded in almost exactly the same place only a few minutes before.
When Nelson got back to his own ship, he would not hear of being slung or carried up on deck.
“I’ve got one arm and two legs left,” he said, “and I’ll get up by myself.”
And so he did, and up a single rope at that.210 In a strong man this would have been wonderful; in a mere weakling as Nelson physically was, it was little short of a miracle.
This was the man who, in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, with an utterly disabled ship, boarded and took two Spanish men-of-war both bigger than his own. One of them had eighty and the other a hundred and twelve guns; his own only mounted seventy-four.
It is, of course, entirely out of the question that in such a mere sketch as this I should attempt to follow Nelson through even a moderate proportion of the hundred and five engagements in which he personally fought, nor would it be fitting that I should attempt to emulate the brilliant and detailed descriptions which have illustrated the principal of them.
With his doings at Naples and Palermo, and his much-debated and inexplicable attachment to Lady Hamilton which unhappily began during this period, we have here no concern. The hero of the Nile, like every other great man, had his faults. Those who cavil at them are really blaming their possessors for not being perfect, for if really great men had no faults they would be perfect, and that is impossible, and, so much being said, the scene may now shift forthwith from the Mediterranean to the Baltic.
The Armed Neutrality is now only a phrase in history, but in the year 1801 it was a very serious211 reality. It was a league between Russia, Sweden, and Denmark. From the English point of view it meant this—that France, with whom we had now practically embarked in a struggle to the death, would be able, under the sanction of this league, to import from the shores of the Baltic the very articles that we did not wish her to have, and which she couldn’t get elsewhere. These were naval stores, pine-trees for masts and spars, hemp for rigging, tar, and so on.
It was very easy to see that this Armed Neutrality meant in plain English that these three Powers were quite agreeable to the smashing-up of Great Britain by France provided that they were not called upon to pay any of the expenses or suffer any of the other losses of the war. Denmark was therefore politely but firmly requested to detach herself from this league, the reason being that Denmark in those days kept the key of the Baltic. Denmark refused, and unhappily for her she did so just at the time when the Victor of the Nile had come home for a well-earned holiday.
We are not accustomed now, in the pride of our unequalled naval strength, to take very much account of the fleets of these three countries, but just before the Battle of the Baltic was fought it was a very different matter.
The Danes had twenty-three line-of-battle ships and thirty-one frigates, not counting bomb-vessels and guard-ships. Sweden had eighteen ships of the212 line, fourteen frigates and sloops and seventy-four galleys, as well as a small swarm of gun-boats, while Russia could put to sea eighty-two line-of-battle ships and forty-two frigates.
Such a force within the narrow waters of the Baltic was a very formidable one, but before we can arrive at a just appreciation of the magnificence and importance of the service which Nelson did for his country we must remember that of all European waters those of the Baltic, and especially of the approaches to it, are the most difficult and dangerous. Even with the aid of steam it would be no light matter to take a fleet into the Baltic under the guns of Elsinore and Kronberg were the lamps of the lighthouses extinguished and all the buoys removed.
What then must it have been to go in with a fleet of sailing ships utterly at the mercy of wind and current, to say nothing of the ice? Indeed, Southey tells us that when Nelson went to Yarmouth to join the fleet under Admiral Sir Hyde-Parker he found him a little nervous about dark nights and ice-floes.
His own remarks on the subject are very well worthy of remembrance: “These are not times for nervous systems,” he said. “I hope we shall give our northern enemies that hailstorm of bullets which gives our dear country the dominion of the sea. We have it and all the devils in the North cannot take it from us if our wooden walls have fair play.”
It was a most egregious mistake not to have made the Victor of the Nile and the Conqueror of the213 Mediterranean commander-in-chief of the Northern Squadron. His fame was already resounding through the world, and every one except the Lords of the Admiralty seems to have already recognised the fact that he was by far the finest sailor of the age.
Here again, too, officialism at home sadly crippled the work of valour and genius abroad. As usual Nelson had his own plans, and as usual they were the very best possible. His idea was to attack the Russian Squadron in Reval and the Danish in Copenhagen simultaneously, and by preventing their coalition make it too risky for the Swedes to join in.
Captain Mahan, who is certainly entitled to be considered one of the foremost naval authorities of the day, describes Nelson’s plan of attack as worthy of Napoleon himself, and says that if adopted it “would have brought down the Baltic Confederacy with a crash that would have resounded throughout Europe.” As it was, more timid counsels prevailed, but thanks to Nelson the end was the same, or nearly so.
We may gather some notion of the difficulty of getting on to the scene of battle when we read that no less than three English line-of-battle ships went aground before the battle began, and we also get an interesting glimpse of that old hand-to-hand style of naval warfare which has now passed away for ever, when we are told that the ships opened fire at a214 range of two hundred yards! Nowadays firing would begin at between three and four thousand. If two modern fleets were to get to business at that range the said business would probably consist of one broadside from each, one discharge of the big guns, and after that general wreck and ruin. It is not likely that either side would win, and it is certain that both sides would lose.
From ten to one the battle raged fast and furious, and so much damage had been done on the English side that Sir Hyde-Parker made a signal to leave off action. It was at this moment that Nelson uttered those immortal words, which were destined to be as famous even as his signal at Trafalgar:
“What? Leave off action? No, damn me if I do! You know, Foley, I have a right to be blind sometimes. No, I really don’t see the signal. Fire away!”
Those were days of hard swearing as well as hard hitting, and, considering all the circumstances, even the purest of modern purists may forgive a little vehemence of expression to the man who that day did such good work, not only for our grandfathers, but for us and our children.
NELSON AT COPENHAGEN.
An hour or so later Nelson performed one of the most memorable actions even of his life. The Danish ships and floating batteries were moored in-shore. The fire of the English guns was, as usual, terribly accurate, but as fast as the Danes were shot down, fresh crews were put on board215 the ships, and Nelson very soon saw that this simply meant butchery as long as a Danish ship floated.
Consequently he sat down and wrote a note to the Crown Prince of Denmark which he sent on shore under a flag of truce. This was the letter:
“Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when no longer resisting, but if the firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire all the floating batteries he has taken without having the power of saving the brave Danes who have defended them.”
The result of this letter was a truce, and the truce led to an armistice and the separation of Denmark from the Armed Neutrality. This was very different treatment, we may well imagine, to anything that the French might have expected. In their case he considered extermination to be the only remedy for the disease which in his eyes they represented on earth.
It was curious that after such a day’s work this man, who had probably saved Europe from one of the greatest menaces that ever threatened it, should go back to his cabin and copy out love verses to send to Lady Hamilton—and yet that is just what he did, and at the end of them he wrote: “St. George, April 2nd, 1801, at 9 o’clock at night. Very tired after a hard fought battle.”
The Battle of Copenhagen and the death of the Tsar Paul put an end to the Northern Confederacy and to all the hopes of France in that direction. But Nelson was not satisfied, for the Russian fleet216 had escaped. He was, however, in some measure consoled by the recall of Sir Hyde-Parker and the realisation of his old ambition by his own appointment as commander-in-chief.
His next service was as commander of a sort of patrol fleet on the East Coast. Those were the days of the great invasion scare. Nelson never believed in it. In one of his letters to Lord Addington on the subject he said:
“What a forlorn undertaking! It is perfectly right to be prepared against a mad government, but with the active force your lordship has given me I may pronounce it impracticable.”
Soon after this, preliminaries of peace were signed, and to Nelson’s intense disgust the French Ambassador was enthusiastically received in London. Writing to his physician soon after he said:
“Can you cure madness? for I am mad that our damned scoundrels dragged the Frenchman’s carriage. I am ashamed for my country.”
The Peace was hollow and brief, for the mastery of the sea was not yet decided, and by the middle of 1803 we find Nelson back in the Mediterranean, not blockading Toulon, but rather trying to tempt the French out to a battle.
He even went so far as to appear to run away, and the French Admiral, Latouche-Treville, promptly wrote a letter giving a most glowing account of how he had chased the English away from Toulon. The idea of a Frenchman daring to say such a thing217 naturally made Nelson furious. Writing about it to his brother he said:
“If this fleet gets fairly up with M. Latouche his letter with all his ingenuity must be different from his last. We had fancied that we had chased him into Toulon, but from the time of his meeting Captain Hawker of the Isis I never heard of his acting otherwise than as a poltroon and a liar. I am keeping his letter, and if I take him by God he shall eat it.”
This amiable design, however, the French Admiral baulked by dying, and when Nelson heard the news he remarked half-angrily: “He is gone, and all his lies with him.”
That is what he thought of the Admiral. This is what he thought of the fleet: “The French fleet yesterday was to appearance in high feather and as fine as paint could make them. Our weather-beaten ships, I have no fear, will make their sides like a plum-pudding.”
The interval between the ending of the Toulon blockade and the Battle of Trafalgar was filled chiefly by what may be described as a huge naval hunt. On the one hand, there were three French fleets manœuvring to get out and come together in the Channel with the object of overwhelming any English force that might try to prevent the embarkation of the Grand Army at Boulogne. But they had another object, and that was to get as far as possible out of Nelson’s way.
The first idea was to make a feint at the West 218Indies, and so away went Admiral Villeneuve with his fleet across the Atlantic, and away went Nelson post-haste after him. He got to the West Indies only to find that the Frenchmen had doubled on their tracks and gone back again, and so he immediately turned the prows of his weather-beaten and almost unseaworthy ships to the eastward, and for the second time chased the French across the Atlantic. But he missed them again, and on July 20, 1805, Nelson made an entry in his diary to the effect that he had that day gone ashore at Gibraltar—the first time that he had left the Victory for two years all but ten days!
From Gibraltar he came home and spent a few weeks of rest at Merton, the estate which he had bought in Surrey. During this time a momentous naval duel was fought in the Channel. Admiral Villeneuve had sent some very important dispatches containing the plans for the concentration of the French and Spanish fleets to the commander of the Rochefort squadron by the Didon, a forty-four-gun frigate; but on her way the Didon was met by the Phœnix, an English forty-gun frigate which, after the fashion of the times, proceeded to pound her to helplessness, then ran alongside and carried her by the board in the good old style. The result of this was that Villeneuve gave up all hope of the concentration and retreated to Cadiz, where he anchored on August 17th.
Admiral Collingwood, in command of the Atlantic 219squadron, at once sent off the frigate Euryalus home with news. She dropped anchor at Spithead on the 1st of September. At five o’clock the next morning her captain presented himself at Merton and found Nelson already up and dressed. The moment Captain Blackwood entered the room Nelson’s face lit up and he said:
“I’m sure you bring me news of the French and Spanish fleets and I think I shall have to give them a beating yet. Depend upon it, Blackwood, I shall yet give Mr. Villeneuve a drubbing.”
He left for London the same day to consult with the Admiralty, and it was on one of the visits that he then paid to the Secretary of State that he met for a few minutes—and for the only time in his life—the man whose name was destined to be linked with his in everlasting fame. This was Arthur Wellesley, some day to be Duke of Wellington, who was to do for the French on land what Nelson had been doing for them at sea.
Sir Arthur came away with a curious opinion of the little, pale, nervous, fidgety, one-armed man, who had won the two greatest battles in the history of naval warfare, and was about to surpass himself by winning yet a greater one.
From one point of view he was a vain, boastful, and somewhat womanish little man. From another, he was not only a great leader of men, but a statesman to boot. On the whole, the future Iron Duke220 came to the conclusion that the Hero of the Nile was “a very superior person.”
Nelson’s opinion of Wellington is unhappily lost to posterity. One can imagine the sort of language he would have used if any one had told him that a soldier had ventured to call him “a superior person.”
