Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW.

APRIL, 1830.

No. CI.

Art. I.-1. A Statement of some Important Facts, supported by Au

thentic Documents, relating to the Operation of Breaking the Ene. my's Line, as practised for the first time in the celebrated Battle of the 12th April, 1782. By Major-General Sir HOWARD Douglas, Bart., K.S.C., C.B., F.R.S. 8vo. London. 1829, 2. Additional Statement of Facts relative to the Breaking of the Line on the 12th of April, 1782. By Major-General Sir H. DOUGLAS. 8vo. London. 1830.

T
THESE publications refer to the celebrated maneuvre of break-

ing the enemy's line at sea, which was first put in practice in a deliberate and systematic manner, in Lord Rodney's great action of the 12th of April, 1782, and has since been repeated in all our remarkable sea-fights, with such uniform and brilliant success: And the question now at issue is, to whom the merit of suggesting that bold and decisive maneuvre truly belongs? -to the gallant commander on that memorable day-to his captain, Sir Charles Douglas-or to our ingenious countryman, the late Mr Clerk of Eldin ?

Till very lately, we confess, we thought this controversy had been over; and that the voice of the profession had at last accorded with that of the public, in awarding the prize to the most learned and reflecting, if not the most experienced or immediately responsible, of the competitors. It was natural, and even laudable perhaps, that the pretensions of a landsman to this magnificent discovery in nautical war, should be viewed at first with some jealousy, and questioned with some rigour, by the gallant members of that profession upon whose province le might appear as an intruder; and there were certainly, for a time, indications of a desire on their part to do something less

VOL. LI. NO, CI.

A

than justice to their civil instructor, and to appropriate to themselves, not only the glory of executing, with consummate skill and valour, an operation which depends above all others for its success on those qualities, but the merit also of having been the first to discover its practicability and importance, and to settle upon scientific principles the conditions on which depended its safety and success.

These feelings, however, we had been led to believe, had long since given way; and, after the first mortification was over-after Clerk's Naval Tactics had become a Manual in the British navy-after the repeated testimony of persons in the highest official stations, and the public admissions of the most illustrious commanders-after the distinct statement in this Journal in the year 1805-after the publication of Professor Playfair's luminous Essay on Naval Tactics in 1821*--the decided testimony of Sir Walter Scott in the Life of Napoleon in 1827- and the undoubting acknowledgment made, as it were, in the name of the profession, in the Introduction contributed to the last edition of Mr Clerk's work, by a Naval officer, who, though he withholds his name, is generally known to be eminently entitled to speak with authority on such a question, both from his own professional learning and judgment, and as connected by his birth with its very highest honours—we certainly thought the matter no longer liable to serious dispute ; and were by no means prepared for the revival of the original controversy.

Revived, however, it has been, with more than its original keenness, and in a way which bids fair to attract more of the public attention. It was first set a-going, we think, by some learned discussions, and sceptical reinarks, in Admiral Ekins' meritorious but desultory and miscellaneous history of our Naval Battles. This was succeeded by the Statement of Sir Howard Douglas ;t and the discussion, thus once more afoot, has been followed up in a more popular and eager tone, by a very able and elaborate article in No. 83 of the Quarterly Review, to which Sir Howard Douglas has since published a reply, in his Addi

* In the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. ix.

+ This Statement, now circulated as a pamphlet, was first published as an introduction to the second edition of the author's Treatise on Naval Gunnerya work which reflects great credit upon Sir Howard as a scientific soldier, and which has, indeed, been adopted as a Manual for professional students both abroad and at home. In consequence of the very favourable mention of it by Baron Charles Dupin, in his well-known work on Britain, it was translated into French in 1826, by M. Charpentier, an intelligent officer in the Royal Corps of Marine Artillery in France.

tional Statement, and by some important publications in No. 15 of the United Service Journal. These writers, we are concerned to say, are generally adverse to the claims of Mr Clerk —though so pointedly opposed to each other as mutually to detract from their authority, and respectively to disable their judgment. Sir Howard Douglas, with pardonable and pious partiality, is for giving the whole credit of the suggestion to his gallant father, the late Sir Charles-and in this he is abetted, not only by a large band of naval officers, but by the Editor of the United Service Journal. The Quarterly Reviewer, again, is fierce for Lord Rodney–while Admiral Ekins, whose book embraces a great miscellany of remarks and contributions from various quarters, cannot be said to have any fixed or consistent opinion of his own on the subject, but successively abets the pretensions of all the three candidates—though with a leaning, we think, to Sir Charles Douglas, as against Rodney, and to both or either of these gallant officers, as against the civilian.

