Imágenes de página

hear the.charge of cowardice brought against any part of the nation. The first thing, however, which struck us, in the account of the Medusa, was the want of true courage; of that presence of mind, which perceives the extent of danger, only to bring a proportionate remedy, and finds resources, where others see despair. The panic terror of the French crew, as soon as the ship was stranded, was the more striking, as contrasted with their preceding levity and disregard to every prudent warning: with their rejecting every precaution, and refusing to listen to the voice which told them that destruction was inevitable. The most fatal anarchy had reigned on board the ship, during her whole navigation. All legitimate discipline was lost. Each man gave his advice, his orders; and none was obeyed. The Captain was employed upon any thing but his duty. The ship's course was altered, without consulting him. The Echo corvette, one of the squadron, warned the Medusa of her danger by signals, of which he was not even informed. The officers were playing a part in the scenic exhibition of the · Bonhomme Tropique;' and wrapt up in a cloak of ignorant and presumptuous vanity, which kept them buoyant, amid rocks and quicksands. But no sooner had the vessel touched the bank, than universal consternation prevailed. Every countenance was changed— Quelques personnes étoient méconnaissables. Ici on voy. oit des traits retirés et hideux; là un visage qui avoit pris • une teinte jaune, et même verdatre; quelques uns étoient fou

droyés, aneantis; d'autres, enchaînés à leurs places, sans avoir • la force de s'en arracher, restoient comme petrifiés. Il sem• bloit que le terrible Gorgone, dont nous porteons le nom, eut • passé devant nous. The only two persons who remained unmoved, were the wife and daughter of the governor.

The British ship, on the contrary, neglected no precaution, although she had no particular reason to apprehend that danger was near; and, when she struck upon the fatal reef, she showed no symptoms of extravagant fear. Equally removed from temerity before, and from dejection after her accident, her crew did not show themselves, in the one case, to be more than men, and in the other to be less than women. Their minds were free to think; their nerves were strong to execute. The pusillanimity of the French exposed them to unheard-of calamities, and excited among them the most demoniacal feelings. It caused the death of nine-tenths of the wretches who had embarked upon the raft; and was near to prevent the return of the survivors, from a distance, which the frail barks of Hanno the Carthaginian had often passed. The intrepidity of the Briwish saved the entire crew, (with the exception of a single man

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

who had strayed into the woods), and brought then home in safety, from the Chinese Archipelago; and through seas which have immortalized the man who first traced the road which leads to their entrance.

The courage of the French is of a peculiar quality, and so different from that of most other nations, that it struck the bravest of the ancients, and attracted the attention of the most speculative of Roman historians, near two thousand years ago. And we cannot help thinking, that a juster estimate was formed of it, in those days, than in the present; and a truer picture drawn of the exaltations and abasements, which the spirit of that changeful people is perpetually undergoing.

No nation is so enthusiastically fond of glory, so essentially enterprising, ambitious and warlike, as the French. But the impetuosity of their courage exposes them to reverses, in which they are as much depressed and as abject, as in prosperity they are arrogant and headlong. Their history, accordingly, is more chequered with triumphs and misfortunes, than that of other nations; and shows them suddenly elevated, by their military prow. ess, to the height of power, from which they are as suddenly dislodged by their want of moderation in success. They are the most rapid in conquest, the most precipitate in retreat; and the grand campaign of Turenne, in which his chief glory was, that be avoided engaging his enemy, is a phenomenon of which they could produce no second example. The most difficult thing for a Frenchman, in the field of war, is to remain stationary. Nimbleness is so inherent in his constitution, and his propensity to move in double quick time is so great, that this instinct of his nature is equally satisfied, whether it be that he runs forwards or backwards, whether he skip after or before an enemy. But the bravery of a Frenchman is not an independent sentiment. It requires extraneous aid, and must be supported by relations which are foreign to it. It is like the courage of the war-horse, roused by the sound of the trumpet and the drum, by the roar of cannon, by the shouts of the victors, and the cries of the wounded; and riots over the bodies of the slain. 'The most es-, sential of all things, to its maintenance, is success; for success secures applause, and applause is glory. Take away from a Frenchman this most powerful of all the incitements which his nature owns, and you make a mere coward of him, less than

It is the only bond which unites his valour to his mind, and gives it the characteristics of a moral feeling. One modification of courage, however, it cannot bestow upon him; and that: is fortitude, the courage of the soul; that union of feeling and of patience, of sensibility and of resignation, which strengthens



noble minds, gives dignity to fallen greatness, and serenity to the deposed and desolate.

The courage of the English is, in all respects, different from this. It is neither so buoyant in prosperity, nor so dejected in

It is, like all our other qualities, accompanied by reflexion; and where the valour of a Frenchman begins to fail, the courage of an Englishman rises, from the resources he finds within his mind and heart. He is circumspect while the tempest only threatens; but intrepid when it bursts upon him. He requires no motive, but danger, to be brave; and his fortitude does not abandon him, even when his courage can be of no avail.

In the present instance, the French had no conquest to make, no glory to win; their praise would have been that which is bestowed upon men who calmly do their duty; and this was not enough for them. No triumph attended their success; no laurels would have crowned them, as when returning from victory; and their courage, no longer pampered by the licentious stimulant of vanity, desponded and despaired.

