DRAKE, NELSON AND NAPOLEON
SIR WALTER RUNCIMAN, BART
London T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. Adelphi Terrace
DEDICATORY LETTER TO SIR JAMES KNOTT
MY DEAR SIR JAMES,
We have travelled far since those early days when you and I, who are of totally different tastes and temperament, first met and became friends. I was attracted by your wide knowledge, versatile vigour of mind, and engaging personality, which subsequent years have not diminished. You were strenuously engaged at that time in breaking down the weevilly traditions of a bygone age, and helping to create a new era in the art of steamship management, and, at the same time, studying for the Bar; and were I writing a biography of you, I would have to include your interesting travels in distant lands in quest of business and organizing it. That must be left for another occasion, when the vast results to the commercial life of the country to which you contributed may be fittingly told.
At the present time my vision recalls our joyous yachting cruises on the Clyde, when poor Leadbitter added to the charm that stays. Perhaps best of all were the golden days when we habitually took our week-end strolls together by the edge of the inspiriting splendour of the blue North Sea, strolls which are hallowed by many memories, and gave me an opportunity of listening to your vehement flashes of human sympathies, which are so widely known now. It is my high appreciation of those tender gifts and of your personal worth, together with the many acts of kindness and consideration shown to me when I have been your guest, that gives me the desire to inscribe this book to you and Lady Knott, and to the memory of your gallant sons, Major Leadbitter Knott, D.S.O., who was killed while leading his battalion in a terrific engagement in Flanders, and Captain Basil Knott, who fell so tragically a few months previously at his brother's side.
With every sentiment of esteem, I am, dear Sir James, Ever yours sincerely,
This book has evolved from another which I had for years been urged to write by personal friends. I had chatted occasionally about my own voyages, related incidents concerning them and the countries and places I had visited, the ships I had sailed in, the men I had sailed with, and the sailors of that period. It is one thing to tell sea-tales in a cosy room and to enjoy living again for a brief time in the days that are gone; but it is another matter when one is asked to put the stories into book form. Needless to say for a long time I shrank from undertaking the task, but was ultimately prevailed upon to do so. The book was commenced and was well advanced, and, as I could not depict the sailors of my own period without dealing—as I thought at the time—briefly with the race of men called buccaneers who were really the creators of the British mercantile marine and Navy, who lived centuries before my generation, I was obliged to deal with some of them, such as Hawkins, Drake, Frobisher, Daimper, Alexander Selkirk of Robinson Crusoe fame, and others who combined piracy with commerce and sailorism. After I had written all I thought necessary about the three former, I instinctively slipped on to Nelson as the greatest sea personality of the beginning of the last century. I found the subject so engrossing that I could not centre my thoughts on any other, so determined to continue my narrative, which is not, and never was intended to be a life of Nelson. Perhaps it may be properly termed fragmentary thoughts and jottings concerning the life of an extraordinary human force, written at intervals when I had leisure from an otherwise busy life.
Even if I had thought it desirable, it was hardly possible to write about Nelson without also dealing with Britain's great adversary and Nelson's distracted opinion of him.
It would be futile to attempt to draw a comparison between the two men. The one was a colossal human genius, and the other, extraordinary in the art of his profession, was entirely without the faculty of understanding or appreciating the distinguished man he flippantly raged at from his quarterdeck.
But be that as it may, Nelson's terrific aversion to and explosions against the French and Napoleon, in whose history I had been absorbed for many years, seem to me to be the deliberate outpouring of a mind governed by feeling rather than by knowledge as to the real cause of the wars and of how we came to be involved and continue in them. Nor does he ever show that he had any clear conception of the history of Napoleon's advent as the Ruler of the People with whom we were at war.
I have given this book the title of "Drake, Nelson and Napoleon" because it seemed to me necessary to bring in Drake, the prototype, and Napoleon, the antagonist of Nelson.
Drake's influence bore fruit in what is known as the Fleet Tradition, which culminated in the "Nelson touch." No excuse is needed, therefore, for writing a chapter which shows how little the seaman's character has changed in essentials since that time. To-day, our sailors have the same simple direct force which characterized the Elizabethan seamen and those of Nelsonian times.
Of Napoleon I have written fully in my book "The Tragedy of St. Helena," and have contented myself here with pointing out how the crass stupidity and blind prejudice of his opponents have helped largely to bring about the world-war of our own times. I have also endeavoured to contrast the statesmanlike attitude of Napoleon with the short-sighted policy of England's politicians and their allies at that time.
Having planned the book on such lines, it inevitably follows that Nelson must occupy a larger space in it than either Drake or Napoleon, but for that I offer no apology.
1. DRAKE AND THE FLEET TRADITION
2. NELSON AND HIS CIRCLE TRAFALGAR, OCT. 21st, 1805 (a) BRITISH ORDER OF BATTLE (b) A LIST OF THE COMBINED FLEET OF FRANCE AND SPAIN
3. NAPOLEON AND HIS CONNECTION WITH THE WORLD-WAR
4. SEA SONGS
APPENDIX: SOME INCIDENTS OF NELSON'S LIFE (CHRONOLOGICALLY ARRANGED)
LINE OF BATTLE SHIP (EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY) DRAKE NELSON LADY HAMILTON AS "A SIBYL" CAPTAIN HARDY (OF THE "VICTORY") "PRINCESS CHARLOTTE."—FRIGATE (EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY) H.M.S. "VICTORY" GOING INTO BATTLE AT TRAFALGAR ADMIRAL COLLINGWOOD THE EMPEROR NAPOLEON AFTER HIS ACCESSION
DRAKE AND THE FLEET TRADITION
The great sailors of the Elizabethan era—Hawkins, Drake, Frobisher, Howard, Davis, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert—were the prototypes of the sailors of the nineteenth century. They discovered new lands, opened up new avenues of commerce, and combined these legitimate forms of enterprise with others which at this date would be regarded as rank piracy. Since, however, they believed themselves to be the ambassadors of God, they did everything in His name, whether it were the seizing of Spanish treasure or the annexing of new worlds by fair means or foul, believing quite sincerely in the sanctity of what they did with a seriousness and faith which now appear almost comic.
For many years the authorities of the Inquisition had plundered goods and put to death English seamen and merchants, and Spanish Philip, when remonstrated with, shrugged his shoulders and repudiated the responsibility by saying that he had no power over the "Holy House." Drake retaliated by taking possession of and bringing to England a million and a half of Spanish treasure while the two countries were not at war. It is said that when Drake laid hands on the bullion at Panama he sent a message to the Viceroy that he must now learn not to interfere with the properties of English subjects, and that if four English sailors who were prisoners in Mexico were ill-treated he would execute two thousand Spaniards and send him their heads. Drake never wasted thought about reprisals or made frothy apologetic speeches as to what would happen to those with whom he was at religious war if they molested his fellow-countrymen. He met atrocity with atrocity. He believed it to be his mission to avenge the burning of British seamen and the Spanish and Popish attempts on the life of his virgin sovereign. That he knew her to be an audacious flirt, an insufferable miser, and an incurable political intriguer whose tortuous moves had to be watched as vigilantly as Philip's assassins and English traitors, is apparent from reliable records. His mind was saturated with the belief in his own high destiny, as the chosen instrument to break the Spanish power in Europe. He was insensible to fear, and knew how to make other people fear and obey him. He was not only an invincible crusader, but one of those rare personalities who have the power of infusing into his comrades his own courage and enthusiasm. The Spanish said he was "a magician who had sold his soul to the devil." The Spanish sailors, and Philip himself, together with his nobles, were terror-stricken at the mention of his name. He was to them an invincible dragon. Santa Cruz warned his compatriots that the heretics "had teeth, and could use them." Here is another instance, selected from many, of the fanatical superstitions concerning Drake's irresistible power. Medina Sidonia had deserted the Andalusian squadron. Drake came across the flagship. Her commander said he was Don Pedro de Valdes, and could only surrender on honourable terms. The English commander replied, "I am Drake, and have no time to parley. Don Pedro must surrender or fight." So Don Pedro surrendered to the gallant captain of the Revenge, and lavished him with praise, evidently glad to have fallen into the hands of so famous and generous a foe. Drake is said to have treated his captive with elaborate generosity, while his crew commandeered all the vast treasure. He then sent the galleon into Dartmouth Harbour, and set off with his prisoners to chase Medina Sidonia.
