« PoprzedniaDalej »
four hundred and seventy-six. Neither fleet showed any decided inclination to renew the engagement the next day: at noon the combined fleet approached to within a league and a half of the British, but finding that fleet stand firm, they hauled their wind, and declined the contest; night again came on, and the day after Sir R. Calder stood away with his prizes to the north : justly discerning, in the danger arising from the probable junction of the Rochfort and Ferrol squadrons, the first of which was known to have put to sea, a sufficient reason for falling back upon
the support of the channel fleet, or that of Lord Nelson. Villeneuve, finding the passage clear, stood towards Spain, and after leaving three sail-of-the-line in bad order, at Vigo, entered Ferrol on the second of August. This action, was not, indeed, the most brilliant which has graced the British navy, but perhaps there
more important one, as Alison justly remarks, for it annihilated Napoleon's schemes and hopes of the invasion upon which he had expended such an infinitude of pains and expense. The intelligence of Villenenve's arrival at Ferrol, transported him with rage;—“What a navy!" said he, “ what sacrifices for nothing :--what an admiral! all hope is gone!—that Villeneuve, instead of entering the channel, has taken refuge in Ferrol :-it is all over : he will be blockaded there.-Daru, sit down and write." Wasting no further words or thoughts upon the darling project of his heart, he instantly planned the campaign of Austerlitz, and the consequent removal of his hosts from Boulogne to Munich. It is remarkable, that whilst Napoleon was thus privately giving vent to his wrath against Villeneuve, (for in public he laid the most unqualified claim to the victory, on behalf of his fleet), Sir Robert Calder was absolutely overwhelmed with a torrent of obliquy in England, for not having renewed the engagement on the second day: it was in vain that he called for a court-martial, and that the true bearings of the case were pointed out: the absolute propriety, viz. of uniting his fleet with others, for the defence of the channel, against the combined fleet, which would, in the event of his destruction, no doubt, have proceeded thither, in company with the Rochfort and Ferrol squadrons, and so have carried the armies of France over to England, almost unopposed : it was in vain to talk reasonably or calmly on the matter: Englishmen could not understand how any prudence could call off their ships from an enemy in sight, no matter how superior in numbers : and so poor Sir Robert was severely reprimanded for not having done his utmost to renew the engagement on the twenty-third and twenty-fourth of July: though the sentence admitted, that his conduct had not been owing either to cowardice or disaffection. “Such,” says Alison, “ in its first and hasty fit, is public opinion; history would indeed be useless, if the justice of posterity did not often reverse its iniquitous decrees!"
Let us hear what the French writers say of this ; “ Admiral Calder,” says Dupin, “ with an inferior force, meets the Franco-Spanish fleet : in the chase of it he brings on a partial engagement, and captures
two ships; he is tried and reprimanded, because it is believed that had he renewed the action, he would have obtained a more decisive victory. What would they have done with Calder in England, if he had commanded the superior feet, and had lost two ships in avoiding an engagement which presented so favourable a chance to skill and valour."
The benefits resulting from Sir Robert Calders action off Finisterre, thus held cheap, were, in fact, inestimable; they were two-fold; first they stopped Villeneuve in his way to the channel, and sent him into Ferrol; and secondly, they gave him such a forcible lesson of English hardihood, as occasioned him, probably, to disobey his master's positive orders, and overthrow his last remaining hope of an English invasion.
It seems, that although on Villeneuve's retreat into Ferrol, the emperor abandoned this favourite project, yet, upon finding that Nelson had not effected a junction with Calder, in fact, after a cruise in search of the enemy, to the north of Ireland, Nelson had been recalled to Portsmouth), he determined to strike one more blow for the subjugation of the hated isle ; he therefore sent orders to Villeneuve, instantly to put to sea, and join the Brest squadron, in order to cover the invasion : he accordingly did put to sea, but having received intelligence that Sir Robert Calder, with twenty-five ships of the line, was approaching, he tacked about, and put into Cadiz. In the mean time, the Brest squadron, of twenty.one ships of the line, had made a shew of putting to sea, but were
driven back by Cornwallis, with a squadron of only fourteen ships of the line; impatiently they waited and watched for Villeneuve : he had no mind to come in contact with Sir Robert Calder again, and kept snug in Cadiz; the Brest squadron was therefore obliged to remain where it was. The intelligence of the arrival of the combined fleet at Cadiz, put a final period to the designs of Napoleon, against Great Britain, and all his energies were turned to the war against Austria. His indignation against Villeneuve appeared in an account which he himself drew up, charging him with incapacity in the action of the 23rd of July, and of subsequent positive disobedience of orders. Knowing, as we now do, all these things, we cannot but grieve, that a man who had rendered so important a service to his country, should, for a time, have suffered so cruelly from misapprehension: though we cannot but respect the ardent national spirit which inflicted, unknowingly, the injustice. I hope these details have not proved uninteresting to you: I cannot but think them very interesting, for they show how narrowly, at that time, England escaped subjugation ; in fact, I may say, that I know no work, not to say more instructive, but more interesting, than Alison's History: the style is, to my mind, admirable, closely formed as it is, upon the model of the ancients, but the matter is really thrilling throughout. These details are in the fifth volume, to which the discourse of our old tars naturally led me to refer.
The next day being Saturday we had to be early on foot in order to secure admission to the dock.yard and victualling office before dinner, as Saturday is a sort of half-holiday with the workmen, and there is consequently nothing to be be seen after dinner. Into an omnibus or a “ box o' all sorts," as the London jarvies style them, therefore, we inserted ourselves immediately after breakfast and proceeded to Devonport.
At the gates of the dock-yard we were received and admitted by some remarkably civil policemen. I could not help contrasting their particularly civil and obliging deportment with the barely civil deportment of certain jacks-in-office, who used many years ago to keep the gates at the Portsmouth-yard, admitting visitors more as a matter of favour than any thing else, creating difficulties, putting as many off as possible, no matter at what inconvenience, trusting to their returning and paying a good douceur for an early admittance, besides a handsome fee in