Imágenes de páginas

often beyond the reach of human penetration. We shall give a remarkable example of this in a matter of deep interest at the present moment.* When Lord Shelburne's peace (1783) was signed, and before the terms were made public, he sent for the Admiral, and, showing them, asked his opinion. "I like them very well," said he, "but there is a great omission." "In what?" "In leaving Canada as a British province." "How could we possibly give it up?" inquired Lord Shelburne. "How can you hope to keep it?" replied the veteran warrior. "With an English republic just established in the sight of Canada, and with a population of a handful of English settled among a body of hereditary Frenchmen. It is impossible; and rely on it you only retain a running sore, the source of endless disquiet and expense." "Would the country bear it? Have you forgotten Wolfe and Quebec ?" asked his Lordship. "Forgotten Wolfe and Quebec! No; it is because I remember both. I served with Wolfe at Quebec; having lived so long, I have had full time for reflection on this matter; and my clear opinion is, that if this fair occasion for giving up Canada is neglected, nothing but difficulty, in either keeping or resigning it will ever after be known."-We give the substance of this remarkable conversation as we have it from more sources of information than one; and the recollection of the parties is confirmed by the tone of the Earl's letters in 1813, which we have seen. There was no question of a surrender; but he plainly shows the greatest distrust of our being suffered to retain the colony.

When the war broke out in 1793, Admiral Jervis was soon employed on the Mediterranean and Lisbon stations. What wonders he effected with an inadequate force are well known to the profession. All the world is aware of his glorious victory over the Spanish fleet,

* This was written during the Canada Debates, in 1838.

in February, 1797, when he defeated an enemy of nearly three times his force. Nor is there any one who has not heard of the steady determination of purpose, so characteristic of the man, by which his fleet was made ready to sail from the Tagus in as many hours as all but himself said days would be required for the preparation, after overland advices had arrived at Lisbon of the enemy having put to sea. But the consummate vigour and wisdom of his proceedings during the dreadful period of the Mutiny are no less a theme of wonder and of praise. It was the practice to despatch mutinous vessels to serve under his orders, and he soon, by his masterly operations of combined mercy and justice, reduced them to order, restoring discipline by such examples as should be most striking, without being more numerous than absolute necessity required. The humane ingenuity of his contrivance, to make one execution produce the effect of many, by ordering it on an unusual day (Sunday morning), is well known. His prompt measures of needful, and no more than the needful severity, were as effectual to quell a formidable mutiny which broke out in the fleet that had just returned from foreign service, and was suddenly ordered to the West Indies to watch the French expedition there. The revolt was at once subdued; the fleet set sail; and there never again was heard the whisper of discontent respecting the painful disappointment to which the men were thus subjected.

When the Addington ministry was formed, he was placed at the head of the Admiralty; and now shone forth in all its lustre that great capacity for affairs with which he was endued by nature, and which ample experience of men, habits of command, and an extended life of deep reflection had matured. He laid the foundation of a system of economical administration which has since been extended from the navy to all the departments of the state. But it was bottomed on a searching scrutiny into the abuses of the existing

system. The celebrated "Commission of Naval Inquiry" was his own work, and it both led to numberless discoveries of abuse and extravagance, and gave the example to all the similar inquiries which soon after followed. It did more: it introduced the whole subject of Economical Reform, and made it become, both in and out of Parliament, the principal object for many years of all our patriotic statesmen ;- -an object which alone they carried through in spite of those ministerial majorities, omnipotent upon every other controversy among the parties in Parliament. It is impossible to calculate what would have been the saving effected to the revenues of this country had Lord St. Vincent presided over any great department of national affairs from the beginning of the war, instead of coming to our assistance after its close. But in proportion to his services in this line of reformation, was the clamour which his operations excited against him. His unsparing rigour, his inflexible justice, his fixed determination to expose delinquents how high soever to dispense with useless services, how many hands soever might be flung out of the superfluous and costly employment,-raised against this great and honest statesman a host of enemies, numerous in exact proportion to the magnitude of the objects he had in view, exasperated in proportion to the unjust gains of which he was depriving them: in other words, the hostility to which he was exposed was in an exact proportion to his merits. Nor did the gratitude of the country, whom his courage and disinterestedness. was thus serving so essentially, at all keep pace with the great benefits which he bestowed. The spirit of faction interposed with its baleful influence; and when the Pitt and the Fox parties combined to forget their animosities, for the purpose of unseating Mr. Addington, the ground chosen by the new allies upon which to celebrate their union, and to commence their joint operations, was an attack upon the naval administra


tion of the only great man whom the ministers could boast of having among their number;-the illustrious warrior who, after defeating the enemies of his country by his arms, had waged a yet more successful war against her internal foes by his vigour as a reformer, his irreconcilable enmity to all abuses, and his resistless energy in putting them down.

It is hardly necessary to add, that of eloquence, or debating power, Lord St. Vincent had nothing whatever; nor to such accomplishments did he lay any claim. Indeed he held the arts of rhetoric in supreme contempt; always contenting himself with delivering his own opinion when required, in the plainest language-and often expressing what he felt in sufficiently unceremonious terms. Not that he had anything at all of the roughness often found in the members of the naval profession. On the contrary, his manners were those of a highly polished gentleman; and no man had more of the finished courtier in all his outward appearance and demeanour. His extreme courtesy, his admirable address in managing men, the delicacy with which he could convey his pleasure to inferiors, or his dissent to equals, or his remonstrances to superiors, being the external covering of as firm a determination as ever guided a human being, were truly remarkable; and gained for him with persons of superficial observation, or imperfectly acquainted with his character, the reputation of being cunning and insincere; when, in truth, it only arose from a good-natured desire of giving as little needless uneasiness as possible, and raising as few difficulties as he could upon matters foreign to his main purpose. When he went to the Tagus at the head of the expedition and the Commission in 1806, the object being, in case Portugal proved indefensible against the threatened French invasion, to make the royal family and principal nobility transfer the seat of government to the Brazils, the proceedings of this

Chief, in his two-fold capacity of captain and statesman, were justly remarked for the great talents and address which they exhibited. Being then under him officially, I had ample opportunity of observing his prowess, and of estimating his powers. He began by cutting off all communication between his fleet and the land; this he effected by proclaiming an eight days' quarantine. His colleagues in the Commission having joined him, he still prevented his officers and men from landing, but threw open all his ships to the natives of the place, whose multitudes never ceased pouring through those gallant vessels, lost in admiration of their beauty, their resistless force, and the perfect discipline of their crews. With the court his intercourse now began; and the terror of his name, even without his armament, would there have made him The reluctance to remove was, of supreme. course, universal and deep-rooted; nor could any arrangement which the expected invader might offer prove less palatable than expatriation and banishment for life across the Atlantic to pampered voluptuaries, the extent of whose excursions had hitherto been the distance between the town and the country palace. But he arranged everything for their voyage; and he was quite ready to compel their embarkation. His plan would have exposed his own person to some danger, but would have required no application of military force, if nothing was attempted against the fleet. It seemed to have been borrowed from the celebrated seizure by Cortez of the emperor Montezuma's person, in his capital of Mexico; and the very few to whom he communicated it, and of whom I was one, while struck with the boldness of the design, saw that it was as happy as it was bold, and had no doubt whatever of its perfect success.

Although I have noted his contempt for the artifices of oratory, it is remarkable that some of his most intimate friends were those who chiefly owed

« AnteriorContinuar »