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March to the 1st of May is too long a period for the pangs of motherhood to have, or have been, endured. An 'old Dublin newspaper,' of which neither name nor date are given, is not a satisfactory authority for the 3rd of April in Dublin. The entry in the register-book of the parish of St. Peter's, in Dublin, which records that Arthur, son of the Right Honourable Earl and Countess of Mornington, was christened there by 'Isaac Mann, Archdeacon,' on the 30th of April, 1769, can certainly not have been intended to apply to a baby born on the 1st of May of the same year at Dangan. Nevertheless, the Duke showed perhaps a right feeling in accepting the ' persistent' assertions of his mother and keeping his own anniversary on the latter day, which was also adopted in Gurwood's precis; and there seems at all events to be no reason to disbelieve that Arthur Wesley's birth occurred in one of the three months referred to of the year which also ushered Napoleon Buonaparte into the world—1769. It hardly matters which, as between March, April, and May, but it is worth while to recapitulate these discrepancies, which have been often enough repeated, and sometimes made worse, in order that we may be once more reminded—with a special view to the remainder of our narrative—of the difficulty of ascertaining past events with accuracy, and of the caution with which we should receive and found conjectures upon accounts that are handed down on authority of far less value.
The Duke was not appreciated by his mother in childhood, and he naturally felt no great pleasure in looking back upon that period. Mr. Gleig says 'she seems to have taken it into her head that he was the dunce of the family, and to have treated him harshly, if not with marked neglect.' He 'was sent, being very young,' though we are not told at what age, to a preparatory school—' not an expensive establishment'—in Chelsea, ' where he learned little,' and 'to which the only references which he was ever known to make were the reverse of flattering.' He was transferred to Eton, where he only remained long enough to make his way into the remove. Having been ill-prepared he never took a good place there, and his habits, 'in school and out of school,' are stated to have been those of a ' dreamy, idle, and shy lad.' He achieved no success as a scholar, contracted few special intimacies, and laid the foundation of no lasting friendships. He lived, indeed, a life of contemplative solitude. He walked alone, bathed alone, and seldom took part in cricketmatches or boat-races. In proof of a ' somewhat combative disposition,' two fights arc recorded: the one with 'Bobus Smith,' at whom, whilst swimming, he had—according to the old and questionable story—thrown a stone or (only) a clod, and the other
B 2 with with a young blacksmith near Brynkinalt, in North Wales, where he spent some of his holidays with his mother's father, Lord Dungannon. But if these were his only two fights as a schoolboy he must, we should think, have been the reverse of quarrelsome.
Lady Mornington found it difficult, on a small jointure, to maintain him at Eton after the death of her husband, which occurred in 1781, and she took him to Brussels * with her in 1784. They were accompanied, as a mutual advantage, by John Armytage, a youth of about the same age, the second son of a Yorkshire baronet, an old friend of Lord Mornington. And Armytage's diary is to the effect, that Wesley was extremely fond of music and played well upon the fiddle, though he never gave indication of (or, in other words, Armytage was not aware of his possessing) any other species of talent. There was no intention at that time of sending him into the army, and his own wishes, if he had any, were in favour of civil life. They studied in a desultory manner under M. Goubert, in whose house they lodged, until Lady Mornington's return to England in 1785, when Wesley was sent to the Military School at Angers. He remained there a year and a half or two years under Pignerol, an engineer of eminence; but there are no records of his mode of life there, though he made, it would appear, better use of his time than at Eton or Chelsea, and learnt to speak French well, not only irom his schoolfellows but also from people whose acquaintance he made in the neighbourhood. He was appointed in his eighteenth year to an Ensigncy—not, as Mr. Gleig says, in the 41st, but in the 73rd Regiment, on the 7th March, 1787, not long alter his return home. In the same year he was promoted to a Lieutenancy in the 76th, and he was transferred from that regiment, first to the 41st Foot, and afterwards to the 12th Light Dragoons, all within eighteen months.t In June, 1791, he obtained a company in the 58th Foot; and in October, 1792, he exchanged into the 18th Light Dragoons—which Mr. Gleig omits to mention. He was promoted on the 30th April, 1793, to a Majority in the 33rd, and he remained in that regiment, as is well known, for many years. In the early part of 1790, when a Lieutenant in the 12th Light Dragoons, he was returned to the Irish Parliament as member for the family borough of Trim. He could hardly have had much experience either in infantry or cavalry until he joined the 33rd Regiment, though the success of his subsequent career has been partly attributed to the advantage which he derived from
* Other authors represent him to have gone from Eton to a tutor in Brighton. t According to some writers by the interest of Lord Westmorland, on whose staff he served in Dublin.
serving in both; because he appears to have joined the staff of Lord Westmorland, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, soon after he received his commission, and to have remained at the Viceregal Court till April, 17a3.
Having been unable to obtain, for want of pecuniary means, the hand of the Lady Catherine Pakenham, he volunteered on the earliest opportunity, as young officers are accustomed to do under such circumstances, for active service. With that view he applied to his brother, Lord Mornington, to procure for him a majority in a battalion of Guards about to proceed to Holland. It was on the refusal of this application that he was appointed, as above described, to the 33rd Regiment. He gained the command of it by purchase, his brother advancing the necessary funds, on the 30th September, 17lJ3.
