27 MAY 1882, Page 18


LONGFELLOW'S heroic young man, who requests the Psalmist not to tell him in mournful numbers that life is but an empty dream, takes upon him, in the course of his admonitory pro- test, the office of inductive philosopher, and assures us that the lesson to be derived from the lives of all great men is this,—that we can each make our own life "sublime." We will not charge the poet with "the atrocious crime" of having been the identical young man of his verses ; but all the same, he has caused him to utter sublime nonsense. History, in its vast chronicles, contains but a few names of men whose lives attained to the sublime standard,—men of commanding spiritual insight and supreme elevation of character ; if, indeed, we should not rather say, that if the story of Christ were erased from the annals of humanity, we in this nineteenth century would be found in the bewilder- ing dilemma of being dominated by a sublime ideal to which there was no corresponding reality in concrete fact. Far below the level of the intrinsically sublime, emerge in history the lives of our great men,—great in intellectual endow- ment, great in creative faculty, or great in persistent moral endeavour ; while among these, there are found only the few, like Milton, in whom the abiding aspirations of the heart, after the entire subjection of the will to the commands of the true, the good,. and the beautiful, are not less obviously present than the inspirations of genius. And the moral, which, in any case, is deducible from the life of a great, or a greatly gifted man, is not at all that of individual self-sublimation, but is the twofold one,—first, of thankfulness for the incoming of a fresh factor into the evolution of human progress, for which neither heredity alone, nor society alone, nor both together, can adequately account ; and secondly, of the infinite significance of duty in every, even the humblest, sphere or detail of human activity. To greatness, either intellectual or spiritual, only the few have been chosen. Great thinkers, great poets—and these, too, must have suffered greatly in thought before they could so impress their imaginings on the world as Homer, lEschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare have done— great artists, great philanthropists, great legislators, and great military kings of organisation and of men, are the elect of Heaven. But history can tell of many who, not being great, are eminently respectable, and in all senses good, sufficient, capable in their respective spheres ; and among these, Field- Marshal Sir William Maynard Gomm will always hold a place of his own.

Sir William Gomm had nothing domonisch about him. He was not born to command, though he was raised to the chief command of our forces in India. But he was an admirable lieutenant, agile, fearless, prompt in emergency, wonderfully percipient of the arrangements which a genius superior to his own had planned, and cool as an umpire at a cricket-match

• Letters and Journals of Field-Marshal Sir William Maynard Gomm, G.C.B., Commander-in-Chief of India, Constable of the Tower, &c., from 1799 to Waterloo, 1815. Edited by Frannie Calling Carr-Gomm, H.5f.'s Madras Civil Service. London John Murray. 1881.

ought to be, when, as happened over and over again in his Penin- sular and Belgian experience, his horse was shot- under him. Sir William was short in stature ; and with his quiet, bright, clean-cut physiognomy—so well known for several years on the Brighton promenade—left on the spectator the impres- sion of a compact, upright, cultured, and supremely humane existence. He was almost passionately attached to all the con- temporary representatives of our " remote ancestors," especially dogs and horses. He had considerable skill in music, and was a great lover of the art. He had been a reader from his earliest days, especially of Homer. He was a brother who had loved deeply, and suffered in his loss of two brothers and a sister; and as one saw him reverently worshipping in one of the Brighton churches, it would hardly have occurred to the beholder that the little, grey-headed man had, ere his thirty- second year, been an active assistant in nearly every one of the great battles that had been fought between the first adven- ture of the English in Holland, in 1799, and the Battle of Waterloo.

There runs a story in Scotland which the present volume vividly recalls. In the nursery of a certain south-country house, one of the children was heard crying bitterly, and on the mother of the family rushing to the room, and asking what was the matter, the nurse coolly replied, " Oh, it's only the Major greetin' for his parritch" (porridge). Sir William was never, apparently, one of the " greetin' " tribe, but he had received his commission as ensign in his Majesty's service before the completion of his tenth year, while the same honour was con- ferred on his two younger brothers. In these days "we have changed all that," and instead of Majors blowing their trumpets loudly because they are fasting at early morn, we have competi- tive youths who may never attain their military majority, but who are, perhaps, ready to " greet " over a tough problem in geometry or a stiff passage from Tacitas. That the change has brought a deliverance from serious abuses, no one doubts, but in the case of William Gomm and of his brother Henry, who was wounded in the Pyrenees at the head of his regiment, " encouraging his men, and died, aged thirty, near Geneva, after three years of great suffering," the boy-ensigns did honour to their commissions. And if it be true that Fortes cremator fortibus, there were good grounds for believing that the three brothers—only, Richard died in his sixteenth year—should they reach manhood, would be brave and energetic soldiers, for their father, Lieutenant- Colonel William Gomm, had served with distinction through the American and West Indian wars. He was killed at the storming of Point-4-Petre, in the island of Guadeloupe, July 2nd, 1794; and one anecdote respecting him, which his son, William, found in a number of the Gentleman's Magazine, in the Athenaeum at Liverpool, while serving, though still only in his seventeenth year, as aide-de-camp to General Benson, is here related, to show what manner of man he was :—" Captain of the 55th Regiment, being wounded in the eye at the taking of St. Lucia, Sir William Medows, passing by in the heat of the action, just stopped to regret his misfortune. Do not mind me, sir,' says he ; 'I have only one eye left, with which I hope to see you beat the French army.' Such a speech, made by one in excruciating pain, deserves to be recorded." The son of Captain G— was at no loss in filling up the blank following the initial, and, in writing of the circumstance, he says, " The pleasurable feeling of a youth of sixteen, excited by. accidentally stumbling upon such a memento, will be easily understood."

