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Art. V.- Fragments of Voyages and Travels, including Anecdotes of a
Naval Life; chiefly for the use of Young Persons. By Captain Basil Hall, R.N., F.R.S. In three volumes, 12mo. Edinburgh : Cadell.
London: Whittaker & Co. 1831. THERE are few naval men so indefatigable in their literary labours as Captain Basil Hall. He has industriously kept himself before the public eye, ever since the publication of his work upon South America-ra work which, it would seem, obtained rather more popularity than the author would now desire for it. Having with true Scotch diligence succeeded in pushing that publication through several editions, and having put into his pocket the proceeds thereof, he has lately turned round upon it, and expressed his regret that it ever saw the light. He repents of the sentiments which it contained. They were, he finds, much too liberal-too sanguine in the cause of freedom, and in order, as it were, to expiate them, he made a voyage on his own account to the United States, whence he returned laden with accusations against the people of that republic, and with numerous bills of indictment against their institutions. In further performance of the penance which he imposed upon himself, for his early transgressions against the monarchical principle, he prepared with great labour, and published in the Quarterly Review, that too-celebrated article in support of the then projected ordinances of Charles X. We do not mean to say that the gallant Captain was admitted to the confidence of Polignac, or that he had any precise idea of the nature of the measures then in contemplation upon the part of the French cabinet. But it suited his purpose at that season to recommend steps similar to those which were asterwards adopted, and, despotic and impolitic as they were, he felt no shame in propagating them through the medium of a British journal.
For this veering about so suddenly, so decidedly, and so ostentatiously, from one extreme of the political compass to the other, the Captain has been strenuously assailed by the critics in this country and elsewhere. In the present little work, in which, perhaps, nothing of the kind would have been expected, he complains of such treatment in bitter language. So hurt was he by the remarks that were made in the American periodicals upon his late publication, that he could not prevail upon himself to read their abuse, lest it might excite his anger against their nation, and thus possibly endanger the continuance of the peace, which now so happily subsisted between the republic and these kingdoms! We much regret that the gallant author did not peruse those sturdy reviews, one and all. They would have convinced him that the Americans are not such children in intellect, as to impute to this country at large, the narrow and prejudiced notions which he has so fearlessly arrayed against their system of liberty. He would have seen that they, at least the sensible portion of them, are too well acquainted with the
real state of public opinion in this country, to believe that principles, such as those which he maintains, are acceptable to any considerable portion of the impartial and well informed classes of our population. For the rest, we console ourselves with the hope, that Captain Hall will now behold, in their true colours, the real errors of his ways. We know him to be a sagacious, as well as a highly estimable person, and though the political atmosphere which prevailed when lie wrote his books against the republic in America, and his article in favour of despotism in France, might possibly, by some extraordinary power of refraction, have conveyed a great deal of wrong information to his senses, yet we trust that, now the horizon is clearer, he will be enabled to discover all outward objects in their just and natural positions. In other words, we shall venture to tell him, that the Duke of Wellington is no longer Prime Minister, and that the extreme hostility to liberalism, which signalized his political career, is no more the language of the court or of the admiralty. It is not now a professional sin, as it was not very long ago, for a naval captain to be a friend of liberty in every region of the globe; and we are heartily glad of it, as we know of no incongruity more odious, than that which presents to us a commander of our wooden walls, in the uniform of the sea, shouting out "down with the constitution !” Between our navy and civil liberty there is a natural, or at least a prescriptive, connection; and we trust that Captain Hall will not continue to recommend, either by precept or example, the dissolution of so holy an alliance.
It will be no defence for him to say that he has no desire to meddle with our own institutions. He is avowedly an anti-reformer, and so far he does meddle with the liberties of England. But we have often observed that those persons who are hostile to the march of freedom abroad, are equally adverse to it at home. Kindred opinions in every part of the world afford to each other a moral sanction and a real support; the freedom of America has long assisted to preserve and augment the freedom of our own country. The Reform Bill is the offspring of the late French revolution; we do not deny it. The success of the famous ordinances, if they had been quietly submitted to in France, would have undoubtedly retarded that most salutary measure ; and thus, we see, that those who were for the ordinances of Charles X., are, naturally enough, against the new Magna Charta preparing for the signature of William IV.