To prove that he was, as a' young officer, 'a shy and awkward kd, in whom the fair sex in particular saw nothing to admire,' Mr. Gleig relates, at page 8 of ' the People's Edition,' an anecdote, without date or place, on the authority of the late Lady Aldborough, in the following words :—
'He was at a ball one night, and as usual could not find a partner. Inheriting his father's taste for music, he consoled himself by sitting do.vn near the band, which happened to be a remarkably good one. By and by the party broke up, when the other officers present were taken L.ime by their lady friends, while young Wesley was by common consent left to travel with the fiddlers. Old Lady Aldborough on one occasion put the Duke in mind of the circumstance, after he had become a great man, at which he laughed heartily, while she added with naivete, " we should not leave you to go home with the fiddlers now.
But Gleig and Brialmont give a different account of the young i (Ticer at page 9 of their work, when they state that Lord Camdens court was particularly gay, and that 'young Wellesley, whose good humour and devotion to the service of the ladies was remarkable, plunged headlong into the vortex, and as he had little to depend upon except his military pay, he soon found that the game was as costly as it was agreeable.'
The change of name from Wesley to Wellesley, which will be observed in this extract, but which is afterwards stated by Mr. Gleig, at page 16 of 'the People's Edition,' to have occurred in India,* can certainly not have produced so great a change of character. Could the 'young officer' have emerged from hobble
* We find in a note by the present Duke, at p. 52 of the 'Supplementary Despatches,' that Lord Mornington's family adopted the ancient spelling of their name 'about this time,' 19th May, 1798. The first despatch in which the change of signature occurs bears that date.
tie-boyhood to manhood in the interval between the two accounts? Having been, as we have already discovered, extremely fond of music, and a good performer withal, was he so ungallant as to prefer the company of brother fiddlers, and the enjoyment of listening to a good band, to the charms of Lady Aldborough's voice and society, and those of the other gay ladies present? Or may the anecdote of her Ladyship, who then as a blushing maiden bore a different name, have been made too much of? The later statement must, of course, be taken to represent Mr. Gleig's mature judgment in the matter; but one naturally looks for some explanation of the discrepancy between these two statements. And it would be well to clear up at the same time the further disagreement between the note at page 9 of Gleig, which says, 'Lord Westmoreland's court was remarkable for the low state of its morality and the excess of its extravagance. That of Lord Camden, which came next, offered to it in both respects a striking contrast'—and the statement above referred to in regard to the gaiety of Lord Camden's court, from Gleig and Brialmont. The latter part of the paragraph cited from Gleig and Brialmont refers to another point which has generally been considered as settled, namely, that young Wesley (or Wellesley), who had very little besides his pay, got into debt in Dublin; that he borrowed money from the boot-maker he lodged with ; and that he left Mr. Dillon, a draper, to settle his affairs, giving up, most creditably, a great part of his income for the purpose. But Mr. Gleig ' must be permitted to doubt the truth of those stories, which are contradicted, not only by the habits of well-ordered economy, which distinguished him in after life, but by the whole tone and tenor of his conversation.' And he adds :—
'I have repeatedly heard him discuss the subject of debt, which he denounced as discreditable in the extreme. His expression was, " it makes a slave of a man: I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I never got into debt." It is not, therefore, very probable, had the Dublin stories been authentic, that the Duke with his tenacious memory could have forgotten them. It is impossible to conceive that one so rigidly adherent to the truth, in small matters as well as in great, would, in this solitary instance, have stepped aside from it.'
We are, however, more inclined to think that there must have been some misapprehension on Mr. Gleig's part as to time, place, or circumstance—in short, as to what the Duke really did say and mean—than that the circumstantial and uncontradicted statements of former years should have been untrue. He continually refers in his published letters and despatches, up to the time when he received the Seringapatam prize-money,
to the excess of his expenditure over his income, and he frequently expresses much distress on this head.
The various versions of the Duke's life differ from one another, and cannot, therefore, all be correct; but that which we have given above is as faithful a summary as we can offer of that which is known of his early youth. Dissenting materially in some points from Mr. Gleig, we think the following are the conclusions which may be derived from it: — In spite of his high connections, he had evidently the advantage of being trained to some extent in the best of schools—the school of adversity. The natural independence of his disposition—for it is impossible that he could have been a dunce—may have both caused and been strengthened by the neglect of his mother in boyhood. A cheap school in Chelsea was certainly a bad preparation for Eton, and want of money, combined with qualities which prevented him from ever becoming generally popular amongst his immediate companions, was likely enough to disincline him to mix with his fellows as he otherwise might have done, while the habits of reserve and solitude in which he indulged, must have contributed still further to the formation of his character. His mother's comparative poverty took her fortunately to Brussels, where he had the great advantage of learning, what was essential to him during the greater part of his active service, the French language. At the school at Angers he perfected himself in it, and had time, not only to pick up all that was known of the art of war, but also to learn the principles, maxims, and ideas of French military science. He experienced, first under the patronage of Lord Westmorland and afterwards with Lord Camden, all the advantages as well as the disadvantages of society and staff-duty in the Irish capital, though he saw little of life as a subaltern, either in the cavalry or the infantry. He found out in practice how debt makes 'a slave of a man,' and he afterwards partly corrected the defects of his early education by reading in a desultory way. He acquired indeed, Mr. Gleig tells us, 'a habit from the outset, which remained with him to the last, of acquainting himself in all manner of odd ways with everything worthy of notice that passed around him.' In other words, he educated himself, in his own way, for the battle of life, as all must do who are to achieve greatness, whatever their previous attainments.* As a member of the Irish Parliament,
* 'In one of the numerous visits which the Duke of Wellington necessarily paid to Calais, on his way from France to England, during the continuance of the Army of Occupation in France, while walking from the Hotel Dessin to the pier to embark, he said to me that he had alwavs made it a rule to studr by himself