Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

What Greece was to the Persian despot, England was to Napoleon ; nation after nation thrcughout Europe had shrunk from staking its existence against a mere principle, and England alone was at war with the congregated world, in defence of that world's freedom. Yet not quite alone : she had one faithful ally in the cause of liberty and Christianity, and that ally was—the Turk!

The Bay is wide, but dangerous from shoals; the line of deep blue water, and the old castle of Aboukir, map out the position of the French fleet on the 1st of August, 1798. Having landed Buonaparte and his army, Brueys lay moored in the form of a crescent, close along the shore. His vastly superior force,* and the strength of his position (protected towards the northward by dangerous shoals, and towards the westward by the castle and the batteries), made him consider that position impregnable : and on the strength of this conviction, he wrote to Paris that Nelson had purposely avoided him. Was he undeceived, when Hood in the Zealous, making signal that the enemy was in sight, a cheer of triumph burst from every ship in the British fleet ?—that fleet which had swept the seas with bursting sails for six long weeks in search of its formidable foe, and now bore down upon him with fearless exultation.

Nelson had long been sailing in battle-order, and he now only lay-to in the offing till the rearward ships should come up. The soundings of that dangerous Bay were unknown to him, but he knew that, where there was room for a French ship to swing, there must be room for an Englishman to anchor at either side of him, and the closer the better.

As his proud and fearless fleet came on, he hailed Hood, to ask his opinion as to whether the action should commence that night ; then, receiving the answer that he longed for, the signal for “ close battle” flew from his mast-head.

The delay thus caused to the Zealous, gave Foley the lead, who showed the example of leading inside the enemy's line, and anchored by the stern, alongside the second ship, thus leaving to Hood the first. The latter, putting his own generous con

• Nearly as three to two.

struction on an accident, exclaimed, “ Thank God, he has nobly left to his old friend still to lead the van.” Slowly and majesti. cally, as the evening fell, the remainder of the fleet came on be. neath d cloud of sail, receiving the fire of the castle and the batteries in portentous silence, only broken by the crash of spars, or the boatswain's whistle ; each ship furling her sails calmly, as a sea-bird might fold its wings, and gliding tranquilly onward till she found her destined foe. Then the anchor dropped astern, and the fire burst from her bloody decks with a ve. hemence that showed how sternly it had been repressed till then.

The leading ships passed between the enemy and the shore; but, when the admiral came up, he led the remainder of the fleet along the seaward side, thus doubling on the Frenchman's line, and placing it in a defile of fire. The sun went down soon after Nelson anchored; and his rearward ships were only guided through the darkness and the dangers of that formidable Bay by the Frenchman's fire flashing fierce welcome as each enemy arrived, and went hovering along the line, where he coolly scrutinized how he might draw most of that fire upon himself. The Bellerophon, an old seventy-four, fastened on the gigantic Orient, by whose terrible artillery she was soon crushed and scorched into a wreck. Then she drifted helplessly to leeward, but not until she had done her work :-the French Admi. ral's ship was on fire, and through the roar of battle a whisper went that for a moment paralysed every eager heart and hand : during that dread pause the fight was suspended, the very wounded ceased to groan-yet the burning ship still continued to fire broadsides from his Aaming decks—his gallant crew alone unawed by their approaching fate, and shouting their own brave requiem. At length, the terrible explosion came; and the column of flame that shot upward into the very sky for a moment rendered visible the whole surrounding scene, from the red flags aloft to the reddened decks below—the wide shore, with all its swarthy crowds, and the far-off glittering sea, with the torn and dismantled fleets. Then darkness and silence came again, only broken by the shower of blazing fragments, in which that brave ship fell upon the waters.

Till that moment, Nelson was ignorant how the battle went.

He knew that every man was doing nis duty, but he knew not how successfully; he had been wounded in the forehead, and found his way unnoticed to the deck in the suspense of the coming explosion. Its light was a fitting lamp for eye like his to read by. He saw his own proud flag still floating everywhere; and at the same moment his crew recognized their wounded chief. Their cheer of welcome was only drowned in the re. newed roar of their artillery, which continued until it no longer found an answer, and silence had confessed destruction.