It is the more unpleasant to us to see such a man as Captain Hall abandon, even for a while, the path of generous and manly feeling, as we well know that he is endowed with a very superior mind, full of lofty sentiment, and, at the same time, remarkably attentive to objects of practical utility. His curiosity urges him to inquire into every thing, and we firmly believe that his great ambition is to do as much good to his fellow beings as he possibly
can, in every sphere in which he may be placed. The little work before us is an incontrovertible proof of his disposition to promote the interests of the honourable profession to which he belongs; it is as affluent in the milk of human kindness, as any production that has ever come before us. It would seem to be intended chiefly for the benefit of young midshipmen; and to those valuable scions of the rising generation, it is indeed a present beyond all price. The sketches which the author has given of his own early life in the navy, are highly interesting merely as a piece of autobiography; but they go a great deal farther; they are interspersed with sound observations drawn from experience, pointing out the difficulties with which the young midshipman has to contend, the evils which beset his path, the mode in which he may occupy his many idle hours, and the measures by which he may regulate his intellect and his morals. We conceive that no better guide than these volumes could be placed in the hands of a youth intended for the navy. Before he goes on board at all, he may here see, as plainly as if the future were revealed to him, the sort of life upon
which he has resolved. They will afford him the opportunity of altering his intention in good time, should he find such a life not suitable to his dispositions; or they will so far confirm him in his determination, as that no disappointments, privations, or difficulties, shall have power to disgust him in the earlier stages of his career. When once fairly embarked, these volumes will give him many an hour's amusement mingled with sensible instruction. Perhaps it may not be too much to hope, that they shall produce a marked and serious influence upon the conduct of the profession at large, and that in time they shall convert the cock-pit into what it ought to be, a library and a study. Assuredly it is not a necessary ingredient in the quality of courage, that its possessor should be ignorant of history and elegant literature, that he should swear after the newest fashion, and spend much of his time in stupid reverie, or low horse play; in the indulgence of the table, or in any other occupation beneath the character of a gentleman.
Doubtless in a literary point of view it may be said, that the Captain is inclined, like a greater spirit, now and then to nod. That is to say, he becoines garrulous and prosy, and talks too much like a schoolmaster and an author. But let that pass. The work is upon the whole executed in a clean artist-like manner. The style is as perspicuous as style can be. It never rises indeed to grandeur, neither does it very often creep upon the ground. It may excite no strong emotions--it may not be entitled to the character of “ fascinating;” but the advice which it conveys remains upon
the mind, and we shall see that more than one passage in the volumes deserves praise for fluency and picturesque beauty of expression. The relation, for instance, of the writer's early predilections for naval life, is clothed in language admirable for its simplicity.
• Various circumstances conspired to give me, very early in life, what is called a taste for the sea. In the first place, I came into the world in the midst of a heavy gale of wind; when such was the violence of the storm, and the beating of the rain, that there were some thoughts of removing the whole party to a less rickety corner of the old mansion, which shook from top to bottom. So strong, indeed, was the impression made on the imagination of those present, by the roaring of the surf close at hand, the whistling of the wind in the drenched forest, and the obvious rocking of the house, under the heavy gusts of that memorable gale, that, as soon as I was old enough to understand any thing at all, the association between the events of my future life, and those of my birth-night, began to be sown in my mind. Thus, long before I shipped a pair of trousers, I felt that a salt-water destiny was to be mine; and as every body encouraged me to cherish these early predilections for the sea, I grew up with something of the same kind of certainty of becoming a sailor, as an elder brother does of becoming a country gentleman, from his knowing—for quickly comes such knowledge that the estate is entailed upon him. .
* The holidays, also, which released me from the irksome confinement of the High School of Edinburgh, were passed in the country, on a part of the rugged sea-coast of Scotland, peculiarly calculated to foster nautical propensities. During the weary months which preceded and followed these six delicionis weeks of liberty, my thoughts, instead of being devoted to the comprehension of abstract rules of grammar, which it was our worthy preceptor's sole object in life to drive into us, invariably strayed back to the picturesque and iron-bound shore, as it is happily termed in naval language, along which I was wont to ramble in full enjoyment during these holidays.
