"If the same strength of reason which could persuade any other man to bear any misfortune, can administer to the proprietor a few drops of comfort, we may hope that your condition admits of relief. The greatest possible calamity which can be imposed on man, we hope may be supported by the greatest human understanding. For comfort, your friends must refer you to the exercise of its faculties, and to the contemplation of its gigantic proportions—Dura solatia—of which nothing can deprive you while you live. And, though death should mow down every thing about you, and plunder you of your domestic existence, you would still be the owner of a conscious superiority in life, and immortality after it.—I am, my dear sir, with the highest respect and regard,
"Yours most truly, "H. Grattan."
We must hastily conclude.
The threatened ruin of Europe awakened Burke from this reverie at the tomb of his son. He required strong stimulants, and in the French Revolution, and the shock of nations, he found them. He now put the trumpet to his lips, and
"Blew a blast so loud and dread, Were ne'er prophetic sounds so full of woe."
His appeal pierced to the heart of the nation. England had never succumbed, but an indefatigable faction had played every art of quackery to set her faculties asleep, with the appearance of having her eyes more open than ever. Whiggism, by its tricks, was mesmerising the common sense of the country. From this adventitious torpor Burke recalled her to her natural temperament, restored sight to her eyes, taught her to resume the sword, and sent her forth to commence that career of victory which was consummated in the Tuilleries.
His advocacy of the Popish question was one of his romances. Popery was his "Jane Shore," fainting and feeble, wandering through the highways with those delicate limbs which had once been arrayed in silk and velvet, and soliciting the "charity of all good Christians" to her fallen condition. His nature was chivalric, and he at once unsheathed his sword for so affecting a specimen of penitence and pauperism; but he soon recovered from this hazardous compassion, and left the pilgrim to fitter protectors. But if he had lived till our day, what would Burke have thought of his delusion now? with what self-ridicule must he not have looked upon the burlesque grievances and the profitable privations? what an instructive lesson must not his powerful scorn of charlatanry have given to us, on the display of the whole system of sleight-of-hand, the popular cups and balls, the low dexterity and the rabble plunder? or, to sum all in one word, the reduction of all the claims, the rights, and the efforts of a party pronouncing itself national, to the collection of an annual tribute; the whole huge and rattling machinery of popular agitation, grinding simply for the "rint." How would this lion of the desert, shaking the forest with his roar, have looked on Jackoo, going round, shaking the penny box! Woe be to Jackoo if he had come within reach of his talons!
The volumes, of which we have given an account altogether too brief and too rapid for their importance, deserve to be studied, as containing some of the richest transcripts of the richest mind of England. Letters from various eminent persons diversify them, but the staple is Burke. If their style seldom rises to the elated ardour and buoyant strength of his speeches and pamphlets, they exhibit all his wisdom; they display the entire depth of that current which public difficulties and obstructions swelled into a cataract. We have the image of Burke reposing, but still we have all the proportion, all the dignity, and all the colossal grandeur of the form, ruling senates, and marshaling the mind of nations for the greatest of their fields.
Various notes illustrate the volumes, and the edition does every credit to Lord Fitzwilliam and General Bourke.
MY COLLEGE FRIENDS.
NO. II. JOHN BROWN.
A heavy snow-storm, which confined Chesterton and myself pretty much to the walls of the college for the next few days, prevented us from paying our friend Brown a visit in his new quarters so soon after his installation as we intended. When we did succeed in wading there upon the commencement of a thaw, we found him rather sulky. The sweets of retirement had become somewhat doubtful; the Grange was certainly not the place one would have deliberately chosen to be snowed up in; and so far John was unfortunate in his first week of commencing hermit.
We found him in full possession of his easy chair, with Bruin extended on the only piece of carpeting in the room, which did duty as a hearth-rug. There was a volume of Sophocles open upon the table, with a watch on one side of it; the Quarterly Review had not at that time taken upon itself to enlighten undergraduates as to their real state of mind, and the secrets of successful reading, or there would doubtless have been the miniature of some fair girl on the other. (What the effect of such "companions to the classics" may be in general, I perhaps am no judge. I detest "fair girls," in the first place; but I have not yet forgotten, if the reader has, that a pair of dark eyes were the ruin of three months' reading in my own case.) However, there was no pictured face, except the watch-face, to cheer the studies of John Brown; and, perhaps, for that reason, our friend had evidently been asleep. How very glad he was to see us, was betrayed immediately by the copious abuse which he showered on us for not having come before.
"Why, what an unreasonable fellow you are!" said Chesterton; "If you wanted to see us, why on earth could'nt you come up to college? We can manage to keep the cold out there, quite as well as in your old castle here, I fancy; and as neither of us are web-footed any more than yourself, I don't really see why we are to do all the dabbling about this precious weather."
"Oh! I forgot; you have not seen the little note of remembrance which our darling dons were kind enough to send me before they broke up for the vacation?"
"No—what do you mean?"
"Oh! I'll find it for you in a moment." And he produced a letter sealed with the college arms, which ran as follows:—
"—— Coll. Common Room, Dec. —, 18—.
"The principal and fellows regret to be under the unpleasant necessity of intimating to Mr Brown, that, although they do not feel called upon to notice his having fixed his residence in the immediate neighbourhood of Oxford—a step, which, under the circumstances, they cannot look upon as otherwise than ill-judged—he must consider himself strictly prohibited from appearing within the college walls at any time during the ensuing vacation."
"Now there's a civil card by way of P.P.C. Don't you call that a spiteful concoction? Silver and Hodgett's last—and worthy of them. So now, unless you want me to be rusticated for a term or two, you need not be over-civil in your invitations. But I'll tell you what you shall do: Hawthorne shall send over that box of Silvas he had just opened, (if they are good, you shall order some more,) and I'll keep that Westphalia you talked about here, if you like, Chesterton; and then you may come here to breakfast, lunch, or supper, if you please—but mind, I won't give you dinners; I'm not going to have Mrs Nutt put upon—or myself either."
We agreed to the terms with some modifications, and proceeded with some interest to inspect John's domestic arrangements. They were comfortable, though in some points peculiar. A sort of stand in one corner, covered with red baise, which supported a plaster bust of our most gracious majesty, and gave an air of mock grandeur to the apartment, proved, upon nearer inspection, to be nothing more or less than a barrel of Hall and Tawney's ale, an old-fashioned cabinet, once gay with lacquered gold and colours, which the industrious rubbings of Mrs Nutt and her hand-maid were fast effacing—the depository perhaps of carefully penned love-missives, and broidered gloves, jewels, and perfumes, and suchlike shreds and patches of feminine taste or trickery, in other times—now served as a resting-place for the heterogeneous treasures of a bachelor's private cupboard. Cigars and captain's biscuits, open letters and unpaid bills, packs of cards and lecture note-books; odd gloves, odd pence, and odd things of all kinds—these filled the drawers: while, from the lower recesses, our friend, in course of time, produced a decanter of port and a Stilton. There was an old-fashioned sofa, one of that stiff-backed, hard-hearted generation, which no man thinks of sitting down upon twice, and three or four of those comfortable high-backed arm-chairs, in which, when once fairly seated, in pleasant company, one never wishes to get up again; a round oak table occupied the space opposite the fire, and another in one corner held the few books which formed John Brown's studies at the present. One window looked into the wet meadows by which the house was nearly surrounded, and the other commanded a view of the square inclosure before mentioned as now forming the farm-yard—in former days the inner court of the mansion.
"Why, Brown, old fellow, you're quite a lively look-out here," said Chesterton, who had for some minutes been contemplating, apparently with much interest, the goings on below. "I wish they kept pigs and chickens in the college quadrangle. I declare, for the last three days, in this horrid snow, I've watched for hours out of my window, (that fellow Hawthorne has taken to reading, and sports oak against me till luncheon time,) and I hav'n't seen a moving creature. I began to fancy myself up in the Great St Bernard among the monks; and when that brute of yours came up and howled at my door the other day, I almost expected to find him carrying a frozen child on his back, and got out the cherry brandy to be ready for the worst—didn't I, Hawthorne?"
"I found you one day with Bruin shivering before the fire, and the cherry brandy on the table, certainly."
"Well, that's the explanation of it, I assure you. But you must have found it precious dull shut up here by yourself, Brown?"
"Why, yes—rather—sometimes—in spite of the pigs and poultry. Their proceedings are rather monotonous. I feed that brood of chickens, which have taken upon themselves to come into the world this unnatural weather, with bread-crumbs out of my window twice a-day. Ah! I see the old hen has only four to-day; one is gone since yesterday, and one the day before; there's consumption in the family, that's plain; and they have always wet feet; I want Mrs Nutt to make them worsted socks, and to let me put Burgundy pitch-plasters on their throats, but she won't."