On the death of his mother, in his twelfth year, young William Gomm and his brothers and sister were placed under the care of their father's sister, Miss Jane Gomm. She seems to have been a most motherly, admirable woman, and, as some indication of her worth, it may be mentioned that she and a Miss Goldsworthy, the " Goully " of Sir William's Letters, were associated as sub-governesses to the princesses the daughters of George III. and Queen Charlotte. To Miss Gomm the great majority of the letters are addressed, and the first one given in this volume, dated " Woolwich, July 8th, 1799," is certainly a very remarkable effusion, from a boy of fourteen. He expresses the greatest anxiety to join his regiment, the 9th, then stationed at Southampton, but ordered to go upon the expedition to Holland, " not," he writes, with the modesty and high sense of duty which were his unfailing characteristics, "that I think I shall be of any service, for that is out of the question, but that I may learn to be of service some future day." His wishes were gratified, and a second letter to Miss Gomm contains a record of his first experience under fire.

It was in the battle of Bergen, or of the Sandhills, that young Gomm first drew his sword. The engagement, which lasted some thirteen hours and a half, and which, after incessant fight- ing and tremendous slaughter on both aides—the 1st Battalion of the 9th, for instance, to which Gomm belonged, being re- duced from 800 to half its strength—produced no definite result whatever, is reflected in the boy's narrative with wonderful clearness. He was in the thick of the fight, arriving, after a march of fifteen miles, on the scene of action at six a.m. ; and a bullet grazed the corner of his left eye, but, to his regret, had left no mark of its impact ten days afterwards. He was quite prepared to die, and felt as cool and cheerful as he had ever done in his life ; but the sight of the brave fellows who, officers and men, sank by his side, was almost too much for him, as we can well believe. Nor will the reader be altogether surprised on learning that after the excitement and the fatigues of this, his first acquaintance with war, " the affairs of this horrid day," to use his own language, the boy-ensign slept, without waking once, for thirty hours.

Sir William Gomm, as has been already indicated, was not endowed with the qualities of a great General; but he possessed a remarkable talent for narrative, and for readers who wish either to have their memories refreshed, or to become acquainted for the first time, from an original and trustworthy source, with the military achievements of our country in her resistance to the arrangements of the able, but intensely selfish and un- scrupulous, Corsican adventurer, who endeavoured to fill the thrones of the Continent with pleasant family satellites of his own Gallican supremacy, we do not remember, as we write, any history or private memorials which could be so helpful to them as the Letters and Journals of Sir William Gomm. We would specially instance the graphic and lucid accounts he has given us of the disastrous Walcheren Expedition, and of the embarkation of the army of the lamented Sir John Moore at Corunna. Gomm's own regiment, though not present, apparently, in the retreat, nor sharing in the victory over Soult which crowned it, had assigned to it the honour of bury- ing the fallen hero, " at dead of night," and Gomm himself was the last fighting Englishman to leave the shore. Of quite equal merit is the record of the battles of Salamanca and Waterloo. Sir William was a splendid scout, and no one will question our statement who reads the narrative of his sixty miles' ride from Salamanca to Valladolid—accomplishing the return journey the next day—to bring back to Sir John Moore the latest tidings of the French movements ; or of his being despatched to Tras-os-Montes on a reconnoitring expedition, the result of which was that on the eve of the battle of Vittoria, 40,000 men, infantry, cavalry, artillery and pontoons, had been carried through districts held to be all but impracticable for even small corps, and planted on the Esla, before the enemy knew that they were even in movement. Sir William Gomm was singularly free, to judge from his letters, from egotism or self-conceit ; and, as the editor truly says, he writes mainly of what he saw, rarely of what he did. And, as an instance of his self•suppression, it ought to be mentioned that no record is found in his correspondence of the circumstance which first brought him specially under the notice of Welling. ton,—that of his hurrying up a couple of guns at a very critical moment, in one of the early Peninsular battles. Sir William seems to have borne the successive honours which were heaped upon him with a genuine humility, as if they had been bestowed in recognition, not of his own merit, but of his endeavours, at all times, to do his best for the service and for his country ; and, perhaps, there is not a finer exhibition of manly resignation under disappointment, than was shown by him when, on arriving from the Mauritius in the Hooghly, he learned that his first appointment by the Horse Guards to the post of Commander inChief in India had been cancelled, and that Sir Charles Napier had already arrived, in possession of the chief command in Calcutta. The editor has executed his task with care and ability, and the volume is one which, while possessing interesting materials for the general reader, is specially to be recommended to the perusal of all young men who have chosen the military profession as their career.