“For charity’s sake, send us Lord Nelson, ye men of power.” Such was the prayer of Captain Codrington of the Orion, serving with Collingwood’s fleet off Cadiz. But by the time this letter got home Nelson was with the fleet, and it is worthy of note that he reached the last and most glorious of his hundred battlefields on his birthday, the twenty-ninth of September.
The first thing that he did was to send home for more ships, not because he wasn’t ready to fight the French with what he had, but simply in pursuance of his constant policy with regard to them. In his dispatch to the Admiralty he said:
“Should they come out, I shall immediately bring them to battle, but though I should not doubt of spoiling any voyage they may attempt, yet I hope for the arrival of the ships from England that as an enemy’s fleet they may be annihilated.”
In a private letter which he wrote at the same time he said:
“It is annihilation that the country wants and not merely a splendid victory of twenty-three to thirty-six—honourable to the parties concerned, but absolutely useless in the extended scale to bring221 Buonaparte to his marrow-bones. Numbers can only annihilate. Therefore I hope the Admiralty will send the fixed force as soon as possible.”
He hoped for forty sail of the line, but when the ever memorable morning of the 21st had dawned he was only able to muster twenty-seven against thirty-three. At half-past eleven the famous signal: “England expects that every man will do his duty!” flew from the main-royal of the Victory.
I have no intention of attempting to re-write the thousand-times told tale of Trafalgar or of the disaster which plunged the nation into mourning in the midst of the exultation of triumph, for to do so would be alike superfluous and impertinent. Let it be enough to point out that the firing of the first gun marked the moment that Nelson had lived and fought for.
He was Commander-in-chief, as he had so often prayed to be, of the British Fleet, and there in front of him was the last fleet of any strength that his hated enemy France could muster. The battle, like the triumph, was his and his alone. Every man who that day did his duty fought by Nelson’s directions and, as it were, under Nelson’s eye, and never was victory more complete or defeat more crushing.
When it was over eighteen out of the thirty-three French and Spanish ships had been captured, and finally only eleven got back to Cadiz so shattered that they never again took the sea as men-of-war.
The crowning triumph of Nelson’s life left Britain 222without a rival so far as the mastery of the sea was concerned and threw the way open for conquest and colonisation in all parts of the world. Well might the great Admiral say when he lay dying in Captain Hardy’s arms: “Thank God, I’ve done my duty!”
No man ever died with nobler or more truly spoken words on his lips than these, for he had not only given his country the empire of the sea, but he had saved her from invasion by one who was perhaps the greatest military genius the world has known.
On the heights above Boulogne there stands a tall column surmounted by a figure of Napoleon. It was raised to commemorate the assembly of the Grand Army—that army which during the next ten years swept in an irresistible torrent of conquest from one end of Europe to the other. Napoleon’s back is turned on the white cliffs of England. If Nelson had never lived, he might have been facing the other way.
“THE PRIDE AND THE GENIUS OF HIS COUNTRY.”
THERE is a very considerable amount of uncertainty, and there are also a few somewhat remarkable coincidences associated with the early youth of Arthur Wesley, better known to fame under the expanded form Wellesley, son of Garret, Earl of Mornington, and his wife Ann Hill, one of the daughters of Lord Dungannon.
It is somewhat singular, for instance, that the birthday of a child born in such a position should not be known within a day or two. His mother, who ought to have spoken with authority, said that the future conqueror of the great Napoleon entered the world on May-Day, 1769.
The date on his baptismal certificate is the 30th of May, and twenty-one years later a committee of the Irish House of Commons, to which he had just been elected, investigated the question on a petition which sought to show that he was not of full age, and this committee decided that he was born on or before the 29th of April. With regard to this latter date, however, it has been suggested that with the226 money and influence that he had behind him there would have been no difficulty in getting the Irish Parliament of those days to make him any age that he pleased.
But these things are only trifles. The fact of moment to the world is that Arthur Wellesley managed to get born into the world some three months before a certain other boy-baby was born at Ajaccio in Corsica. No one, of course, dreamt then that these two babies were going to grow up into Titans whose final struggle for the mastery of Europe was to shake the world forty-six years later.
There is perhaps no more noteworthy coincidence in modern history than the fact that Nelson, Wellington, and Napoleon should all have been born about the same time—for without Nelson’s victories at sea, Napoleon would in all probability have been irresistible on land, while, without Wellington’s splendid conduct of the Peninsular War, the crowning victory of Waterloo would perhaps never have been won, and so at least half the effects of Nelson’s hundred and five fights would have been destroyed.
This is all the more singular from the fact that nothing within the limits of human probability save the supreme genius and individual capacity of this Englishman and this Anglo-Irishman could possibly have stemmed the tide of Napoleonic conquest.
As I have pointed out in another of these sketches, the last decade but one of the eighteenth227 century was one of disaster and degradation for this country both at home and abroad. The national strength was sapped by corruption, and the national spirit was daunted by defeat.
The history of the next thirty or forty years distinctly shows that we had but one Nelson at sea, and but one Wellington on land. If they had been born a quarter of a century later, or even if they had not both come into the world about the same time as their mighty antagonist, the map of Europe would certainly be very different to what it is to-day, and it is also fairly safe to say that the map of the world would not now show nearly as much red as it does.
Arthur Wellesley, like certain others of our Empire-Makers who will be remembered, was a delicate, weakly boy and also, curiously enough, a dunce at school. As far as we know he was first sent to a school at Chelsea, whence in due course he went to Eton. Now there came a time when Eton was very proud indeed of being his Alma-Mater; but when she came to look back to see if she could remember anything about him she found that his career was absolutely undistinguished.
There was only one incident in it all that any one remembered, and that was a fight that he had had with one Bob or “Bobus” Smith, of whom also nothing is known save the fact that he had a brother who was afterwards known to the world as Sydney Smith—not the defender of Acre, but the228 clerical humourist who divided the human race into three sexes: Men, women, and curates.
It would seem that he was all along intended for the army, for when his undistinguished career at Eton had closed he went to a French military school at Angers, somewhere about the same time that a certain young cadet of Artillery was beginning to learn his business in Toulon. Here, again, we get very dim glimpses of the future conqueror, Empire-Maker, and preserver. One of them, however, is fairly distinct. He had a little terrier called Vick to which he was a great deal more attentive than he was to his studies and which repaid his attention by constant and unswerving devotion.
When he left Angers is not known to a year or so, but in 1787 we come across something definite, for in this year Arthur Wesley, as he still spelt himself, was gazetted as ensign to His Majesty’s 73rd Regiment of Foot.
He now stood on the lowest of the gentlemanly rungs of the military ladder and his upward progress was for a time somewhat bewildering. Those were the days when money and social and political influence, which came to about the same thing, did everything in the Army, the Navy, the Church, and everywhere else, and, curiously enough, this apparently absurd system produced the finest array of soldiers and sailors that has ever adorned the annals of our empire. There are, indeed, certain blasphemers229 who venture to suggest that it worked quite as well as our much-boasted compound of mechanical cramming and competitive examination does now.
But, be this as it may, Arthur Wesley’s first steps up the ladder were distinctly erratic. First he became a lieutenant of the 76th and 41st, then a sub. in the 12th Light Dragoons, then a captain in the 58th Foot, then captain of the 18th Light Dragoons, and so on till by the autumn of 1793, when he had reached the mature age of twenty-four, he was gazetted lieutenant-colonel of the 33rd Foot.
There were two reasons for this rapid promotion. The first undoubtedly is the fact that his elder brother Richard was now Earl of Mornington and a wealthy man and a social power to boot. The second, as Mr. George Hooper in his excellent biography suggests, is probably the perception by his brother of qualities which so far nobody else had discovered.
How far his Lordship was justified was speedily shown when in 1793—which the historical reader will note was the date of the driving out of the English and Royalists from Toulon by the well-directed guns of Citizen Buonaparte—he was given the command of the 33rd Foot. A few months later the 33rd was officially recognised as the most effective regiment on the Irish establishment.
The next year Lieutenant-Colonel Wesley saw230 his first active service. It was not an encouraging experience, but it was sufficient to show the sort of stuff that the future Iron Duke was made of. The allied armies in the Netherlands, with the English under the Duke of York among them, were retreating after a series of disasters before the triumphant onrush of the French legions.
Near the town of Boxtell the retreat began to get uncomfortably like a rout. Horse and foot were getting mixed up in a narrow lane and the French, seeing this, were getting ready to charge into them; whereupon Colonel Wesley planted his men skilfully across the mouth of the lane and, when the French charged, the well-drilled 33rd stood so steadily and used their muskets with such deadly precision that the French thought better of it and the pursuit stopped there and then.
That was the young Colonel’s first experience of actual war. It was also the first check the French had so far received in the Netherlands, which is also significant in the light of after events.
After that he commanded the rear-guard in the retreat to the British transports at Bremen. He did his duty as well as the hopeless carelessness and incompetency of those over and above him permitted. “It was a perfect marvel,” he said afterwards, “how a single man of us escaped,” from which it will be gathered that British military genius and discipline were somewhat at a discount during the campaign which we may regard as the prelude to231 the stupendous struggle which was to culminate on the field of Waterloo.
When Colonel Wesley got home he did a very curious thing. He asked to be allowed to resign his commission and to be given some post, however humble, in the Civil Service. It is easy to see from his letter of application to Lord Camden that he was utterly disgusted with the Army, or rather with the way in which it was mismanaged. He also felt, as he distinctly says, that he had in him the makings of a successful financier, and certainly if great business capacity, instantaneous knowledge of men, unequalled power of organisation, and absolutely tireless energy are the principal requisites for commercial success, Arthur Wesley might have died a millionaire.
Happily, however, Lord Camden refused to grant his request. No doubt the Earl of Mornington had something to say about it and good officers were quite rare enough just then to make the abilities of the Colonel of the 33rd fairly conspicuous. Soon after this he had an attack of yellow fever in Ireland, probably by infection, which very nearly killed him. Just at this time too, that is to say the end of 1795, an expedition was organised to the West Indies and the 33rd were to form part of it.
It is interesting to us with our wind-defying monsters of steel and steam to learn that the squadron tried for six weeks to get out of the Channel and then had to come back. By this time232 the destination of the expedition had been changed from the West to the East Indies. The Colonel of the 33rd was too ill to sail with his regiment. A swift frigate enabled him to overtake it at the Cape; but for all that he was nearly thirteen months before he got to Calcutta.
Arthur Wellesley, as he now began to sign himself, although nothing more in the eyes of his comrades and commanders than a Colonel of Foot who was a good disciplinarian and a promising soldier, had now entered that theatre on the stage of which he was to play a brilliant part to a world-wide audience.
Nearly thirteen years before Warren Hastings had finished his work and gone home to take his reward in impeachment and ruin. The brilliant administration of Lord Cornwallis and the less conspicuous rule of Sir John Shore were now to be followed by a double command which was to extend, complete, and crown the great work of empire-making in the East which had begun when Robert Clive left his desk to go and capture Arcot.
A few weeks after Colonel Wellesley landed in Calcutta, his brilliant brother, the Earl of Mornington took his seat on the Viceregal throne. No happier combination could well have been possible. The elder brother was a scholar, a statesman, and a broad-minded man of affairs. The younger was, even then, the same man who won Vittoria, Talavera, and Waterloo.
The two acted in perfect unison. There was233 none of that bungling timidity and incompetency in high places which confused the counsels and crippled the activity of Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, and the result was, as might have been expected, a succession of triumphs won, be it noted, not only by consummate generalship, but also by incessant vigilance and hard work resulting in perfect organisation.
These triumphs culminated, as every one knows, in the crushing of the Mahratta power—the last serious obstacle to the universality of British rule in India—on the memorial field of Assaye.
