Page images
PDF
EPUB

ral action, it often happened that the greater part of both fleets had repeatedly charged and passed through each other, in all the varieties of an irregular and sanguinary melée ; and, at all events, it seems quite certain, that no calculations had ever been made, nor any principles laid down, to determine the nature or character of the advantages to be gained by an attacking squadron bearing down, as it were in column, on the line of an enemy on the defensive, and separating that line into halves, against either of which it might systematically bring the whole of its own force to act. This, however, and this only, is the mancuvre which Mr Clerk discovered and Rodney carried into operation; and this alone, after its principles had been thus scientifically demonstrated and practically explained, is worthy of the name of a discovery or improvement, or of the competition either of naval officers, or of men of genius at land.

With regard again to the worthy Jcsuit, Père Hoste, we think it is plain to demonstration, that he was at least as innocent of the knowledge we now possess, as the valiant captains who are supposed to have anticipated Rodney, in the time of the Protector; and are confident, that no one who peruses his book, will allege that he had even a remote glimpse of the truths, reasons, and demonstrations, on which the discovery of Clerk was founded.

He bas, to be sure, a brief section entitled, Traverser l'armée Ennemie, and has referred to several battles, with the Dutch especially, in which the hostile fleets are recorded to bave mutually passed through each other. It is perfectly evident, however, that so far from considering this as

a laudable or advisable manœuvre, or being in any degree aware .

of the peculiar advantages which Mr Clerk has proved to belong to it, he regards it as at all times a very rash and desperate proceeding, and has no notion of its possessing these advantages. He says, indeed, in express terms, (p. 393 of the original folio edition of 1697,) that it ought never to be adopted, except in one or other of the following cases, lst, Where one is com

pelled to it, to avoid a greater evil : 2d, Where the enemy, by • leaving a great gap in their own line, leaves a large part of 'ours without an opponent; or, 3d, Where several of the enemy's ships are disabled, in which case, it may be advisable to stand across their line, in order to secure and cut them off

from the rest.' He adds immediately after, as a fourth case,
that if any of our own ships have been surrounded by the enc-
'my, it may be allowable to cross their line, to relieve them; but

that even then, the greatest precaution should be observed, -
6 and in particular, the ships so crossing should keep extremely
close to each other, and during the operation should crowd all
sail, and not think at all of fighting, while it lasts.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1

This, in fact, is the substance of the Reverend Father's obser« vations on crossing the enemy's line; and we leave it to our readers to judge, whether Mr Clerk's Essay can be regarded as a mere amplification, or repetition of them. That the learned Jesuit had not the most distant notion of the actual value and effect of that operation, is demonstrated, indeed, by the tenor of the two immediately preceding sections of his work; one of which is entitled, Forcer les Ennemies au Combat, and the other, Doubler les Ennemies. Now, the true definition of Mr Clerk's maneuvre, corresponds exactly with these titles—and in any treatise which should now be written under these titles, the operation of cutting the line would not only be prominently introduced, but would, in fact, appear almost exclusively and alone. The first great use of the manæuvre undoubtedly is, to force the enemy to battle; and the means it affords for effecting this, is the power it bestows of doubling up on a part of their line, and either dealing with it on terms of decisive advantage, or compelling the whole to come to close and conclusive action. Yet, in the Jesuit's two chapters on these subjects, this manæuvre of cutting the line is never once alluded to ; and plainly was never dreamed of as a means of accomplishing either of the two objects which these titles express. His only recipe for forcing on an action, is for each ship to mark her opponent in the enemy's line, and to bear down on her in such a parallel as to secure the arrival of the whole dans un bel ordre-comme la figure se fait voir ; and the plate accordingly does show the two lines verging towards each other with the most beautiful regularity. There is scarcely any thing added on the subject, but some directions how to bear up and stretch ahead from the leeward; and an admonition occasionally to detach a few of the best sailers to advance on the enemy's van, and retard them till the rest can come up. The chapter on Doubling on the Enemy, is still more decisive—the only direction for effecting that object being, to leave a part of your rear to take the opposite flank of the enemy, after the rest of your line has ranged fairly along theirs from end to end, on the other flank; an operation which can only be performed with safety, he says, when you outnumber the enemy by so many ships as to leave a disposable tail (queue is the word) for that purpose, after all the rest have been properly fitted with partners : Where there is not this superiority, the manœuvre, he says, can only be accomplished by leaving a large gap in a part of your own line, opposite to the weakest part of the enemy's, and in this way getting the said disposable tail to drop behind the extreme rear of the enemy, and then to pass by, or round it—by no means through-and so to run up on the opposite flank from that on which your original line is already ranged in order. From first to last, there is not a hint of doubling on the enemy by means of cutting their line in the middle.

So much then for the old practice, and the earlier discovery of Father Hoste. If Mr Clerk had studied that work from his infan. cy, it is plain he could have learned nothing from it of what he was afterwards destined to discover and explain. But the truth is, we believe, that, at the time of publishing his own work, he bad never seen or heard of it. It is certain that he had no copy of it in his library;* and if it had been within his knowledge, we are convinced he would have mentioned it-not certainly

as a source from which he had derived any information—but as a striking example of the possibility of studying and writing elaborately on a subject, without perceiving its most obvious and important capabilities. We now return to the question properly before us.