So incessantly, indeed, was the contrast presented to my imagination, between the cramped routine of school discipline, and the glorious freedom of the sea-beech, that I took little or no interest even in the games which filled up the play-hours of the other boys; and, from dwelling upon these thoughts day and night, I became so gloomy and wretched, that the bare recollection of my feelings at that period often makes me shudder, though more than thirty busy years have since passed over my head. The master of our class was as excellent a man, I believe, as could be; but he would have deemed it a shocking crime against his calling-which he very naturally considered the first on earth--to have allowed that any one boy possessed a particle more of feeling, or was conscious of more independence of thought, than his companions. Still less could he under. stand that any boy should pretend to have aspirations and wild fancies dreams he called them--the object of which lay far beyond the boundary walls of the play-ground. Accordingly I dragged on a tolerably profitless and painful existence for several years; though, perhaps, with a little management, this period might have been rendered not only useful, but happy.
Once only, during my continuance in this limbo, as the Spaniards call the purgatory of children, I was addressed in a very kind manner by the head master, though a severe personage in his way, as far as regarded the use of the formidable strap, or taws, which in Scotland supply the place of the wholesome birch of English seminaries. He took me on one side, and said in a tone so unusual in the despotic government of schools in
those days, that it made me start,—" How comes it, little fellow, that you are always so gloomy; and that you never play as the rest do, but look for ever as if some misfortune had befallen you ?”
I answered, " that the confinement of the school was much too great, and that I could not bear being always treated as if I had no feelings or peculiar wishes worthy of separate consideration. That it was not the number of hours' confinement I complained of, but the awkward selection of the periods. . Let me, sir," I said, “but choose the time for study, and I will cheerfully work even much longer. At present the day is totally eut up and destroyed."
He smiled, patted me on the head, and said the hours and discipline could not be changed, merely to suit the fantastic taste of one boy. I knew this well enough already; in fact, I was not so absurd as to suppose that a public school could be maintained on my visionary principles, or that any rules could be established for their government but such as took account of average abilities, and made allowance for an ordinary share of feeling and patience. Whether or not my quantum of sensibility were needlessly great, is of little consequence; it certainly was so different from that of my companions, that it completely prevented my profiting, in the mean time, by the opportunities of this school, and drove me to rest my only prospect of happiness in getting away from its thraldom.
Certain very troublesome misgivings, also, as to the future, came across my juvenile thoughts about this epoch; especially as to the probabilities of happiness in that wide world of freedom, for which my soul panted, and of which I knew nothing, except by description. I bappened, one day, to get hold of “Gray's (de on a distant Prospect of Eton College,"-a poem fraught, it is true, with images of the highest possible beauty, both of thought and of expression, but most of which are certainly far better calculated to beget despondency than hope, by teaching that school days are unavoidably happier than those of after-life.
• What the “ march of intellect” may have done lately to remedy this matter, I cannot say; but in my time, and at the particular school alluded to, the season of boyhood was, to me at least, any thing but a happy one; and I well remember, after reading the poem in question, exclaiming in a state of great despair, “ If it is certain that my future life is to be more wretched than this, which is now so full of misery, what, alas! is existence worth ?”
• In this terrified frame of mind, I dived into various other works, but, to my sorrow, very seldom met with any thing of a more consolatory nature, Nor was it till many years' trial of the wear and tear of actual life, that I came to learn the fallacy of most of those assertions respecting the comparative happiness of school ; and to feel assured that the whole, or nearly the whole matter, lies essentially with ourselves, since, in any situation in life, the amount of our happiness will be found to bear, in the long run, a pretty exact ratio to the heartiness with which we perform our duty. Whereas “Gray's Ode,” “Young's Night Thoughts," and other sombre productions, too often thrust into the hands of young people, would almost seem to inculcate the notion that the most virtuous are the least happy, and that life is necessarily filled with care and remorse, instead of being, as it really is, to those who choose to make it so, a scene of high enjoyment-not, indeed, one of unmixed enjoyment, but one in which the