It was a magnificent combination of courage, calculation, and generalship. With a force of five thousand men and eighteen guns and with only two thousand European troops in his army, Wellesley defeated and utterly cut up an army of over forty thousand men and an artillery force of a hundred guns, and these, too, were the finest native fighting troops in the Peninsula. In less than three hours after the first assault the five thousand had conquered the forty thousand and captured a hundred and two guns and all the stores and ammunition, and it should always be remembered that Assaye was a very different business to Plassey. It was a battle, not a rout, a tragedy rather than a farce. Of the two thousand Europeans over four hundred were killed and wounded, and of the three thousand natives, who fought magnificently as they have ever since done in company with British troops, there234 were no less than sixteen hundred killed and wounded.
As for Wellesley himself, he was wherever he was wanted, and that was usually in the thick of the fight. But there is another fact which gives us a glimpse of the great general who was the master spirit of the Peninsular Campaign. His men fought the battle of Assaye at the end of a twenty-four mile march, and no military force that is not commanded by a military genius could do that.
There were other actions after Assaye, but it was there that the final blow was really struck. Holkar, it is true, had seemed to turn the tide for the time, but in the December of 1804 General Lake finally crumpled him up. In March, 1805, the Colonel of the 33rd, now Sir Arthur Wellesley, sailed from Madras in the frigate Tridant. We may pause to note that in the following July he wrote from the Island of St. Helena to tell his brother that his health, which had been very bad, was now restored.
He said: “I was wasting away daily, and latterly when at Madras, I found my strength failed which had before held out.” If his strength really had failed, it is quite probable that St. Helena would never have known its most distinguished resident.
A short time after, Wellington returned to England—he was known just then as the “Sepoy General”—William Pitt remarked that he was at a loss which most to admire—his modesty or his talents, and he added that “he had never met with235 any military officer with whom it was so satisfactory to converse.” This was a saying both accurate and just, and it must be admitted that there is a very considerable difference between the dispatches which Nelson wrote and those which Wellington sent home after his greatest victories.
It was during this brief stay at home that the one little romance of Wellington’s life had a happy “finis” written to it. In the days before he had given any public sign of the great genius that was in him, he had wooed Lady Catherine Pakenham, a daughter of Lord Longford. Not possibly without apparent reason, Lord and Lady Longford came to the conclusion that he was an altogether ineligible person, and refused their consent, and Arthur Wesley sailed away to the East, disconsolate but not despairing.
It is pleasant to be able to look over his shoulder just before he returned, and read a letter in which Lady Catherine tells him that such beauty as she had has been ravaged by small-pox. It is pleasanter still to know that this information by no means cooled his ardour to get home, and that when he did come back a Major-General, the victor in many fights, and Sir Arthur Wellesley, my Lord and my Lady had reversed their decision, and the course of true love was allowed to run with perfectly satisfactory smoothness.
Just before this he entered Parliament as member for Rye, on the invitation of Lord Grenville. One236 didn’t need much more than the invitation of a powerful minister to get into Parliament in those days. At Westminster he distinguished himself chiefly as the vindicator of his brother’s policy in India, and, more than this, he used his pen, which was not much addicted to flourishes, but nevertheless wrote good, strong, nervous English, to the same good purpose. There is one sentence in an open letter to his brother which exactly sums up the situation.
“By your firmness and decision you have not only saved, but enlarged and secured the invaluable Empire entrusted to your government at a time when everything else was a wreck, and the existence even of Great Britain was problematic.”
Those are weighty words indeed, coming as they do from the man who won the battle of Assaye and established, let us hope for ever, the British Empire in India.
All the same he doesn’t seem to have liked this talking business in Parliament at all, for in a letter written in July, 1806, he says: “You will have seen that I am in Parliament, and a difficult and most unpleasant game I have had to play in the present extraordinary state of parties.” From this it will be seen that Arthur Wellesley, like any other good man of action and capable Empire-Maker, had a wholesome contempt for the miserable and sordid game which is called party politics.
All the same we find him a few months afterwards237 as Chief Secretary for Ireland, buying, that is to say bribing and corrupting with open candour and unconcealed disgust, a sufficiency of votes and influence to keep the Ministry in power. He said plainly: “Almost every man of mark in the state has his price.” And when he was taxed with bribery and corruption, he remarked with that marvellous insight of his, that an inquiry into such practices would open up the whole theory of constitutional government.
We are supposed to have improved ourselves out of the venality of buying and selling votes and seats, at any rate for cash down, but we still bribe and we still corrupt. There are still titles for rich men who will spend lavishly to support their party, there are still innumerable advantages for the tradesman, and the contractor who are loyal to their party and their ticket, and so it will be while constitutional government and human nature remain what they are; but for all that we may learn a good deal from a remark like this made by a man who was so absolutely incorruptible that when he was made Captain-General of the Spanish Army, he refused to draw his salary, and who later on when his justly grateful country presented him with an estate, paid the rent of it into the Treasury as long as the war lasted.
It is not often, even among the great ones of the earth, that you meet with an absolutely honest man, but there is no doubt about Wellington.
After a little subordinate foreign service in Denmark, 238in which he distinguished himself as usual, he went back to the Irish office for about eight months. This particular eight months was a very critical period indeed, and looking back at the facts across a gulf of eighty years, one is inclined to wonder how it was that no better work could be found for the already well-proved genius of Arthur Wellesley than the ordinary routine work which a very much smaller man could have done, if not as well, at least sufficiently well. It will have been noticed more than once by those who have managed to get through the foregoing pages, that one of the greatest and most dangerous faults of British officialism, has been the employment of giants to do the work of pigmies. But officialism would not be official if it were not dull, so I suppose there is no help for it. One of the elements of greatness is the faculty of recognising greatness in others, and officialism is very seldom great.
This was the year 1807, and that is the same thing as saying that it was the period which marked the zenith of Napoleon’s power. The little cadet of Artillery who had been teaching the raw republicans of France how to construct fortifications, and how to knock them down, while Arthur Wellesley was training the 33rd Foot, was now Emperor of the French.
More than that, he was practically master of Europe. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural239 mountains he had not a single foe left in arms. Some he had crushed, others he had over-awed or conciliated, but all the nations of Europe were either his subjects or his forced allies. Nelson, it is true, had made Britain the mistress of the seas, but, saving only these little islands of ours, it must be confessed that Napoleon was master of the land.
There was, however, just one weak point, one loose joint, as it were, in the armour of the conquering Colossus who now bestrode the Continent from one end to the other.
If you take the map of Europe you will see that Portugal is a very small patch on it, and yet if it had not been for Portugal being just where it is, and if there had not been such a man as Sir Arthur Wellesley ready to turn its geographical advantages to the best possible use, Napoleon would very probably have ended his career on a throne, instead of on that lonely island in the Atlantic.
This is not the place for me to attempt to redescribe the long glories of the Peninsular War. In the first place, to do so would necessitate more pages than I have paragraphs at my disposal; and, in the second place, are they not already painted with a worthy splendour on the glowing pages of Napier and Allison?
But what does fall within the scope of such a sketch as this is the business of pointing out a fact which the school books say nothing about. The work that Wellington did in the Peninsula was of240 two sorts. He not only saw the weak joint in Napoleon’s armour and struck hard and straight at it. He did a great deal more than that.
The genius of his combinations, the tenacity of his purpose, and that inspired confidence which practically doubled the effectiveness of his fighting force, compelled Napoleon to employ his greatest generals, and some of his finest troops in the work of “flinging the English into the sea,” as he himself phrased it.
“There is nothing,” he told his marshals over and over again, “there is nothing to be reckoned with except the English.” And it may be added that if the English had not been led by such a man as he who was now Viscount Wellington and Baron Douro the reckoning might have been a somewhat short one.
The actual effect of the Peninsular War and of Wellington’s genius is not to be seen so much in the splendid triumphs of Vittoria and Salamanca, or the awful slaughters of Albuera and Busaco. It is to be found rather in the fact that Soult, Ney, and Masséna, the three finest marshals of the Grand Army, were kept there, campaign after campaign, fighting battle after battle, and suffering defeat after defeat, in the hopeless effort to do what it was absolutely necessary to be done if the conquests of Napoleon were to be anything more than a passing dream of empire.
Thus, for instance, when at the end of the241 campaign of 1810, Masséna finally retired upon Salamanca he had lost every fight in which he had engaged, and the Grand Army was the poorer by no fewer than thirty thousand men. We have simply to ask ourselves what Napoleon would have been able to do if he had only had all these men free to work his will upon Continental troops and win more triumphs like Austerlitz and Jena, instead of being forced to send them battalion after battalion, and army after army, to dash themselves to pieces against that unbreakable phalanx of British valour and determination which the genius of Wellington had drawn up across the Portuguese frontier.
Magnificent as were the efforts he made, and tremendous as were the sacrifices which France submitted to for his sake, all the genius even of Napoleon was of no avail as long as the life-blood of the Napoleonic system was draining away through that open wound in the Peninsula. But for this there would have been no Leipsic, and probably no Moscow, no Waterloo, and no St. Helena.
The most splendid military triumph in the history of the world is the uninterrupted march of victory made by Wellington and the soldiers whom his genius had made unconquerable for more than a thousand miles from the lines of Torres Vedras to the banks of the Seine. But behind the brilliance of this incomparable triumph there is something better still, something which Napoleon242 himself was first to see, and this was the supreme genius which planned, and the untirable pertinacity which carried out, without one hitch or fault from start to finish, that marvellous series of operations which began with the first move of the pawns at Rolica, and ended with the triumphant checkmate at Waterloo.
Although, as I say, it would be quite out of the question to attempt to draw even the briefest outline of these magnificent campaigns, yet there are one or two incidents in them which may be looked at in passing for the sake of the glimpses they afford of the man in the midst of his work, and, few though they may be, there is yet more real knowledge to be got from them than from many pages of descriptions of battles and sieges.
Thus, for instance, shortly after he landed for the second time in Portugal there was a conspiracy among the French officers to depose Marshal Soult, and one of these men came to Wellington across the Douro to tell him of this so that he might make their work easier by a crushing defeat. This might have been of enormous advantage to him, but he refused point blank to avail himself of such base assistance, and sent the traitor back to the master whom he had betrayed. He was not the man to work by methods like this. He had his own methods, and so effectual were they that ten days after he had landed at Lisbon there was not a243 single French soldier on Portuguese soil who was not a prisoner of war.
A month afterwards Napoleon writing to Soult and Ney said: “You are to advance on the English, pursue them without cessation, beat them and fling them into the sea. The English alone are redoubtable—they alone. If the army is not differently managed, before the lapse of a few months they will bring upon it a catastrophe.” How prophetic these words were a glance at the splendidly inscribed colours of the British Peninsular Regiments will amply suffice to show.
As usual, Wellington in the Peninsula, like Nelson in the Mediterranean, was forced by the incompetence or imbecility of the authorities at home to do his tremendous work with most inadequate means. In Spain the people whom he had come to save refused his soldiers food, and those at home, whom he was no less fighting to save, refused him money enough to buy it. In a letter written in January, 1811, he put the position very plainly.
“If we cannot persevere in carrying on the contest in the Peninsula or elsewhere on the Continent we must prepare to make one of our own islands the seat of war. I am equally certain that if Buonaparte cannot root us out of this country he must alter his system in Europe and give us such a peace as we ought to accept.”
This was the work that he had to do and did,244 and here is a glimpse of the means he had to do it with. “I have not,” he says in the same letter, “authority to give a shilling or a stand of arms or a round of ammunition to anybody. I do give all, it is true, but it is contrary to my instructions and at my peril. Not another officer in the army would even look at the risks that I have to incur every day.” There are not many more eloquent pictures than this of a man serving his country and saving it in spite of itself.