The first fact, and it is one of vital importance in the cause, is, that long previous to 1782, Mr Clerk had fully ascertained and demonstrated, by reasoning and calculation, the advantages of bearing down in column on the enemy's line, and cutting it in two. This is conceded on all hands, and has never, indeed, been disputed. It may also be assumed, we think, that he arrived at this conclusion by his own unassisted reflection and observation, and without aid either from Paul Hoste, or the accounts of Dutch battles : at all events, it is quite certain that, in these his private studies and meditations, he had learned nothing from Sir George Rodney or Sir Charles Douglas, and was no way indebted to them for whatever he had then made out, in his learned retirement at Eldin. It is admitted by the advocates of both these gallant officers, and made, indeed, a part of their case, that the idea of such a maneuvre had not occurred to either of them, till very recently before it was reduced to practice; and, indeed, as to one of them, till the very moment of its actual execution. Undoubtedly, in January 1780, neither of them had contemplated such a mode of proceeding—most probably had never heard of it; or, at best, knew it only as a violation of the established rules for engaging an enemy, for which, among other imputed errors in his action off Toulon, in 1744, Admiral Mathews had been broke by the sentence of a general court-martial. But

* We do not know where the Quarterly Reviewer learned that, till his notice of it, Hoste's book was not to be found, and bad never even been heard of in Edinburgh. The writer of this article, by no means either a curious collector, or a student of naval tactics, has had a copy of it in that city for more than twenty years ; and bad been familiar with another for a still longer period.

before January 1780, it is certain and admitted, that Mr Clerk had completed his demonstration of its incalculable advantages; and was at that time the only individual who either believed in its practicability, or knew the reasons on which that belief could be defended.

This is the first and fundamental fact in the case. The second is, that Mr Clerk, when in London, from November 1779, till February 1780, was most anxious to communicate his theory of naval tactics, and especially his project of breaking the enemy's line, both to scientific and to professional persons, and particularly to Sir George Rodney, with an intimate and confidential friend of whom he bad various meetings by appointment, expressly for this purpose, and who undertook to make the communication, retaining in his hands for this end the sketches and demonstrations with which Mr Clerk had illustrated bis verbal explanations. He had, at the same time, several meetings with Sir Charles Douglas, in presence of a number of distinguishied persons, when his whole plan of tactics was, in like manner, fully discussed. These communications were bad in 1779 or 1780: But it is also a most material and indisputable fact, tbat the first part of the Naval Tactics, containing a full demonstration of the advantages of breaking the line, was actually published in London on the first of January 1782, and that Sir George Rodney did not leave England till the 15th of that month, nor meet the enemy till three months after.

If these facts can be proved, we suppose few people will require more; or be sceptical enough to doubt, who was the real author of the manæuvre adopted by those very individuals, Sir George Rodney and Sir Charles Douglas, in April 1782. Now, the first of them is most distinctly stated by Mr Clerk himself, in the preface to the second edition of bis work, published when most of the parties concerned, we believe, were alive, and when, so far as we are aware, no public impeachment of his originality, or claim by any one else to a share in his discovery, had ever been made. It is of importance that the reader should see bis own precise and unequivocal words.

• In January 1780, when I was in London, being fully impressed with the importance of the naval ideas which long had been working in ny imagination, and in consequence of the strictures on Lord Keppel's en. gagement sent the year before, some appointments, for the purpose of farther communication on this subject, were made by my friends. Among the first of these was an appointment with Mr Richard Atkinson, the particular friend of Sir George Rodney, who was then in London, and was immediately to set out to take the command of the fleet in the West Indies. At this meeting, the whole of my acquisitions on the subject of Naval Tactics, for many years back, was discussed. I communicated to

Vr Atkinson the theories of attack both from the windward and the leevard; the first as contained in the first part of this Essay; the last as contained in the second part, now published a second time. I particu'arly explained my doctrine of cutting the enemy's line, &c. as set forth in oth first and second parts. I also produced the paper of strictures on Lord Keppel's rencounter of the 27th of July, which contained all my general ideas on the subject of Naval Tactics. All this Mr Atkinson una derlook to communicate to Sir George Rodney ; which he could have no difficulty in doing, as I left in his custody sketches made according to my usual method of demonstration, together with the necessary explanations.'

The fact of this communication with Mr Atkinson has never been disputed; and it must go far, we think, of itself to settle the present question, with all unprejudiced minds. It has been lately suggested, indeed, by Sir Howard Douglas, that if this communication was not made till January 1780, it could not have reached Sir George Rodney personally at the time, as he is known to have sailed for the West Indies on the 25th or 26th of December 1779. This, however, with great submission, is little better than cavilling. Mr Clerk says distinctly, that Sir George was then in London, and only about to set out imme• diately for the West Indies. He himself, as can still be shown by correspondence, was in London from Nov. 1779 till Feb. 1780; and, when writing his preface, at the distance of many years, without a view to controversy, or critical attention to dates, may very well have mistaken, by a few weeks, the period of his communication with Mr Atkinson; while it is plainly altogether inconceivable, either that he should bave been ignorant of the substantial, and to bim very important, fact, that Sir George was actually in London at the time, and only preparing for his voyage, or that he could have intended to misrepresent the public historical date of his actually sailing on that voyage. The matter after all, however, is of very little practical importance ; since, even if Sir George had sailed before the discussion with Atkinson, that individual had abundance of time to make the communication before the gallant admiral sailed a second time, on his more fortunate voyage, in January 1782. Sir George returned from the West Indies in July or August 1781, and is known to have attended his duty in Parliament for several months in the close of that year, having been at least five months in London, where his friend Atkinson was constantly resident, previous to his sailing on the 15th January 1782; more than a fortnight, it may be observed, after the first edition of Mr Clerk's work was actually published.

It is also insinuated, as something remarkable, that no written document should have been taken from Mr Atkinson, and pone of the friends' names specified through whom the ir

1

[ocr errors]

1

« PreviousContinue »