« PreviousContinue »
.* Lord Albemarle confirms what has long since been a recognised fact out of France-that not a single square was broken; and that the Cuirassiers (Napoleon said at St. Helena, for want of a leader like Murat) could never be brought to charge home. Lord Albemarle describes them as passing and repassing between his square and the next, which they had made a show of assailing:
'As soon as they were clear of our battalion, two faces of the attacked square opened fire. At the same instant the British gunners on our right who, at the approach of the Cuirassiers had thrown themselves at the feet of our front rank men, returned to their guns and poured in a murderous fire of grape into the flying enemy. For some seconds the smoke of the cross fire was so dense that not a single object in front of us was discernible. When it cleared away, the Imperial horsemen were seen flying in disorder. The matted hill was strewed with dead and dying, horses galloping away without riders, and dismounted Cuirassiers running out of the fire as fast as their heavy armour would allow them.f
6 This is the last incident that I remember of that eventful Sunday.
'At sunset I found myself at Hougoumont, in the immediate neighbourhood of which I had been posted the greater part of the day. I bivouacked that night under a tree facing the entrance to the Château. When about a quarter of a century ago I visited the field of battle in company with my son Bury, I looked in vain for the tree, the roots of which had served me for a pillow. It was gone. The battle had been alike destructive of vegetable and animal life. The whole range of those fine elms which formed the avenue to the Château had died of wounds received in the action.'
The next morning the army advanced to Nivelles, a nine miles' march; and he speaks of a breakfast with his Colonel as being almost the first food he and his Captain had tasted since they left their cantonment (on the 16th):
Ces braves cavaliers (the Cuirassiers), malgré la grêle de balles qui pleuvaient sur eux, tombèrent à bride abattue sur les carrés de la division Alten, et en renversèrent plusieurs qu'ils se mirent à sabrer avec fureur. (Thiers, vol. xxii. p. 223.) 'L'infortunée division Alten, déjà si maltraitée, est culbutée cette fois, et le 69° anglais est haché en entier. . . . Plusieurs carrés sont rompus," p. 227. Elle (la brigade Keliermann) ouvre de nouvelles brèches dans la seconde ligne de l'infanterie britannique, renverse plusieurs carrés,' &c., p. 229. He had already stated that three squares were broken at Quatre Bras.
General Mercer, whose troop of horse artillery was posted close to Lord Albemarle's regiment, says that the French cavalry were decimated and in confasion from the effects of grape and case shot before they reached the squares in his immediate vicinity; one of which (Brunswickers) he thinks would not have resisted a decided charge. (Journal of the Waterloo Campaign,' vol. i. p. 314.)
'Meals on the march to Paris were few and far between. Indeed if it had not been for an occasional hard-boiled egg from the pistolholster of a friendly field-officer, I should have hardly imbibed sufficient nourishment to sustain life. Even Tidy, an old campaigner, and likely from his position (Colonel of the 14th) to have his full share of what was procurable, says in one of his letters, "I am quite well, though sleeping out, and going often without food."
He entered Paris barefooted, and in rags.' An opportune remittance enabled him to repair the deficiencies of his attire, with the exception of the uniform; and he witnessed some characteristic scenes, which he describes lightly and pleasantly. Considering the elation at the victory, we learn with surprise that before the end of the year a revulsion of feeling had set in:
The country was satiated with glory, and was brooding over the bill that it had to pay for the article. An anti-military spirit had set in. Waterloo and Waterloo men were at a discount. We were made painfully sensible of the change. If we had been convicts disembarking from a hulk we could hardly have met with less consideration. "It's us as pays they chaps," was the remark of a country bumpkin as our men came ashore.'
They landed at Dover on a bitter winter day: no cheers welcomed them; and the only persons who took any notice of them were the Custom-house officers, who caused them to be kept for hours, under arms, in the cold to be searched. This extraordinary strictness was not altogether without excuse; a brigade of artillery, their guns loaded to the muzzle with French lace, having recently evaded search.
'Our treatment throughout the day was all of a piece. Towards dusk we were ordered to Dover Castle, part of which building served as a prison. Our barracks were strictly in keeping with such a locality-cold, dark, gloomy, and dungeon-like. No food was to be had but our "ration." No furniture procurable but what the barrack stores afforded. In this bitter winter's night, the first of my return from campaigning, I lay on a bed of straw.'
Early in January the battalion was ordered at a moment's notice to Ramsgate, there to take shipping for the south of Ireland, and their baggage was embarked on board the 'Sea Horse' transport, when an order equally unexpected arrived for its disembarkation and the immediate disbandment of the battalion. Any mortification and regret that he and his brother officers may have felt at finding their military career thus suspended or cut short, was considerably modified when they learnt that they were probably indebted to the caprice of the Horse Guards for their lives.
'On the 26th of January of this year, the "Sea Horse" sailed from the Downs, having on board, instead of my regiment, the headquarters of the 59th, and a few days later was wrecked off Kinsale. The numbers on board, counting women and children, amounted to 394. Of these, 365 were drowned; among the saved was neither woman nor child.
The troops that relieved us at Deal met a like fate.
"The "Lord Melville" and the Boadicea" transports sailed at the same time with the "Sea Horse." Like their consort, they also were lost off Kinsale. The "Lord Melville" saved all her crew but Out of 280 in the "Boadicea," only 60 were saved.'
Beyond a paragraph in the newspapers, no public notice was taken of these catastrophes. There was no Plimsoll to rouse attention or compel inquiry, and things went on precisely as before. It was the common talk of the mess-table that, since the return of peace, soldiers had become a drug in the market, whilst freight was a costly commodity; and that vessels, unfit to carry coals from Newcastle to London, were taken up to convey troops to all parts of the world.