Like all good generals, Wellington insisted upon absolute obedience, and nothing could excuse in his eyes even the most splendid breach of discipline. After the taking of Ciudad Rodrigo, General Crawford, the leader of the famous Light Division, had been ordered not to push his operations beyond the river Coa, but he forgot his instructions in the temptation to make a splendid dash at an overwhelming force under Ney.
Nothing but the magnificent valour and discipline of the Division saved it from utter destruction. Still it was saved, and when its gallant leader reported himself to Wellington he said: “I am glad to see you safe, Crawford.”
“Oh, we were in no danger I can assure you!” was the answer.
“No, but I was through your conduct!” came the dry retort, and Crawford walked away crestfallen, remarking to himself that the General was “damned crusty to-day.”
Wellington’s best known title is the Iron Duke, 245and yet no man ever had less iron in him than he. It is true that he armed himself from head to foot with a mail which his enemies found impenetrable, but the gallant heart whose high courage carried him through so many dangers and difficulties was withal as tender as a woman’s.
When his last great fight had been fought and won, when the long tragedy of the Napoleonic wars was over, and the curtain had just fallen upon the tremendous climax of Waterloo, Dr. Hume, his physician, went to see him early on the morning of the 19th of June to tell him of the death during the night of his friend Gordon, and this is how he described the conqueror on the morrow of his greatest victory.
“He had, as usual, taken off his clothes, but had not washed himself. As I entered he sat up in bed, his face covered with the dust and sweat of the previous day, and extended his hand to me which I took and held in mine while I told him of Gordon’s death and of such of the casualties as had come to my knowledge. He was much affected. I felt the tears dropping fast upon my hand, and, looking towards him, saw them chasing one another in furrows over his dusty cheeks.”
This is a touching little picture of the one man in the world who has proved himself capable of grappling with and overthrowing the Corsican Colossus, and with it we may here bid him farewell. Waterloo246 was the last as well as the greatest of his fights. He had given the world peace. He had overthrown the most grievous tyranny that had threatened it for many a long century.
He had found Europe under the heel of France. He had conquered her conqueror; and yet it was he who, when terms of peace were being dictated in Paris, stopped his ferocious old ally Blücher from blowing up the Bridge of Jena, and got such concessions for France in the hour of her defeat and humiliation as none but the victor of the Peninsula and the hero of Waterloo could have done. Like all really strong men, he was merciful in his strength; and like all really great soldiers he looked upon his enemies as his friends as soon as he had soundly thrashed them.
With his after career as a politician and a statesman I have here nothing to do. His empire-making ended with the order that sent the whole steadfast British line streaming down from the rising ground which they had held so stubbornly all through that famous day. It is better to take leave of him here, for Arthur Wellesley was too good and too great a man for politics. He was the idol of the army he had created, but he didn’t know how to lead a mob.
THE ORDER THAT SENT THE BRITISH LINE STREAMING DOWN FROM THE RISING GROUND.
Seventeen years after Waterloo, to the very day, he was beset in London streets by a howling multitude of the very people he had served so splendidly.
If he had not found a refuge in the Temple and a 247bodyguard of Benchers, it is probable that they would have pulled him from his horse and torn him limb from limb. It is a sorry spectacle, although relieved by the quaintness of the vision of this unconquered hero of a hundred fights trusting for his life to a bodyguard of lawyers.
He never forgot this, and probably never forgave it. Every one knows how, when Apsley House was threatened by a mob, he made ready to defend it in a businesslike and soldierly way. When the mob broke his windows he coolly ordered iron shutters and put them up. Afterwards, when the fickle tide of popular fancy had turned the other way, and the mob was wont to cheer instead of cursing him, he used to point to these shutters and laugh good-humouredly but seriously withal.
In one sense, however, it is hardly true that Wellington’s last fight was at Waterloo. The last time that he really made a display of his military capacity was in London. It was he who on the 10th of April, 1848, saved London from the Chartists. He never allowed a soldier to be seen, much less a weapon, and when it was all over, Sir John Campbell came to him and said:
“Well, Duke, it all turned out as you foretold.”
And this was the answer:
“Oh, yes; I was sure of it, and I never showed a soldier or a musket, but I was ready. I could have stopped them whenever you liked, and if248 they had been armed it would have been all the same.”
That was Wellington’s last victory—bloodless, and, therefore, since the enemy would have been his own countrymen, all the more glorious for that.
In the article on Nelson, I mentioned the well-known fact that the greatest soldier and the greatest sailor of their age met but once, and that Wellington so far gauged the character of the hero of Trafalgar as to describe him as “a very superior person.” In the spirit they not only met again, but they will live together in everlasting honour in the memory of the British people.
Their last resting-places are side by side, as they should be, in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and side by side their glorious memories will remain as long as the noble qualities which made them the greatest men, not only of their nation, but of the age which their great deeds made splendid, are held in honour—and that is the same thing as saying as long as the human race endures.
WE are living rather too near to the days of the man himself, to be able to say what place History will ultimately assign to the greatest and most famous of the old fighting stock of the Gordons. Probably the discriminating historian of the day after to-morrow will look upon him ethnologically as a queer survival or throwback—a man who lived and did his work in the nineteenth century in the style of the fifteenth, or even the fourteenth.
In the military sense he would seem to be the last of our great soldiers of fortune—for soldier of fortune he undoubtedly was far more than soldier of Britain—and the work that he did as one of the makers of the British Empire was done under foreign flags.
It might, indeed, be asked by the superficial observer in what sense he was an Empire-Maker at all, or what right he has to claim a place in that long and splendid array of great men, only a few of whom252 can be silhouetted within the limits of such a volume as this and whose succession stretches through the centuries from William, Duke of Normandy to Cecil John Rhodes of Rhodesia.
The answer is plain enough, though not very obvious at first sight. The British Empire is twofold. It is not only the greatest concrete Fact that the world has ever seen; it is also a vast and very splendid Idea, and in this sense it covers, not only just that portion of the earth’s surface over which the Union Jack flies, but also every other land known and half-known, old and new, civilised and savage, into which the genius of the Anglo-Saxon has forced its way and over which it has exercised that peculiar influence for which the word “English” stands in the dictionaries of our foreign competitors.
Charles George Gordon never added a square yard to the British Empire, considered as a geographical expression. He very seldom fought at the head of British troops, and when he did, it was not to any very great purpose—in fact his witnessing of the murder of many hundreds of gallant British soldiers by the officials who were guilty of the criminal mismanagement of the Crimean War was about the sum total of his experiences of warfare under the Flag.
It is a not altogether curious fact that, although Gordon was one of the very ablest leaders and organisers of men, and although he, shortly after253 thirty, proved to demonstration that he possessed most of the qualities of a great soldier, his native country didn’t appear to have any use for him, or at least no adequate use. As I have said before, the curse of both our Services, and therefore, in a very definite and practical sense, of the whole Empire, is officialism, or officialdom.
Two very different men grasped this fact in its relation to Gordon. One was Nubar Pasha, Egyptian Minister at Constantinople, and the other was John Ruskin. Nubar said: “England owes little to her officials; she owes her greatness to men of different stamp.” Ruskin said practically the same thing in one of his lectures at Woolwich, but in different fashion and in many more words, while Gordon, within a mile or so of the lecture-hall at Woolwich, was bending his great soul to the routine duties which appear to have been about the best work that the British Government could find for him to do.
When the British Government did at last get him to take his share in the doing of the most difficult and dangerous work which was just then necessary to be done upon the very outskirts of civilisation, those who were responsible for the exercise of the executive power deserted him and left him to his death by what is probably the basest and most criminal betrayal of a man of deeds by men of words that can be laid to the charge of a British Government.
History will probably say with truth that every 254member of that fatally futile Cabinet who had any hand in sending Gordon to Khartoum and neglecting to give him reasonable support incurred a direct and personal responsibility for his death, from which the dispassionate verdict of Posterity will be very slow to relieve their memories.
It is a stain that can never pass away from their public reputations. There are other faults of a similar sort for which these men will be arraigned at the bar of History, but the fate of the lonely, betrayed man, who day after day left his starving and ever-diminishing garrison to look out across the desert from the battlements of Khartoum for the help which, for him, never came, will certainly be considered the blackest if not the greatest of them all.
But there is another and very practical sense in which Gordon was a British Empire-Maker. This realm of ours is what it is, not only because we have fought for some parts of it and successfully stolen others. It is ours because we knew how to make use of it after we got it; because of all other men now existing on the face of the earth the Anglo-Saxon is the best leader and governor of savage and semi-savage men that has so far been evolved, and of such leaders and governors Gordon plainly proved himself to be one of the very best.
Under the British flag he never won a battle for255 Britain. The genius which his Motherland might have made such splendid use of did its best work under the dragon-flag of China and the crescent-flag of Egypt, but nevertheless on the day when the last mile of the British high road from Cairo to Cape Town is thrown open, and the Pax Britannica is proclaimed from north to south of Africa, men will remember Gordon and confess that without him this might never have been done.
It will have been noticed by those who have read between the lines here printed that where Empire-Makers are concerned the old-fashioned idea of ancestry seems to be not altogether the fiction that certain latter-day theorists, men of words to a man, have sought to make it, and Gordon was no exception to this rule.
His lineage stretches away back into the dim mists which lie behind the history of all these islands into the days when Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Irishmen had yet to be thought of, and when the divisions of mankind were racial rather than national.
Of course the Gordons of last century were for the most part desperate Jacobites, and as such were hinderers rather than doers of the work of empire-making. But, curiously enough, this particular Gordon did not come from these. On the contrary, there was a fight during that miserable business of 1745 in which, on the field of Gladsmuir, a couple256 of thousand Highland clansmen played havoc with some English regiments fresh back from the Flemish wars, and after the slaughter they took many prisoners, one of whom was David Gordon, great-grandfather of the hero and martyr of Khartoum.
From this it will be seen that, whether by design or accident, his branch of the ancient and widespread stock had managed to get upon the right side—that is to say, the side which was to fight for imperialism as distinguished from mere nationalism, which in many cases is only another way of spelling parochialism.
It is noteworthy, by the way, that Gordon’s grandfather, William Augustus, so named after “Butcher Cumberland,” fought at Louisburg and on the Heights of Abraham, after Captain Cook had taken those soundings on the St. Lawrence. His son, William Henry, fought as an officer of artillery at Maida, and it was his grandson who won the yellow jacket and mandarin’s button in suppressing the Taiping rebellion, who refused a roomful of gold as a bribe, and who, after carefully scratching out the inscription, gave the huge gold medal which he had received from the Emperor of China anonymously to the Coventry Relief Fund.
This “give away your medal,” to use his own words, is the keynote of his whole life. Gordon worked “for honour, not honours,” and that one letter makes a great deal of difference. We see257 here, too, the sign of his kinship with other Empire-Makers, the faculty of seeing what work had to be done and the power of doing it for its own sake, whatever difficulties there might lie in the way.
As a boy he seemed to combine in the most curious fashion a constitutional sensitiveness amounting almost to timidity, with a contempt for personal danger, and an equal contempt for authority which individually he was unable to respect.
Altogether, in fact, his was a nature which had very little to expect in the way of promotion or favour from conventional officialdom, and it was very little that he got. This view was no doubt amply justified by his first experience in warfare in the trenches before Sebastopol, for if ever heroism and devotion abroad were crucified by authority at home, this was the case during the Crimean War.