In these circumstances-being civilians ourselves—and Scotchmen-being also somewhat disposed, from consistency, to maintain our original opinion, and called on, as lovers of fair play, to take the part which seems least provided with defenders-but above all, being firmly convinced that it is the just and the right part, and that it can be triumphantly and unanswerably proved to be so, with no great trouble, we have felt ourselves called on to buckle on our armour once more in this cause, and now proceed fearlessly to the field, to make it good against all opponents. The proofs which we are prepared to produce, might, no doubt, have been more numerous, if this attempt to unsettle public opinion had been made at an earlier period, when witnesses were alive, and documents accessible that have since disappeared. But we are in no fear of the result, even as the case stands; and unprovided as we were, comparatively, for this unexpected granting of a new trial, we have yet been enabled to collect such evidence as we feel confident will ensure us an unanimous verdict from the country, on which we now put ourselves. The most natural course, we think, for us to follow, is first of all to make out our own case, without any reference to that of our opponents—to lay first before our readers, in one plain and unbroken series, the grounds upon wbich Mr Clerk's claim to the merit of this discovery seems to us to be incontestably established, and then to consider the pretensions which have been respectively advanced by his competitors. Before doing this, however, it may be proper to dispose of a preliminary matter, which has been revived, we think somewhat unnecessarily, in the recent discussions, and seems to admit of a very summary adjustment

The question is, as all our readers are aware, whether Mr Clerk had suggested and explained to Admiral Rodney or Sir Charles Douglas, the splendid maneuvre which they put in practice in April 1782, and to which, it is admitted on all hands, that the victory of that day was owing,-or whether one or other of those brave officers had of themselves conceived the idea of that maneuvre, and put it in practice, without being indebted to any one for the suggestion. This is undoubtedly the only question now at issue,-and it being farther admitted, that the manæuvre had not been practised or heard of in the navy, in the memory of any one then in existence, it must seem not a little idle to mix up with this question any enquiry into the absolute originality of the manæuvre, or to perplex it by bringing forward obscure and ambiguous notices of something of the same kind having been practised in the wars between England and Holland, in the time of the Protectorate,-or noticed, as one of the resources of naval warfare, in L'Art des Armées Navales of the Jesuit Paul Hoste, published in 1697. It is certain, that in 1782, no such mancuvre was known, or thought of, in the navy of Great Britain, or of any other country. If it had ever been known before, therefore, it had then been so long forgotten and discredited, that its revival was equal to a new discovery,—and this, indeed, is necessarily assumed, and taken for granted, in the very existence of a controversy, the object of which is to ascertain which of three persons bad the merit of discovering or reviving it in that year: Sirice, to the determination of that question, it is obviously a matter of perfect indifference, whether a similar manæuvre can now be shown to have been practised by Sir George Aiscough in 1659, or commented on by Paul Hoste in 1697. But the truth is, that there is no reason to think that any of the gallant and ingenious persons, whose merits we are now considering, had been anticipated in this respect, by the wisdom or genius of their ancestors; or that the maneuvre of dividing the enemy's line had ever been either practised or contemplated, as it was in 1782, and has been ever since. It is no doubt true, that in the despatches of 1658, and in the accounts of other naval encounters about the same time, incidental mention is made of various of the ships engaged having passed through the body or array of the adverse squadron. But, as is well observed by one of Admiral Ekins' correspondents or contributors, there is every reason to think that there was no such thing known or observed in that age as a regular line or order of battle,-the practice being, for the strongest or most adventurous of the vessels engaged to charge through the body of the enemy, whenever there seemed an opportunity of doing so with advantage; so that, in the course of a long gene

« PreviousContinue »