« AnteriorContinuar »
narrative and vivid description. The remainder of the work, as it is mostly occupied with an account of some brilliant naval actions in the war of 1812, the story of which is already familiar to most American readers, may be passed over very hurriedly. The capture of the Macedonian and the loss of the President almost equally enhanced the reputation of Decatur, and showed that the glare of uninterrupted success was not necessary to the continuance of his popularity and fame.
In one respect, the successful issue of the Tripolitan war proved rather an injury than a benefit to the American navy. It encouraged the preposterous theory, that fortifications and gunboats were sufficient for coast defence, while cruising vessels were costly superfluities. The excitement of party politics first gave currency to this pernicious error, and Congress blindly followed it for several years. The consequence was, that, at the beginning of the last war with England, our naval force consisted of five frigates, two of which were unseaworthy, and a few smaller vessels. A law passed some time before had reduced the number of seamen on the peace establishment to what was hardly the complement of a single ship of the line. While the English fleets were sweeping the seas, the cabinet thought it imprudent for this petty force to venture out of harbour ; though we cannot see why they dreaded the loss of an arrnament which they believed to be worthless. The spirited remonstrances of Captains Bainbridge and Stewart prevented this craven suggestion from going into effect; the ships were allowed to sail, and in less than six months the little navy had fought itself into a degree of popularity and renown which the politicians of no subsequent day have dared to attack.
Naval contests are the most brilliant and imposing of all the forms of war. They are attended with much of the pomp and circumstance of battle, with much that appeals strongly to the imagination, and kindles some of the most generous and noble feelings of our nature. We may raise the gorgeous curtain of victory, it is true, and see behind it enough of the sickening details of bloodshed and personal suffering to inspire a general detestation of warlike triumphs. But these are smaller, in proportion to the brilliancy of the result obtained, than the frightful consequences of a battle in which large armies are arrayed against each other; and they are accompanied by many circumstances that dignify and support the sufferers, and lessen the sense of bereavement to the survivors. Patriotic and chivalrous sentiments are more fully developed in the naval than the land service; the inevitable horrors of a conflict are never aggravated by personal hate; and the generous combatants themselves so willingly barter suffering and death for fame, that we are more inclined to congratulate than to pity them. The sailor identifies himself with his ship and his country, and exults so heartily in their triumph that he feels not his own wounds, and the near approach even of the king of terrors cannot appall him. And the fury of actual conflict is so quickly followed by the generous feeling of pity and respect for the vanquished, that the injury already done seems almost to have been involuntary; the nobleness of the victor makes us forget the stain on the homicide. In several instances, as in that of the Hornet and the Peacock, some of the conquerors have sacrificed their own lives in the attempt to rescue a drowning enemy. The code of naval etiquette, both before and after the real engagement, preserves some of the noblest features of the institution of chivalry. We offer no apology for the horrors of war, however disguised; but if the progress of civilization and Christianity cannot do away with them entirely, let us pray that they may be confined to the sea.
Commander Mackenzie's book is a fine specimen of naval biography, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his calling,
To our own seamen it must become what Southey's fascinating Life of Nelson has long been to the members of the British navy, the text-book of excellence in the service, the authentic and striking portrait of the favorite hero of the profession. Our author, indeed, has this advantage over Southey, that, while he writes with equal fluency and spirit, his long experience at sea, and his sympathy with a brother officer and sailor, give a precision and vivacity to his record of naval exploits which a landsman can never obtain. If he has fallen a little into the common error of excessive admiration of his subject, the judicious reader will easily make the necessary deductions from the eulogy, and pardon the natural and characteristic enthusiasm which sometimes distorts the writer's vision. This fault is most apparent in the too lenient notice that he takes of the great stain upon Decatur’s life and character, to which we have already alluded. The practice of duelling is rebuked, it is true ; but not in that earnest and indignant tone which we have now a right to expect, in the advanced state of public opinion on the subject, not merely from the professed moralist, but from every man of just and humane feelings. Decatur, above all men, could have afforded to despise and resist the common prejudice of his profession on this point. His reputation for personal courage stood so high, that any man who had dared to impugn it would have met only the derision of the community. But he had evidently a secret pride in his fame as a duellist, and he gave to the detestable practice the sanction of his name and example long after his influence was such, that, if properly exerted, he might have banished it from the service. Besides the instances already mentioned, in 1818, he acted as second to Commodore Perry in a duel, and in less than two years afterwards he threw away his own life in a similar encounter with Barron.
