Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

Gibraltar.–5 June 18th,” his diary says, “Cape Spartel in sight, but no French fleet, nor any inform ation about them. How sorrowful this makes me but I cannot help myself.” The next day he an chored at Gibraltar; and on the 20th, says he, “] went on shore for the first time since June 16, 1803 and from having my foot out of the Victory, two years, wanting ten days."

Here he communicated with his old friend Collingwood; who, having been detached with a squadron, when the disappearance of the combined fleets, and of Nelson in their pursuit, was known in England, had taken his station off Cadiz. He thought that Ireland was the enemy's ultimate object, that they would now liberate the Ferrol squadron, which was blocked up by Sir Robert Calder,--call for the Rochefort ships, and then appear off Ushant with three or four-and-thirty sail ; there to be joined by the Brest fleet. With this great force he supposed they would make for Ireland, the real mark and bent of all their operations: and their flight to the West Indies, he thought, had been merely undertaken to take off Nelson's force, which was the great impediment to their un.. dertaking. · Collingwood was gifted with great political penetration. As yet, however, all was conjecture concerning the enemy; and Nelson, having victualled and watered at Tetuan, stood for Ceuta on the 24th, still without information of ineir course. Next day intelligence arrived that the Curieux brig had seen them on the 19th, standing to the northward. He proceeded off Cape. St. Vincent, rather cruising for intelligence than knowing whither to betake himself: and here a case occurred, that more than any other event in real history resembles those whimsical proofs of sagacity which Voltaire, in his Zadig, has borrowed from the Orientals. One of our frigates spoke an American, who, a little to the westward of

the Azores, had fallen in with an armed vessel, appearing to be a dismasted privateer, deserted by her crew, which had been run on board by another ship, and had been set fire to; but the fire had gone out. A log-book and a few seamen's jackets were found in the cabin ; and these were brought to Nelson. The log-book closed with these words; “ Two large vessels in the W. N. W.:" and this led him to con, clude that the vessel had been an English privateer, cruising off the Western Islands. But there was in this book a scrap of dirty paper, filled with figures. Nelson immediately, upon seeing it, observed, that the figures were written by a Frenchman; and, after studying this for a while, said, “ I can explain the whole. The jackets are of French manufacture, and prove that the privateer was in possession of the enemy. She had been chased and taken by the two ships that were seen in the W. N. W. The prizemaster, going on board in a hurry, forgot to take with him his reckoning: there is none in the logo book; and the dirty paper contains her work for the number of days since the privateer last left Corvo; with an unaccounted-for run, which I take to have been the chase, in his endeavour to find out her situation by back reckonings. By some mismanagement, I conclude, she was run on board of by one of the enemy's ships, and dismasted. Not liking delay (for I am satisfied that those two ships were the advanced ones of the French squadron), and fancying we were close at their heels, they set fire to the vessel, and abandoned her in a hurry. If this explanation be correct, I infer from it, that they are gone more to the northward ; and more to the northward I will look for them." This course accordingly he held, but still without success. Still persevering, and still disappointed, he returned near enough to Cadiz to ascertain that they were not there ; traversed the Bay of Biscay; and then, as a last hope, stood over for the north-west coast of Ireland,

against adverse winds, till on the evening of the 12th of August, he learned that they had not been heard of there. Frustrated thus in all his hopes, after a pursuit, to which, for its extent, rapidity, and perseverance, no parallel can be produced, he judged it best to reinforce the channel fleet with his squadron, lest the enemy, as Collingwood apprehended, should bear down upon Brest with their whole collected force. On the 15th he joined Admiral Cornwallis off Ushant. No news had yet been obtained of the enemy; and on the same evening he received orders to proceed, with the Victory and Superb, to Portsmouth.

CHAPTER IX.

Sir Robert Calder falls in with the combined Fleets-They form a Junc.

tion with the Ferrol Squadron, and get into Cadiz- Nelson is reappointed to the Command-Battle of Trafalgar-Victory, and Death of Nelson.

AT Portsmouth, Nelson, at length, found news of the combined fleet. Sir Robert Calder, who had been sent out to intercept their return, had fallen in with them on the 22d of July, sixty leagues west of Cape Finisterre. Their force consisted of twenty sail of the line, three fifty-gun ships, five frigates, and two brigs: his, of fifteen line-of-oattle ships, two frigates, a cutter, and a lugger. After an action of four hours he had captured an eighty-four and a seventy-four, and then thought it necessary to bring-to the squadron, for the purpose of securing their prizes. The hostile fleets remained in sight of each other till the 26th, when the enemy bore away. The capture of two ships from so superior a force would have been considered as no inconsiderable victory a few years earlier; but Nelson

had introduced a new era in our naval history; and the nation felt, respecting this action, as he had felt on a somewhat similar occasion. They regretted that Nelson, with his eleven ships, had not been in Sir Robert Calder's place; and their disappointment was generally and loudly expressed.

Frustrated as his own hopes had been, Nelson had yet the high satisfaction of knowing that his judgment had never been more conspicuously approved, and that he had rendered essential service to his country, by driving the enemy from those islands, where they expected there could be no force capable of opposing them. The West India merchants in London, as men whose interests were more immediately benefited, appointed a deputation to express their thanks for his great and judicious exertions. It was now his intention to rest awhile from his labours, and recruit himself, after all his fatigues and cares, in the society of those whom he loved. All his stores were brought up from the Victory; and he found in his house at Merton the enjoyment which he had anticipated. Many days had not elapsed before Captain Blackwood, on his way to London with despatches, called on him at five in the morning. Nelson, who was already dressed, exclaimed, the moment he saw him: “I am sure you bring me news of the French and Spanish fleets! I think I shall yet have to beat them!" They had refitted at Vigo, after the indecisive action with Sir Robert Calder; then procecded to Ferrol, brought out the squadron from thence, and with it entered Cadiz in safety. “Depend on it, Blackwood,” he repeatedly said, “I shall yet give M. Villeneuve a drubbing." But when Blackwood had left him, he wanted resolution to declare his wishes to Lady Hamilton and his sisters, and endeavoured to drive away the thought.--He had done enough he said, “Let the man trudge it who has lost his budget!" His countenance belied his lips; and as he was pacing one of the walks in the garden, which he used to call the quarter-deck, Lady Hamilton came up to him, and told him she saw he was uneasy. He smiled, and said: “No, he was as happy as possible; he was surrounded by his family, his health was better since he had been on shore, and he would not give sixpence to call the king his uncle.” She replied, that she did not believe him,-that she knew he was longing to get at the combined fleets—that he considered them as his own property,—that he would be miserable if any man but himself did the business; and that he ought to have them, as the price and reward of his two years' long watching, and his hard chase. “Nelson,” said she, “however we may lament your absence, offer your services ;-they will be accepted, and you will gain a quiet heart by it: you will have a glorious victory, and then you may return here and be happy." He looked at her with tears in his eyes :-“Brave Emma !-Good Emma!-If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons."

His services were as willingly accepted as they were offered; and Lord Barham, giving him the list of the navy, desired him to choose his own officers. “ Choose yourself, my lord,” was his reply : “ the same spirit actuates the whole profession: you cannot choose wrong.” Lord Barham then desired him to say what ships, and how many he would wish, in addition to the feet which he was going to command, and said they should follow him as soon as each was ready. No appointment was ever more in unison with the feelings and judgment of the whole nation. They, like Lady Hamilton, thought that the destruction of the combined fleets ought properly to be Nelson's work; that he, who had been

" Half around the sea-girt ball,

The hunter of the recreant Gaul,"*

* Songs of Trafalgar.

« ПредишнаНапред »