'It was frequently my lot, as a subaltern, to sail in one of these coal-tubs; and often in a gale of wind I have fervently wished that the craft in which I was a passenger might prove a better swimmer than-the "Sea Horse."
He had ample experience of the mode of transporting troops, being ordered first to Zante and Corfu and then to the Mauritius. On his return home (in 1818) he lands at St. Helena, where his principles as a Bonapartist would not allow him to join a party who went to Longwood in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the Emperor. He lost nothing by his forbearance. His comrades returned disappointed, and with a certain feeling of injury. The beast,' they said, 'would not stir out of his den." Lord Albemarle's style is that of a lively rather discursive talker, who frequently turns aside to introduce any striking occurrence or reflection that is incidentally suggested to him.. Thus the mention of St. Helena recalls a conversation with the late Comte de Jarnac, who was one of the Commissioners for bringing back the remains of Napoleon.
Shortly before Napoleon's decease, as the Marshal was leaning over his bed to learn his wishes, the Emperor said feebly, "C'est vous Bertrand que me fermerez les yeux." The Marshal heard the words, but did not seize their import. "Parce que," added Napoleon, "naturellement ils restent ouverts." In mentioning this incident to de Jarnac, Bertrand added, "C'est singulier, mais je ne le savais pas "singular indeed, that such a well-known phenomenon should have escaped the notice of one so conversant with ́battle-fields!'
The relative importance of things and persons, as dependent upon locality, was thus naively illustrated by one of the belles of
The landing of a corps of officers, even for a couple of weeks, created quite a sensation in the beau monde of Jamestown. But the gay season was when the East Indiamen used to anchor in the harbour for water and provisions. A young lady of the island dancing with a Captain of one of these vessels, said to him, "How dull London must be when all you gentlemen are away!"'
Soon after his return, Lord Albemarle was appointed equerry to the Duke of Sussex, and accompanied his Royal Highness to the public dinner given at Norwich in January, 1820, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of Charles James Fox, but in reality as a protest against the Tory ministry which had just succeeded in passing the famous 'Six Acts.' They take Holkham on their way down, and their host, Coke of Norfolk,' afterwards Earl of Leicester, is freshly and honourably remembered, not for the first time. In a preceding chapter we find :
'In 1784, William Pitt the younger, wishing to draw Coke, of Holkham, from his allegiance to his rival, Fox, sought to bribe him. with the earldom of Leicester, which had been previously in his family. The offer was indignantly refused. To spite Coke the Premier bestowed the title upon his near neighbour, George Townshend, eldest son of the " Captain" in the preceding letter, who had now succeeded to the family honours. Before accepting Pitt's offer, Mr. Townshend wrote to his father to ask his approval and received for answer :
"I have no objection to your taking any title but that of your affectionate father,
Three years later the Viscount himself was advanced to the dignity of Marquis. This jumping over each other's head was likened by the wags of the day to a family game at leap-frog.'
'I had this anecdote,' it is added in a note, 'from Mr. Coke himself, who, in 1837, was raised to the peerage by the title which he then (in 1784) refused.'
Even on the hackneyed subject of the Queen's Trial, Lord Albemarle can produce something new, or at all events, something that will have the attraction of novelty to the great majority of readers:
'She was received at the threshold (of the House of Lords) by Sir Thomas Tyrrwhitt, Usher of the Black Rod. The Queen had known him while she was living under her husband's roof. Well, Sir Thomas," she is reported to have said, "what is your master trying
me for? Is it for intermarrying with a man whose first wife I knew to be alive?”›
'People used at this time to speculate how many sickly or elderly peers would owe their death to the Pains and Penalties Bill. I remember seeing some verses of Lord Erskine, which, after pointing out the baneful influence that the measure would have on public morals, ended by saying that the only living creatures that would derive benefit from it would be
"Peers' eldest sons, law advisers, and-grouse."
He had almost forgotten that he was a soldier, when he was reminded of the fact by a missive from the Horse Guards, intimating that Lieutenant Keppel, of the 24th Regiment, was to join a detachment under orders to India; and to India he goes, where, with his usual luck in getting constantly acquainted or mixed up with people of mark, he is within a few days of his arrival at Calcutta appointed to an opportune vacancy in the personal staff of the Governor-General, the Marquis of Hastings. One of his most agreeable duties was to attend the GovernorGeneral on his elephantine' rides :
I used greatly to enjoy these elephantine rides. It was gratifying to a youngster to be on terms of familiar intercourse with a man who, as soldier, orator, or statesman, had been before the world for nearly half a century. On public occasions Lord Hastings was the most stately of human beings; you then saw only the haughty ruler over a hundred and odd millions of fellow-creatures; but tête-à-tête in a howdah he was totally different, would talk freely on all subjects, and make no secret of his disputes with the East India Directors, who were everything in his eyes but his "much approved and esteemed good masters." But the subject that most interested me was his military life, beginning from 1773, when as Francis Rawdon, Captain of Grenadiers, he had two bullets through his cap at the battle of Bunker's Hill, up to 1817, when by strategically concentrating the armies of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay, on a given spot on a given. day, he annihilated the Pindarrees and wholly subverted the power of the Mahrattas.'
On New Year's Day, 1823, Lord Hastings resigned in a huff with the Company, and in the following November Lieutenant Keppel started on a long projected homeward journey by Bassorah, Bagdad, Astracan, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. As his adventures and observations on the way were soon afterwards given to the public, it is unnecessary to dwell upon them. He reached England in November, 1824, and in February, 1825, was gazetted to a captaincy, by purchase, in the 62nd Regiment, quartered in Ireland. He set out to join, fully resolved to make up for lost time by a strict attention to regimental duties; but a new colonel