From the Crimea the scene shifts somewhat suddenly to China. And yet here we may note that this is not the place to stop and worry about the morality or otherwise of those so-called opium wars which led up to the trouble of 1860. If the opium trade was bad, the opening of the Flowery Land to European commerce was good, and one usually does find good and bad mixed up in the most extraordinary manner in matters of this sort. The point here is that the brief war which ended with the taking of the Taku forts in the August of258 1860, and the capture of Pekin, was the beginning of the career of “Chinese Gordon.”
He did not see the taking of the forts, but he did see the destruction of the Summer Palace, “the Garden of Perpetual Brightness,” which was destroyed as an act of revenge at the order of a British envoy who may here be left nameless in the infamy that he earned by it. Gordon was one of the involuntary Vandals, and this is what he said about the business when writing home:
“You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the palaces we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to destroy them. It was wretchedly demoralising work.”
After this for a year and a half he fulfilled the duties of a Captain of Engineers in the camp at Tien-Tsin in the midst of a vast dreary plain. During this time the Taiping rebels had been industriously employing fire and sword to make one of the most fertile portions of the Flowery Land the reverse of worthy of the name and, at length Shanghai itself, the headquarters of the foreign traders, was threatened by the ever-advancing wave of barbarism.
A defensive force was hurriedly raised by an American named Ward, who for nearly two years led it to constant victory and earned for it the somewhat magniloquent title of the Ever-Victorious Army.
Then a chance bullet killed Ward at the beginning259 of what might have been a most brilliant career. Under his successor everything went wrong. Victory was replaced by defeat and success by disaster. This incompetent person being removed, the hitherto obscure officer of Engineers stepped into his place. It was a time when a leader of men was badly wanted. It was also the moment when Fate knocked at the door of Charles George Gordon and found him in.
Within a very short time disorganisation was replaced by discipline, despair by confidence, and the Ever-Victorious Army was once more made worthy of its name. It was here that Gordon really began his career as a soldier of fortune. When he took command he told Li-Hung-Chang that he would turn the rebels out of the score of walled cities which they had captured and strengthened, and put the rebellion down within eighteen months. As a matter of fact he did it in fifteen.
The story of the doing of this so clearly shows the extraordinary capacity that Gordon possessed for both the organisation and the execution of a military campaign, as well as the faculty of inspiring confidence in all sorts and conditions of men, that it is simply amazing that the home authorities did not immediately recognise the fact that he was something a good deal more than they had hitherto taken him for. This, however, it was to take them some twenty years more to find out.
Still there was one incident at the close of the260 rebellion which might have shown even the official mind very clearly what sort of man this Major of Engineers was. The last incident of the war was the surrender of the great lake-city of Soo-Chow, and the Wangs, or chiefs of the rebels, laid down their arms on a guarantee of safety and good treatment. The Chinese way of acting up to this was to chop the heads off the whole lot. Now Gordon considered himself in a measure responsible for this guarantee, and the way in which he marked his sense of the breach of faith was characteristically unique.
The brilliancy of his services was recognised by a money gift of 10,000 taels (between three and four thousand pounds of English money). Gordon acknowledged it by writing on the back of the Imperial letter: “Major Gordon regrets that, owing to the circumstances which occurred since the capture of Soo-Chow, he is unable to receive any mark of his Majesty the Emperor’s recognition.”
If ever a sceptred monarch got the snub direct the Son of Heaven must have got it then, although the probability is that the 10,000 taels never found their way back to the Imperial treasury. Gordon also wanted to throw up the whole business, but the rebellion suddenly broke out again in another place, and so he went on with his work until it was finally crushed, for he was not the sort of man who liked to begin a thing and not get through with it.
His brilliant success in every single operation 261that he conducted clearly proved, as I have said, that in Gordon Britain possessed a true leader of men and master of affairs; in other words an Empire-Maker of the first order. And yet she first ignored and undervalued him, and then, as David did with Uriah, put him in the forefront of the battle and left him there to die.
For twenty years after we had wars in many places—in South and West Africa, in Egypt, Abyssinia, and Afghanistan. In some we gained credit and in some disgrace, but during all that twenty years the leaden eye of officialdom never seems to have fallen upon Gordon. The Chinamen were quicker sighted. He was the first and I believe the only “foreign devil” who was endowed with the Yellow Jacket and made one of the bodyguard of the Son of Heaven.
If he had chosen he might have made an enormous fortune and risen to any dignity short of the throne that the Flowery Land had to offer, but as a matter of fact he left China poorer than he went into it, bringing away with him only that big gold medal which he afterwards gave anonymously to charity.
And all this time he was, as one of his biographers and a fellow soldier has truly said, “not only without honour in his own country, but was regarded by many of the mandarins and ruling classes of his fellow countymen as a madman.” The use of the262 word “mandarin” there will be understood if we remember that his brother mandarins of China held him in the highest honour.
He came back to England in 1865, and was given the command of the Royal Engineers at Gravesend, and there for six years he did the routine work of a soldier, and in his spare time won a reputation for missionary work of the unofficial and unassuming sort which will live as long as his fame as a soldier and leader of men.
Here in the interval between his two careers we may take a glance at the physical man as he was just about now. This is how his comrade Sir William Butler describes him: “In figure Gordon, at forty years of age, stood somewhat under middle height, slight but strong, active, and muscular. A profusion of thick, brown hair clustered above a broad, open forehead. His features were regular, his mouth firm, and his expression when silent had a certain undertone of sadness which instantly vanished when he spoke.
“But it was the clear, grey-blue eyes, and the low, soft, and very distinct voice that left the most lasting impression on the memory of the man who had seen and spoken with Charles Gordon, and an eye that seemed to have looked at great distances and seen the load of life carried on men’s shoulders, and a voice that, like the clear chime of some Flemish belfry, had in it fresh music to welcome the newest hour, even though it had rung out the note of many a vanished day.”
Such was, then, the outer aspect of the man who 263at length went to Egypt at the invitation of Nubar Pasha and the Khedive Ismael, to begin that work which in the end cost one of the most valuable of British lives, and made the delta and valley of the Nile what they are to-day in everything but name—a British province.
In this sense Gordon was de facto an Empire-Maker. The mendacious amenities of Diplomacy may lisp out meaningless phrases about the evacuation of Egypt, but the fact is that we have re-created the land of the Pharaohs, we have brought it from bankruptcy to prosperity, we have released the fellah from the terror of the lash and the servitude of forced labour. We have raised a downtrodden peasantry to the position of self-respecting citizens, and we have turned slaves into soldiers. This was the work that Gordon began for us, although we did not employ him to do it, or recognise that he was doing it; but, having taken it over and carried it so far, it is hardly likely that even British officialdom will commit such a crime against civilisation as the surrender of the almost completed task would now be.
Gordon went south from Cairo by way of Suakin and Berber to Khartoum, taking with him the somewhat curious title of Governor of the Equator—which of course meant the Equatorial Provinces—and a very distinct conception of a Central African Dominion which the soldiers and statesmen264 of other generations will realise in due course, provided always that the onward march of the Anglo-Saxon is not turned aside or stopped by faint-heartedness within or disaster without.
His headquarters or capital was a place called Gondokoro, situate in the midst of a ghastly region of river, lake, and swamp, sunbaked by day, and miasma-haunted by night. He went up by steamer from Khartoum and, some two hundred miles above the city, he passed the island of Abba in the White Nile, and in one of his letters home he wrote these words which read somewhat weirdly in the lurid light of the camp-fires which seven years later closed round Khartoum:
“Last night, March 26th, we were going slowly along in the moonlight and I was thinking of you all and of the expeditions and Nubar and Co., when all of a sudden from a large bush came peals of laughter. I felt put out, but it turned out to be birds, who laughed at us from the bushes for some time in a very rude way. They are a species of stork, and seemed in capital spirits and highly amused at anybody thinking of going to Gondokoro with the hope of doing anything.”
But the laughing storks were not the only inhabitants of the Island of Abba, for, in a cave among its rocks, there was dwelling at that very moment a certain Moslem monk, or dervish, named Mohammed Achmet, who had already won some reputation for sanctity among his fellow tribesmen.
It would have been a most unwarrantable and, 265for Gordon, quite an impossible thing to do, and yet, so far is fact stranger than fiction, that the whole history of about a quarter of a continent would have been changed for the better, and the march of civilisation and humanity in Northern Africa would have been incalculably accelerated if the Governor-General of the Equator had stopped his boat just at that point, landed his men on the island, routed the holy man out of his cave, and either put a bullet through his head or drowned him in the Nile; for this recluse, then unknown beyond the confines of his native desert, was destined seven years later to be hailed by the Soudan tribesmen as the Mahdi—a word which to us means so much disgrace and disaster as well as hard and tardily won triumph that there is no need here to further elaborate the coincidence.
It was not a pleasant land, this scene of Gordon’s first government. As he himself says of the wilderness: “No one can conceive the utter misery of these lands. Heat and mosquitoes day and night all the year round.” These are few words, but I am able to say from personal experience that to those who know what African heat and African mosquitoes are they speak very eloquently.
Here, until October, 1876, Gordon lived and worked and suffered, making maps, building forts, enticing traders to come to him, teaching his soldiers to work and to till the ground and raise266 crops instead of plundering the natives. One by one his staff died about him, but still somehow the work went on.
When he first arrived he wrote: “the only possessions Egypt has in my province are two forts, one here at Gondokoro and the other at Fatiko. There are three hundred men in one and two hundred in the other. You can’t go out in safety half a mile.”
But towards the end of ’76 the line of posts had been pushed to Duffli, a place on the Nile only three degrees north of the Equator itself. Lake Albert Nyanza had been circumnavigated for the first time by a steamboat and mapped out—not by Gordon himself, who declined the honour of first steaming on its waters, but by an Italian lieutenant of his, named Gessi, and his reason for doing this was “to give a practical proof of what I think regarding the inordinate praise which is given to an explorer.”
His idea was that those who did the hard work, the getting up of stores and boats and other impedimenta over rapids and across deserts, were the real men who deserved the honour. “But all this would go for nothing in comparison with the fact of going on the lake, which you may say is a small affair when you have the boats ready for you”—from which certain much-boomed and belauded explorers known to latter-day fame might well learn wisdom as well as a little becoming modesty.
The farther south the bounds of Equatoria were 267pushed the more dismal the country seems to have become. He calls it “a dead, mournful spot, with a heavy, damp dew penetrating everywhere. It is as if the angel Azrael had spread his wings over this land. You have little idea of the silence and solitude. I am sure no one whom God did not support could bear up. It is simply killing.”
At length the three years of his miserable service came to an end. In October he set his face northward from Khartoum and ate his Christmas dinner in London.
It was in those days that Britain woke up to some sense of her opportunities and responsibilities. She had begun what was then called the “forward” policy, and which to-day with wider vision and sounder wisdom we call the Imperial policy.
Unhappily the fickle breath of popular favour soon blew the other way for a space; a halt was called, then a retreat was sounded, and of course with the inevitable result. The arms of Britain were sullied by defeat, and her ancient honour was stained by the breach of her plighted word and the desertion of those who had trusted to her faith.
This was the dark and disgraceful period which lasted from the end of 1880 to the beginning of 1885. It began with the desertion of the heroic British garrisons in the Transvaal and the everlasting shame of Majuba Hill, and it ended with268 the political betrayal and the constructive murder of Charles George Gordon.
It was on January 31, 1877, that Gordon went back to Africa as Governor-General of the Soudan. On May 5th he was installed at Khartoum; on the 19th he left to strike his first blow against slavery; by June 7th he had crossed four hundred miles of wilderness and passed the frontier of Dafour.
His movements during this time, amazing as they are now to us, were absolutely paralysing to the chiefs and officials of the country. To them a Pasha of Egypt was a portly gentleman, never in a hurry, never inclined to leniency or mercy, a staunch upholder of the slave trade in its worst as well as its best aspects, and possessing a very keen eye indeed to the main chance.
