Page images
PDF
EPUB

case.

This mother, whom Charles Napier loved with a childlike passion through his stormy life, had the good sense, when she was 18, to refuse the hand of George III. : she was not destined to be the mother of a George IV., but of another kind of man. A numerous family these Napiers ; and wherever there has been any fighting within the last fifty years, you are tolerably sure to light upon one or more of them. We shall find, I think, five of them together in the Peninsular war. Every one of them had a strong notion that it was a great thing to be a Napier; and, for the most part, they did much to justify the belief-which is not always the

Late in life, when the Government had done everything else to humiliate Charles Napier, it was rumoured that they were going to make him a lord ; but he said, “I'll be Nae peer !” A generous, truthful, duty-loving, lad he was.

His parents removed to Ireland while he was very young, and his earliest experience of life would be the horrible struggle then waged in that country. His father, by personal influence, succeeded in keeping order in his own district, when all the forces of the Government failed. There was a very old woman about him, named Molly Dunne, who used to tell stories of the Cromwell massacres in Ireland, which were recent events in her girlhood. You will notice, too, that his earliest newspaper studies • would comprise the history of that wondrous portent, the French Revolution. At 12 years old, as was the fashion in those days, he obtained a commission in the Duke of Wellington's regiment; and at 17 he was aide-de-camp to Sir James Duff. Here is a little incident at this dangerous age of 17:

When 17, I broke my right leg. At the instant there was no pain; but, looking down, I saw my foot under the knee, and the Tones protruding. That turned me sick, and the pain became violent. My gun-a present from my dear father--was in the ditch, leaping over which caused the accident. I scrambled near enough to get it out, but this lacerated the flesh and produced much extravasated blood. George came to ine: he was greatly alarmed, for I was very pale, and we were both young,-he but fifteen. Then came Captain Crawford, of the Irish Artillery, and I made him hold my foot while I pulled up my knee; and in that manner set my leg myself. The quantity of extravasated blood led the doctors to tell me my leg must come off, but they gave me another day for a chance. Being young, and vain of good legs, the idea of hop-andgo-one, with a timber toe, made me resolve to put myself to death, rather than subinit to amputation; and I sent the maid out for laudanum, which I hid under my pillow: luckily, the doctors found me better, and so saved me from a contemptible action. Perhaps if it had come to the point, I might have had more sense and less courage than I gave myself credit for, in the horror of my first thoughts; indeed my agony was great, and strong doses of laudanum were necessary to keep down the terrible spasms which fractures of large bones produce. The doctors set my leg crooked, and at the end of a month, when standing up, my feet would not go together: one leg went in pleasant harmony with the other half way between knee and ancle, but then flew off in a huff, at a tangent. This made me very unhappy; and the doctors said, if I could bear the pain, they would break it again, or bend it straight. My answer was—“I will bear anything but a crooked leg.” Here then was I, at 17, desperately in love with a Miss Massey, having a game leg in perspective, and in love with myself also; so I said to the leg carpenter--“Let me have one night for consideration.” All that day and night Miss Massey's pretty eyes were before mine, but not soft and tale-telling-not saying, "Pig, will you marry me?”—but scornfully squinting at my lame leg. There was Miss Massey, and there was I, unable to do anything but hop. The per contra were two ill-looking doctors that were torturing me, and the reflection that they might again make a crooked job after the second fracture, as they had done after the first. However, my dear Miss Massey's eyes carried the day; and just as I had decided, she and her friend, Miss Vandeleur, came in the dusk, wrapped in men's great coats, to call on me. This was just like the pluck of a pretty Irish girl, and quite repaid my courageous resolve : I would have broken all my bones for her. So after letting me kiss their hands, off my fair incognitas went, leaving me the happiest of all lame dogs. The night passed with many a queer feeling, about the doctors coming like devil imps to torture me. Be quick !" quoth I, as they entered, “make the most of my courage whilst it lasts.” It took all that day and part of the next to bend the leg with bandages, which were tied to a wooden bar, and tightened every hour, day and night. I fainted several times; and when the tormentors arrived next day, after breakfast, struck my flag, saying --“Take away your bandages, for I can bear no more." They were taken off, and I felt in heaven; not the less so that the leg was straight, and it is now as straight a one, I flatter myself, as ever bore up the body of a gentleman, or kicked a blackguard. There was in Limerick a great coarse woman, wife of Dr. When she heard of my misfortune, she said--“Poor boy! I suppose a fly kicked his spindle shanks.” Being a little fellow then-though now, be it known, 5 feet 7 inches high--this offended me greatly; and, as the Lord would have it, she broke her own leg just as I was getting well. Going to her house, with an appearance of concern, I told the servant how sorry I was to hear that a bullock had kicked Mrs. and hurt its leg very much; and that I had called to know if her leg was also hurt. She never forgave me.

He was with his regiment—now the 89th, his father's old regiment—for the next five or six years : his father died in

man.