In the whole range of Drake's adventurous career there does not appear to be any evidence of his having been possessed with the idea of supernatural assistance, though if perchance he missed any of Philip's treasure-ships he complacently reported "the reason" to those in authority as "being best known to God," and there the incident ended. On the other hand, the Deity was no mystery to him. His belief in a Supreme Power was real, and that he worked in harmony with It he never doubted. When he came across anything on land or sea which he thought should be appropriated for the benefit of his Queen and country, or for himself and those who were associated with him in his piratical enterprises, nothing was allowed to stand in his way, and, generally speaking, he paralysed all resistance to his arms into submission by an inexorable will and genius. The parsimonious Elizabeth was always slyly willing to receive the proceeds of his dashing deeds, but never unduly generous in fixing his share of them. She allowed her ships to lie rotting when they should have been kept in sound and efficient condition, and her sailors to starve in the streets and seaports. Never a care was bestowed on these poor fellows to whom she owed so much. Drake and Hawkins, on the other hand, saw the national danger, and founded a war fund called the "Chatham Chest"; and, after great pressure, the Queen granted L20,000 and the loan of six battleships to the Syndicate. Happily the commercial people gave freely, as they always do. What trouble these matchless patriots had to overcome! Intrigue, treason, religious fanaticism, begrudging of supplies, the constant shortage of stores and provisions at every critical stage of a crisis, the contradictory instructions from the exasperating Tudor Queen: the fleet kept in port until the chances of an easy victory over England's bitterest foes had passed away! But for the vacillation of the icy virgin, Drake's Portugal expedition would have put the triumph of the Spanish Armada to the blush, and the great Admiral might have been saved the anguish of misfortune that seemed to follow his future daring adventures for Spanish treasure on land and sea until the shadows of failure compassed him round. His spirit broken and his body smitten with incurable disease, the fleet under his command anchored at Puerto Bello after a heavy passage from Escudo de Veragua, a pestilential desert island. He was then in delirium, and on the 28th January, 1596, the big soul of our greatest seaman passed away beyond the veil. His body was put into a lead and oak coffin and taken a few miles out to sea, and amidst manifestations of great sorrow he was lowered down the side and the waters covered him over. Two useless prize ships were sunk beside him, and there they may still lie together. The fleet, having lost their guiding spirit, weighed anchor and shaped their course homewards.
Drake was not merely a seaman and the creator of generations of sailors, but he was also a sea warrior of superb naval genius. It was he who invented the magnificent plan of searching for his country's enemies in every creek into which he could get a craft. He also imbued Her Gracious Majesty and Her Gracious Majesty's seamen with the idea that in warfare on sea or land it is a first principle to strike first if you wish to gain the field and hold it. Having smashed his antagonist, he regarded it as a plain duty in the name of God to live on his beaten foes and seize their treasures of gold, silver, diamonds, works of art, etc., wherever these could be laid hold of. The First Lady of the Land was abashed at the gallant sailor's bold piratical efforts. She would not touch the dirty, ill-gotten stuff until the noble fellow had told her the fascinating story of his matchless adventures and slashing successes. Doubtless the astute Admiral had learned that his blameless Queen was only averse to sharing with him the plunder of a risky voyage until he had assured her again and again that her cousin, Philip of Spain, had his voracious eye on her life, her throne, and all her British possessions, wherever they might be.
The valiant seaman appears to have played daintily and to good effect with the diabolical acts of the Spaniards, such as the burning of English seamen, until they roused in Elizabeth the spirit of covetousness and retaliation. It was easy then for her incorruptible integrity (!) to surrender to temptation. A division of what had been taken from Philip's subjects was forthwith piously made. Elizabeth, being the chief of the contracting parties, took with her accustomed grace the queenly share. On one occasion she walked in the parks with Drake, held a royal banquet on board the notorious Pelican, and knighted him; while he, in return for these little attentions, lavished on his Queen presents of diamonds, emeralds, etc. The accounts which have been handed down to us seem, in these days, amazing in their cold-blooded defiance of honourable dealing. But we must face the hard facts of the necessity of retaliation against the revolting deeds of the Inquisition and the determined, intriguing policy of worming Popery into the hearts of a Protestant nation, and then we realize that Drake's methods were the "invention" of an inevitable alternative either to fight this hideous despotism with more desperate weapons and greater vigour than the languid, luxury-loving Spaniards had taken the trouble to create or succumb to their tremendous power of wealth and wickedness. Drake was the chosen instrument of an inscrutable destiny, and we owe it to him that the divided England of that day was saved from annihilation. He broke the power of Spain at sea, and established England as the first naval and mercantile Power in the world. He was the real founder of generations of seamen, and his undying fame will inspire generations yet unborn to maintain the supremacy of the seas.
The callous, brutal attitude of Elizabeth towards a race of men who had given their lives and souls so freely in every form of danger and patriotic adventure because they believed it to be a holy duty is one of the blackest pages of human history. The cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition and the treatment of sailors in the galleys were only different in degree, and while there are sound reasons for condemning the Queen and the ruling classes of that time for conduct that would not be tolerated in these days, it is unquestionably true that it was a difficult task to keep under control the spirit of rebellion of that period, as it is to-day. Doubtless those in authority were, in their judgment, compelled to rule with a heavy hand in order to keep in check wilful breaches of discipline.
Attempts to mutiny and acts of treason were incidents in the wonderful career of Francis Drake which frequently caused him to act with severity. Doughty, the Spanish spy, who was at one time a personal friend of Drake's, resolved to betray his commander. Doughty was caught in the act, tried by a court composed of men serving under Drake, found guilty, and after dining with the Admiral, chatting cheerfully as in their friendly days, they drank each other's health and had some private conversation not recorded; then Doughty was led to the place of execution and had his head chopped off, Drake exclaiming as it fell, "Lo, this is the end of traitors!" Then Drake relieved Fletcher of his duties as chaplain by telling him softly that he would "preach this day." The ship's company was called together and he exhorted them to harmony, warning them of the danger of discord. Then in his breezy phraseology he exclaims, "By the life of God, it doth even take my wits from me to think of it." The crew, it appears, was composed of gentlemen, who were obviously putting on airs, and sailors, who resented their swank as much as did the great captain. So Drake proceeds to lay the law down vehemently. "Let us show ourselves," said he, "all to be of one company, and let us not give occasion to the enemy to rejoice at our decay and overthrow. Show me the man that would refuse to set his hand to a rope, but I know that there is not any such here." Then he proceeds to drive home his plan of discipline with vigour. "And as gentlemen are necessary for government's sake in the voyage, so I have shipped them to that and to some further intent." He does not say quite what it is, but they doubtless understand that it is meant to be a warning lest he should be compelled to put them through some harsh form of punishment. He concludes his memorable address with a few candid words, in which he declares that he knows sailors to be the most envious people in the world and, in his own words, "unruly without government," yet, says he, "May I not be without them!" It is quite clear that Drake would have no class distinction. His little sermon sank deep into the souls of his crew, so that when he offered the Marigold to those who had lost heart, to take them back to England, he had not only made them ashamed of their refractory conduct, but imbued them with a new spirit, which caused them to vie with each other in professions of loyalty and eagerness to go on with him and comply with all the conditions of the enterprise.
The great commander had no room for antics of martyrdom. He gave human nature first place in his plan of dealing with human affairs. He did not allow his mind to be disturbed by trifles. He had big jobs to tackle, and he never doubted that he was the one and only man who could carry them to a successful issue. He took his instructions from Elizabeth and her blustering ministers, whom he regarded as just as likely to serve Philip as the Tudor Queen if it came to a matter of deciding between Popery and Protestantism. He received their instructions in a courtly way, but there are striking evidences that he was ever on the watch for their vacillating pranks, and he always dashed out of port as soon as he had received the usual hesitating permission. Once out of reach, he brushed aside imperial instructions if they stood in the way of his own definite plan of serving the best interests of his country, and if the course he took did not completely succeed—which was seldom the case—he believed "the reason was best known to God."
John Hawkins and Francis Drake had a simple faith in the divine object they were serving. Hawkins thought it an act of high godliness to pretend that he had turned Papist, in order that he might revenge and rescue the remnant of his poor comrades of the San Juan de Ulloa catastrophe, who were now shut up in Seville yards and made to work in chains. Sir John hoodwinked Philip by making use of Mr. George Fitzwilliam, who in turn made use of Rudolfe and Mary Stuart. Mary believed in the genuineness of the conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth and set up the Queen of Scots in her place, to hand over Elizabeth's ships to Spain, confiscate property, and to kill a number of anti-Catholic people. The Hawkins counterplot of revenge on Philip and his guilty confederates was completely successful. The comic audacity of it is almost beyond belief. The Pope had bestowed his blessing on the conspiracy, and the Spanish Council of State was enthusiastically certain of its success. So credulous were they of the great piratical seaman's conversion, that an agreement was signed pardoning Hawkins for his acts of piracy in the West Indies and other places; a Spanish peerage was given him together with L40,000, which was to be used for equipping the privateer fleet. The money was duly paid in London, and possibly some of it was used for repairing the British squadron which Hawkins had pronounced as being composed of the finest ships in the world for him to hand over to Philip, even though they had been neglected owing to the Queen's meanness. The plausible way in which the great seaman put this proposition caught the imagination of the negotiators. They were captivated by him. He had caused them to believe that he was a genuine seceder from heresy and from allegiance to the Queen of England, and was anxious to avow his penitence for the great sins he had committed against God and the only true faith, and to make atonement for them in befitting humility. All he asked for was forgiveness, and in the fullness of magnanimity they were possibly moved to ask if, in addition to forgiveness, a Spanish peerage, and L40,000, he would like to commemorate the occasion of his conversion by a further token of His Spanish Majesty's favour. It is easy to picture the apparent indifference with which he suggested that he did not ask for favours, but if he were to ask for anything, it would be the release from the Inquisition galleys of a few poor sailor prisoners. The apparently modest request was granted. Hawkins had risked his life to accomplish this, and now he writes a letter to Cecil beginning "My very good Lord." I do not give the whole of the letter. Suffice it to say that he confirms the success of the plot so far as he is concerned, and in a last paragraph he says, "I have sent your Lordship the copy of my pardon from the King of Spain, in the order and manner I have it, with my great titles and honours from the King, from which God deliver me."
The process by which Hawkins succeeded in obtaining the object he had in view was the conception of no ordinary man. We talk and write of his wonderful accomplishments on sea and land, as a skilful, brave sailor, but he was more than that. He was, in many respects, a genius, and his courage and resolution were unfailingly magnificent.
I dare say the prank he played on Philip and his advisers would be regarded as unworthy cunning, and an outrage on the rules of high honour. Good Protestant Christians disapproved then, as now, the wickedness of thus gambling with religion to attain any object whatsoever, and especially of swearing by the Mother of God the renunciation of the Protestant faith and the adoption of Roman Catholicism. The Spaniards, who had a hand in this nefarious proceeding, were quite convinced that, though Hawkins had been a pirate and a sea robber and murderer, now that he had come over to their faith the predisposition to his former evil habits would leave him. These were the high moral grounds on which was based the resolve to execute Elizabeth and a large number of her subjects, and take possession of the throne and private property at their will. It was, of course, the spirit of retaliation for the iniquities of the British rovers which was condoned by their monarch. In justification of our part of the game during this period of warfare for religious and material ascendancy, we stand by the eternal platitude that in that age we were compelled to act differently from what we should be justified in doing now. Civilization, for instance, so the argument goes, was at a low ebb then. I am not so sure that it did not stand higher than it does now. It is so easy for nations to become uncivilized, and we, in common with other nations, have a singular aptitude for it when we think we have a grievance. Be that as it may, Hawkins, Drake, and the other fine sea rovers had no petty scruples about relieving Spaniards of their treasure when they came across it on land or on their ships at sea. Call them by what epithet you like, they believed in the sanctity of their methods of carrying on war, and the results for the most part confirmed the accuracy of their judgment. At any rate, by their bold and resolute deeds they established British freedom and her supremacy of the seas, and handed down to us an abiding spirit that has reared the finest seamen and established our incomparable merchant fleet, the largest and finest in the world.
There is no shame in wishing the nation to become imbued with the spirit of these old-time heroes, for the heritage they have bequeathed to us is divine and lives on. We speak of the great deeds they were guided to perform, but we rarely stop to think from whence the inspiration came, until we are touched by a throbbing impulse that brings us into the presence of the great mystery, at which who would dare to mock?
It is strange that Hawkins' and Drake's brilliant and tragic careers should have been brought to an end by the same disease within a short time of each other and not many miles apart, and that their mother, the sea, should have claimed them at last in the vicinity of the scene of their first victorious encounter with their lifelong enemies, the Spaniards. The death of the two invincibles, who had long struck terror into the hearts of their foes, was the signal for prolonged rejoicings in the Spanish Main and the Indies, while the British squadron, battered and disease-smitten, made its melancholy way homeward with the news of the tragedy.
For a time the loss of these commanding figures dealt a blow at the national spirit. There are usually long intervals between Caesars and Napoleons. Nations have, in obedience to some law of Nature, to pass through periods of mediocre rule, and when men of great genius and dominating qualities come to clear up the mess, they are only tolerated possibly by fear, and never for long by appreciation. A capricious public soon tires of these living heroes. It is after they are dead that they become abiding examples of human greatness, not so much to their contemporaries as to those generations that follow them. The historian has a great deal to do with the manner in which the fame of a great man is handed down to posterity, and it should never be forgotten that historians have to depend on evidence which may be faulty, while their own judgment may not always be sound. It is a most difficult task to discipline the mind into a perfectly unbiased condition. The great point is to state honestly what you believe, and not what you may know those you are speaking to wish you to say. The contemporaries of Hawkins and Drake unquestionably regarded them with high admiration, but I question whether they were deified then as they are now. The same thing applies to Nelson and Collingwood, of whom I shall speak later on, as the historian has put the stamp upon their great deeds also.
Drake and Hawkins attracted attention because of their daring voyages and piratical enterprises on Spanish property on sea and land. Every obstacle was brushed aside. Danger ever appealed to them. They dashed into fortified ports filled with warships fully equipped, silenced the forts, sank and set fire to Philip's vessels, and made everything and everybody fly before them in the belief that hell had been let loose. To the superstitious Spanish mind it seemed as though the English must be under Satanic protection when they slashed their way undaunted into the midst of dangers which would inevitably spell death for the mere mortal. These corsairs of ours obviously knew and took advantage of this superstition, for cannon were never resorted to without good reason, and never without effect. The deliberate defiance of any written or unwritten law that forbade their laying hands on the treasure they sought so diligently, and went far and near to find, merely increased public admiration. Elizabeth pretended that they were very trying to her Christian virtues. But leave out of count the foregoing deeds—which no one can dispute were prodigious, and quite equal to the part these men played in the destruction of the Armada—what could be more dashingly brilliant in naval warfare than Drake's raids on San Domingo, Carthagena, Cadiz, and other ports and cities of old and new Spain, to which I have already briefly alluded? It was their great successes in their great undertakings, no matter whether it was "shocking piracy" or not, that immortalized these terrible creators of England's greatness all the world over!
Thomas Cobham, a member of a lordly and Protestant family, became a sailor, and soon became fascinated with the gay life of privateering. Once when in command of a vessel, eagerly scouring the seas for Spanish prizes, one was sighted, bound from Antwerp to Cadiz. Cobham gave chase, easily captured her in the Bay of Biscay, and discovered there were forty Inquisition prisoners aboard. After rescuing the prisoners, the captain and crew of the Spanish vessel were then sewn up in their own mainsail and tossed into the sea, no doubt with such sententious expressions of godliness as was thought befitting to sacred occasions of that period. This ceremony having been performed, the vessel was scuttled, so that she might nevermore be used in trading with British sailors or any one else for Inquisition purposes. When the story became known, the case was discreetly inquired into, and very properly the gallant Cobham was never punished, and was soon running here and there at his old game.
It may be taken for granted that there was no mincing matters when an opportunity for reprisals occurred. The Spaniards had carried barbarism to such a pitch in seizing our ships and condemning their crews to the galleys, that Queen Elizabeth was never averse to meeting murder and plunder by more than the equivalent in retaliation, except when she imagined that Philip was showing signs of overpowering strength; she then became timid and vacillating. She was never mentally disturbed by the moral side of the great deeds that brought her vast stores of plunder. Moreover, she could always find an accommodating bishop to put her qualms (if she ever had any, except those of consequence to herself) at rest on points of conscience. One noted personage, who held high ecclesiastical office, told her that it was a virtue to seize treasure when she knew it would otherwise be used for the purpose of murdering her Protestant subjects. Sir Arthur Champernowne, a noted vice-admiral of Elizabeth's reign, in writing to Cecil of the vessel that had put into Plymouth through stress of weather with the needy Philip's half-million of ducats on board, borrowed, it is said, from a Genoa firm of financiers, said it should be claimed as fair booty. Sir Arthur's view was that anything taken from so perfidious a nation was both necessary and profitable to the Commonwealth. No doubt a great deal of pious discussion would centre round the Vice-Admiral's easy moral but very logical opinions. The main thing in his mind, and in that of everybody else who was free from poisoned cant, was that the most shocking crimes were being openly advocated by Philip, King of Spain, against all European Protestants, rich or poor, who came within the clutches of the savages that administered the cruelties of the Inquisition. The canting crowd shrieked against the monstrous impiety of such notions, but their efforts to prove purity of motive were unavailing.
After considered thought by a committee of men of high rectitude, it was decided to act without fear or favour in a strictly impartial manner, so Philip's half-million of bullion was divided between the Prince of Orange and the rigid moralist, Elizabeth, who is credited with having spent her share on the Navy, a very admirable way of disposing of it.
This act was the cause of a deluge of reprisals on the part of Spain. But, from all accounts, Elizabeth's corsairs had always the best of it in matters of material importance. The Spanish are naturally a proud, brave race. In the middle of the sixteenth century their power dominated two-thirds of the universe, and had they stuck to business, and not so feverishly to the spreading of their religious faith by violent means, they might have continued a predominant nation.
Their civil, naval, and military position was unequalled. The commerce and wealth of the whole world was pre-eminently in their hands, and in common with other nations who arrive at heights of power, prosperity, and grandeur (which last sits so easily on the Spaniard), they gave way to pleasures and to the luxury of laziness which invariably carries with it sensuality. Wherever they found themselves in the ascendancy, they intrigued to impose the Roman faith on the population, and if that method did not succeed with felicity, whenever the agents of their governing classes, including their king, met with opposition from prominent men or women, their opponents were put to the rack, burnt, or their heads sent flying. In this country no leading Protestant's life or property was safe. Even Elizabeth, during the reign of her half-sister, Mary, was obliged to make believe that her religious faith was Roman in harmony with that of the Queen. It was either adoption, deception, or execution, and the future queen outwitted all their traps and inventions until Mary passed on, and Elizabeth took her place on the throne.
Meanwhile, Spain, as I have indicated, was tampering with abiding laws. Catastrophe always follows perilous habits of life, which were correctly attributed to the Spanish. As with individuals, so it is with nations; pride can never successfully run in conjunction with the decadence of wealth. It is manifestly true that it is easier for a nation to go up than to realize that it has come down, and during long years Spain has had to learn this bitter lesson. It was not only imperious pride of race and extravagant grandeur that brought the destruction of her supremacy of the seas, and the wealth and supremacy of many lands, but their intolerable religious despotism towards those who were not already, and refused to become, as I have said, adherents of the Roman Catholic creed. Poor wretches who were not strong enough to defend themselves had the mark of heretics put on them; and for nearly thirty years Spaniards carried on a system of burning British seamen whenever they could lay hands on them. They kept up a constant system of spying and plotting against the British Protestant Queen and her subjects of every position in life. The policy of the Spanish King and government was to make the British and other races vassals of the Pope. Philip, like all powerful monarchs and individuals who are put into power without any of the qualities of fitness to fill a high post, always believed that his presence on earth was an act of supreme Providence. Philip, in proclaiming his glorious advent for the good of mankind, explained it with a decorum that had a fascinating flavour. Unlike some imitators of great personalities, he was never vulgarly boastful in giving expression to the belief that his power came from above and would be sustained by the mystery that gave him it in such abundance, but, in fact, he never doubted what was known as the doctrine of the divine right of kings.
The human support which kept him in authority did not enter into his calculations. The popular notions of the democracies then was that no physical force could sever the alliance which existed between God and monarchs; and there is no evidence that Philip was ever disillusioned. He regarded his adversaries, especially Hawkins and Drake, in the light of magicians possessed of devilish spirits that were in conflict with the wishes of the Deity. His highly placed and best naval officer, Santa Cruz, took a more realistic view than his master, though he might have had doubts as to whether the people who were at war with Spain were not a species of devil. But he expressed the view which even at this distance of time shows him to have been a man of sane, practical thought. Philip imagined he could agree with the acts of assassins (and also support the Holy Office) in their policy of burning English sailors as heretics. Santa Cruz reflected more deeply, and advised the King that such acts were positively courting disaster, because "the British corsairs had teeth, and could use them."
Spain looked upon her naval position as impregnable, but Elizabeth's pirates contemptuously termed it "a Colossus stuffed with clouts." Priests, crucifixes, and reliance on supernatural assistance had no meaning for them. If any suggestion to impose on them by such means had been made, they would have cast the culprits over the side into the sea. They were peculiarly religious, but would tolerate no saintly humbugs who lived on superstition. When they had serious work in hand, they relied on their own mental and physical powers, and if they failed in their objective, they reverently remarked, "The reason is best known to God"—a simple, unadorned final phrase.
Some of the sayings and doings, reliable or unreliable, that have been handed down to us, are extremely comical, looking at them from our religious standpoint in these days; for instance, Drake's method of dealing with insubordination, his idea of how treason was to be stamped out, and the trial of Doughty, the traitor.
People who sit in cosy houses, which these early sailors made it possible for them in other days and now to acquire, may regard many of the disciplinary methods of Drake and his sea contemporaries as sheer savage murder, but these critics are not quite qualified to judge as to the justice or injustice of the actions of one man who is responsible for the safe and proper navigation of a vessel, no matter whether on an enterprising voyage of piracy, fair trade, or invasion. If a nautical project is to be carried out with complete success, the first element in the venture is discipline, and the early seafarers believed this, as their successors have always done, especially during the different periods of the sailing-ship era. A commander, if he wishes to be successful in keeping the spirit of rebellion under, must imbue those under him with a kind of awe. This only succeeds if the commander has a magnetic and powerful will, combined with quick action and sound, unhesitating judgment. All the greatest naval and military chiefs have had and must have now these essential gifts of nature if they are to be successful in their art. The man of dashing expediency without judgment or knowledge is a great peril in any responsible position. When either a ship or nation or anything else is in trouble, it is the cool, calculating, orderly administrator, who never makes chaos or destructive fuss, that succeeds. That is essential, and it is only this type of person that so often saves both ships, armies, and nations from inevitable destruction. The Duke of Wellington used to say that "In every case, the winning of a battle was always a damned near thing." One of the most important characteristics of Drake's and Hawkins' genius was their fearless accurate methods of putting the fear of God into the Spaniards, both at sea and ashore. The mention of their names made Philip's flesh creep. Even Admiral Santa Cruz, in common with his compatriots, thought Drake was "The Serpent"—"The Devil." And the Spanish opinion of him helped Drake to win many a tough battle. Amongst the thrilling examples are his dashes into Corunna and Cadiz. Drake never took the risk before calculating the cost and making certain of where the vulnerable weak spot of the enemy lay, and when and where to strike it. The complete vanquishing of the Armada is another instance of Drake's great qualities of slashing yet sound judgment put accurately into effect.
Of course, the honours of the defeat of the Armada must always be shared with other naval experts who had acquired their knowledge of sea warfare in what is called the piratical line. But the spirit that inflamed the whole British fleet was that of Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher, Seymour, and Howard, and the inspiration came mainly from the two former. On the Spanish side, as a naval battle, it was a fiasco, a mere colossal clerical burlesque. Neither naval strategy nor ordinary seamanship was in evidence on the part of the chief commander or his admirals. The men fought with rough-and-tumble heroism. The sailors were only second in quality to our own, but there was no plan of battle, and the poor Duke of Medina Sidonia had neither knowledge of naval affairs nor courage. Philip's theory seems to have been that any lack of efficiency in the art of war by his commanders would be made up by the spiritual encouragement of the priests dangling their crucifixes about the decks amongst the sailors and soldiers, who had been put through a course of instruction on spiritual efficacy before sailing on their doomed expedition. They were made to believe that the Spanish cause was so just that assistance would be given from God to defeat the "infernal devils" and to invade their country.
This great battle transferred the sea supremacy from the Spanish to the British, who have held it, with one interval, ever since, and will continue to hold it, provided that Philip's theories of relying merely on the help that comes from above be supplemented by, first, the appointment of a proper head at the Admiralty with some nautical instinct and knowledge of affairs; and secondly, the keeping up of an efficient fleet, manned with efficient officers and men. Heaven helps those who help themselves. No department of government can be properly managed by novices. The reckless, experimental appointment of untried men to positions of grave responsibility on which the happiness, comfort, and life of the whole public may depend, and the very existence of the country be put in jeopardy, is a gamble, and may be a crime.
It is always risky to assume that any person holding authority in the bigger affairs of life is in consequence an instrument of Providence. Had the conception of the Armada and the organization of every detail been put into the hands of experienced and trained experts with sound judgment in naval matters, such as Admiral Santa Cruz, and had it not been for Philip and his landsman ideas of the efficacy of priests and crucifixes, and greenhorns such as the Duke of Medina Sidonia and his landlubber colleagues, Spain might never have been involved in the Armada fight, and if she had, it is scarcely likely that so appalling a disaster could have come to her. Apart from any fighting, the fact of having no better sea knowledge or judgment than to anchor the Spanish ships in an open roadstead like Calais was courting the loss of the whole Spanish fleet. One of the fundamental precautions of seamanship is never to anchor on a lee shore or in an open roadstead, without a means of escape. The dunderheaded Spanish commanders made their extermination much more easy for the highly trained British seamen of all grades, none of whom had any reason to hide their heads in shame for any part they individually took in the complete ruin of the Spanish Navy.
One cannot read the sordid story without feeling a pang of pity for the proud men, such as Recaldo, who died on landing at Bilbao; or Oquendo, whose home was at Santander. He refused to see his wife and children, turned his face to the wall, and died of a broken heart begotten of shame. The soldiers and sailors were so weak they could not help themselves, and died in hundreds on the ships that crawled back to Spain. The tragic fate of these vessels and their crews that were dashed to pieces on the rocks of the Hebrides and Ireland added greatly to the tale of horror. Philip was crushed, but was a man of tender sympathies, and free from vindictive resentment against those who were placed in charge of his terrific and ill-fated navy. He worked and exhorted others to relieve the sufferers in every possible way. He obviously regarded the disaster as a divine rebuke, and submissively acquiesced with true Spanish indolence, saying that he believed it to be the "great purpose of Heaven."
On the authority of the Duke of Parma, "The English regarded their victory with modesty, and were languidly indifferent to their valour." They looked upon the defeat of the Spanish Navy as a token of the Ruler of all things being decidedly partial to the Protestant faith. The Spaniards, as a whole, would not allow that Heaven was against them or that the verdict was that of Providence. They declared that it was entirely the result of the superior management of the English ships and the fighting quality of their crews. With this chivalrous testimonial no one could then or will now disagree. It was very sporting of them to admit the superiority of the British ships and seamanship.
Drake and his compeers had reason to be proud of their efforts in the great naval contest. Their reputations were enhanced by it all over the world, though never a sign or word came from themselves about their gallantry. They looked upon these matters as mere incidents of their enterprising lives.
But it is really in the lesser sea encounters, though they probably had just as great results, that we become enthralled by Drake's adventurous voyages. The Armada affair was more like the battle of Trafalgar, one of the differences being that in the latter engagement the Spanish ships did not risk going far into the open sea, but wisely kept Cadiz open for retreat, which they availed themselves of after receiving a dreadful pounding. Drake's voyage in the Pelican excelled anything that had ever been accomplished by previous sea rovers, and his expedition to the West Indies was a great feat. He always had trouble with Queen Elizabeth about money when organizing his voyages. Her Spanish brother-in-law's power was always in her thoughts. He never allowed her to forget that if he were provoked he would invade England, and notwithstanding her retort that England had a long arm which he would do well to fear, her courage alternated with some nervousness at times. Elizabeth was not so much concerned about his threat of excommunication of her as the sly tricks in conjunction with the Pope in spreading the spirit of rebellion in Ireland, and in other ways conspiring against her. Her mood was at one time to defy him, and at another conciliatory and fearful lest her pirate chiefs should do anything to provoke Spanish susceptibilities. Drake was much hampered by her moods when he wanted to get quickly to business, and never lost an opportunity of slipping out of her reach when his eloquence on the acquisition of untold wealth and the capture of some of Philip's distant colonies had appealed to her boundless avarice and made her conscience easy. His expedition to the West Indies might never have been undertaken had he not been a dare-devil fellow, to whom Burleigh's wink was as good as a nod to be off. He slipped out of port unknown to her, and his first prize was a large Spanish ship loaded with salt fish. He pounced upon her after passing Ushant, and the excellent cargo was suitably distributed amongst the fleet.
There were 25 privateers, and a company of 2,500 men on this expedition. All were volunteers, and represented every grade of society, high and low. There was never any difficulty in getting a supply of men. On this occasion the applications largely outnumbered the posts available. Drake could always depend upon volunteers, and, like all men of superb action, he had no liking for conscription. He knew that in the performance and carrying out of great deeds (and nearly all of his were terrific) it is men aflame with courage and enthusiasm that carry the day, and take them as a whole, conscripts are never wholehearted. The two great characteristics of the British race—initiative and endurance—are due to this burning flame of voluntarism.
The West India expedition was organized and all expenses guaranteed by private individuals. The capital was L60,000, and its allocation was L40,000 for expenses and L20,000 to be distributed amongst those who had volunteered to serve. Both men and officers had signed on without any stipulation for wages. They knew they were out for a piratical cruise, and welcomed any danger, great or small, that would give them a chance of making it not only a monetary success, but one that would give Spanish autocracy another shattering blow. These ancient mariners never trifled with life, and no sombre views or fatal shadows disturbed their spirited ambition or caused them to shrink from their strenuous and stupendous work. They went forth in their cockleshell fleet as full of hope and confidence as those who are accustomed to sail and man a transatlantic liner of the present day. Some of their vessels were but little larger than a present-day battleship's tender. Neither roaring forties nor Cape Horn hurricanes intimidated them. It is only when we stop to think, that we realize how great these adventurers were, and how much we owe to their sacred memories.
In addition to being ridiculously small and shabby in point of efficiency in rigging, sails, and general outfit, it will always be a mystery how it was that so few were lost by stress of weather or even ordinary navigable risks. They were veritable boxes in design, and their rig alone made it impossible for them to make rapid passages, even if they had wished to do so. As I write these lines, and think of my own Western Ocean experiences in well-designed, perfectly equipped, large and small sailing vessels during the winter hurricane months, when the passages were made literally under water and every liquid mountain seemed to forebode immediate destruction, it taxes my nautical knowledge to understand how these inferior and smaller craft which Drake commanded did not succumb to the same elements that have carried superior vessels in later years to their doom. One reason that occurs to me is that they were never deeply laden, and they were accustomed to ride hurricanes out when they had plenty of sea room at their sea anchors.
But nothing can detract from what our generation may describe as their eccentric genius in combining navigation with piracy and naval and military art. Talk about "human vision"! What is the good of it if it turns out nothing but unrestrained confusion? The men of the period I am writing about had real "vision," and applied it with accuracy without disorganizing the machinery of life and making the world a miserable place to live in. They were all for country and none for self.
After the capture of the Spanish ship and the appropriation of her cargo of fish, Drake's fleet went lounging along towards Vigo. In due course he brought his ships to anchor in the harbour, and lost no time in coming in contact with Don Pedro Bendero, the Spanish governor, who was annoyed at the British Admiral's unceremonious appearance. Don Pedro said that he was not aware that his country was at war with Britain. Drake quickly disillusioned him, and demanded, "If we are not at war, why have English merchants been arrested?" Don Pedro said an order had come for their release. Drake landed forthwith a portion of his force, and seeing that he meant business that foreboded trouble, the governor sent him wine, fruit, and other luxurious articles of food in abundance. The ships were anchored in a somewhat open roadstead, so Drake resolved to take them farther up the waterway where they would lie comfortably, no matter from what direction the threatening storm might break. But he had another shrewd object in view, which was to make a beginning in acquiring any of the valuable and treasured possessions adorning the churches. A trusted officer who was in his confidence, and a great admirer of his wisdom and other personal qualities, was sent to survey the passage and to find a suitable anchorage. He was a man of enterprise, with a strong dislike to the Roman Catholic faith, and never doubted that he was perfectly justified in relieving the churches of plate and other valuables. These were, in his eyes, articles of idolatry that no man of puritanic and Protestant principles could refrain from removing and placing under the safe keeping of his revered chief, who was no more averse to robbing a church than he was to robbing a ship carrying gold or fish.
As the vessel in charge of this intrepid officer, whose name was Carlile, approached the town where it was proposed to anchor the fleet the inhabitants fled, taking with them much of the church plate and other things which the British had covetously thought an appropriate prize of theirs. Carlile, being a man of resource, soon laid hold of other church treasure, which amply compensated for the loss of that which was carried off by the fleeing inhabitants at the mouth of the harbour. The day following Christopher Carlile's satisfactory survey the fleet was anchored off the town. The sight of it threw the whole district into panic. A pompous governor of Galicia hastened to Vigo, and on his arrival there he took fright at the number of ships and the dreaded name of the pirate chief who was in command. It would be futile to show fight, so he determined to accommodate himself to the Admiral's terms, which were that he should have a free hand to replenish the fleet with water and provisions, or any other odds and ends, without interference. This being accomplished, he agreed to sail, and no doubt the governor thought he had made a judicious bargain in getting rid of him so easily. But Drake all the time had the Spanish gold fleet in his mind. Sacrifices must be made in order that it may be captured, so off he went for the Cape de Verde islands, and found when he got there that the treasure-ships had arrived and sailed only a few hours before. The disappointment was, according to custom, taken with Christian composure. He had the aptitude of switching his mind from one form of warfare to another. As I have said, he would just as soon attack and plunder a city as a church or a ship. Drake had missed the gold fleet, so he turned his attention to the treasures of Santiago. When the governor and population were made aware that the distinguished visitor to their island was the terrible "El Draque," they and their spiritual advisers as usual flew to the mountains, without neglecting to take their money and priceless possessions with them. Drake looted as much as was left in the city of wine and other valuables, but he got neither gold nor silver, and would probably have left Santiago unharmed but for the horrible murder of one of his sailor-boys, whose body was found hacked to pieces. This settled the doom of the finest built city in the Old World. "El Draque" at once set fire to it and burnt it to ashes, with that thoroughness which characterized all such dealings in an age when barbaric acts justified more than equivalent reprisals.
It would have been a wiser course for the governor to have treated for the ransom of the town than to have murdered a poor sailor lad who was innocently having a stroll. It is balderdash to talk of the Spaniards as being too proud to treat with a person whom they believed to be nothing better than a pirate. The Spaniards, like other nationalities, were never too proud to do anything that would strengthen or maintain their supremacy. Their apparent pride in not treating with Drake at Santiago and on other rare occasions was really the acme of terror at hearing his name; there was neither high honour nor grandee dignity connected with it. As to Philip's kingly pride, it consisted in offering a special reward of L40,000 to have Elizabeth's great sailor assassinated or kidnapped. There were many to whom the thought of the bribe was fascinating. Numerous attempts were made, but whenever the assassins came within sound of his name or sight of him or his ships they became possessed of involuntary twitchy sensations, and fled in a delirium of fear, which was attributed to his being a magician.
As soon as Drake had avenged the sailor-boy's murder he sailed for the West Indies. When he got into the hot latitudes the plague of yellow fever appeared, and nearly three hundred of his men died in a few days. Arriving at Dominica, they found the Caribs had a deadly hatred of the Spanish, and when they learned that the British were at war with Spain they offered to prescribe a certain cure for yellow jack which was eminently effectual. After disinfecting the ships, and getting supplied with their requirements, the fleet left for San Domingo, via St. Kitts, which was uninhabited at that time. Domingo was one of the most beautiful and most wealthy islands in the world. Columbus and his brother, Diego, are buried in the cathedral there. The population believed themselves to be immune from harm or invasion on this distant island home, but Drake soon disillusioned them. His devoted lieutenant, Christopher Carlile, was selected as usual to find a suitable channel and landing, a hazardous and almost unattainable quest, but in his and Drake's skilful hands their object was accomplished. The ships were brought into port, and in his usual direct way Drake demanded that the garrison of the castle should surrender without parley, and it was done. Drake was not finished with them yet; he wished to know from the governor what terms he was prepared to offer in order that the city should be saved from pillage. A negro boy was sent with this dispatch, and raging with the disgrace of surrendering to the British Admiral, an officer ran a lance through the boy's body. The poor boy was just able to get back, and died immediately, close to where Drake was. The Spaniards had allowed their vicious pride to incite them to commit murder and to insult the British Admiral, who promptly avenged both deeds by having two friars taken to the place where the boy had been stabbed, and there hanged. "El Draque" sent a further note to the governor informing him that unless the officer who murdered his messenger was executed at once by the Spanish authorities he would hang two friars for every day that it was put off. Needless to say, no more friars were hung, as the officer paid the penalty of his crime without further delay. The lacerated dignity of the Spaniards was still further tried by the demand for the ransom of the city, and their procrastination cost them dear.
Drake's theology was at variance with that of the Founder of our faith. His method was rigid self-assertion, and the power of the strong. The affront he conceived to have been laid upon him and upon the country he represented could only be wiped out by martial law. Theoretic babbling about equality had no place in his ethics of the universe. He proceeded to raid and burn both private dwellings, palaces, and magazines; and the Government House, which was reputed to be the finest building in the world, was operated upon for a month, until it was reduced to dust. These are some of the penalties that would have gladdened the heart of the gallant Beresford and his Albert Hall comrades of our time had they been carried out against the Germans, who have excelled the Spaniards of Philip's reign in cultured murder and other brutalities in a war that has cost William II his throne and brought the period of civilization perilously near its end. It may be that the instability of petty statesmanship is to disappear, and that Providence may have in unseen reserve a group of men with mental and physical powers capable of subduing human virulence and re-creating out of the chaos the Germans have made a new and enduring civilization; and when they shall appear their advent will be applauded by the stricken world.
Incidentally, it may be added that the German nation, which has endangered the existence of civilization, would never have been despised or thought ill of on account of its defeat by the Allies. It is their unjustifiable method of beginning the war, and the dirty brutal tricks by which they sought to win it, which have created enduring mistrust and animosity against them. The law of human fairness is no more exacting to small communities or individuals than it is to nations.
Drake continued his relentless reprisals against San Domingo. The burning of British sailors as heretics possessed his mind. The distracted governor would have given his soul to get rid of him, but Drake demanded money, and this the governor pleaded was not available, but he was ultimately forced to provide 25,000 ducats, equalling L50,000. This was accepted after the town had been shattered to pieces and the shipping destroyed. The cathedral was the only important building left intact, the probable reason being that the remains of the great navigator, Columbus, were entombed there. Already the mortality amongst Drake's crew had been alarmingly heavy, and he was too wise a man to gamble with their lives until the bad season came on, so he settled up and hurried away into the fresh sea breezes, determined to give many more Spanish possessions a thorough shaking up. The news that the freebooters were near at hand, and that they were committing shocking deeds of theft and destruction on the way, had filtered to the Carribean Sea, and struck the somnolent population with terror. Carthagena, a magnificent city and the capital of the Spanish Main, was Drake's next objective. He had large hopes of doing well there. The health of most of his crew had improved and was now robust, and their fighting spirits had been kindled to a high pitch by their gallant chief, whose eye of genius was centred on a big haul of material things. On arrival off the port, Carlile, whose resource and courage were always in demand, was put in charge of a strong force. He led the attack, mounted the parapets, drove the Spanish garrison away in confusion, killed the commander, and subsequently destroyed a large number of ships which were lazily lying in the port. Many English prisoners were released, which was a godsend in filling the places of those who had died.
The combative pretensions of the governor had received a severe shock. He was beaten, and Drake, like a true sportsman, asked him and his suite to dine with him, and with an air of Spanish dignity he accepted. The occasion was memorable for the royal way the distinguished guests were treated. The governor was studiously cordial, and obviously wished to win the favour of his remorseless visitors, so asked Drake and his officers to do him the honour of accepting his hospitality in return, which they did. What form the interchange of civilities took is not quite clear, but the governor's apparent amiableness did not in any way move Drake to exercise generosity. His object was ransom, and if this was agreed to good-naturedly, all the better for the Spaniards, but he was neither to be bought nor sold by wily tactics, nor won over by golden-tongued rhetoric. The price of the rugged Devonshire sailor's alternative of wild wrath and ruin was the modest sum of 100,000 ducats in hard cash. Mutual convivialities and flowing courtesies were at an end; these were one thing and reparation for the incarceration and burning of unoffending British sailors as heretics was another.
"Deeds of blood and torture can never be atoned for in money or destruction of property. I am Drake, 'El Draque' if you like, and if you don't comply with my terms, you shall be destroyed."
It was his habit openly to express himself in this way to Philip's subjects, whether hostile or not, and we can imagine that similar views were uttered in the Carthagena negotiations. The Spaniards regarded his terms as monstrous impiety; they were aghast, pleaded poverty, and protested and swore by the Holy Office that the total amount they could find in the whole city was only 30,000 ducats. Drake, with commendable prudence, seeing that he wished to get away from the fever zone without delay, appears to have accepted this amount, though authorities are at variance on this point. Some say that he held out for his first claim and got it. I have not been able to verify which is the correct amount, but in all probability he got the 100,000 ducats. In any case, he piously charged them with deception in their plea of poverty, but came to terms, declaring, no doubt, that his own magnanimity astonished him.
But for the sudden outbreak of sickness amongst his crew, the Carthagenians would not have fared nearly so well. The city might have been, not only pillaged, but laid in ruins. As it was, he had emptied a monastery and blown the harbour forts to pieces.
Drake's intention was to visit Panama, but the fever had laid heavy hands on his men. Only a third of those who commenced the voyage with him were well enough to do work at all, notwithstanding the replenishment by released prisoners, so he was forced to abandon further enterprises and shape his course homewards as quickly as skilful navigation and the vagaries of wind and weather would allow. Great deeds, even on this trip, stood to the credit of himself and crew. The accomplishments were far below what was expected at the outset in point of money value, but the priceless feature of the voyage was the enhanced respect for Drake's name which had taken possession of the Spanish race in every part of the world and subsequently made the defeat of the Armada an easier task.
This eager soul, who was really the pioneer of a new civilization, had still to face hard fate after the reluctant abandonment of his intention to visit Panama. The sufferings of the adventurers from bad weather and shortness of water was severely felt on the passage to Florida. But the rough leader never lost heart or spared himself in any way. He was obliged to heave-to at Cape Antonio (Cuba), and here with indomitable courage went to work, putting heart into his men by digging with pick and shovel in a way that would have put a navvy to the blush, and when their efforts were rewarded he took his ships through the Bahama Channel, and as he passed a fort which the Spaniards had constructed and used as a base for a force which had murdered many French Protestant colonists in the vicinity, Drake landed, found out the murderous purpose of the fort, and blew it to pieces. But that was not all. He also had the satisfaction of saving the remainder of an unsuccessful English settlement founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, and of taking possession of everything that he could lay hands on from the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. This was the last episode of plunder connected with an expedition that was ripe with thrilling incidents, and added to the fame of the most enterprising figure of the Elizabethan reign.
In point of profit to those who had financed the voyage it was not a success; but its political and ultimate commercial advantages were enormous. These early seamen of the seventeenth century, many of them amateurs, laid the foundation of the greatest navy and mercantile marine of the world. It is to these fascinating adventurers, too, that the generations which followed are indebted for the initiative in human comforts and progress. The superficial self-righteous critic may find it an agreeable pursuit to search out their blemishes; but these men cannot be airily dismissed in that manner. They towered above their fellows, the supreme product of the spirit of their day in adventure and daring; they fulfilled their great destiny, and left their indelible mark upon the life of their nation and of the world. Their great emancipating heroism and reckless self-abnegation more than counterbalanced the faults with which the modern mind, judging their day by ours, is too prone to credit them, and whatever their deeds of perfidy may have been, they were imbued more with the idea of patriotism than with that of avarice. They were remarkable men, nor did they come into the life of the nation by chance, but for a purpose, and their memories are enshrined in human history.
Drake sailed for home as soon as he had embarked what was left of Raleigh's colonists at Roanoke River, Virginia, and after a protracted and monotonous passage, arrived at Plymouth on the 28th July, 1586. The population received the news with acclamation. Drake wrote to Lord Burleigh, bemoaning his fate in having missed the gold fleet by a few hours, and again placing his services at the disposal of his Queen and country.
The most momentous of all his commissions, especially to his own country, was in 1587, when he destroyed a hundred ships in Cadiz Harbour. It was a fine piece of work, this "singeing of the King of Spain's beard" as he called it, and by far excelled anything he had previously done. He captured the San Philip, the King of Spain's ship, which was the largest afloat. Her cargo was valued at over one million sterling, in addition to which papers were found on board revealing the wealth of the East India trade. The knowledge of this soon found a company of capitalists, who formed the East India Company, out of which our great Indian Empire was established. When the San Philip was towed into Dartmouth Harbour, and when it became known generally, the whole country was ablaze with excitement, and people travelled from far and near to see the leviathan.
Drake bore himself on this occasion with that sober modesty that characterized him always under any circumstances. His reputation stood higher now than ever, and it was no detriment to him that Philip should shudder, and when he became virtuously agitated speak of him as "that fearful man Drake." Everywhere he was a formidable reality, strong, forbidding and terrible; his penetrating spirit saw through the plans of the enemies of his country and his vigorous counter-measures were invariably successful. The exalted part he took in the defeat of the Armada has been briefly referred to in another part of this book. He was then at the height of his imposing magnificence and fame, but owing to the caprice of his royal mistress, who had an insatiable habit of venting her Tudor temper indiscriminately, he fell under her displeasure, and for a time was in disgrace; but she soon discovered that his services, whatever his lack of success on apparently rash enterprises may have been, were indispensable at so critical a moment. He was recalled, and soon after sent on his melancholy last voyage. He had worn himself out in the service of his country. Born at Tavistock in 1539, his eager spirit passed into the shadows off Puerto Bello on the 28th January, 1596, and, as previously stated, he was buried three miles out at sea, and two of his prizes were sunk and laid beside him.
The following beautiful lines of Sir Henry Newbolt not only describe his patriotic and heroic end, but breathe the very spirit of the man who was one of the most striking figures of the Elizabethan age:—
Drake, he's in his hammock till the great Armadas come, (Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?) Slung atween the round shot, listenin' for the drum, An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe. Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound, Call him when ye sail to meet the foe; Where the old trade's plyin', and the old flag flyin', They shall find him ware an' wakin', As they found him long ago!
NELSON AND HIS CIRCLE
The tradition created by Drake and Hawkins was carried on by Nelson and Collingwood in a different age and under different conditions, and the same heroic spirit animated them all. Nelson must certainly have been familiar with the enthralling tales of these men and of their gallant colleagues, but without all the essential qualities born in him he could not have been the victor of Trafalgar. Men have to do something distinctive, that sets the human brain on fire, before they are really recognized as being great; then all others are put in the shade, no matter how necessary their great gifts may be to fill up the gaps in the man of initiative and of action. Drake could not have done what he did had he not had the aid of Frobisher, and Jervis would not have become Earl St. Vincent had he not been supported by Nelson at the battle of that name; and we should never have seen the imposing monument erected in Trafalgar Square had Nelson been without his Collingwood. Victorious and valiant performances do not come by chance, and so it comes to pass in the natural course of human law that if our Jervises, Nelsons, and Collingwoods, who are the prototypes of our present-day heroes, had not lived, we should not have had our Fishers, Jellicoes, and Beattys.
Nelson was always an attractive personality and by no means the type of man to allow himself to be forgotten. He believed he was a personage with a mission on earth, and never an opportunity was given him that did not confirm this belief in himself.
Horatio Nelson was the son of the Rev. Edmund Nelson, and was born at Burnham Thorpe on the 29th September, 1758. His mother died in 1767, and left eight children. Her brother, Captain Maurice Suckling, was appointed to the Raisonable three years after her death, and agreed, at the request of Horatio himself and the instigation of his father, after some doubtful comments as to the boy's physical suitableness for the rough life of a sailor, to take him; so on the 1st January, 1771, he became a midshipman on the Raisonable. On the 22nd May he either shipped of his own accord or was put as cabin-boy on a merchant vessel which went to the West Indies, and ended his career in the merchant service at the end of an eventful voyage. In July 1772 he became midshipman on board the Triumph. This was the real starting-point of his naval career and of the development of those great gifts that made him the renowned Admiral of the world. Twenty-two years after joining his uncle's ship he was made captain of the Agamemnon. At the siege of Calvi in 1794 he was wounded in the right eye and lost the sight of it. Three years afterwards he lost his right arm while commanding an attack on Santa Cruz, and although he had put so many sensational events into his life up to that time, it was not until the battle of St. Vincent that he began to attract attention. He had been promoted Rear-Admiral before the news of the battle was known, and when the news reached England the public enthusiasm was irrepressible. Jervis was made an Earl, with L3,000 a year pension, and the King requested that he should take his title from the name of the battle. Nelson refused a baronetcy, and was made, at his own request, a Knight of the Bath, receiving the thanks of the City of London and a sword. All those who were in prominent positions or came to the front in this conflict received something. It was not by a freak of chance that the authorities began to see in Nelson the elements of an extraordinary man. Nor was it mere chance that they so far neglected him that he was obliged to force himself upon the Admiralty in order to get them to employ him. The nation was in need of a great spirit, and Providence had been preparing one for many years before the ruling authorities discovered that Nelson was their man of the future.
For several months he was tearing about the seas in search of the French fleet. He popped into Naples on the 17th June, 1798, ostensibly to know if anything had been heard of it, and no doubt he took the opportunity of having a word with Sir William and Lady Hamilton, who were to come so romantically into his life. He found the French fleet at anchor in Aboukir Bay and sailed upon it with such amazing audacity that the heart was knocked out of them at the very outset. Neither the French Admiral nor anybody else would have expected the British fleet to run their ships between them and the shore at the risk of grounding. The Culloden did ground. The French had 11 out of 13 ships put out of action, but the British fleet suffered severely also, and the loss of men was serious. Out of a total of 7,401 men, 218 were killed and 678 wounded. Nelson himself was badly wounded on the forehead, and as the skin fell down on his good eye and the blood streamed into it, he was both dazed and blinded. He shouted to Captain Berry as he was staggering to a fall, "I am killed; remember me to my wife." But there was a lot more work for him to do before the fatal day. He was carried below, believing the injury would prove fatal, in spite of the assurances to the contrary of the surgeon who was in attendance.
Although Nelson's courage can never be doubted, there is something very curious in his constant, eccentric foreboding of death and the way in which he scattered his messages about to one and another. This habit increased amazingly after his conflict with the French at the Nile. He seems to have had intermittent attacks of hypochondria. The wound incident at Aboukir must have given great amusement as well as anxiety to those about him. Unquestionably the wound had the appearance at first of being mortal, but the surgeon soon gave a reassuring opinion, and after binding up the ugly cut he requested his patient to remain below. But Nelson, as soon as he knew he was not going to die, became bored with the inactivity and insisted on writing a dispatch to the Admiralty. His secretary was too excited to carry out his wishes, so he tackled it himself. But his suffering being great and his mind in a condition of whirling confusion, he did not get far beyond the beginning, which intimated that "Almighty God had blessed His Majesty's arms." The battle raged on. The Orient was set on fire and her destruction assured. When Nelson was informed of the terrible catastrophe to the great French line-of-battle ship, he demanded to be assisted to the deck, whereupon he gave instructions that his only boat not destroyed was to be sent with the Vanguard's first lieutenant to render assistance to the crew. He remained on deck until the Orient blew up, and was then urged to go to bed.
But sleep under the circumstances and in view of his own condition would not come. All night long he was sending messages directing the plan of battle the news of which was to enthral the civilized world. Nelson himself was not satisfied. "Not one of the French vessels would have escaped," he said, "if it had pleased God that he had not been wounded." This was rather a slur on those who had given their best blood and really won the battle. Notwithstanding the apparent egotism of this outburst, there are sound reasons for believing that the Admiral's inspiring influence was much discounted by his not being able to remain on deck. The sight of his guiding, magnetic figure had an amazing effect on his men, but I think it must be admitted that Nelson's head was not in a condition at that time to be entirely relied upon, and those in charge of the different ships put the finishing touches to the victory that was won by the force of his courage and commanding genius in the initial stages of the struggle.
Nelson was a true descendant of a race of men who had never faltered in the traditional belief that the world should be governed and dominated by the British. His King, his country, and particularly the profession to which he belonged, were to him the supreme authorities whose destiny it was to direct the affairs of the universe. With unfailing comic seriousness, intermixed with occasional explosions of bitter violence, he placed the French low down in the scale of the human family. There was scarcely a sailor adjective that was not applied to them. Carlyle, in later years, designated the voice of France as "a confused babblement from the gutters" and "scarcely human"; "A country indeed with its head cut off"; but this quotation does not reach some of the picturesque heights of nautical language that was invented by Nelson to describe his view of them. Both he and many of his fellow-countrymen regarded the chosen chief on whom the French nation had democratically placed an imperial crown as the embodiment of a wild beast.
The great Admiral was always wholehearted in his declamation against the French people and their leaders who are our present allies fighting against that country which now is, and which Napoleon predicted to his dying day would become, one of the most imperious, inhuman foes to civilization. Nelson and his government at that time thought it a merciful high policy of brotherhood to protect and re-create Prussia out of the wreck to which Napoleon had reduced it; the result being that the military spirit of Prussia has been a growing, determined menace to the peace of the world and to the cause of human liberty in every form since the downfall of the man who warned us at the time from his exiled home on the rock of St. Helena that our policy would ultimately reflect with a vengeance upon ourselves, and involve the whole world in a great effort to save itself from destruction. He foresaw that Prussia would inveigle and bully the smaller German states into unification with herself, and, having cunningly accomplished this, that her perfidy would proceed to consolidate the united fabric into a formidable power which would crush all others by its military superiority; this dream of universal control of human life and affairs was at one time nearly realized.
The German Empire has bankrupted herself in men, necessaries of life, and money. But that in no degree minimizes the disaster she has wrought on those who have had to bleed at every pore to avoid annihilation. The Allies, as well as the Central Powers, are no longer going concerns. It will take generations to get back to the point at which we started in 1914. But the tragic thought of all is the enormous sacrifice of life, and the mental and physical wrecks that have survived the savage, brutal struggle brought on a world that was, and wished to remain, at peace, when in 1914 the Central Powers arrogantly forced the pace which caused an alliance to be formed quickly by their enemies to save them from the doom which Napoleon, with his clear vision, had predicted would come.
It was fitting that Nelson should by every conceivable means adopt methods of declamation against the French, if by doing so he thought it would inspire the men whom he commanded with the same conquering spirit he himself possessed. His country was at war with the French, and he was merely one of the instruments appointed to defeat them, and this may account for his ebullitions of hatred from time to time. I have found, however, no record that would in any way show that it was intended as surface policy, so it may be concluded that his dislike was as deep-seated as it appeared. Nelson never seems to have shown evidences of being a humbug by saying things which he did not believe. He had a wholesome dislike of the French people and of Bonaparte, who was their idol at that time. But neither he nor his government can be credited with the faculty of being students of human life. He and they believed that Paris was the centre of all that was corrupt and brutal. Napoleon, on the other hand, had no real hatred of the British people, but during his wars with their government his avowed opinion was that "all the ills, and all the scourges that afflict mankind, came from London." Both were wrong in their conclusions. They simply did not understand each other's point of view in the great upheaval that was disturbing the world. The British were not only jealous and afraid of Napoleon's genius and amazing rise to eminence—which they attributed to his inordinate ambition to establish himself as the dominating factor in the affairs of the universe—but they determined that his power should not only not be acknowledged, but destroyed, and their policy after twenty years of bitter war was completely accomplished.
The merits or demerits of British policy must always remain a matter of controversy. It is too big a question to deal with here. Napoleon said himself that "Everything in the life of man is subject to calculation; the good and evil must be equally balanced." Other true sayings of his indicate that he, at any rate, was a student of human life, and knew how fickle fortune is under certain conditions. "Reprisals," he declared, "are but a sad resource"; and again, no doubt dwelling on his own misfortunes, but with vivid truth all the same, he declares that "The allies gained by victory will turn against you upon the bare whisper of our defeat."
After his victory on the Nile, Nelson fully expected to be created a Viscount, and his claim was well supported by Hood, his old Admiral. He was made Baron Nelson of the Nile, and given a pension of L2,000 per annum—a poor recompense for the great service he had rendered to his country. But that was by no means the measure of the public gratitude. He was acclaimed from every corner of Great Britain as the national hero. The City of London presented him with a two hundred guinea sword, and a vote of thanks to himself, officers and men. There was much prayer and thanksgiving, and several women went as daft as brushes over him. One said her heart was absolutely bursting with all sorts of sensations. "I am half mad," says she, and any one who reads the letter will conclude that she understated her mental condition. But of all the many letters received by Nelson none surpasses in extravagance of adulation that written by Amy Lyon, the daughter of a village blacksmith, born at Great Neston in Cheshire, in 1761, who had come to London in the early part of 1780, fallen into evil ways and given birth to a little girl. She was then left destitute and sank as low as it is possible for a woman to do. She rose out of the depths into which she had fallen by appearing as the Goddess of Health in the exhibition of a James Graham. Sir Henry Featherstonehaugh took her under his protection for close on twelve months, but owing to her extravagance and faithlessness he turned her out when within a few months of a second child, which was stillborn. The first was handed over to her grandmother to take care of. Charles Greville, the second son of the Earl of Warwick, then took her to live with him. She had intimate relations with him while she was still Featherstonehaugh's mistress, and he believed the child about to be born was his. At this time Amy Lyon changed her name to Emily Hart. Greville went to work on business lines. He struck a bargain that all her previous lovers were to be dropped, and under this compact she lived with him in a respectable manner for nearly four years. He gave her some education, but she seems to have had natural genius, and her beauty was undisputed.
Emily Hart sat to Romney, the artist, and it is said that twenty-three portraits were painted, though some writers have placed the number at over forty. "Marinda," "Sibyl," and the "Spinstress" were amongst them. The pictures bring high prices; one, I think called "Sensibility," brought, in 1890, over L3,000. Notwithstanding her lowly birth (which has no right to stop any one's path to greatness) and lack of chastity, she had something uncommon about her that was irresistibly attractive. Sir William Hamilton, Greville's uncle, returned to England some time in 1784 from Naples, where he was the British Minister. It was said that he was in quest of a second wife, the first having died some two years before. Greville did not take kindly to the idea of Sir William marrying again, because he was his heir. He thought instead that, being in financial trouble himself, he would try to plant Emma on his uncle, not with the object of marriage, but of her becoming his mistress. Sir William was captivated with the girl, which made it easy for the shameless nephew to persuade his uncle to take her off his hands. Emma, however, was in love with Greville, and there were indications of revolt when the astute lady discovered that serious negotiations were proceeding for her transference from nephew to uncle. It took twelve months to arrive at a settlement.
There does not appear to have been a signed agreement, but there certainly was a tacit understanding that Sir William was to assist Greville out of his difficulties, in return for which Emma was to join him at Naples, ostensibly as a visitor. She writes imploringly to Greville to answer her letters, but never an answer came, and in utter despair she tells him at last that she will not become his uncle's concubine, and threatens to make Hamilton marry her. This poor wretched woman was human, after all, and indeed she gave convincing proofs of many high qualities in after-years, but in the passion of her love for the dissolute scamp who bartered her away she pleaded for that touch of human compassion that never came. She knew that her reprobate lover was fearful lest she should induce his uncle to marry her, and she may have had an instinctive feeling that it was part of the contract that she was to be warded off if any attempt of the kind were made likely to endanger his prospects of becoming Hamilton's heir. His indifference made her venomously malignant, and she sent him a last stab that would at least give him a troubled mind, even though it should not cause him to recall her; she would then pursue her revenge by ignoring him.
It is a sordid story which smears the pages of British History.
Emma lived with the British Ambassador at Naples as his mistress. He was popular in this city of questionable morals at that time. She was beautiful and developed remarkable talents as a singer, and was a bright, witty, fascinating conversationalist. She worked hard at her studies, and became a fluent speaker of the Italian language. Hamilton had great consideration for her, and never risked having her affronted because of the liaison. Her singing was a triumph. It is said she was offered L6,000 to go to Madrid for three years and L2,000 for a season in London. She invented classic attitudes. Goethe said that "Sir William Hamilton, after long love and study of art, has at last discovered the most perfect of the wonders of nature and art in a beautiful young woman. She lives with him, and is about twenty years old. She is very handsome, and of a beautiful figure. What the greatest artists have aimed at is shown in perfection, in movement, in ravishing variety. Standing, kneeling, sitting, lying down, grave or sad, playful, exulting, repentant, wanton, menacing, anxious, all mental states follow rapidly one after another. With wonderful taste she suits the folding of her veil to each expression, and with the same handkerchief makes every kind of head-dress. The Old Knight holds the Light for her, and enters into the exhibition with his whole soul." Sir William had twelve of the "Representations" done by a German artist named Frederick Rehberg, entitled "Drawings faithfully copied from Nature at Naples."