But the quite phenomenal Pasha who now flits across their astonished vision is a lean, yellow-faced little man, clad in the gorgeous but dusty and travel-stained uniform of a Marshal of Turkey, mounted on a swift dromedary which out-distances every other animal of the desert save the beast ridden by the Arab sheikh who accompanies him. The two fly from point to point with incredible rapidity; the words of the Pasha are sometimes stern and sometimes mild, but always just and always dead against slavery. There is no talk of what he wants for himself, but only of what he wants done or left undone, because this or that is right or wrong—and what he wants he gets.
The troops that came labouring after him were of 269such miserable material that they deserved only to be made slaves themselves, and such the Arabs would speedily have made them but for this yellow-faced, bright-eyed man, who set them one against another, played off their jealousies and hatreds, and generally out-manœuvred them with such consummate and incomprehensible skill, striking at such vast distances with such incredible rapidity, that in four months a seemingly impossible feat had been accomplished, and the rebellion of the slave-kings put down.
And yet it was all hopeless. The slave trade was too much for him, as it has so far been too much for every one else. “I declare I see no human way to stop it!” he writes in one of his letters. “When you have got the ink that has soaked into blotting-paper out of it, then slavery will cease in these lands.”
In the November of 1877 there occurred an incident which was destined in after years to bear terrible fruit. He travelled from Kordofan viâ Khartoum to Merawy. He was on his way to Wadi Halfa to see about pushing on the railway from there to Dongola. But before he got there a dispatch reached him saying that the Abyssinians had invaded the Eastern Soudan. Back he went, post-haste, only to find the news was false.
If it had not been for this the railway would have been completed, and the cataracts of the Nile would270 not have delayed the tardily-sent Relief Expedition until the Arab bullets had done their work and gallant Gordon’s busy head had rolled to the foot of the Mahdi’s throne.
A few weeks after this he is once more in Cairo in obedience to an urgent summons from the Khedive. The work was this time financial. The grip of the foreign bondholder was closing round the throat of the fellaheen, and the bill for official extravagance and incompetence had to be paid. It was characteristic of Gordon that his first financial reform was the cutting down of his own salary from six thousand to three thousand a year.
This was all very well, but when he proposed to apply the same methods to other people’s salaries he was very soon given to understand that he was not the kind of man who was wanted in Cairo just then, so he promptly threw up his presidency of the Committee of Inquiry and went back to two years’ more work in the Soudan, to fight the slave trade again in the old heroic, hopeless fashion, and to make maps and plans; to fly hither and thither over the ghastly, waterless country, sometimes riding for as much as two months at a time, till at last the replacement of his old friend Ismael by Tewfik Pasha once more called him back to Cairo.
This time he went to Abyssinia also, and got arrested twice, a circumstance which enabled him to give us the following word picture of King Johannes. “He is of the strictest sect of the Pharisees. He271 talks like the Old Testament. Drunk overnight, he is up at dawn reading the psalms. If he were in England he would never miss a prayer-meeting, and would have a Bible as big as a portmanteau.”
After his release he came home again to rest, as he thought, but as a fact to be called after a few weeks’ run on the Continent to take the command of the Colonial Forces at the Cape of Good Hope.
It was the eve of the Transvaal War, and now Gordon made the first and the greatest mistake of his life. He refused the command. If he had taken it there might have been no Transvaal War; certainly there would have been no Ingogo or Majuba Hill. He started instead to India to be Secretary to Lord Ripon, the new Liberal Viceroy.
Three days after he landed he threw up his appointment, and two days later he received an urgent invitation from China. He asked for leave, and the War Office refused. He threw up his commission, making a present of its value, about £6,000, to his stupid and graceless masters.
He stopped the war with Russia, and sped back again to London, receiving a telegram on the way telling him that his leave had been cancelled and his resignation refused.
He afterwards made a futile visit to Ireland and an equally futile trip to South Africa. He offered to go and help in settling the Basuto trouble. The272 Cape Government, to its loss and its shame, had not even the politeness to reply to his offer, but when two millions of money and a great number of valuable lives had been lost, they asked him a year later if he would renew his offer, and, like the generous and single-hearted hero that he was, he did so.
Unhappily, however, when he got on the scene of action he spoilt everything by allowing the enthusiast in him to get the better of the soldier and the skilled man of affairs. The Cape Government was certainly in the wrong as regards the Basuto question. Gordon’s advice to them was to admit their wrong and begin to do right. Very good indeed from the ethical point of view, but in practice hopelessly wrong and bad where the South African native is concerned. With him, as with the Boers, to admit yourself in the wrong is to own yourself defeated, and to invite instant aggression.
Of course the Cape Government could do nothing of the sort. To have done so would have been to have kindled the flames of native war over the whole southern half of the Continent. This was the fatal policy which had already lost us the Transvaal when Sir Evelyn Wood had it in the hollow of his hand. To have repeated it would probably have been to lose all South Africa. Gordon, in his usual fashion, threw up his appointment at once and came back to England.
It was now November, 1882. Naturally he was 273coldly received at home, but his reception was somewhat mollified by a letter which the King of the Belgians sent him, for the second time asking him to enter his service.
“For the moment,” says his Majesty, “I have no mission to offer you, but I wish to have you at my disposal, and I wish to take you from this moment as my counsellor. You can name your own terms. You know the consideration I have for your great qualities.”
The post that he would probably have had was the Governorship of the Congo. One can imagine how in such a position he would have dealt with an unhung blackguard like Lothaire, the murderer of a man who had confided himself to his hospitality.
He spent most of the following year in travel, chiefly in Palestine. The Delta of Egypt had been conquered, Mohammed Achmet, the carpenter’s son, had become Mahdi, and the Soudan revolt was in full blast. Now at last the British Government called upon the one man who, had his genius and his work been recognised ten years sooner, could have saved so much disgrace and disaster.
How utterly he had been neglected and how completely he was unknown in his own country even now, may be guessed from a remark made by a gentleman to an officer of the Pembroke garrison.
“I see,” said this person, “that the Government274 have just sent a Chinaman to the Soudan. What can they mean by sending a native of that country to such a place?”
He thought, alas, that “Chinese Gordon” was a yellow-faced Asiatic who wore a pigtail—and yet, after all, did British Officialdom know very much more about the hero it was now sending to his death?
In Egypt all was panic. The army of Hicks Pasha had been annihilated. All Gordon’s work was undone, and the Mahdi was practically master of the Soudan. But meanwhile Gordon had decided to accept the King of the Belgians’ offer. On New Year’s Day, 1884, he reached Brussels to tell him so, and the same day he learnt that the British Government would not let him go. His thoroughly justified answer was a request to be allowed to retire from Her Majesty’s service, “without any claim whatever for pension”—King Leopold, with a juster estimate of the man’s value, having promised to make up the loss to him. The refusal was withdrawn, and he prepared to start for the Congo.
Then on the 17th of January there came that memorable telegram from Lord Wolseley asking him to come to London. He knew what he was wanted for and he went. The work was the pacification and then the evacuation of the Soudan.
By the 18th of February he was in Khartoum again. His old influence at once reasserted itself.275 What followed is too recent and too well known for detailed repetition here: the vacillation between war and peace, between diplomacy and force, argument when there should have been hard-hitting, and hard-hitting when there should have been argument.
THE LONELY MAN WHO STOOD ON THE RAMPARTS OF KHARTOUM.
The net result was only fully known to the lonely man who month after month stood on the ramparts of Khartoum, beleaguered by the Mahdi’s innumerable hosts, looking out over the desert and down the Nile for the army of relief which ought even then to have been there, and which was waiting for politicians to finish their wrangles before it even started.
Then, week after week, the weary working and waiting went on, the ring of spears drawing ever closer and closer round the doomed city, the provisions within rapidly dwindling, and the lonely soldier, the last of his blood now left in Khartoum, was still looking vainly northward.
So Monday morning, the 26th of January, came, and in the dim light that comes before the dawn the Arabs made their last and successful assault. The moon had set at one o’clock. The famished garrison made but little resistance. Gordon at the head of about a score of men faced the incoming victors near the church of the Austrian mission.
The eastern sky was just reddening with the coming dawn when a stream of Arabs, shouting for Islam and victory, rushed into the open space that276 had been made round the church. They stopped and put up their rifles. An irregular volley crackled along their line, and when the smoke had drifted away there was nothing for the belated expedition to do but avenge the death of the betrayed and deserted hero.
It was about midday on the 28th when a couple of steamers, with Sir Charles Wilson and a detachment of the Sussex Regiment on board, steamed out on to the broad stretch of river above which Khartoum stands at the junction of the Blue and White Nile. Half-an-hour told the miserable truth. There was no flag flying from the battlements, and no English voice to bid the tardy comers welcome.
But there is to be a welcome of a sort, for, as the boats come within range, the guns of Khartoum open fire on them and a spattering hail of rifle-balls drop about them, and the puffs of smoke leap up from every point along the banks till the circle round the boats is completed. Of this there could be only one meaning: Gordon the deserted was dead. And this meaning was true, though we did not know the full truth of it until long after all that was left of him on earth had been scattered, graveless and uncared for, over the wind-swept sands of the Soudan.
There is his grave; there, too, now is his monument—the memory of the work he did and the deathless fame he earned. On those who sent277 him to the forefront of the battle and left him there to die History has not yet given her verdict. When she does it will, as usual, be a just one, and, in all probability, it will not form very pleasant reading for those of their descendants who may be animated with anything like a proper pride of ancestry.
“ALL ENGLISH—THAT’S MY DREAM!”
ALTHOUGH there are obvious difficulties in the way of writing at once without fear and without favour of a man who is unquestionably one of the great ones of the earth while he is still alive, there are yet two very cogent reasons why Cecil Rhodes should be the subject of this concluding essay.
In the first place, he is the last of our Empire-Makers in order of time, and, in the second place, he has done his empire-making in the last region of the earth in which this empire, or any other, can be extended without coming into direct armed conflict with the great Powers of the earth.
If you get a map of Africa published thirty years ago, and lay it beside a quite recent one, a very little intelligent observation will enable you to see, at any rate, what I may be allowed to call prima facie evidence of the magnificent work which this last of our Empire-Makers has done, not so much282 for this generation, perhaps, as for the next, and the next.
It is all very well for the goose that has never seen over its own farmyard wall to assume a lofty, and possibly sincere, contempt for the vast stretches of prairie and forest land that may lie outside. He is quite justified in saying to his brother geese: “This is our home; all our wants are supplied here. What do we want to go and lose ourselves for in the long grass, or expose ourselves to the wild animals that may be lurking about the dark depths of the forest? This farmyard where we have lived all our lives, and where our long and honourable ancestry has lived before us, is surely enough for us. There is a nice pond yonder fringed with succulent mud. It has nice worms and other things in it, and there doesn’t seem any prospect of our general supply of goose-food coming to an end. What do we care about what there is outside? Why should we trouble ourselves about the fortunes of silly birds who go and fly over the wall, and lose themselves in the wilderness? Let them go. What are they to us, even if they were born in the same farmyard?”
That is all very well as far as it goes, but there comes a time when the farmyard fills up, and the duck-pond becomes over-crowded, and worms and goose-food, &c., have to be scrambled for, and sometimes even fought for, and it is just here that the larger wisdom of those who not only283 look over, but fly over, the farmyard wall comes in.
The fact is, that the known world is fast filling up. It may be that Nature is preparing some colossal cataclysm for the destruction of this civilisation, just as she has done for the subversion of others; but, for the present, what those who have looked over the farmyard wall have to consider is the fact that vastly improved conditions of life in the older countries of the world have, with the sole and ominous exception of France, had their inevitable result in a vast increase of population, and that meanwhile, for the last three hundred years or so, the available portions of the world have been getting discovered, and filled up according to their capacity of sustenance.