1804. We find him an impulsive lad enough, with a keen longing for all the pleasures life has to give ; but with an appetite for work, and a horror of debt, which kept him away from the billiard room, and even from more innocent pleasures. There is a casual mention in one of his letters of his being in love with four young ladies at once, which I don't conceive to be the most critical position for a young

In 1807, however, I find the following :-“I am again in love with a Miss Home,-a dear little Scotch thing, with a beautiful face and beautiful figure ; a beautiful dancer, and a beautiful genius. My heart is a cinder; and as heat is said to cure heat, I stand by the fire all day long, to draw out the flame." But note what Charles Napier could write in his diary at 63—“Never in my life have I wronged woman:” and elsewhere he tells us that he was never drunk. I can fancy one thing that kept him right, was, that intense love of hard work which consumed his energies ; another thing, doubtless, was that tender affection for mother, sisters, and brothers, that marked him through life. I ask nobody's pardon for laying emphasis on this matter; because there is a sect of philosophers, two or three sects, indeed, whom I will venture to lump together as the "nasty school,”—who would insinuate that about the only difference between young men now-a-days is, that some of them are found out, and others are not. I don't believe it ; and I am happy to think that English women and English girls, whose opinion is of some consequence to us, don't believe it either. I am not now discussing how or why :

Many have the fear of God;

And more of Mrs. Grundy, But I am bold to say there are not a few who have learnt and practised what our greatest and best teacher has said that “the only thing to do with your wild oats is to burn them, not sow them !”

But sterner business was now before Napier. He had worked hard in the study of his profession,-notably under the gallant Moore, at the camp, Shorncliffe ; and that great general had not overlooked so good a pupil. Napier's regiment (the 50th) was ordered to Lisbon in 1808—he, as major, commanding: Moore immediately attached it to Lord William Bentinck’s division, which was advancing

into Spain. The glorious battle of Corunna was just about to be fought; and Moore, from the spot where he afterwards fell, ordered Napier, with the 50th, to advance to meet the great assailing French column. Had he been supported, Soult's army must have been destroyed; but, by some error, the 50th, rushing on through fields and vineyards, was scattered, and Charles Napier, with a broken leg, a wound in the head, and a bayonet stab in the back, was taken prisoner. General Ney generously allowed him to go to England on parole, to get cured : he even released at the same time 25 soldiers who had been taken prisoners, on condition that they should take all the English women with them, who made worse havoc than Grenadiers in the French ranks. His brother and biographer tells us, that from this time a marked change came over Charles Napier; a seriousness befitting one who had entered on the terrible business of his life--a mournful business at best, that of killing, as no one knew better than he. There was some difficulty about the exchange, and William Napier is eloquent about the shabbiness of only giving two Frenchmen for a Napier. However, by May, 1810, he was again in the field, as a volunteer under Wellington, with the army beyond the Coa. His two brothers, George and William, were already there ; so also was his cousin, “Black Charlie,” the future Admiral. At the battle of Busaco, the two Charles Napiers, of all the volunteers, persisted in remaining on horseback ; and our hero received a musket ball, which, entering the right side of the nose, lodged in the left jaw near the ear. He suffered all his life, more or less, from that wound; never breathed freely ever afterwards. In his droll way he complains that the hard biscuit was not good for a stiff jaw,--that there is no time to soak it,--and that he can't fancy the maggots. I should have said, that just as he was going into this action he received a letter, which he read under fire, telling him that his mother had become blind, and that a second sister, whom he tenderly loved, was dead. But when action is called for, a soldier's feelings must be held in restraint; and Charles Napier fought that day as the Napiers can fight. At Lisbon, where he went to get healed, he found his brother George wounded also, who got back to the army before him. Charles Napier, as soon as he got free from the doctors, rode 90 miles on one horse

[ocr errors]

to join the army, and he reached it just as the battle of the Coa was commencing. As he came up, he met a litter of branches, carrying a wounded man. “ Who is that?"

Captain Napier, of the 52nd.” Another :—.“ Who is that ?" Captain Napier, of the 43rd, thought to be mortally wounded." Charles Napier takes a hasty glance, hands the sufferers over to the surgeon, and rushes on to his duty in the field. It would be a long, though not a tedious story, to follow him through the rest of the campaign: but, meanwhile, every other Corunna Major had been promoted to higher rank. In the fighting servicealone of all our public services—the theory is, that good work is to be rewarded in the way most agreeable to a brave man, by scope and opportunity for more responsible and laborious work. Napier was quite disposed to think something approaching to the theory ought to be found in fact—at least in the case of a Napier; only he insisted that what family influence there was, should be exerted for his younger brother, not for himself.

When the promotion could no longer be refused, it came in a shape such as often befals

a man of genius at the hands of incapable superiors. He was made Lieutenant-Colonel (that is, the actual commander) of the 102nd regiment, just home from Botany Bay, in a state very like mutiny. With this hopeful charge-the army in the Peninsula just then going to destruction for want of capable officers, Napier was sent to Bermuda, to fret in forced idleness. But work was ås necessary to him as air. The regiment was drilled and disciplined; and in 1812 he was summoned to take part in what he afterwards called a “war of folly and piracy?--our war with the United States. He was second in command to Sir Samuel Beckwith, a naval officer; and they made various attempts on the American coast, with no very brilliant success : but one thing is notable, the Botany Bay regiment never plundered a shilling's worth. Charles Napier's scheme for carrying on this war—if it was to be carried on at all—is interesting at the present moment. He wanted to land at various points on the coast, invite the slaves to join him, drill them into soldiers, and so carry the war north. This opinion he retained after he had had more experience in drilling irregular troops than perhaps any other man ; so that we may claim high military authority for the possibility of what President Lincoln has been doing in that line.

« PreviousContinue »