"But come," said Chesterton, "suppose you give us some lunch, Brown; 'prome reconditum Caecubum'—(I'm getting desperately classical;) that is, being freely translated—lift up that red baise drapery of yours, and let's taste the tap."
The tap was tasted, and approved of; so was the Stilton: and then we sat over the fire for an hour, and smoked some of the Silvas: then we paid a visit to Mrs Nutt in her penetralia, and astonished her with our acquaintance with dairy matters; hazarded a criticism or two upon the pigs, which were well received, and were not so fortunate in our attempts to cultivate an intimacy with the incorruptible Boxer; and then set off on our return to Oxford, persuading Brown to start with us, as the afternoon was fine, in order to freshen his faculties by a stroll in the High Street.
Shorn, indeed, of all the glories of a full term, in which it had so lately shone, and looking doubly cold, cheerless, and deserted, in all the sloppy dirtiness of half-melted snow, was that never-equalled, and never-to-be-forgotten street! which the stranger gazes on with somewhat of an envious admiration, the freshman with an awful kind of delight—which the departing bachelor of arts quits with a half-concealed regret, and which the occasionally-returning master re-enters with feelings which are perhaps a mixture of all these; a stranger's admiration, an emancipated school-boy's delight, and a regret, either mellowed by passing years into a tender recollection, or blunted into indifference by altered habits, or embittered by severed ties and disappointed hopes. We strolled once up and down its long sweep, but there was nothing to invite a longer promenade. Cigar-dealers stood at their shop-doors, or leaned over their counters, with their hands in their breeches-pockets, smoking their own genuine Havannahs in desperate independence: here a livery-stable keeper, with a couple of questionable friends, rattled a tandem over the stones, as if such things never were let out at two guineas a-day: then a fishmonger, whose wide front, but a week before, teemed with such quantity and quality, as spoke audibly to every passer-by of bursary dinners and passing suppers, was now soliciting a customer to take his choice of three lank cod-fish, ticketed at so much per lb. Billiard-rooms were silent, save where a solitary marker practised impossible strokes: print-shops exhibited a dull uniformity of stale engravings; and the innumerable horde of mongrel puppies of all varieties, that, particularly towards the end of term, are dragged about three or four in a string, and recommended as real Blenheims, genuine King Charles's, or "one of old Webb's black and tan, real good uns for rats"—had disappeared from public life, to come out again, possibly, as Oxford sausages.
In this kind of way the three first weeks of the vacation passed over without any very notable occurences. We were quiet enough in college—there is no fun in two men kicking up a row for the amusement of each other; even in the eye of the law three are required to constitute a riot; so, on the strength of our good characters, albeit somewhat recent of acquisition, we dined two or three times with the fellows who were still in residence, and who, to do them justice, sank a point or so from the usual stiffness of the common room, and made our evenings agreeable enough. We certainly flattered ourselves, that if they found us in turbot and champagne, we contributed at least our share to the more intellectual part of the entertainment; we kept within due bounds, of course, and never overstepped that respect which young men are usually the more willing to pay to age and station the less rigidly it is exacted; but we made the old oak pannels ring with such hearty laughter as they seldom heard; and the pictures of founders and benefactors might have longed to come down from their frames to welcome even the shadow of those good old times when sound learning and hearty good fellowship were not, as now, hereditary enemies in Oxford. If my graver companions, from the calm dignity of collegiate office, deign to look back upon the evenings thus spent with two undergraduates in a Christmas vacation, when, unbending from the formal and conventional dulness of term and its duties, they interchanged with us anecdote and jest, and mingled with the sparkling imaginations of youth the reminiscences of riper years—I am sure they will have no cause to regret their share in those not ungraceful saturnalia, even though they may remember that the hour at which we separated was not always what we used to call "canonical."
We paid our friend almost daily visits in his banishment. The history of the expedition was generally the same; a walk out, a lunch, a cigar or two, a chat with farmer Nutt or his wife, a review of the last litter of pigs, or an enquiry as to the increasing muster-roll of lambs. We did not make much progress in farming matters. Chesterton was the most enterprising, and succeeded in ploughing a furrow in that kind of line which heralds call wavy, and would, as he declared, have made a very fair hand of thrashing, if he could but have hit the sheaf oftener, and his own head not quite so often. The most important events that took place during this time at the Grange, were the installation of a successor to the barrel in the corner, and the catching of an enormous rat, who had escaped poison and traps to be snapped up in broad daylight, in an unguarded moment by Bruin. Still John Brown declared that on the whole he got on very well; we all read moderately; the examination was too near to be trifled with, and an occasional gallop with the harriers made our only really idle days.
We had not, since our first visit, heard John recur at all to the subject of the Dean; and to say the truth, we began to hope for his sake, that he had given up a game which, however much longer it might be contested, had evidently begun to be a losing one on his part. But we were mistaken. We found him one morning in high spirits, and evidently in possession of some joke which he was anxious to impart.
"Shut the door and sit down," said he, before we were fairly within his premises. "I have a letter to show you."
"From the Dean?" (There was something in his manner, which made us sure that personage was concerned in some way.)
"No; but from his good mamma—from dear old Mrs Hodgett; you didn't know we were correspondents? Why, I wrote to her, you see, to ask where she lived now that she had resigned business, as I would not on any account have given up so valuable an acquaintance; and I begged her, at the same time, to order me a dozen pair of stockings from Mogg. (I assure you they were capital articles I had from him at first, and he's a very honest fellow; if you've sent that sparkling Moselle here to-day that you promised, Master Harry, we'll drink Mogg's very good health.) Well, I wrote to her, and here is her answer. You see Hodgett has been poisoning the old lady's mind."
I cannot give all John Brown's comments upon worthy Mrs Hodgett's epistle, without doing him great injustice in the recital; but here the contents are verbatim.
"Dear Sir,—Your favour of last week came safe to hand, and was very glad to find you was well, as it leaves us at present. Concerning your calling here next journey, am sorry to say shall be from home at that time. Sir, I should have been very glad to see you, but my son says you are not of an undeniable character, which, in a widow woman's establishment, must be first consideration. That was what I said to Mr Spriggins. Betsy, my daughter, as you know, is to be married to him next month. I don't think he is quite so steady as some, in regard that he must have his cigar and his tilberry on Sundays—John Mogg never did; but we can't all be Moggs in this world, or there wouldn't be no great failures.
"S. Hodgett, in declining business, returns thanks for all past favours, and remain, Dear Sir,
"Your obedient servant, "J. Spriggins, (late S. Hodgett.)
"P.S.—I am afraid college is a sad place for such young men as is not steady. Mrs Hicks, our great butcher's lady, told me that, when her son, who was a remarkable good lad, came home from Cambridge college after being there only two months, they found a short pipe in his best coat pocket, and he called his father 'governor,' which, as Mrs H. said, he never was, and he wouldn't wear his nightcap."
"Well," said Chesterton, when we had read this original document two or three times over, "it doesn't seem quite usual for a man to sign his own testimonials, especially when, as in Mr Spriggins's case, they are not the most flattering. Do you suppose he really wrote this, or signed it by mistake, or what is it?
"Neither one nor the other. Don't you see, the old lady, in declining the linen-drapery, merges her own identity in that of her successor? There's no such firm as 'Hodgett' now, it's 'Spriggins,' and she thinks it necessary to sign accordingly. Here's the card enclosed."
"Well, there's one thing very certain, that Mrs Hodgett declines doing business with you in future, John."
"Yes; and I'm rather annoyed at it. I meant to have got Mogg to come down and see me at Oxford, and should have asked the Dean to meet him. I don't see how he could have refused; any way, I think I could have paid him in full for his late good offices. Well, I am not quite sure now, when I've taken my degree, that I sha'n't go and see the old lady again, and win her heart by paying a wedding-visit to the Spriggins's. I'll take you with me, if you like, Hawthorne, and introduce you as Lord some-body-or-other, an intimate friend of the dean's—or stay, Chesterton will make the best lord of the two. Look with what supreme disgust he is eyeing poor Mrs Nutt's best wine-glasses. Come now, I think that vine-leaf pattern is quite Horatian; and if you turn up your nose at that, Master Harry, you shall have your wine out of a tea-cup next time you come here. Draw the cork of that Moselle, and then I have something else to tell you. Do either of you men care about shooting, or can you shoot?"
"Why, I flatter myself I can," said Chesterton. "I'll bet you I'll hit two eggs right and left, nine tines out of ten, as often as you like to throw them up."
