Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

lanthropy, to whom God has given the fortune and the talent, and to whom man has given the cultivation, who will, for the sake of “the dearest charity," undertake the cause of the people ? Some one for whom all the high prizes of ambition are too low - for whom all the great themes of human glory are too small — who, emulous of immortality, will fearlessly consecrate himself to the service of those who have nothing but their hearts to give, and generously commit his fame “ to other generations and to other times ?”

We are not fond of offering incense to public men ; it is not safe. If worthy of it, they can do without it; if not, it is doubly pernicious. But we cannot take leave of this great subject without offering to the honorable gentleman, whose speech has furnished the occasion for our remarks, our hearty thanks for his generous exertions in this cause. The country has formed high expectations of him, and has yet, from these first fruits, much to expect from him. Shall we be disappointed ?

ART. VIII. — The Naval History of Great Britain, from the

Declaration of War by France, in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. By WILLIAM James. New Edition, with Additions and Notes, by Captain CHAMIER, R. N. London : 1837. 6 vols. 8vo.

The recent appearance of a new edition of James's Naval History of Great Britain, repeating all the former mierepresentations in his narrative of the events connected with our country, seems to us to offer a fit occasion for examining its claims to the authenticity of history; and in doing this, we shall find no difficulty, we think, in convicting the writer not only of a uniform violation of truth in his record of every thing that concerns ourselves, but also of such malignity of spirit as must disqualify him for his office, and destroy his credibility as a historian.

We may however observe, in the outset, that the virulence which is the prominent trait of Mr. James's character, is not confined to the enemies of his country. It has provoked numerous controversies with British naval officers, of the

1842.]
Violent Abuse of Americans.

185 merits of which, of course, we have no desire to discuss, and we refer to them only as conclusive evidence that even in the community where his work might expect to receive the most favor, its veracity is doubted. Even Lord Collingwood, whom we have been accustomed to regard as the model of an English naval officer, is made the subject of his animadversions, accompanied with his habitual incivility:

Though the faithful historian must show that he is writing for mankind, and not for his own nation only, still, in recounting the deeds of his countrymen, he may be pardoned if in the spirit of patriotism he discovers a leaning in their favor. He can, however, by no means plead patriotism as his justification, if, like Mr. James, he falsifies events, and gilds the successes, or conceals the defeats of his friends, at the expense of truth. He also mistakes the nature and duties of this virtue, if he employs it in keeping alive, and exasperating a passion for war, and encouraging a permanent sentiment of hostility between two nations. If the peace-makers are blessed, what must he expect who devotes his life, and its labors, to foster and strengthen the infuriated passions which a state of active warfare necessarily generates-passions which would expire with the occasion that called them forth, were they not continued and propagated by such writers as Mr. James; which impede the progress of humanity and civilization, and retard, if they do not wholly obstruct, the peaceful accommodation of the unavoidable difficulties that from time to time interrupt the harmony of nations ? No one who reads this misnamed history can fail to remark the spirit of bitter antipathy to this country that pervades it, exhibiting itself in passages like the following:

66

[ocr errors]

Every citizen of every town in the United States, to which a creek leads that can float a canoe, becomes henceforward a merchant ;' and the grower of wheat or tobacco sends his son to a counting-house, that he may be initiated in the profitable art of falsifying ship's papers, and covering belligerent property. Here the young American learns to bolt custom-house oaths by the dozen, and to condemn a lie only when clumsily told, or when timorously or inadequately applied. After a few years of probation, he is sent on board a vessel as mate, or supercargo; and, in due time, besides fabricating fraudulent papers, and swearing to their genuineness, he learns (using a homely phrase) to humbug British officers, and to decoy and make American citizens of British seamen." • But is writer who stands pledged to deal impartially between nation and NO. XIX. - VOL. X.

24

a

66

[ocr errors]

6

nation, to forbear exposing their trickery, because it may suit the Americans to invent any falsehoods, no matter how bare-faced, to foist a valiant character upon themselves ?"

"The number of prisoners delivered to the agent at Bermuda was four hundred and thirty-four. Add to these, beside the thirty-five acknowledged by the American officers to have been killed, six or seven too badly wounded to be removed, and we have four hundred and seventy-five as the President's complement; just two less than were named in her watch-bill. Yet Commodore Decatur, and two of his officers, swore before the surrogate, that the President had about four hundred and fifty, but certainly not four hundred and sixty men, when the action commenced. The consequence of this oath – this American oath was, that the captors got head-money for four hundred and fifty men only; when there was proof positive (namely, Mr. James's word) that four hundred and sixty-nine, and every probability that four hundred and seventyseven men were in the ship at the time stated.”... “However, the American Commodore in all he said was believed, and for all he had done was commended, in the quarter to which alone, beside his own conscience—and that probably was not an over squeamish one — he considered himself responsible.” ... “ This moral and religious people actually grew rich, and great, commercially great, at least, out of that which depopulated Europe, which robbed the wife of her husband, and the child of its father.” — Vol. vi., pp. 78, 106, 366, 14.