Morning rose upon an altered scene. The sun had set upon as proud a fleet as ever sailed from the gay shores of France : torn and blackened hulls now only marked the position they had then occupied ; and where their admiral's ship had been, the blank sea sparkled in the sunshine. Two ships of the line and two frigates escaped, to be captured soon afterwards; but within the Bay the tricolor was flying on board the Tonnant alone. As the Theseus approached to attack her, attempting to capitulate she hoisted a flag of truce. “Your battle-flag or none,” was the stern reply, as her enemy rounded-to, and the matches glimmered over her line of guns. Slowly and reluctantly, like an expiring hope, that pale flag fluttered down from her lofty spars, and the next that floated there was the banner of Old England.

And now the battle was over-India was saved upon the shores of Egypt--the career of Buonaparte was checked,* and the navy of France was annihilated, though restored, seven years later, to perish utterly at Trafalgar, a fitting hecatomb for obse. quies like those of Nelson, whose life seemed to terminate as his mission was then and thus accomplished.

• " Le principal but de l'expédition des Français en Orient, était d'abaisser la puissance Anglaise. C'est du Nil que devait partir l'armée qui allait donner de nouvelles destinées aux Indes ... Les Français une fois maltres des ports de Corfou, de Malte et d'Alexandrie, la Méditerranée devenait un lac français.”—Mémoires de Napoléon.

4

CHAPTER VII.

MAHMOUDIEH CANAL-BATTLE OF ABOUKIR-ATFEH.

And knows not if it be thunder, or a sound

Of scourge-driv'n labor, or the one deep cry
Of people perishing—then thinketh, “ I have found
New waters, but I die.”

Anon.

The blue steel bit, through helmet split,

And red the harness painted ;
The virgins long lamented it,

But the dogs were well contented
With the slaughter of that day.

Scandinavian Rune.

ARRIVED at Alexandria, the traveller is yet far distant from the Nile. The Canopic mouth is long since closed up by the mud of Æthiopia, and the Arab conquerors of Egypt were obliged to form a canal to connect this seaport with the river. Under the Mamelukes, this canal had also become choked up, and her communi. cation with the great vivifying stream thus ceasing, Alexandria languished—while Rosetta, like a vampire, fed on her decay, and notwithstanding her shallow waters, swelled suddenly to importance.

When Mehemet Ali rose to power, his clear intellect at once comprehended the importance of the ancient emporium. Alex. andria was then become a mere harbor for pirates--the desert and the sea were gradually encroaching on its boundaries—but the Pasha ordered the desert to bring forth corn, and the sea to retire, and the mandate of this Eastern Canute was no idle word -it acted like an incantation to the old Egyptian spirit of great works. Up rose a stately city, containing 60,000 inhabitants, and as suddenly yawned the canal, which was to connect the

new city with the Nile, and enable it to fulfil its destinies of becoming the emporium of three quarters of the globe.

In the greatness and the cruelty of its accomplishment, this canal may vie with the gigantic labors of the Pharaohs. 250,000 people, men, women, and children, were swept from the villages of the Delta, and heaped like a ridge along the destined banks of that fatal canal. They had only provisions for one month, and implements they had few, or none : but the Pasha's command was urgent—the men worked with all the energy

of despair, and stabbed into the ground as if it was their enemy ; children carried away the soil in little handfuls ; nursing mothers laid their infants on the shelterless banks; the scourge kept them to the work, and mingled blood with their milk, if they attempted to nourish their offspring. Famine soon made its appearance, and they say it was a fearful sight, to see that great multitude convulsively working against time. As a dying horse bites the ground in his agony, they tore up that great grave—25,000 people perished, but the grim contract was completed, and in six weeks the waters of the Nile were led to Alexandria.

The canal is forty-eight miles in length, ninety feet in breadth, and eighteen in depth; it was finished altogether in ten months, with the exception of the lock, which should have connected it with the river; the Bey who had charge of this department lost his contract—and his head.

We embarked in a boat, not unlike those that ply in Ireland upon the Grand Canal, and, to say the truth, among the dreary wastes of

swamp that surrounded us, we might also have fancied ourselves in the midst of the Bog of Allen. The boat was towed by four wild, scraggy-looking horses, ridden by four wilder, scraggier-looking men; their naked feet were stuck in shovel stirrups, with the sharp sides of which they scored their horses' flanks, after the fashion of crimped cod. It is true, these jockeys wore tattered turbans instead of tattered hats, and loose blue gowns instead of grey frieze. Yet still there was nothing very new or imposing in the equipage, and the mud cabins that here and there encrusted the banks did not tend to obliterate Tipperary associations. But-hold! there is a palm-tree, refreshing to the cockney's eye; an ostrich. (though a tame one) is trotting along

« НазадПродовжити »