The story of Decatur's death is told in a plain and succinct manner, with little comment, the deficiency being supplied by the publication in the Appendix of the whole correspondence between the parties. These letters are quite long, and fully disclose the grounds of the fatal quarrel, and the manner in which it was brought to a crisis. We think they do honor to neither of the writers, or rather that they afford no palliation of their guilt. Decatur does not seem to desire a hostile meeting, but he maintains throughout a lofty and scornful manner which would have goaded almost any person into a frantic attempt to obtain revenge. Barron shuffles and negotiates in order to gain a few paltry advantages in the arrangements for the duel, and to throw off upon his opponent the responsibility of giving the challenge. He seems to desire an encounter, and still to shrink from it, so that the correspondence extends over a period of eight or nine months. Barron sought restitution of his rank in the navy after his suspension on account of the affair of the Chesapeake, and after his absence from this country during the whole of the war of 1812. Decatur was then one of the commissioners of the navy, and strenuously opposed granting the request, commenting very freely upon Barron's past conduct, but declaring that he did so from a sense of official duty, and without any feeling of personal enmity. After a long correspondence, reproachful on one side, and contemptuous on the
other, these expressions led to a duel, Barron giving the chal-, lenge. They met at Bladensburg, on the 22d of March, 1820, and both fell, severely wounded at the first fire. Decatur had again manifested his “ merciful reluctance" to take life, by declaring that he would only wound his opponent in the hip; and again he kept bis word. His own wound proved mortal, and he died a few hours afterwards, maintaining unbroken fortitude and composure to the last.
Art. IX. — Hochelaga ; or England in the New World.
Edited by Eliot WARBURTON, Esq., Author of The Crescent and the Cross. New York : Wiley & Putnam. 1846. 2 vols. 12mo.
We find nothing very attractive or inviting in the title of the work before us. It professes to be the ancient name of Canada ; it may have been used by aboriginal historians, but the oldest inhabitant would probably be somewhat puzzled to hear of Hochelaga as the place of his birth, and modern ones have never heard it, unless their lines have fallen in latitudes very different from ours. The title of a book, like a lamp at the street-door, is expected to throw some light on what we are to enter ; if it cannot render this friendly service, it may as well be taken down. Even so do we say of this name, which, like a horn lantern, gives darkness rather than light. The author represents himself as a middle-aged person, well to do in the world. Perhaps he has reached that blissful elevation to which Gobbo aspired, when he should no longer acknowledge his friends, — " And if his name be George, I'll call him Peter.” But whatever satisfaction he may find in it, we would venture to assure him, if he were within the reach of our counsel, that no one will ever thank him for using a term that sounds poetical, in place of one that can be understood.
The book purports to have been written by one hand, and arranged and beautified by another; and in this intimation there is nothing deceptive, though the traveller is doubtless somewhat younger than he professes to be. At least, middle-aged, corpulent gentlemen, of bachelor habits, are not the most likely
of the human race to be carried away by the charms of moosehunting in an unsettled country. It seems very probable that an editor has applied his hand to it, which is not often done with much effort ; his solemn and deliberate speculations are not apt to chime well with the off-hand notes of the journal. The name of Eliot Warburton, who introduces it to the public, is familiar to our readers as the author of a work on the East, a sensible and labored effort, but not so animated and sprightly as a traveller's book should be. Nothing vexes a reader more, when he is expecting a description of things as they are, than to have the pedigree of every city and kingdom patiently set down, speculations on the past and future long drawn out, and volumes of information condensed to instruct him, when all his curiosity turns to the visible and present, and he would rather have ten words of fresh and clear description than acres of philosophical discussion of the same things as they were before the flood. There is something of this communicativeness in the work before us, particularly in the Canadian part. It reminds us of those kind-hearted but uninteresting members of society, who, when they hear a name, start off on a steeple-chase after the line and ancestry to which it belongs. Well written as many parts of these travels are, we lament this kind of heaviness, and are well content that our country, having no past behind it, cannot serve as a subject for such dissertations, but rejoices in a history clear and easily traced as the course of the St. Lawrence from Ontario to the sea.
The first part of this work is wholly given to Canada, its aspect, interests, and affairs ; and of these he speaks with English feeling certainly, but without drawing too jealous a contrast between them and those of the adjacent States. The friends of English authority in those regions have some right to complain of the meddling Sympathizers who tormented them a few years ago. They were made up in part
of those birds of prey who have nothing to do but watch for the buffalo that may be hunted down. Finding that there was likely to be trouble and disaffection in Canada, they turned to it by natural instinct, like doves to their windows ; and, as one or two repudiating States impart the ill-savor of their names to the union, which loathes them as much as it is in nature to do, these untimely vagrants were considered as representing the feeling and fair fame of their country. By reversing the