It is not, therefore, a merely predatory instinct, or a felonious desire to go and steal away from the gentle savage those lands which he is mostly accustomed to use as battlefields, that sends out the pioneer to the uttermost ends of the earth. It is that ineradicable instinct planted deep in all healthy human nature to get elbow-room, and behind this instinct there is the necessity which Providence provided against when it gave us this instinct, and that is the necessity of getting out of a place that is overcrowded, into some other where muscles and brains can get a better chance.
It is probable, too, that that widespread passion which we are accustomed to call “land-hunger” has284 been given to us in order to compel us to carry out the vast scheme of human progress under the impression that we are benefiting ourselves.
Of course, as a rule, we do benefit ourselves, but it is reserved for the few to see that greater Purpose which we are fulfilling at the same time that we are serving ourselves, and of all the men who ever lived no one has seen this more clearly than Cecil Rhodes. Accident and weak lungs took him to Africa—that is to say to the only continent in which it is yet possible for the British Empire to be increased without violating the territory of some already established and recognised Power, more or less civilised.
Like Nelson and Warren Hastings, he came of a clerical stock. If it had not been for those weak lungs of his it is possible that he might have passed through a distinguished career at Oxford, and either entered the church, or gone into business—probably the latter—but in either case the map of South Africa would have looked very different to what it does to-day.
In one respect he presents a very strong and striking contrast to our other Empire-Makers. Francis Drake went on his filibustering expeditions, looted plate-ships, and sacked towns, no doubt with a worthy intention of hurting the Queen’s enemies, but also with a very definite idea of making money. John Hawkins started the Slave Trade for the same reason; so too that285 East India Company which made it possible for Clive and Warren Hastings to do their work, was in its beginnings a money-making concern, and little else. It will be remembered, for instance, how Warren Hastings was grievously hampered in his empire-making by the incessant demands of his directors for money.
Now the distinctive fact of Cecil Rhodes’s career is that he started the other way. The first solid and salient fact that he appears to have grasped in those old days in the early seventies, when he used to sit under the burning African sun at a rough deal table picking diamonds out from the yellow earth as it was brought by his kaffirs from the old Kimberley mine, was the transcendent and almost irresistible power of money.
In Drake’s day valour and endurance were used to earn money in the first case, or, if the reader prefers it, to steal money or its equivalent. This was well enough in its way, and the British Empire would have got on rather badly without it, but Cecil Rhodes appears to have had an inspiration on this subject of the sort which only comes to men of real genius. He seems to have said to himself: “How would it be to earn the money first in thousands, in hundreds of thousands, in millions if possible, and then use it to employ in more legitimate work the same valour and enthusiasm which are just as conspicuous British qualities now as they were in the days of Queen Elizabeth?”
It is quite possible that, being an Oxford undergraduate, 286he remembered the famous aphorism of Horace: “Honestly if possible—but still make it.” There may have been some of his transactions which if submitted to the legal scrutiny, say, of the Lord Chief Justice, would possibly move him to another exhibition of that “unctuous rectitude” such as that with which he, the sometime forensic defender of traitors and sedition-mongers, outpoured on Dr. Jameson and his comrades.
I have heard stories of the sort myself in Kimberley and elsewhere in South Africa, but what of that? There are a good many things in our history that it would be difficult to defend on moral grounds, and yet without them we should have little or no history at all.
There are several of Cecil Rhodes’s own sayings on record which show clearly the light in which he looked upon large quantities of money not merely as money, not as vulgar riches, but as an indispensable means to an exalted end.
He was with Gordon in that sadly futile expedition of his to Basutoland, and during one of their conversations Gordon told him how he had been offered a roomful of gold as a reward for his services in China.
“And you mean to say you didn’t take it?” said Rhodes, possibly with some doubt of the great Crusader’s sanity in his mind.
“No, I didn’t,” said Gordon. “I didn’t feel287 altogether justified in doing so. I had been paid already for what I’d done.”
“I should have taken it, and as many more roomfuls as they would have given me,” said Rhodes, without hesitation. “Just think how much more you could have done with it. It’s no use for us to have big ideas if we have not got the money to carry them out.”
That was Cecil Rhodes. He didn’t say: “Think how much it would have come to,” or “How rich a man it would have made you,” or even “What you would have been able to buy with it,” but “What you could do with it.” Those who call Cecil Rhodes a money-grabber, a financial schemer, and all the rest of it, might learn something from that conversation were they not as they are.
There is no doubt but that he first of all devoted himself body and soul to the making of money, and yet in the meanwhile he must have been slowly shaping this Ideal of his. Early in the eighties he was talking about South Africa generally with a friend, and during the course of the conversation he pointed to the map and said: “There! All English! That’s my dream.” And all English it would have been if it had not been for the stupidity, the ignorance, and the cowardice of the vote-hunters in Downing Street, who were afraid to be worried with the cares, though they had no objection to avail themselves of the honours and profits of empire-making.
It is a favourite theory of my own that no man 288ought to be allowed to sit either in the House of Lords or the House of Commons unless he has been at least once round the world and visited the greater part of the British Empire.
If this had been the rule during the present reign, I am perfectly certain that, whether by purchase, conquest, or colonisation, the whole of Africa from the Zambesi to the Cape would now be coloured red, and there would probably have been a red streak stretching from Cairo viâ Khartoum to the shores of Lake Tanganyka.
In one of his speeches, Cecil Rhodes aptly described South Africa as the Cinderella of the British Colonies, and this is perfectly true. There is hardly a single instance in which Downing Street has not tried to lose what every one now recognises as of almost priceless importance.
Thus, for instance, in 1872 Lord Kimberley might have bought Delagoa Bay, “the keyhole of Africa,” for the paltry amount of twelve or fifteen thousand pounds and he refused the bargain. It would be cheap now at ten millions. Unfortunately, as his biographer aptly puts it, there was no Cecil Rhodes then to find the money out of his own pocket. He was still sitting on a bucket and sorting diamonds in Kimberley.
Again, in 1875, the Cape Colonial Government strongly urged the annexation of Walfisch Bay and Damaraland on the south-west coast. The289 reply of Downing Street was: “Her Majesty can give no encouragement to schemes for the retention of British jurisdiction over Great Namaqualand and Damaraland.”
This, by the way, is a somewhat important point to those who wish to get a clear view of Cecil Rhodes’s work as an Empire-Maker in South Africa. Twenty-two years ago Ernst von Weber, who had been prospecting, as it were, for a German South African Empire, said: “What would not such a country full of such inexhaustible natural treasures become if in course of time it is filled with German emigrants! Besides all its own natural and subterraneous treasures, the Transvaal offers to the European Power which possesses it an easy access to the immensely rich tracts of country which lie between the Limpopo and the Central African lakes and the Congo.”
In 1884 Prince Bismarck said before a committee of the Reichstag: “No opposition is apprehended from the British Government, and the machinations of the Colonial authorities must be prevented.”
Now look at any modern map of South Africa. Damaraland is now German territory, the Transvaal has been given back to the corrupt and tyrannical government which has of late made itself a libel on the name of civilisation. A German railway runs from Pretoria to Delagoa Bay, the only road from the sea to the Transvaal which does not pass through British territory. There is a regular line290 of German steamers to Delagoa Bay, and through this channel have come in the German officers who have drilled the Transvaal army and built the forts which command Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the field-pieces and machine-guns, the thousands of rifles and the millions of cartridges, which have no other purpose than the oppression of British subjects and the slaughter of British soldiers as soon as the psychological moment arrives.
This much for the present has been lost, and unhappily no one has been hung for the losing of it. Some day it will have to be taken back, probably at a frightful loss of life and an enormous expenditure of money.
But there is one bright spot in the picture. Between the German territory of Damaraland and the western frontier of the Transvaal and the Free State there is a broad stretch of red. It was only painted red just in the nick of time, and it was Cecil Rhodes who painted it.
Another glance at the map will convince you in a moment what would have happened if he had not made Bechuanaland British. To the east there is the ignorantly hostile Transvaal. Behind that and stretching far away to the northward is the Portuguese territory of Mozambique. Farther north are the southern confines of the Soudan, and the enormous virgin lands of Central Africa. To the west is German West Africa. Hence, but for that red strip, there would be no way either by sea291 or land through British territory—that is to say, through no territory that would not be hostile—to the Central African Empire of the future, most of which is, thanks to Cecil Rhodes, already called Rhodesia.
People who only read the English papers, some of which would appear, like the Pretoria Press and the Standard and Diggers News, to be in the pay of Mr. President Krüger and his corrupt legislature, have an idea, and a very natural one too, that the great company known as the De Beers Consolidated Mines is just a money-making concern and nothing else. There never was a greater mistake. The De Beers Company is the creation of Cecil Rhodes, and therefore it had to be an empire-making concern one way or the other.
One night there was a conversation between three men in Kimberley, which deserves to become historical. The three men were Alfred Beit, Barnie Isaacs Barnato, and Cecil John Rhodes. Each of these three men had something that the others wanted. Beit and Barnato don’t seem to have wanted much more than good business, but Alfred Beit already knew Cecil Rhodes for something much greater and better than merely a business man and piler-up of money-bags, so he supported them.
What Rhodes wanted was nothing less than the levying of a subsidy on the diamond mining industry of Kimberley, for the purpose of empire-making292 in the north. Barnie Barnato kicked at this. In the end he gave way, as he always did to Rhodes, and the result was that the De Beers Corporation was virtually taxed to the extent of half a million sterling for that northward expansion which Cecil Rhodes made possible when he persuaded Sir Hercules Robinson to proclaim the Bechuanaland Protectorate and checkmated the Germans on the west and the Boers on the east just as they were going to join hands across it.
What they really meant to do may be easily inferred from Van Niekerk’s raid into the so-called Stella-Land which necessitated Sir Charles Warren’s expedition—for which the Pretorian Government still owes us about a million and a half—and Colonel Ferreira’s attempted raid across the Limpopo into Matabeleland which was only stopped by Dr. Jameson’s Maxims.
If it had not been for Cecil Rhodes and the De Beers half million, the British flag would not now be flying over a region as large as France and Germany combined which, by all appearances, is destined to be the nucleus of the South African Empire of the day after to-morrow.
In such a vast country as South Africa—how big it is may be guessed from the comparison between it and England on the map—the first requisite for advancing civilisation is a road, the next a telegraph, and the next is a railway, and the absolute necessity of these to the new domain that he was making for293 Britain was of course plainly apparent to such a man as Cecil Rhodes.
His dream, which, if he lives long enough, he will certainly realise, is the making of that British high road from Cairo to Cape Town which Gordon, but for the baseness which betrayed him to his death, would certainly now be helping to make from the other end. Therefore when there was a shortness of money for the making of the railway to Mafeking, and for carrying the telegraph up through Rhodesia and northward across the Zambesi, the deficiency was supplied out of the capacious pockets of the man who, if he had only had the chance, would have been so glad to give that £12,000 for Delagoa Bay, and who knows Africa well enough to see that with its rinderpest, its locusts, and its horse-sickness, it stands in more need of mechanical transit and communication than any other part of the world.
When the extension of the Beira railway became necessary Cecil Rhodes, by the sheer force of his own character, persuaded Lord Rothschild to put down £25,000, every penny of which the great financier believed was going to be “chucked into the sea.” His Lordship probably thinks differently now.
Perhaps the most salient feature in the contemporary history of South Africa is the silent but ceaseless struggle for mastery which is going on, and has been going on for years, between Cecil Rhodes and Paul Krüger.