The resources of the two frigates, immediately after they were stranded, were much alike; but the sentiments which governed the Frenchmen, deprived them of the advantages of their united efforts; while the minds of the English were wholly directed to the general good, and bent upon the means of saving one and all. A beautiful and admirable property of civilization is, that it unites men by one common feeling, and makes them rally around the ideal centre, which bears the magic name of country. The most powerful of all links, that which, more than any other, binds the hearts of civilized men together, is misfortune. In proportion as the social system approaches to perfection, the tie of common misery is more strongly felt. But, when the progress of improvement is founded upon physical enjoyments, and the heart is employed in the search of luxurious gratifications, the preponderating object of our affections is self; and society claims a share of our interest, only as it contributes to our pleasures and amusements.

Now the French nation has always indulged in sensual, more than in rational enjoyments; and luxury has been the constant object of her study. The combined advantages of her soil and climate, have placed the attainment of physical pleasures easily within her reach; and, to them, she is eminently devoted. But, happily for the moral character of England, we must labour, before we can enjoy; and the penury of nature has bound the inhabitants of Great Britain together, for their common interest, with a stronger chain, than any which her prodigality VOL. XXX. NO. 60.


could forge. The advantages of union in the hour of misery; of partnership to stem the adverse current; of social combination, which divides affliction, and multiplies prosperity, never, in any age, or any country, were so strongly felt as in this island:-mand they have

grown as she has grown, and strengthened as she has become enlightened.

The French, in the present, as in many other instances, do not seem to have learned, that the worst of governments is better than anarchy. The vanity of each individual is always present, to suggest to him, that he alone is worthy to command; and that all who oppose his will are traitors to the general good. The very impulses which act attractively among other men, and make their hearts expand with kindness and benevolence, are repulsive in their natures. In the day of sympathy affection is changed to hatred, and pity is converted into envy. They prefer their own destruction to the safety of their fellow-sufferers, and crush to atoms, under their own feet, the plank which divides them from eternity; rather than allow their companions in misfortune the hope of ever seeing land again.

Our authors, with a strange simplicity, say, that the moral of their companions was singularly altered. But this assertion we cannot admit; and we must altogether deny the general principle upon which it is founded. The circumstances of our lives, the misfortunes or happiness we encounter, do not really change the moral character. They bring to light qualities which appear to be new, because they had before been unperceived. Passion never yet created any sentiments in the soul, though it may awaken' those which were dormant. It opens a new page of the heart, but a page already written. All the passions which the situation of the sufferers on the raft exposed to the broad day, bad as they were, did not spring up in that fatal abode of wretchedness. They were carried thither ; carried in the hearts of those where long depravity had given them deep and lasting roots: and the daily sunshine of triumphant vice, had made their growth exuberant. Neither were the calmness, fortitude and humanity of the British, new creations in their souls. They had, from a very early period, been kept in constant action, by all the causes which long have made this ration moral and humane,

Disgusting and painful as the subject is, we cannot help adducing one or two more instances, of the contrast between English and French generosity and good faith, as exemplified in these narratives. "We do not mean to speak of the dignified conduct of Lord Amherst, compared to the selfishness of Governor Schmaltz; or to set the noble devotedness of Sir Murray Maxwell; in opposition to the pitiful cowardice of Captain Chaumareys. We shall look for examples more general, and among the lower orders, where the features of national character retain a greater portion of their original stamp. We have already stated, that the survivors on the raft took possession of the billets of the dead, in order to defraud their companions of an undue portion of food. We have seen them pilfering each other, stealing from the common stock of provisions, nay wantonly throwing into the sea, the casks of water and of wine, in order to deprive their companions of the only sustenance they had. Among the crew of the Alceste ONE man was discovered endeavouring to get two rations of beer; and it is interesting to hear how Mr M.Leod expresses himself on the occasion.

" Truth requires it to be stated, and it may naturally be supposed, that, among so many, one or two progging sort of people might be observed, who had no disinclination to get a little more than their just allowance; but the general feeling was too fine and manly, to admit of contamination.

Two persons, belonging to the boats which had landed on the coast of Africa, had agreed with the Moors, for a stipulated sum, to convey them to St Louis. The bargain, as may be supposed, was hard upon the Frenchmen; but, as one of them prudently observed, · Once among our own countrymen, we shall be the strongest; and can give them what we please.'The English, at one moment, apprehended that it might become necessary,

if no succour arrived, to force some of the Malays to pilot them to the nearest friendly port; and it was resolved that, in that case, they should be dismissed in safety, and with ample remuneration.

The French expedition to Africa was two years in preparation; and it is fair to conclude, that it was composed of men distinguished, not only for nautical skill and ability in other branches of knowledge, but for their moral qualities. Yet Messrs Correard and Savigny assert that many of those upon the raft were the very scum of bagnios, and the refuse of prisons. How the fact may be, we cannot tell. The misfortune is, that the misconduct was universal. But, admitting the explanation in its utmost latitude, what a view does it present of a government which employed so much time to select such men, for such an expedition ! And how low a value must be set on moral qualifications among a people whose rulers so flagrantly overlook them on an occasion where they were obviously of extraordinary importance !

To all general reflexions, respecting the characters of the English and French, drawn from the narratives of these twe

« AnteriorContinuar »