"I don't call that shooting; and you had better not let Mrs Nutt hear you talk of breaking eggs right and left in any such extravagant manner. But what I was going to say is this, that some friend of old Nutt's has some ground near here for which he has the deputation, and I have been offered a day's shooting there, for myself and any friend I like to bring. Now, I don't shoot—though I remember the days when I was a dead pot-shot at a blackbird; but if either of you are sportsmen, or fancy you are, which amounts to much the same thing, why, you can have a day at this place if you like, and I will go with you on condition you don't carry your guns cocked. Mind, I can't promise what sort of sport you will have, as it is too near Oxford not to be pretty well poached over; but you can try."
Shooting over a man's ground without leave (especially if in the face of a "notice" to the contrary) is decidedly the best sport, but unfortunately one of those stolen delights which only schoolboys and poachers can with any sort of conscience enjoy. Shooting with leave comes next, but is immeasurably inferior in point of piquancy. Shooting in one's own preserves at birds which have been reared and turned out, and cost you on the average about five guineas per brace, is decidedly the most fashionable, and consequently—the dullest. A day's shooting of any kind about Oxford, was a rare privilege, confined chiefly to those who were fortunate enough to be fellows of St ——, or to have an acquaintance among the surrounding squirearchy. True, that there were some enterprising spirits, who would gallop out some three or four miles to a corner of Lord A——'s preserves, give their horses in charge to a trusty follower, and after firing half a dozen shots, bag their two or three brace of pheasants, remount and dash off to Oxford, before the keepers, whom the sound of guns in their very sanctuary was sure to draw to the spot, could have any chance of coming up with them. But such exploits were deservedly rather reprobated than otherwise, even when judged by the under-graduate scale of morality; and even in the parties concerned, were the offspring rather of a Robin-Hood-like lawlessness than a genuine spirit of poaching.
We of course were delighted with the proposition which would have had quite sufficient attraction for us at any time; but coming in the dulness of vacation, it was an offer to be jumped at. "What game is there in this place?" said Chesterton. "Is there any cover shooting?"
"Oh, I can't tell you any thing about the place! It's about a mile off, but I never saw it. There's a good deal of ground to go over, I believe."
"What shall we do for dogs?"
"Mrs Nutt will lend you Boxer, I daresay; and Bruin is a capital hand at putting up water-rats."
"Stuff! I can borrow some dogs, though. And now, what day shall it be?"
The day was fixed, the dogs procured, the occupant of the property was to send a man to meet us and show us the ground, and it was settled that we were to come to breakfast at the farm at half-past seven precisely, and make a long day of it. Much to his disgust, we roused the deputy porter from his bed at seven on a raw foggy morning; and with a lad leading the dogs, and carrying guns and ammunition, we made our way to Farmer Nutt's. We were proceeding up-stairs, as usual, to Brown's apartment, when we heard our friend's voice hailing us from the "house," as the large hall was called which the farmer and his wife used as a kind of superior kitchen. There we found him snugly seated by a glorious fire, superintending his hostess in the slicing and broiling of a piece of ham such as Oxfordshire and Berkshire farm-houses may well pride themselves upon; while a large pile of crisp brown toast was basking in front of the hearth, supported on a round brass footman. It was a sight which might have given a man an appetite at any time, but, after a two-mile walk on a cold winter's morning, it was like a glimpse of paradise.
"Here," said Brown—"here's breakfast, old fellows. Come and make your bows to Mrs Nutt, who is the very pattern of breakfast makers, and fit to concoct tea for the Emperor of China. Ah! if ever I marry, Mrs Nutt, it shall be somebody who is just like you."
Mrs Nutt laughed merrily, and welcomed us with many curtsies, and hopes that we should find things comfortable; and when the worthy farmer, after a brief apology, sat down with us, and the strong black tea and rich cream were duly amalgamated, what a breakfast we did make! There was not much conversation; but such a hissing and frizzling of ham upon the gridiron, such a crumping of toast and rattling of knives, forks, cups and saucers, surely five people seldom made. We were hungry enough; and our hospitable entertainers were so pressing in their attentions, that we caught ourselves eating plum-cake with broiled ham, honey with fresh-laid eggs, and taking gulps of strong tea and sips of raspberry-brandy alternately. We bore up against it all, however, wonderfully; the prospect of a long day's walk put headache and indigestion out of the question, and we were beginning to think of moving when certain ominous preparations on the part of our hostess attracted our attention. A hot slice of toast having been saturated with brandy, she proceeded, to our undisguised amazement, to pour upon it the richest and thickest cream her dairy could produce, and to cover this again with sundry wavy lines of treacle. This was the bonne bouche with which, in her part of the world, Devonshire I think she said, a breakfast to be perfect must always conclude. Start not, delicate reader, until you have had an opportunity of trying this remarkable compound; but take my word for it, it only wants a French name to make it a first-rate sweetmeat. We too regarded it at first with fear and trembling; tasted it out of courtesy to the fair compoundress, and finally, like Oliver Twist, asked for more.
"Now these gentlemen know what a breakfast is, Mr Nutt," said John; "but I am afraid we can't introduce your good wife's receipt into college; our cows give nothing but skim-milk. Well, now we had better be off, if you mean to have any shooting."
Off we set accordingly, and had to trudge a mile or so before we got into our preserves. There were some not unpromising covers; the lad who was to be our guide professed some vague reminiscences of having seen pheasants there "a bit ago;" and there was no question as to a hare having been started so lately as yesterday morning. We began our day, therefore, with somewhat sanguine expectations, which, however, every subsequent half-hour's progress gradually dispelled. We tumbled out of one deep ditch into another, scrambled perseveringly through brambles and brushwood, saw places where pheasants ought to have been, and places where they had been, but never saw a bird except a jack-snipe in the distance. The only sport we had was in the untiring energy of the lad already mentioned, who, long after the dogs had given it up as a bad job, continued to beat every bush as diligently as at first starting, and kept up a form of hortatory interjections addressed to the invisible game, with a hopeful perseverance which was really enviable. One satisfaction we had; towards the close of the day we started the hare from a bush which had certainly been tried at least twice before; she fell victim to a platoon fire of four barrels; the second, I believe, brought her down, but we were anxious to have all the shots we could get. And, in truth, there was some credit in killing her, for Mr Nutt, to whom we presented her, declared that she was so tough, he wondered how the shots ever got through her skin.
It takes something more serious than a bad day's sport to damp youthful spirits; and upon our return we found the good farmer's wife much more annoyed at our failure than ourselves. "Why, the chap as has the deputation told my master he had killed ten brace of pheasants there this season!" He killed the last he could find before he sent us there, no doubt. Nothing dispirited, we sat down to a leg of mutton, which Brown had so far departed from his household economy as to order for us at six, and enjoyed our evening as thoroughly as if we had been a triple impersonation of Colonel Hawker in point of successful sportmanship. Nor was it until after the second bottle of port that we began to accuse each other of being sleepy.
"Well," said I at last, "it is about time for us to be off; it wants but three minutes of half-past eleven, and we shall have sharp work of it now to get into college by twelve. What sort of a night is it?"
The shutters of the sitting-room were closed, and I stepped into the bed-room adjoining in order to look out. The window opened into the court-yard; the moon was shining pretty brightly in spite of the fog, and I was just turning round to remark that we should have a dry walk home, when I saw two figures steal quietly across the yard, apparently from the gateway, and disappear in one of the outhouses. It was too late for any of the men about the farm to be out, in all probability; I was certain neither of the two figures was Farmer Nutt himself, so I quietly closed the door between the sitting and bed rooms, in order that no light might be seen, and watched the spot where I had lost sight of them. In a few seconds, I distinctly saw a third man come over the yard-gates, (which were secured inside at night,) and after apparently reconnoitring for a moment or two, move in the same direction as the others. I returned at once to the room where I had left Brown and Chesterton, closing the bed-room door hastily and noiselessly, and motioning them to be silent.
"I say, Hawthorne, what's up?" said Harry Chesterton, pausing, with a parting cigar half-lighted.
I confess I was somewhat flurried, and my account of what I had seen was not the most distinct.
"Oh!" said Chesterton, "it's some of the girl's sweethearts, I dare say; let's go down and have 'em out, Brown—shall we?"
Brown shook his head.
"Put out the lights," said I.
We did so, and then opened the shutters of the sitting-room window. We had hardly done so when the bright flash of a lantern was visible from the opposite side of the yard. For a few minutes we could see nothing else, and were obliged to hide carefully behind the shutters to avoid being noticed from below.
"Is that old Nutt?" said I.
Brown thought not. He never knew him carry a lantern.
At that moment the light disappeared, and in a few seconds we heard a loud knocking at the back-door.
"That must be the farmer come home," said I.
"No," said Brown, looking carefully into the yard, where we could now plainly distinguish at least three persons, and overhear voices in a low tone—"No; old Nutt's brown greatcoat would cover all three of those fellows."
"What stall we do," said Chesterton, seizing his double-barrel, which stood in the corner. "Shall we open the window and threaten to fire?"
"With an empty gun?" said Brown: "no, no, that won't do. Not but what they would run away fast enough, perhaps; but I think, if they really are come to attack the house, we ought not to let them off so easily. What say you, Hawthorne?"
"Certainly not; but they can hardly be housebreakers, or they would not keep knocking at the door," said I, as the sounds were repeated more loudly than before.
"I don't know that; every body about here is perfectly aware that old Nutt is gone to Woodstock fair; and they might give a pretty good guess, even supposing they did not watch him, that he would not be home till late; and if Mrs Nutt or any of the servants are fools enough to open the door, it's an easier way of getting in than breaking it open. However, there's no time to be lost; here's a box of lucifers; come into this dark passage, you two, and get a candle lighted, while I go and try to get up Mrs Nutt. I can find my way in the dark."
"By Jove, Brown," said Chesterton and myself in the same breath, "you sha'n't go about the house by yourself—we'll come with you."
"And break your necks down some of the old staircases; or, at all events, make row enough to let your friends below know that there's somebody moving in this part of the house. No, just keep quiet where you are—there's good fellows—and take care not to show the light." And taking off his shoes, Brown proceeded along the old passages, which seemed to creak more than usual out of very spitefulness, into the unknown regions where lay the unconscious Mrs Nutt.
Having got a light, after the usual number of scrapings with the lucifers, we were awaiting his return with some impatience, when a third and more violent series of knocks at the door were followed by the sound of a female voice. Concealing the light, we crept to the window of the sitting-room, whence we could now distinguish only one figure standing by the door, with whom Mrs Nutt appeared to be holding a communication from a window above.
"Who's there? What do you want?"
"It's me with a note from Master Nutt, missus. I don't think he's a-coming home to-night."
"Where did you bring it from? Where is he?"
"He were at the Bear at Woodstock when I saw him."
"Well, wait a bit till I get a light, and I'll come down."
In another minute we were joined by Brown; so quietly did he step, that in our absorbing interest in the conversation in the yard, we were both somewhat startled at his sudden appearance.
"Well, Brown," said Chesterton, "now what shall we do? I'll put a load in this, however," and he proceeded to the passage, where there was less risk of the light betraying us, in order to do so.
"Now," said Brown, "if we can but get that fellow once into the house, we'll have him at all events. We had better all come down-stairs quietly. If we can only persuade Mrs Nutt to come with us to speak to him while we open the door, depend upon it we shall trap him; but she's in a terrible way, poor soul! she wants me to let her call out murder, and I am afraid now she'll spoil it all. But she has the servant with her, who seems rather a plucky girl, and I hope she can manage her. Now, come on quickly, Chesterton, and hide the light when you get into the long passage, because there are no shutters to the windows. The women will meet us at the bottom of the stairs."
My gun had been left in the kitchen; I seized the poker, and we all proceeded cautiously along the passage, and down-stairs. Poor Mrs Nutt, as pale as death, and scarcely able to stand, was waiting for us, with the servant girl. But it was with the greatest difficulty we could get her to listen to any such proposition as opening the door; she was much more inclined to side with Chesterton, who wanted to present the gun at the fellow from the window, and fire if he made any attempt either to effect an entrance, or to run away.
At last, however, by the persuasion of the servant, who really was a heroine in her way, we got her into the passage at the end of which the door in question was situated; but as nothing could induce her to speak to the fellow outside, beyond a very faint "Who's there?" the girl took up the dialogue, and enquired the man's name.
"Tom Smith; I've got a note for the missus, and something to say to her besides. Let's in—there's a good wench; I've been a-knocking here this half hour already."
It had been agreed that I was to open the door, and shut and bolt it, if possible, the instant the speaker had entered. Brown and Chesterton stood just inside a small pantry, ready to secure their man as soon as he was fairly inside, and the women were to make their escape out of harm's way, as soon as their services as a decoy could be dispensed with.
It was a moment of breathless expectation while I withdrew the bolts. Hardly had I done so, when the door flew violently open, and with a silent but determined rush three men entered. I shut the door instinctively, but it was evident that our plan was defeated, and we had now only to fight it out. There was a scream from the women, whose curiosity had not allowed them to retreat beyond the foot of the staircase—a rush forward on the part of Brown and Chesterton—an oath or two from the intruders at finding themselves so unexpectedly confronted—and then, for a moment or two, an ominous pause on both sides. It was broken by Chesterton, who clubbed his gun, and brought the first man to the ground. Nearly at the same time I grappled with the last who had entered, whilst a heavy crow-bar, in the hands of the third, after describing an arc within an inch or two of my own head, descended with a horrible dull sound (I hear it now) upon that of poor Chesterton, who fell heavily, whilst in the act of springing forwards, across his prostrate antagonist. Again the murderous weapon was uplifted—I vainly endeavoured to fling my opponent and myself against the striker—I heard a scream, and saw the poor servant girl rush forward with a sort of desperate instinct, armed with no other weapon than the candlestick—when a report, that sounded like a volley, shook the whole passage—a bright flash threw out the whole scene vividly for a moment—the robber with his back to me with his weapon poised, and the blackened face of the other glaring savagely into my own—then followed total darkness—the ringing of the iron-bar upon the bricks—a stifled groan—and then a silence more horrible than all.
"Get a light!" said Brown at last; "get a light for heaven's sake, Mrs Nutt, or somebody. Hawthorne, are you hurt?"
"No, no," said I; "it was you that fired, John?"
"Yes," said he; "we can do nothing now till we have a light."
The whole affair, from the unbolting the door to the firing the shot, had not occupied nearly a minute; nor was it much longer before the trembling women succeeded in relighting the candle from the embers of the kitchen hearth; but they were moments into which one crowded almost years of thought; and I remember now with astonishment how every miserable consequence of poor Chesterton's probably fate came vividly and irresistibly before my imagination during those few hurried breathings of suspense—how his father could be told of it—how desolate would be now the home of which he was the hope and idol, (I knew his family)—how the college would mourn for him; nay, even such wretched particulars as how we were to move him to Oxford—whether he would be buried there—whether he would have a monument in the chapel—and a thousand such trivial fancies, were running through my mind with a distressing minuteness which those only who have known such moments can understand.
At last the light came. In my eagerness to ascertain the state of poor Chesterton, I quite forgot the villain with whom I had been struggling. We had mutually relaxed our hold upon hearing the shot; and he now took the opportunity of our whole attention being directed elsewhere, to open the door and effect his escape. We had too much of other business in our hands to think of following him.
The second man lay close to my feet. I stepped over him, and raised Chesterton's head upon my arm; the eyes were half open, but I could detect no sign of life. I told Brown I feared it was all over.
"I know it is," said he; "he is shot through the heart. I aimed there. But what could I do?"
I turned round, and it was with somewhat of an angry feeling that I saw Brown examining the breast of the man who had last fallen, utterly indifferent, as it seemed, to the dreadful fate of our poor friend.
"For heaven's sake," said I, "let that villain alone, and help me to move poor Harry: I believe he is gone."
"Ay, poor Harry!" said Brown somewhat vacantly: "I wish that blow had fallen on me! And was that shot too late after all? Your gun hung fire, Hawthorne—it did indeed. Poor Harry!"
I was so absorbed in anxiety for Chesterton that Brown's strange manner made no great impression on me at the time. The first man, who had been merely stunned by the blow from the but-end of the gun, was now beginning to revive, and I begged Brown to get something to secure him with.
"I don't think, sir," said Mrs Nutt who had recovered her terror sufficiently to offer her assistance, and whose coarse red hands, having removed Chesterton's neck-kerchief, and loosened his shirt-collar, now showed in strong contrast with his fair skin, but had nevertheless all a woman's sensibility about them—"I don't think but what the poor young gentleman has life in him—I am sure I can feel his heart beat."
"Oh yes, oh yes, Mrs Nutt—he cannot be dead—send for a surgeon! Hawthorne, why don't you send for a surgeon?"
"There's none nigher than Oxford," said Mrs Nutt.
"I'll go for un," said the girl. "I ben't afear'd;" and she turned pale and shook like a leaf; but the spirit was willing, and she persisted she was ready to go. However it turned out that there was a labourer's cottage about a quarter of a mile off, and she was finally dispatched there for assistance.
Few people know the ready humanity which exists among the lower orders: the man must have run all the way to Oxford, for he returned in little more than half an hour, before the surgeon could dress and mount his horse.
However, Chesterton was evidently still living; and when the surgeon did arrive he gave some hopes of his recovery. The weight of the blow had been in some degree broken by the gun which poor Harry had raised in his hand, and this only could have saved the skull from fracture.
Of course we had soon plenty of volunteers who were ready to be useful in any way; and when at last the police had made their appearance, and removed both the living and the dead, and Chesterton had been laid in Brown's room, and the surgeon, having applied the usual remedies, had composedly accepted Mrs Nutt's offer to make up a bed for him, and betaken himself thereto, as if such events were to him matters of everyday occurrence—I suppose they were—it struck me, for the first time, that there was a remarkable contrast between Brown's hurried manner and disturbed countenance now, compared with his perfect coolness and self-possession while the danger seemed most imminent, which even Chesterton's dangerous state did not sufficiently account for.
"How lucky it was, Brown," said I, "my gun had a load of duck-shot in it! Don't you remember I was going to have fired it off? And that you should have laid your hand upon it in the kitchen! I looked for it as we came by, but could not see it."
"I'll tell you what, Hawthorne: I almost wish I had not seen it: I should not have had a man's life to answer for."
"Why, Brown," said I with some surprise, "surely you can have no scruple about that poor wretch's death? Why, he has all but murdered poor Harry—if, indeed, he ever gets over it."
"Very true, very true," replied Brown, looking at the bed where Chesterton was lying in utter unconsciousness; "he seems to sleep very quietly now. I don't think he knew any one just now when he opened his eyes: did you see the blow, Hawthorne?"
"Yes," said I; "the lock of the gun is broken, and I fancy that saved him; but he would have had little chance from a second: that shot came just in time."
"I covered the man from the moment he first raised the bar: your head was in a line with him, or I should have fired sooner. I hardly thought you would have escaped some part of the charge as it was. Well, if poor Harry lives, perhaps it is well as it is, if not"—
"You have but spared the hangman some trouble," said I. "Come, man, don't give way to this morbid feeling. I don't say but what it does you credit, Brown, to regret the necessity for taking a man's life, even to save your friend's; but, depend upon it, your conduct to-night is justifiable before a far higher inquest than the coroner's. Do you think if I had been in your place I should have hesitated one instant? No! nor have been half as scrupulous afterwards, I fear."
"You have not blood upon your hand," said Brown gloomily. "And remember, if we had taken poor Chesterton's advice, and frightened them off at first, all this might have been spared; it was my folly in determining to take upon myself the office of thief-taker—cursed folly it was!"
The impression which the events of the last hour had left upon my own mind was any thing but a pleasant one; but I was obliged to assume an indifference which I did not feel, and use a lighter tone than I should willingly have done in speaking of the death of a fellow-creature, however unavoidable, in order to keep up Brown's spirits, and prevent him from dwelling upon his share in the catastrophe with that morbid degree of sensitiveness, of the effects of which I began to be really apprehensive. He wanted me to lie down and try to sleep, saying that he would watch with Chesterton; but this I was in no mood to agree to, even had I not been unwilling to leave him to his present reflections; so we drew a small table close to the fire in the sitting-room, leaving the door open that we might hear any movement of the patient, and waited for daybreak with feelings to which perhaps we had been too little accustomed. They were doubtless wholesome for us in after life; but at the time those hours of watching were painful indeed. It was a night which, then and since, I wished could be blotted from my page of life, and be as if it had never been. I have grown older and sadder, if not wiser, since, and feel now that there are recollections in which I then took delight which I could far more safely part with.
The danger in Chesterton's case, though at one time imminent, was soon over; and a few days' quiet at the farm enabled him to be removed to college. Reading was, of course, forbidden him for some time; and before term began, he had left Oxford with his father, to keep perfectly quiet for a few months in the country. The gratitude which he and all his family expressed to Brown as having been undoubtedly the means of saving his life, was naturally unbounded; and it did more than all else to reconcile him to the idea which haunted him, as he declared, day and night, of having that man's blood upon his head. I knew that Chesterton had warmly pressed him to come home with him; but as his name was down for the approaching examination, for which he was quite sufficiently prepared, it was not without astonishment that I heard him one morning, just before Chesterton's departure, announce his intention of going down with him and his father.
"I think," said he, "the constant sight of poor Harry will do me good just now; I am not given to romancing, Hawthorne, as you know; but waking or sleeping, when I am by myself, I see that man standing with the crow-bar uplifted just as he was when I shot him; and I think, if I can but manage to get Harry Chesterton's figure between him and me, as it was that night, and feel that pulling the trigger perhaps saved his life, why then the picture will be something less horrible that it is now."
"Well," said I, "John, I think you do right; but I can tell you this, that the same sort of tableau is very often before my eyes; and the horror that I feel is what I did then—seeing Chesterton's brains knocked out, as I thought, and struggling in vain to get near him; sooner than feel that again in reality—the thought of it is bad enough—I'd shoot that villain ten times running, if I only had the chance."
"You never had the chance, Hawthorne; pray God you never may."
Such was nearly my last interview, for some years, with my friend John Brown; for I had taken my degree and left college before he came up again to pass his examination. He was subpoenaed, with myself, as a witness on the trial of the man whom we had secured, which took place at the next assizes; but I was informed by the prisoner's attorney of his intention to plead guilty, the case against him being such a strong one; Brown was thus enabled without much risk to remain in the country with Chesterton, and we were both spared being placed in the painful position of important witnesses in a trial of life and death.
The man's confession was full, and apparently honest; and it was a satisfaction to find that the wretch who had fallen was a man of well-known desperate character, and probably, as the prisoner asserted, the concocter of the whole business: while all were murderers in intention. Had they succeeded in effecting their object by plundering the house, Farmer Nutt, whose habits of staying somewhat late from home on fair nights were well known to all the neighbourhood, was to have been waylaid on the towing-path which led to his house, and as, although a quiet man, there was a good deal of resolute spirit about him, and he would have had a heavy purse with him, the proceeds of stock sold at the fair, with which he would not easily have parted, there was no question but that he would have found a grave in the canal. Of Brown's lodging in the house the party were well aware; but they had laid their plans so warily for effecting an entrance without noise, and easily overpowering the women, that they hoped either altogether to avoid disturbing his quarter of the house, or making it evident to him that resistance was useless. Of course, our appearance was wholly unexpected; they had watched for some time, but we had been so quiet for the last hour (being in truth more than half asleep) that they had no suspicion of there being any one stirring in Brown's rooms.
I saw the unfortunate prisoner several times, and found him open and communicative on every subject but one. Any information with regard to his accomplice who had escaped, he always steadily refused; nor did a single unguarded word ever drop from him in conversation with any one by which the slightest clue could be obtained as to his identity. Even the police inspector, the most plausible and unscrupulous of his class, a perfect Machiavel among the Peelers, who could make a prisoner believe he was his only friend while he was doing his best to put the halter round his neck, even his practised policy was unsuccessful here. There was little doubt, however, that it was some person familiar with the premises, from the circumstance that poor Boxer, whose silence on the night of the attack we had all been surprised at, and who was not of a mood to be easily inveigled by strangers, even with the usual attractions of poisoned meat, &c., had disappeared, and was never heard of from that time forth. Suspicion of course fell upon several; but the matter remains to this day, I believe, a mystery. The prisoner, as I have said, pleaded guilty, and received sentence of death; under the circumstances of the crime, and its nearly fatal result, no other could be expected; nor did the judge who tried him hold out the slightest hope of mercy. But his full confession, with regard to himself and the man who had fallen, with honourable silence as to their more fortunate companion, his youth, (he was but a year older than myself,) and his whole bearing since his imprisonment, had impressed myself and others deeply in his favour; a memorial of the case was drawn up representing that justice might well be satisfied with the violent death of one criminal already, and after being signed by all parties of any influence in the neighbourhood, was forwarded for presentation to the crown. But the judge declared that he could not, consistently with his duty, back our application, and, to our extreme disappointment, an answer was returned that the law in this case must take its course. A private and personal interest was at work, however, which for once proved more powerful than judges or home secretaries. Brown had signed our memorial of course; but, dreading an unfavourable reply, had forwarded through other channels a short but strong remonstrance directly to the Queen. He spoke touchingly of his own distressed state of mind at having so young in life been compelled in defence of his friend to take the life of a fellow-creature, and prayed her Majesty "to restore, as she only could, his peace of mind, by giving him a life in exchange for that which he had taken away." A letter accompanied a reprieve by return of post, addressed to John Brown, which he preserves with a care almost superstitious; it contains a few short lines, dictated by a royal spirit and a woman's heart, and signed "VICTORIA." Victoria! mercy and humanity, the victory was indeed yours!
Of John Brown I have little to add. Like others with whom I was at one time so long and intimately allied, I have seen nothing of him now for years. The Dean was relieved as if from an incubus when he left college, though I believe there was a cessation of all open hostility after his return from Chesterton's. At least the only authenticated mention of any allusion to old grievances on my friend's part is, that when he paid Mr Hodgett the usual fees which fall to the Dean's share, upon taking his B.A., he asked him "whether he allowed discount for ready money?"
NELSON'S DESPATCHES AND LETTERS.
The common idea of a sailor—whether with a commodore's broad pendant, a lieutenant's wooden leg, or a foremast-man's pigtail—was, at one time, a wild, thoughtless, rollicking man, with very broad shoulders and a very red face, who talked incessantly about shivering his timbers, and thought no more of eating a score or two of Frenchmen than if they had been sprats. Such was the effect of the veracious chronicles of our countryman Tobias, and the lifelike descriptions of old Trunnion, and Tom Bowling, and the rest. The jack-tar, as represented by him—with the addition, perhaps, of a few softening features, but still the man of blood and 'ounds, breathing fire and smoke, and with a constant inclination to luff helms and steer a point or two to windward—has retained possession of the stage to the present time; and Mr T. P. Cooke still shuffles, and rolls, and dances, and fights—the beau-ideal and impersonation of the instrument with which Britannia rules the waves. And that the canvass waves of the Surrey are admirably ruled by such instruments, we have no intention of disputing; nor would it be possible to place visibly before the public the peculiar qualifications that constitute a first-rate sailor, any more than those which form a first-rate lawyer. The freaks of a young templar have as much to do with the triumphs of Lord Eldon, as the dash and vivacity of any fictitious middy have to do with the First of June. Sailors are made of sterner stuff; and of all classes of men, have their highest faculties called earliest into use, and kept most constantly in exercise. Let no man, therefore, think of the navy as a last resource for the stupidest of his sons. He will chew salt-junk, and walk with an easy negligence acquired from a course of practice in the Bay of Biscay; and in due time arrive at his double epaulettes, and be a blockhead to the end of the chapter. But all this stupidity, we humbly conceive, might have found as fitting an arena in Westminster Hall, or even in Westminster Abbey—with reverence be it spoken—as on the quarter-deck of a man-of-war; for we maintain it is of less consequence for a man to be a great pleader or an eloquent divine, (where the utmost extent of evil resulting from the absence of eloquence and acuteness is a law-suit lost or a congregation lulled to sleep,) than that he should be active, energetic, skilful, in one of the "leviathans afloat on the brine." Science, zeal, courage, and self-reliance, are very pretty qualities to find in the fool of the family—and without these, no man can ever be a sailor. But what opportunity is there in the navy for the display of the wonderful abilities of the fool of the family's antipode, the genius? Nothing will do for the surpassing brightness of some Highland star but law or politics; so Donald has Latin and Greek shovelled into him out of the dignified hat of some prebendary or bishop, goes to Oxford, talks on all manner of subjects as if his tongue had discovered the perpetual motion, goes to the bar, where the said motion is the only one he is called upon to make, forces himself into high society, wriggles his way into Parliament—the true Trophonius's cave of aspiring orators—and becomes a silent Demosthenes, as he has long been a lawless Coke; an ends at last in a paroxysm of wonder that his creditors are hard-hearted and his country ungrateful, so that, instead of being promoted to a seat at the Admiralty, he is removed to one in the Fleet—which brings him very nearly to the same position he would have been placed in, if a true estimate had been formed of his powers at first. Oh fathers! if Tom is a donkey, keep him at home or make him an attorney—it is amazing how a few years in "the office" will brighten him—but don't trust the lives of men, and the honour of the flag, to any but the best and wisest of your sons. Such a school for moral training has never been devised as one of the floating colleges that carry guns. The youngest midshipman acquires habits of command, the oldest captain practises the ennobling virtue of obedience; and these, we take it, form the alpha and omega of man's useful existence. Power gives self-respect, responsibility gives caution, and subjection gives humility. With all these united, as they are in every rank in the service, the character has little room left for improvement; tenderness and generosity, in addition, make a man a Collingwood or Pellew—genius and heroism make him a Nelson.
But not through flowery paths do genius and heroism tread on their path to fame. What a length of weary way, with what antres vast and deserts idle, and pathless wildernesses bestrown, lay between the Raisonable of 1770 and the Victory of 1805! and yet through them all, the traveller's eye was unalterably fixed on the great light that his soul saw filling the whole sky with its radiance, and which he knew the whole time was reflected from the Baltic, and the Nile, and Trafalgar. The letters of Nelson just given to the public by the industry of Sir Harris Nicolas, will hereafter be the manual of the sailor, as the sister service has found a guide in the Despatches of the Duke of Wellington. All that was to be expected from the well-known talent of the editor, united to an enthusiasm for his hero, which has carried him triumphantly through the extraordinary labour of investigating and ascertaining every fact in the slightest degree bearing upon his subject, is to be found in this volume, in which, from the beginning to the end, by a continued series of letters, Nelson is made his own historian; and we sincerely believe, divesting ourselves as far as possible of all prejudice and partiality, that no character ever came purer from the ordeal of unreserved communication—where not a thought is concealed or an expression studied—than the true friend, the good son, the affectionate brother, Horatio Nelson. The correspondence in this volume only extends from 1777 to 1794, and no blot has yet occurred to mar the brightness of a character where there is so much to like, that the reader finds it difficult to dwell on the heroic parts of it which he is only called upon to admire. When the volume ends, he is only thirty-six years old, and is captain of the Agamemnon; but his path is clearly traced out—his name is in men's mouths and his character established. And, looking over the whole correspondence, nothing, perhaps, is so striking as the early development of his peculiar qualities, and the firm unswerving line he struck into from the beginning and continued in to the last. A self-reliance, amounting in weaker and less equally-balanced natures to doggedness and conceit—a clear perception of the circumstances of a case almost resembling intuition—a patriotism verging on the romantic, and a sense of duty never for a moment yielding to the "whips and scorns that patient merit of the unworthy takes," are displayed in every incident of his life, from the time that he left the quiet parsonage-house at Burnham Thorpe, till he finished his glorious career.
At twelve years of age, he joined his uncle in the Raisonable sixty-four, and served in her as midshipman for five months; and few people would have been able to discover the future hero in the feeble boy he must have been at that time. Still less, perhaps, would they have expected the future Bronte, a few months later, in the person of a little fellow, no longer a midshipman in the Royal Navy, but a working "youngster" on board a West India ship, as he informs us in his "Sketch of my Life," belonging to the house of Hibbert, Purrier, and Horton, from which he returned to the Triumph at Chatham, a good practical seaman, but with a horror of the Royal Navy, and a firm belief in a saying then constant with the seamen, "Aft the most honour, forward the better man." The next situation we find him in, will probably shock the delicate feelings of tender mammas, who expect their sons to be admirals without any apprenticeship; for he is rated on the books of the Triumph as "captain's servant" for one year, two months, and two days. We may in some measure relieve their minds, by assuring them, that he did not wear livery, and was never called upon to brush the captain's coat. But the horrid man submitted even to lower degradation, in order to get experience in his profession, which our Reginald Augustus could never have thought of; for he tells us, that "when the expedition towards the North Pole was fitted out, although no boys were allowed to go in the ships—as of no use—yet nothing could prevent my using every interest to go with Captain Lutwidge in the Carcass, and as I fancied I was to fill a man's place. I begged I might be his cockswain; which, finding my ardent desire for going with him, Captain Lutwidge complied with."
And Cockswain Nelson "exerted himself, (when the boats were fitted out to quit the two ships blocked up in the ice,) to have the command of a four-oared cutter raised upon, which was given him, with twelve men; and he prided himself in fancying he could navigate her better than any other boat in the ship."
And we will back the cockswain to any amount, though he was then only fifteen, and probably did not weigh more than five stone.
But the vulgarity of the fellow will be the death of us, and our Laura Matilda will never listen without disgust to the "Death of Nelson" again; for he tells us, that on the return of the Polar expedition, he was placed in the Racehorse of twenty guns, with Captain Farmer, and watched in the foretop!!! And it is probable, during all these mutations, that he very seldom tasted venison, and drank very little champagne. But even in the absence of those usual luxuries of the cockpit, he made himself a thorough seaman; and when serving in the Worcester sixty-four, with Captain Mark Robinson, he says, with characteristic, because fully justified pride, "although my age might have been a sufficient cause for not entrusting me with the charge of a watch, yet Captain Robinson used to says, he felt as easy when I was upon deck as any officer in the ship."
And this brings us to 1777, the date of his commission, and the commencement of his correspondence. After the simple statement of his course of life, we shall hardly be called upon to observe, that Nelson was no great scholar, as we perceive that his school education was finished when he was twelve years old. And we owe hearty thanks to Sir Harris Nicolas for having restored the letters to their original language, uncicerorian as it may be; for he informs us, that some of those which had been formerly published in the different biographies of the hero, were so improved and beautified that it was difficult to recognise them. By proper clipping and pruning, altering some sentences and exchanging others, an ingenious editor might transmogriphy these simple epistles into the philippics of Junius; and therefore we derive complete satisfaction from the conviction, that, in this compilation, every sentence is exactly as it was written. With one other observation, (which we make for the sake of the Laura Matildas who are horrified at the "cockswain,") we shall proceed to give such extracts from the letters as we consider the most characteristic; and "that 'ere observation," as was said by Mr Liston, "is this here," that Nelson was of what is usually called a very good family—being nearly connected with the Walpoles, Earls of Orford, and the Turners of Warham, in Norfolk. But for further information on this point, we refer them to an abstract of the pedigree prefixed to the letters. In the year 1777, and several following years, Nelson's principal correspondents were his brother, the Rev. William Nelson, who succeeded as second Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough, and was created Earl Nelson—Captain William Locker, then in command of the Lowestoffe, of whom very interesting memoirs have been published by his son Edward Hawke Locker, Esq., late a commissioner of Greenwich Hospital—the Rev. Edmund Nelson (his father)—besides the secretary to the Admiralty, and the official personages to whom his despatches were addressed.
To show the affectionate nature of the man, we shall quote his first letter to Captain Locker, who was one of his dearest friends. The address of the letter is wanting, but it would appear to have been written during Captain Locker's temporary absence from his ship, in consequence of ill health:—
"Lowestoffe, at Sea, August 12, 1777.
"My most worthy Friend—I am exceedingly obliged to you for the good opinion you entertain of me, and will do my utmost that you may have no occasion to change it. I hope God Almighty will be pleased to spare your life for your own sake and that of your family; but should any thing happen to you (which I sincerely pray God may not) you may be assured that nothing shall be wanting on my part for the taking care of your effects, and delivering safe to Mrs Locker such of them as may be thought proper not to be disposed of. You mentioned the word consolation in your letter—I shall have a very great one, when I think I have served faithfully the best of friends, and the most amiable of women. All the services I can render to your family, you may be assured shall be done; and shall never end but with my life; and may God Almighty, of his great goodness, keep, bless, and preserve you and your family, is the most fervent prayer of your faithful servant,
In 1781 he was appointed commander of the Albemarle, of twenty-eight guns, and in the following year had a narrow escape from a strong French force in Boston Bay. The sailing qualities of the Albemarle beat the line-of-battle ships, and he immediately brought to for a frigate that formed part of the chasing squadron, but his courtesy was declined, and the frigate bore away. He dwells, in several of his letters, on his good fortune in getting off; but, in the following one to his father, he omits all mention of his challenge to the pursuer:—
"Albemarle, Isle of Bic, River St Lawrence October 19, 1782.
"My dear Father—I wrote to Mr Suckling when I was at Newfoundland, but I have not had an opportunity of writing to you till this time. I expected to have sailed for England on the first of November, but our destination is now altered, for we sail with a fleet for New York to-morrow; and from there I think it very likely we shall go to the grand theatre of actions—the West Indies; but, in our line of life, we are sure of no one thing. When I reach New York you shall hear what becomes of me; but, while I have health, it is indifferent to me (were it not for the pleasure of seeing you and my brothers and sisters) where I go. Health, that greatest of blessings, is what I never truly enjoyed till I saw fair Canada. The change it has wrought I am convinced is truly wonderful. I most sincerely wish, my dear father, I could compliment you the same way; but I hope Bath has done you a great deal of good this summer. I have not had much success in the prize way, but it is all in good time, and I do not know I ought to complain; for, though I took several, but had not the good fortune to get one safe into port, yet, on the other side, I escaped from five French men-of-war in a wonderful manner.... Farewell, my dearest father, and assure yourself I always am, and ever shall be, your dutiful son,
In the following month he writes to his friend Locker—"I am a candidate with Lord Hood for a line-of-battle ship; he has honoured me highly by a letter, for wishing to go off this station to a station of service, and has promised me his friendship. Prince William is with him." And Sir Harris Nicolas adds in a note—"H. R. H. Prince William Henry, third son of King George III, afterwards Duke of Clarence, Admiral of the Fleet, (Lord High Admiral?) and King William IV." The Prince honoured Nelson with his warmest friendship, and many letters in this collection were addressed to his Royal Highness.
The following description of Nelson by the prince is extremely interesting:—
"I was then a midshipman on board the Barfleur, lying in the Narrows off Staten Island, and had the watch on deck, when Captain Nelson of the Albemarle came in his barge alongside, who appeared to be the merest boy of a captain I ever beheld; and his dress was worthy of attention. He had on a full laced uniform; his lank unpowdered hair was tied in a stiff Hessian tail of an extraordinary length, the old-fashioned flaps of his waistcoat added to the general quaintness of his figure, and produced an appearance which particularly attracted my notice, for I had never seen any thing like it before, nor could I imagine who he was or what he came about. My doubts were, however, removed when Lord Hood introduced me to him. There was something irresistibly pleasing in his address and conversation, and an enthusiasm, when speaking on professional subjects, that showed he was no common being. Nelson, after this, went with us to the West Indies, and served under Lord Hood's flag during his indefatigable cruize off Cape Francois. Throughout the whole of the American war the height of Nelson's ambition was to command a line-of-battle ship; as for prize-money, it never entered his thoughts; he had always in view the character of his maternal uncle. I found him warmly attached to my father, and singularly humane; he had the honour of the king's service and the independence of the British navy particularly at heart; and his mind glowed with this idea as much when he was simply captain of the Albemarle, and had obtained none of the honours of his country, as when he was afterwards decorated with so much well-earned distinction."
Nelson's opinion of the prince, as a seaman, was scarcely less high; and it says not a little, in favour of both parties, that their friendship appears to have been founded on mutual respect. In July, 1783, the Albemarle was paid off; and Nelson having finished the war, as he expresses it in a letter to his friend Mr Ross, without a fortune, but without a speck on his character, remained nine months on half-pay. But as he determined to make use of his spare time in mastering the French—a feat which he afterwards accomplished without a grammar—he resolved to go to France with his friend Captain James Macnamara for that purpose. There are some very Nelsonian sentences in his correspondence while in the land of the Mounseers. His contempt for epaulettes—which were not introduced into the English navy till 1795—is very amusing; and he little thought, that in one of the dandified officers he despised so much, he should find one of his most distinguished comrades, the gallant Sir Alexander Ball:—
To William Locker, Esq. "St Omer, Nov. 2, 1783.
"My dear sir—Our travels, since we left you, have been extended to a much greater length then I apprehended; but I must do Captain Mac the justice to say it was all my doings, and in a great measure against his advice; but experience bought is the best; and all mine I have paid pretty dearly for. We dined at Canterbury the day we parted from you, and called at Captain Sandys' house, but he was just gone out to dinner in the country, therefore we did not see him. We slept at Dover, and next morning at seven o'clock put to sea with a fine north-west wind, and at half-past ten we were safe at breakfast in Monsieur Grandsire's house at Calais. His mother kept it when Hogarth wrote his Gate of Calais. Sterne's Sentimental Journey is the best description I can give of our tour. Mac advised me to go first to St Omer, as he had experienced the difficulty of attempting to fix in any place where there are no English; after dinner we set off, intended for Montreuil, sixty miles from Calais; they told us we travelled en poste, but I am sure we did not get on more than four miles an hour. I was highly diverted with looking what a curious figure the postilions in their jack-boots, and their rats of horses, made together. Their chaises have no springs, and the roads generally paved like London streets; therefore you will naturally suppose we were pretty well shook together by the time we had travelled two posts and a half, which is fifteen miles, to Marquise. Here we were shown into an inn—they called it, I should have called it a pig-stye: we were shown into a room with two straw beds, and with great difficulty they mustered up clean sheets, and gave us two pigeons for supper, upon a dirty cloth, and wooden-handled knives. Oh, what a transition from happy England!
"But we laughed at the repast, and went to bed with the determination that nothing should ruffle our tempers. Having slept very well, we set off at daylight for Boulogne, where we breakfasted. This place was full of English; I suppose because wine is so very cheap. We went on after breakfast for Montreuil, and passed through the finest corn country that my eyes ever beheld, diversified with fine woods, sometimes for miles together, through noble forests. The roads mostly were planted with trees, which made as fine an avenue as to any gentleman's country-seat. Montreuil is thirty miles from Boulogne, situated upon a small hill, in the middle of a fine plain, which reached as far as the eye could carry you, except towards the sea, which is about twelve miles from it. We put up at the same house, and with the same jolly landlord that recommended Le Fleur to Sterne. Here we wished much to be fixed; but neither good lodgings or masters could be had here—for there are no middling class of people. Sixty noblemen's families lived in the town, who owned the vast plain round it, and the rest very poor indeed. This is the finest country for game that ever was; partridges twopence-halfpenny a couple, pheasants and woodcocks in proportion; and, in short, every species of poultry. We dined, supped, lay, and breakfasted next day, Saturday; then we proceeded on our tour, leaving Montreuil, you will suppose, with great regret.
"We reached Abbeville at eight o'clock; but, unluckily for us, two Englishmen, one of whom called himself Lord Kingsland—I can hardly suppose it to be him—and a Mr Bullock, decamped at three o'clock that afternoon in debt to every shopkeeper in the place. These gentlemen kept elegant houses, horses, &c. We found the town in an uproar; and as no masters could be had at this place that could speak a word of English, and that all masters that could speak English grammatically attend at the places that are frequented by the English, which is, St Omer, Lisle, Dunkirk, and Boulogne, to the northward of Paris, and as I had no intention of travelling to the south of France till the spring, at any rate, I determined, with Mac's advice, to steer for St Omer, where we arrived last Tuesday; and I own I was surprised to find, that instead of a dirty, nasty town, which I had always heard it represented, to find a large city, well paved, good streets, and well lighted.
"We lodge in a pleasant French family, and have our dinners sent from a traiteur's. There are two very agreeable young ladies, daughters, who honour us with their company pretty often. One always makes our breakfast, and the other our tea, and play a game at cards in the evening. Therefore I must learn French, if 'tis only for the pleasure of talking to them; for they do not speak a word of English. Here are a great number of English in this place; but we visit only two families; for, if I did, I should never speak French. Two noble captains are here—Ball and Shepard. You do not know, I believe, either of them. They wear fine epaulettes, for which I think them great coxcombs. They have not visited me; and I shall not, be assured, court their acquaintance. You must be heartily tired of this long epistle, if you can read it; but I have the worst pen in the world, and I can't mend it. God bless you; and, be assured, I am your sincere friend, and affectionate humble servant,
In another letter from St Omer, he returns to the charge against Dandy Ball and Shepard:—
"Here are two navy captains, Ball and Shepard, at this place; but we do not visit. They are very fine gentlemen, with epaulettes. You may suppose, I hold them a little cheap for putting on any part of a Frenchman's uniform."
And in a short time after, he seems to have made up his mind on two very important points—politics and the French people.
To his brother William.
"... As to your having enlisted under the banners of the Walpoles, [Whigs,] you might as well have enlisted under those of my grandmother. They are altogether the merest set of cyphers that ever existed—in public affairs, I mean. Mr Pitt, depend upon it, will stand against all opposition. An honest man must always, in the end, get the better of a villain. But I have done with politics. Let who will get in, I shall be left out."
"In about a week or fortnight, I think of returning to the Continent till autumn, when I shall bring a horse, and stay the winter at Burnham. I return to many charming women; but no charming woman will return with me. I want to be a proficient in the language, which is my only reason for returning. I hate their country and their manners."
In March of this year, (1784,) he was appointed to the Boreas frigate of twenty-eight guns; and had the honour (not very highly valued) of carrying out Lady Hughes, the wife of the admiral on the Leeward Island station, and a number of other people, who did not add much to the efficiency of a man-of-war. It was on this station that he had first an opportunity of showing the determination and fearlessness of his character in maintaining what he thought the right—though ill supported, as was to be expected, by the authorities at home—against local interests, which any other man would not have ventured to oppose. We are not about to enter into the history of Nelson's conduct in defence of the Navigation Act, further than as the correspondence on the subject brings out some of his peculiarities; and the result shows, as usual, the policy of firmness, and the certainty of success to those who are determined to obtain it.
The Americans, after the recognition of their independence, were by no means willing to surrender some of the advantages they had enjoyed when colonists of Great Britain. Among these was an unrestricted trade with the West Indies. In order to retain this advantage, they stuck at nothing in the way of oaths and declarations; and, as the American trade was of great consequence to the islanders, their false pretences were in all cases supported by the merchants, and even the custom-house authorities were persuaded to encourage the frauds. A captain of the navy, twenty-six years of age, undertook to put an end to these operations; and, in the course of a very short time, he found himself in as hot water as any gentleman can require.
To William Locker, Esq. "Boreas, Baseterre Road, January 15, 1785.
"The longer I am upon this station the worse I like it. Our commander has not that opinion of his own sense that he ought to have. He is led by the advice of the islanders to admit the Yankees to a trade—at least, to wink at it. He does not give himself that weight that I think an English admiral ought to do. I, for one, am determined not to suffer the Yankees to come where my ship is; for I am sure, if once the Americans are admitted to any kind of intercourse with these islands, the views of the Loyalists in settling in Nova Scotia are entirely done away. They will first become the carriers, and next have possession of our islands, are we ever again embroiled in a French war. The residents of these islands are Americans by connexion and by interest, and are inimical to Great Britain. They are as great rebels as ever were in America, had they the power to show it. After what I have said, you will believe I am not very popular with the people. They have never visited me, and I have not had a foot in any house since I have been on the station, and all for doing my duty by being true to the interests of Great Britain. A petition from the President and Council has gone to the Governor-general and admiral, to request the admission of Americans. I have given my answer to the admiral upon the subject—how he will like it I know not; but I am determined to suppress the admission of foreigners all in my power. I have told the Customs that I will complain if they admit any foreigner to an entry. An American arrives—sprung a leak, a mast, and what not—makes a protest—gets admittance—sells his cargo for ready money—goes to Martinico—buys molasses—and so round and round. But I hate them all. The Loyalist cannot do it, consequently must sell a little dearer."
His narrative to the admiral on the same subject is as follows:—
"January 11 or 12, 1785.
"Sir—I yesterday received your order of the 29th of December, wherein you direct me, in execution of your first order, dated the 12th of November, (which is, in fact, strictly requiring us to put the Act of Navigation, upon which the wealth and safety of Great Britain so much depends, in force,) to observe the following directions, viz, to cause foreigners to anchor by his Majesty's ship under my command, except in cases of immediate and urgent distress, until her arrival and situation, in all respects, shall be reported to his Majesty's governor, or his representative, at any of the islands where I may fall in with such foreign ships or vessels; and that if the governor, or his representative, should give leave for admitting such vessels, strictly charging me not to hinder them or interfere in their subsequent proceedings.
"I ever have been, as in duty bound, always ready to co-operate with his Majesty's governors, or their representatives, in doing whatever has been for the benefit of Great Britain. No governor will, I am sure, do such an illegal act as to countenance the admission of foreigners into the ports of their islands, nor dare any officer of his Majesty's Customs enter such foreigners, without they are in such distress that necessity obliges them to unlade their cargoes; and then only to sell such a part of it as will pay the costs. In distress, no individual shall exceed me in acts of generosity; and, in judging of their distress, no person can know better than sea officers, of which I shall inform the governors, &c., when they acquaint me for what reason they have countenanced the admission of foreigners.
"I beg leave to hope, that I may be properly understood, when I venture to say, that, at a time when Great Britain is using every endeavour to suppress illicit trade at home, it is not wished that the ships on this station should be singular, by being the only spectators of the illegal trade, which I know is carried on at these islands. The governors may be imposed on by false declarations; we, who are on the spot, cannot. General Shirley told me and Captain Collingwood how much he approved of the methods that were carrying on for suppressing the illegal trade with America; that it had ever been his wish, and that he had used every means in his power, by proclamation and otherwise, to hinder it; but they came to him with protests, and swore through every thing, (even, as the sea-phrase is, through a nine-inch plank;) therefore got admittance, as he could not examine the vessels himself; and, further, by the Thynne packet, he had received a letter from Lord Sydney, one of his Majesty's principal secretaries of state, saying that Administration were determined that American ships and vessels should not have any intercourse with our West India islands; and that he had, upon an address from the Assembly, petitioning that he would relax the king's proclamation for the exclusion of Americans, transmitted it to Lord Sydney to be laid before the king. The answer to General Shirley was, that his Majesty firmly believed and hoped that all his orders which were received by his governors would be strictly obeyed.