There are some people who say that there are 294only two men in South Africa. In the political sense this is probably true. So far, with the single exception, perhaps, of the Jameson Raid and the consequences which the weakness of our officials abroad and the cowardice of our government at home made so deplorable, the enlightened Englishman has scored at every move over the dishonest cunning of the ignorant Dopper.
He prevented him joining hands with the Germans across Bechuanaland, he stopped his raid into Matabeleland, he got his raiders stopped on the confines of Amatongaland—and so destroyed his cherished dream of a Transvaal seaboard—and, worse than all, he has made Rhodesia a so much better place even for Dutchmen to live in than the Transvaal, that the Boers are every day treking through the drifts of the Limpopo to live on British soil and under British rule—that of Paul Krüger and his German and Hollander hangers-on becoming impossible for self-respecting men to submit to just as fast as their avarice and stupidity can make it so.
Both these men have their dreams. Paul Krüger is not the sort of person whom any one would associate with an ideal. Still he has got one. It is a United States of South Africa, under what he is pleased to consider republican rule.
He is probably too ignorant to know that, with the possible exceptions of Russia and Turkey, there295 never was a civilised or half-civilised Government less like a republic than the corrupt and tyrannical oligarchy of Pretoria, but that’s what he means, and it is to fight for that and not to fight for the independence of the Transvaal, which he knows perfectly well is secured by the Imperial Government, that he has built his forts and imported his German officers, German cannon, and German rifles and ammunition.
Cecil Rhodes also has an ideal. It is a federation of the South African states, crown colony, republic and self-governing colony, each possessing the management of its own affairs, and directing them according to the will of the majority, and all united under the ægis of the British flag, and enjoying that equal freedom and security which cause nineteen out of every twenty emigrants from France and Germany to go and settle in British colonies rather than in their own.
Which of the two ideals will be realised is not very difficult to see. The one is artificial, unnatural, and two hundred years behind the times. The other is natural, logical, and if anything, a little bit ahead of the times, and the difference between them is not altogether unlike the difference between Paul Krüger and Cecil Rhodes.
It would, of course, be quite outside the range of human possibility for a man to have attained to the real greatness of Cecil Rhodes without having made a good many enemies, public and private.
Of his private enemies there is no need to say 296very much. In the first place, until human nature has changed very considerably, it would be quite impossible for any man to have been so uniformly and so brilliantly successful as Cecil Rhodes has been without making plenty of enemies both private and public. One of the very worst methods of promoting brotherly love in the breasts of men whose standard of manliness is not quite up to the average is to out-distance them in the race for political distinction, or to out-wit them in the trickery of finance—and I don’t suppose that any one would be readier to admit that, in its ultimate analysis, finance is mainly trickery than Cecil Rhodes himself.
This category would include practically all the private and personal enemies of Cecil Rhodes save one. The exception is, I regret to say, a woman, and that is a fact which naturally blunts the pen of criticism when it is held in the hands of a man. There would be no need to mention Mrs. Cronwright-Schreiner—better known in literary circles as Olive Schreiner—here but for the fact that she has made it impossible to pass her over without notice by writing the most recent and, I fear I must also say, the most virulent and untruthful attack that has been made upon the personal character and public policy of our South African Empire-Maker.
And yet even this attack is in its way a sort of297 testimonial to the greatness of the man whose reputation it was intended to demolish, despite the fact that in it Cecil Rhodes is depicted as a monster of iniquity and as the head of a soulless and tyrannical corporation which has not only been guilty of all the crimes in the Decalogue, but has invented a few new ones to go on with. Strange to say, however, when Mrs. Cronwright-Schreiner was once interrupted in one of her well-known denunciations of the greatest Englishman of his day with the remark that after all he was a great man, she exclaimed: “A great man! Of course he is, a very great man, and that’s the pity of it!” The almost unanimous verdict of the English and South African press on the deplorable literary and political blunder which Mrs. Cronwright-Schreiner perpetrated in writing “Trooper Peter Halkett,” goes far to show that her personal estimate of her enemy is a good deal more correct than her literary and political estimate.
Of the public enemies of Cecil Rhodes it will suffice to point out briefly that, without one exception and whatever their nationality, they are also the enemies of his country. It is noteworthy too that Cecil Rhodes himself seems to have an instinctive perception of real as distinguished from apparent or merely superficial hostility to the British Empire.
He recognised long ago, for instance, that our most dangerous enemies both at home and abroad298 are the Germans, and throughout his whole career he has lost no opportunity of checking and checkmating, so far as the cowardice and apathy of the Colonial Office has permitted him, their innumerable and dishonest attempts to undermine the British supremacy in South Africa.
If I were asked to name the three men who hate him most bitterly I think I should say Paul Krüger, Dr. W. J. Leyds and the German Emperor. It is something more than a coincidence that these three men should also be the bitterest and most determined enemies of the British Empire.
There can hardly be any doubt now in the minds of well-informed people that the conditions which provoked the pitiful attempt at revolution in Johannesburg and led up to the Jameson Raid were made in Germany, or at any rate by German hands. The whole thing was what may be described with more force than elegance as “a put up job.”
The idea was to goad the Outlanders to revolt, put the rebellion down by armed force, assert the absolute independence of the Transvaal as a consequence, and get rid of that awkward clause in the Convention of 1884 which asserts the suzerainty of Great Britain over the Transvaal by compelling the Pretorian government to submit all its foreign treaties to the supervision of the Colonial Office.
The next step would have been an offensive and defensive alliance with Germany, and then, if there had been no Special Squadrons or obstacles of that299 sort in the way, the Transvaal would have been gradually Germanised.
It was this that Cecil Rhodes foresaw when he ordered Dr. Jameson to mass his men on the Transvaal frontier. This was, in fact, his answer to the German application to the Portuguese Government for permission to land sailors and marines from the See-Adler in Delagoa Bay with a view to sending them up to Pretoria in violation of the most explicit treaty obligations.
It is quite plain now that Cecil Rhodes intended this force as a practical hint, and not as an invading army. I remember one night shortly after the Raid, I was smoking the pipe of peace with some of the Transvaal officials on the stoep of President Krüger’s house in Pretoria. We were discussing Cecil Rhodes’s complicity in the Raid, and in answer to a suggestion that he was at the bottom of it all, I said: “No doubt Rhodes knew all about it. I needn’t tell you gentlemen that nothing happens in South Africa that he doesn’t know, but he never meant Jameson to cross the frontier when he did. If he had meant invasion he would have had the country by now, but you won’t convince me that Cecil Rhodes is such a fool as to try and jump the Transvaal with five hundred men.”
The only answer to this was a general laugh. President Krüger is not supposed to understand English, but he laughed too.
Of Cecil Rhodes’s enemies at home it is so difficult300 to speak with anything like patience that they had better be passed over as briefly as possible. The unceasing hostility of a certain section of the British Press may, to some extent, be accounted for by the fact that he has many powerful financial rivals, and that the Transvaal Government has almost unique opportunities for bribery.
Few newspapers are quite incorruptible. They are primarily run to pay, and, therefore, it is hardly to be expected that they should be entirely proof against the manifold seductions which an individual millionaire, or a government with a vast secret service fund, is able to practise upon them.
It is almost impossible to believe that their hostility is really sincere. They know perfectly well that empire-making cannot be done with kid gloves on. They know, also, that the amount of actual good that Cecil Rhodes has done in South Africa, even apart from empire-making, is almost incalculable. None know this better than the loyal Dutch burghers of the Cape and the Kaffirs. The former call him “the Englishman with the Afrikander heart”; the latter call him their father. But for him there would probably not be many loyal Dutch at all at the Cape; and but for him also Matabeleland and Mashonaland would still be the happy hunting-ground of King Lobengula’s murdering, ravaging, and slave-making impis.
THAT HISTORIC INDABA IN THE MATOPPOS.
He is, in fact, as was plainly shown in that historic Indaba in the Matoppos, the one white301 man in South Africa whom the natives love and trust. It is not many men who, with millions enough to buy everything that the world has to sell in the way of comfort and luxury and honours—as distinguished from honour—who would have gone as he did, armed only with a walking-stick, into the stronghold of the Matabele, and there won from them the title of “the bull that separates the fighting bulls,”—in other words, the peacemaker—and stopped a war which, if the Imperial authorities had had their way, would have gone on into the next year, and would have cost four or five millions at least.
It is, by the way, characteristic of the strength of mind and fixity of purpose of this man, that he solemnly warned Sir Richard Martin that, if, after this, the war was continued, he would himself go and live among the Matabele, and wash his hands of the whole affair.
It is noteworthy, too, that this man, whom Olive Schreiner describes by the mouth of her impossible trooper as “death on niggers,” is, in the opinion of the niggers themselves, the greatest friend they ever had.
If all the work of all the societies and associations of amiable old ladies of both sexes for the Protection of the Aborigines and the Elevation of the Savage were put together, it would not amount to a tithe of what Cecil Rhodes has done for the natives of South Africa. The Glen-Grey Act alone has almost302 emptied the prisons of kaffir offenders, and as for his work at Kimberley, the effects of which I have myself seen, it would be difficult to speak too highly of it.
Thus, for instance, it is not generally known that Cecil Rhodes is the greatest practical temperance worker in the world. Every one knows that the curse of all savage races in contact with civilised peoples is liquor. When he was moving the second reading of the Glen-Grey Act he said:
“I know the curse of liquor. Personally at the Diamond Fields I have assisted in making ten thousand of these poor children hard-working and sober. They are now in compounds, healthy and happy. In their former condition the place was a hell upon earth, therefore my heart is thoroughly with the idea of removing liquor from the natives.”
I have myself seen “these poor children” happy, healthy, and sober, in the compounds of Kimberley. In the Transvaal and the Portuguese territory I have seen them drunken, degraded, and diseased, and I am in a position to say that every word of the above quotation is solid fact. I wonder how many of our professional temperance agitators could point to such a splendid achievement as that.
It seems, perhaps, a good deal to say of Cecil Rhodes that, not only has he enormously increased our area of empire in South Africa, but that he is the only man who can efficiently protect that empire from the two greatest dangers which threaten it.
These are, first, a war of Dutch against British, 303such as the Pretorian Government and its German allies have been trying so hard to bring about, and for the purposes of which they have been arming themselves to the teeth; and, second, a general native uprising, which would very probably follow hard on the heels of the racial war.
Now the only English statesman who is thoroughly believed in by the Dutch majority at the Cape is Cecil Rhodes, and the only white man who is thoroughly trusted and respected by the natives of all tribes is also Cecil Rhodes, and this is a fact which goes very far to account for the desperate anxiety of the Hollander-German-Boer party in South Africa and Europe to get him thoroughly disgraced and discredited over the Jameson fiasco.
The measure of their failure is not only the measure of his triumph. It is also the measure of the future peace and prosperity of British South Africa. We live too near the man to see him in his just proportions, but, unless Downing Street excels, if that be possible, its own blunders in the past, and unless this royal race of ours suddenly belies all its best traditions, a day must come when the British flag will fly over a federated and united South Africa, when the rule of the Boer will have gone the way of all anachronisms—and in that day men will look back and see, in juster perspective than we can do, the great qualities of the man who has made it all possible.
It is probable that in that day the very names 304of his enemies and detractors will be forgotten, or remembered only as we remember the name of Cataline in connection with that of Cicero. Then Cecil Rhodes will take his place beside Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, and in some great square of the future Metropolis of the British African Empire, there will stand a statue of him, and on its base will probably be inscribed those memorable words of his:—
“All English: That’s my dream!”
And with such words I, too, may fittingly bring to a close this all too imperfect series of word-portraits of some, at least, of the Men Who Have Made the Empire.
UNWIN BROTHERS, THE GRESHAM PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON.