SIR GEORGE NAPIER.*
Tins is a book to be very grateful for. Not only does it add to our knowledge of the Peninsular War, and especially of the glorious tragedy of Corufia; not only does it throw fresh light upon the characters and careers of the Duke of Wellington and Sir John Moore, and in a lesser degree on those of lesser men like Lord Hopetoun and Sir David Baird ; but it makes known to us a singularly worthy and modest man, as well as a perfectly loyal and absolutely fearless soldier. Sir George Napier, who was born in 1784, and to whom, therefore, the publication by his sou of this delightful chapter of autobiography is a most appropriate centenary memorial, is the least celebrated of the three brothers so well known in the beginning of the century as " Wellington's Colonels." He has been overshadowed by the fame of the hero of Scinde, who was to Wellington very much what Dundonald was to Nelson, and by the still greater fame of the prose Homer of the Peninsular War. Possibly lie was not so able or ambitious as either his elder or his younger brother ; the Governorship of the Cape was the sole office of much importance that he held after the close of the Peninsular War. In this narrative, which was written in 1828, " entirely for the instruction and amusement of his children, and not with any view to publication," he repeatedly contrasts his ON-711 indolence or incapacity with the energy of " Uncle Charles," or the intellectual endowment (once it is even the "cursed longlegs ") of " Uncle William." But sometimes it is the least famous of a family that best represents and transmits its characteristics. Thus it was the humbler Carlyles, according to Thomas, and not himself or even John, that reproduced the simple Ecclefechan virtues, which it was his fate to preach rather than to practise. Such may have been the lot of Sir George Napier. The value of the narrative now published for the first time may lie in its disclosing to us the true Napier " grit," the moral foundation of the success of Charles in the field, and of William in literature.
In his preface to the autobiographical narrative of his father's early life, General W. Napier warns us that "if the language used and the lessons of morality and conduct inculcated appear to be simple and homely, it must be recollected that the narrative was written for boys and girls of a tender age." There was no necessity for even this phantom of an apology. Had there been anything in Sir George Napier's " lessons " of the character of " preaching cant," it might have been desirable to apologise for them. But naivete, not obtrusive morality, is the note of this book. Who but a simple gentleman of the Thomas Newcome type would have revealed, would not rather have taken pains to conceal, early drinking, debts, and what be terms, like Bunyan, " debauchery " ? Who but such a man, when telling his story to children " of a tender age," would have remarked on the fact that there are " pretty girls " in Limerick ; or have given the details of an innocent frolic be and some brother officers had with certain Portuguese ladies in Lisbon, while ordering his sons, as a point of honour, to defend the female sex from insult and impertinence ? Sir George Napier's " lessons " are all directed to the same end. His sons are enjoined under no consideration to neglect " duty," which is in his eyes undoubtedly " the stern daughter of the voice of God." In language truly worthy of an old Roman, he implores, or rather commands, them to consider what they owe to their country before what they owe even to him. Ile points out little blunders of his own, venial neglects of military details, that they may go and not do likewise. Yet, mingled with this austerity, we find tenderness, and genuine consideration for others. Once, when hurrying on a duty that demanded breakneck rapidity, he was implored by a wounded French soldier for a drink of water from his flask. He found himself unable to comply with this request, and in his narrative justifies himself, but with evident reluctance. He shows, too, great thoughtfulness and respect for private soldiers,—qualities which be had in common with his brother Charles, to whose honour it will always be remembered that be was the first British General of eminence to record in
his despatches the deeds of such as well as of their officers. Here is what be says of the conduct, in the Peninsular War, of John Dunn, an Irishman, enlisted by himself personally, who, hearing that he and his brother William had been wounded, travelled a long distance to see them, and who, in character, seems to have been a good representation of that
" Sad, happy race, soon raised and soon depressed, Their lives all passed in jeopardy and jest."
" By heavens ! it makes my anger rise and my blood boil to hear people talk of soldiers as if they were a different race of beings from themselves. Uere was a poor fellow, an Irishman and a Catholic, who, out of pure affection for his officer, having seen his brother killed by his side in action, and suffered the amputation of his own arm, walks near seven miles, without meat or drink, to see his captain, who he knew was severely wounded ! Could a brother have done more ? Brave comrade, I never can, or ever will, forget your conduct on that day. As long as I have the means you shall not want if I am aware of it. He was sent home and well pensioned, and has ever since been travelling about England as a hawker or pedlar. I have several times well clothed him, fed him, and started him afresh with a new set of little things to sell, and twice taken him out of gaol, to which he had been sent for not having a regular licence to sell ; indeed, for two or three years after the war he was an expensive job ! I think he cost me about fifteen or twenty pounds a year; but latterly I was obliged to be more strict with him, and fairly tell him I could only give him relief once a year, because I got him a large pension, and he had nothing to provide. But I am afraid I must confess my old comrade has the failing, so habitual to old discharged soldiers, of not being able to refrain from drink whenever it can be bad ; something like my other poor old soldier, Mark Cann, whom you know so well, and who will soon kill himself I am afraid ; but till be does cease to exist I must be kind to him. The last time I saw Dann he promised me faithfully ho would take up' and give over drinking; and as I have not seen him for two or three years, I am in hopes he is doing well, being perfectly certain that whenever be is in any distress he will make his appearance at my house ; indeed, he has directions for so doing. He married a woman with some money and respectable relations, but they parted in consequence of 'the drop of drink,' as be told me himself ; and added, with an arch expression of his eye, 'and no blame till her.' And now, boys, whenever you see a poor, lame soldier, recollect John Dunn, and never, as you value my love and affection, pass him coldly by. You never saw a soldier sent from my door without inquiry into his case; and never shall, if I know it, for I conceive it to be my bounden duty to see and relieve those who, although from circumstances in a lower grade than myself, fought as bravely and bled as freely as I ever did for that country which is the common parent of all Britons ! and for whose cause the private soldier fights with as much enthusiasm as the General ; and without the soldier's—I mean the private soldier's—steady, intrepid, and gallant execution of his duty, where would be the military glory that has saved England ?"
"Than this we could give nothing better fitted to indicate the fibre—the Napier fibre—of the man, or the quality of his book.
Sir George Napier, when a boy, thought of the Navy and of the Church before he joined the Army. Nevertheless, he was not six
teen when he obtained a commission in the 24th Light Dragoons. His father, finding the lad inclining to "dissipation," had him transferred to the 46th Foot Regiment. What was really the making of him, however, was his appointment in 1802 to the 52nd Light Infantry, then in Chatham, and under Sir John Moore. Sir .John Moore " received me very kindly, turned me round, looked at me, and then laughingly said :—` Oh, you will do ; I see you are a good cut of a light infantry man ; come and dine with me.' "
We soon hear the last of his very " mild viciousness." He and two other young officers finding themselves in debt to the pay
master of their regiment, resolved to absent themselves from the mess, and to live on bread and milk till they extricated themselves from their embarrassments. They kept their pledge. George Napier was on the most intimate terms with Sir John Moore, accompanied him to Sicily and the Baltic, and in 1808 to the Peninsula. He was Sir John's aide-de-camp there ; and the earlier portion of his narrative is an additional justification— though that was not required—of that gallant commander's retreat to Coruna. It confirms, also, the statements that have been made as to the demoralisation of the British Army during the retreat. The men, disappointed at not having fought a battle, and fatigued by the length and rapidity of the retreat,
" Became totally disorganised, and disregarding all discipline and throwing off the authority of their officers, detached themselves in large parties, straggling, drinking, and pillaging in the most shameful and infamous manner Sir John Moore halted the whole army, and addressed each division upon its infamous, disgraceful conduct ; he called upon the soldiers to recollect they were Englishmen, and not to disgrace their country and the bright lustre of the name of Britons by such disorders and such beastly drunkenness. He told them that, rather than command men who behaved in such an infamous manner, be prayed to God that the first bullet fired by the enemy might enter his heart, for he would much rather be
dead than command such an army The men were not so much to blame as the officers ; for I fearlessly assert that, generally speaking, the officers of that army were more en
gaged in looking after themselves and their own comforts, and openly murmuring against the Commander-in-Chief, than in looking after the soldiers and keeping up proper discipline."
Sir George Napier admits Sir David Baird to have been a brave man, but he thought he ought to have been in Moore's place ; and Napier tells a story which speaks ill of his temper, to say the least. As aide-de camp, Napier was sent to Sir David's quarters with a despatch, to be forwarded to General Fraser, who was then marching to Cortina by a different route from the main body of the army, ordering him to join it. When he arrived he offered to Sir David to take the despatch to General Fraser on getting a fresh mount. Sir David, however, gruffly told Napier that that was his business, and that be would send on the despatch by a dragoon. The dragoon got drunk and lost the despatch, and so much valuable time was lost.
The bulk of this book is filled with details of Sir George Napier's services under Wellington. These are very interesting, especially from the personal point of view, as they include wounds, adventures, and hairbreadth escapes, and reveal the deep affection which united George Napier to his brothers, Charles and William, the former of whom was taken prisoner at Coruna,
and even believed for a time to be dead. His mode of return to his home was eminently characteristic. " Your grandmother
received a scrap of paper upon which was written, Hudibras !
you lie, you lie ! for I have been slain, and I live to fight again ! ' Upon getting this note, which was written from Plymouth, your
aunts, Louisa and Emily, and myself, set off to meet him, and, arriving at Exeter, who should we spy on top of the coach but your uncle, in his old red coat out at elbows, and covered with dust ; his face pale, and his beard and whiskers as black as coal ; in short, he looked like an old Chelsea pensioner." But it would he impossible to do justice to the personal portion of Sir George's narrative without making lengthy quotations, for which we have no space.
One very excellent feature of this narrative deserves to be noted,—the endeavour of the author to do strict justice to those whom he criticises. Thus, he says of General Cranford :—" Brilliant as some of the traits of his character were, and notwithstanding the good and generous feelings which often burst forth like a bright gleam of sunshine from behind a dark and heavy cloud, still there was a sullenness which seemed to brood in his inmost soul and generate passions which knew no bounds." It would be difficult for one man to admire another more than Sir George Napier admired the Duke of Wellington ; he evidently regarded him as the superior of Napoleon. In his narrative, nevertheless, he admits that the Duke " always kept to that system of never acknowledging he was wrong or mistaken." One positively sad case of this iron infallibility is here recorded. Colonel Sturgeon, an able and experienced staff officer, made a mistake after the battle of Orthez, which caused a delay of several days in the sending-off of important despatches. For this, he was so violently and even furiously reprimanded in public by Wellington, that he virtually committed suicide by galloping into a body of French sharpshooters. Yet Wellington, in a despatch after the event, simply recorded the fact, " Colonel Sturgeon, of the Staff Corps, was killed by the enemy's sharpshooters." Happily, Wellington is revealed in more amiable moods than this. Lord March, his aide-de-camp, was severely wounded at
Orthez. He was lying in bed, with a doctor at his side, when " the door of the room gently opened and a figure in a white
cloak and military hat walked up to the bed, drew the curtains quietly aside, looked steadily for a few seconds on the pale countenance before him, then leaned over, stooped his head, and
pressed his lips on the forehead of Lord March, heaved a deep
sigh, and turned to leave the room, when the doctor, who had anxiously watched every movement, beheld the countenance of Wellington, his cheek wet with tears. He had ridden many a mile that night alone, to see his favourite young soldier, the son of his dearest friend."