We need hardly observe that this language is neither appropriate to history, nor likely to gain for its author the respect and confidence of his readers.

The effect of such abusive writing upon the public feeling in this country towards England is, at all times, but particularly at the present moment, deeply to be deplored. It may be doubted how far this sacrifice of decency and truth to the promptings of a spurious patriotism can be justified in the mind of the writer himself; or whether he can escape the upbraidings of his own conscience for having violated the sacredness of history, to gratify a feeling of personal malignity.

Although Mr. James has lost all claim to lenity as well as respect, we cannot withhold our compassion from the man who has passed a large portion of his life in an employment that has kept his mind in a perpetual fever of malice, converted him into a pander to the worst passions, and even, since it is his object to cherish hatred among his fellow men, into an enemy to his race.

1842.]

His Remarks upon Lord Collingwood.

187

If the opinion of the poet is correct, that “all, all but truth drops still-born from the press," we have nothing to fear from a detraction that has so little regard to her precepts. It may serve for a time to gratify, and perhaps to aggravate the passions to which it is addressed. Unhappily, however, it is more easy to do evil than to do good. The bold invective of Mr. James, like the petty scandal whispered in private, finds an advocate in the human heart, because it is desperately wicked. No doubt a loyal, but ignorant Englishman, may find something in the violent denunciations of our author to soften the mortification of defeats, and may regard the pleasure which he derives from the abuse of American officers, as a proof of his fidelity to his king, and of his attachment to his country

Mr. James is indebted for his style to ships' log-books. The deeds of neither Lords St. Vincent nor Nelson elevate him for a moment above the dull level of dry and barren statements. His history is a detail of events heaped together with confusion, wanting beginning, connection, and conclusion. It is neither adorned with the graces of composition, nor enriched with lessons of instruction. Nothing but a dis

а pute tempts the author to deviate from his natural dulness. His most animated comment is a warm quarrel, and his highest effort a display of ill-temper. The reader may despair of learning the truth concerning any doubtful matter from one who treats it, not with the calmness of a judge, but with the fervor of a partisan, regarding it as his first duty to support the cause he has espoused, and ready at any moment to sacrifice truth to opinion. In speaking of one of Lord Collingwood's despatches, written after the battle of Trafalgar, he makes the following remarks :

“ Unfortunately for the fame of those concerned, this soul-inspiring passage contains not a word of truth.”

Among the numerous omissions and misstatements that pervade the official accounts of this celebrated battle, the most extraordinary, as well as the most unjust," etc.

“ Unfortunately the mere omission of Captain Hardy's name in the public letter of Vice-Admiral Collingwood, is not all the injury done to him. That might have arisen from unintentional neglect, and have been atoned for, in part, by subsequent explanation and apology. But nothing short of the most humiliating acknowledgment could nullify the statement," etc. He adds: “Truth, however, will ultimately prevail."

a

We do not now recall any one who will have less cause to rejoice in her triumph than our author. Even a senseless picture in the king's palace, an ideal representation of the battle of Trafalgar, is not permitted to pass without passionate vituperation, reminding us of the spleen which undisciplined childhood is sometimes seen to vent on inanimate objects. We may also refer to the whole comment on the battle of Trafalgar, to the defamation of Captain Berkely of the Emerald, after the battle of St. Vincent, and the attempt, for which no other motive appears than a confirmed practice of evil-speaking, to deprive Sir John Duckworth of the merit of his action off the road of St. Domingo, and to show that the gratitude of the inhabitants of the West India islands, the voted vases, swords, etc., of London merchants, and the thanks of parliament, moved in the lords by Lord Grenville, and in the commons by Mr. Grey, were on this occasion unworthily distributed. Attacks, more remarkable for their spirit than their courtesy, upon contemporary bistorians are scattered throughout the work. It would be easy to multiply instances, but the above, selected from periods of English naval history in which we have no national concern, are sufficient warrant for the opinion that Mr. James has written his book not only in the spirit, but also with the unscrupulous partiality of a party man. For the faithful performance of the historian's duty it is necessary that his mind should be divested of passion and prejudice, and that his judgments, matured by deliberation, should be pronounced with calmness. We have already seen how entirely destitute of these requisites Mr. James is, and we cannot but lament that such a trust should have been committed to a man who insults without any other motive than his own perversity of temper; whose dissent from the highest authority is accompanied by a charge of falsehood, and whose love of argument and contradiction betrays itself in loose attacks upon officers in the very cases where they have received from his and their government distinguished attestations to their services and character.

Mr. James commenced his historical labors in 1816 with “ An inquiry into the merit of the principal naval actions between Great Britain and the United States.” This was followed, in 1817, by “ A full and correct account of the chief naval occurrences of the late war," which was subsequently enlarged and extended, so as to embrace the naval operations

« НазадПродовжити »