Page images

"formed to the United States, and would ask no assist"ance that is not indispensable." *

The part that Washington took on this occasion did not disturb his cordial friendship with La Fayette. At this time the latter applied for and obtained permission to go home on leave of absence. His departure was delayed for several weeks by a severe illness, which, according to his own account, had been caused in great measure by his excesses in wine. f Nevertheless, he was able to embark at Boston before the close of the year. His reception by his countrymen was warm, almost enthusiastic. "On arriving at Court," says he, " I had "the honour to be consulted by all the Ministers, and "what is far better, embraced by all the ladies!" Whatever his influence might be from his high connexions, or from his General's rank, it was exerted by him on behalf of his American friends. He zealously urged the Cabinet to send over the Atlantic both early and effective aid.

'In the West Indies the intended attack on St. Lucia was made, and the island taken by the English. J They likewise took St. Pierre and Miquelon, while, on the other hand, the Marquis de Bouille, the French Governor of Martinico, made himself master of Dominica.

But the newly kindled war between France and England was waged much nearer home. The command of the Channel fleet had been entrusted to Admiral Keppel; a choice that did honour both to him and to the Ministry, since Keppel, as a Member of Parliament, was a zealous opponent of Lord North. Under Keppel served Sir Hugh Palliser, like himself a good officer, but of different politics; one of the Lords of the Admiralty, and of course

* To the President of the Congress, November 14. 1778.

f "Ayant veille, bu, et travaille beaucoup a Philadelphie. ". . . . Fete partout avec empressement il se fortifiait de vin, de "the et de rhum, mais a Fishkill, huit milles du quartier general, il *' fallut ceder a la violence d'une maladie inflammatoire." (Memoires de ma main, Corresp., vol. i. p. 61. ed. 1837.)

1 A Narrative, by the Hon. Colin Lindsay, of the occupation and defence of St. Lucia, will be found in the "Lives of the Lindsays" (vol. iii. pp. 330 — 356.), a most pleasant well-written book, in which the pride of ancestry is made subservient to the diffusion of knowledge,

R supporter of Government in the House of Commons. When Keppel first arrived at Spithead, he found only six ships of the line ready for sea, but after the French Declaration of the 13th of March, there were the most active preparations in all the ports. The King himself repaired to Portsmouth to animate the officers, and held a levee on board the Prince George, the flag-ship of the Admiral. By unwearied exertion the number of ships of the line was within a few weeks increased to twenty. With this armament Keppel sailed from St. Helen's in the month of June. It was not long ere he fell in with two French frigates sent out to reconnoitre; the Licorne and the Belle Poule. In virtue of his full powers the Admiral decided on attacking them; thus, in fact, commencing the war. The Licorne he captured; the Belle Poule he drove to shore among the rocks. Next day, however, Keppel sailed away from the coast of France and retired into Portsmouth. For this sudden, and, as it seemed, precipitate retreat he was greatly censured by the public. As he alleged, in vindication, the papers of the Licorne had shown him that anchorage was prepared in Brest harbour for no less than thirty-two ships of the line—a force with which his own manifestly could not cope. It was answered that these papers might be fabricated on purpose to mislead him; and that in any case he ought not to have given orders for retreat without first calling a Council of War.

In July the Admiral put to sea once more. His fleet had been reinforced, but was still inferior in numbers to the French, which, under Count D'Orvilliers, had already sailed from Brest. The two fleets met off Ushant, where, on the 27th of the month, there ensued an engagement of three hours. The result was not decisive. Several hundred men were killed or wounded, and several ships damaged on either side; and the combatants were separated by a squall of wind and by the approach of night. Admiral Keppel had both made signals and sent orders to Sir Hugh Palliser to come up and renew the conflict, but Sir Hugh, whose own ship had suffered greatly, could not obey him. In the night Count D'Orvilliers steered back to Brest, and next morning, Admiral Keppel, finding pursuit in vain, set sail for Plymouth.

A nation like the British, long familiar with naval victory, could ill brook the news of a pitched battle, still less of an inglorious retreat. Keppel and Palliser finding themselves arraigned, began to cast blame upon each other. Sir Hugh commenced, far from discreetly, by publishing a vindication in the newspapers — a vindication which his chief, when required by letter, refused to confirm. The spark thus kindled was blown by the angry breath of partisans; each eager to claim and to support the Admiral of his own political opinions. No sooner had the two Houses met again in November, than the matter was keenly discussed. It is a remarkable feature of these times that the leading Admirals and Generals of the war were also for the most part Members of Parliament. Thus, throughout the winter and the spring of 1779, we find not only Admiral Keppel and Sir Hugh Palliser, but also Lord and Sir William Howe and General Burgoyne, able themselves to allege their grievances or defend their conduct. In some of these cases there were Committees of Inquiry, and examinations of witnesses, but in none any clear or positive Parliamentary result. These altercations, in their full details, could not fail to interest, because they inflamed, the party-spirit of the day; but a slight sketch of them may well suffice for the information of a later age.

Sir Hugh Palliser now brought forward charges against Keppel for misconduct and incapacity in the recent action. Upon these the Admiralty ordered a CourtMartial. But as Keppel was now in an ill state of health, an Act of Parliament was proposed by the Opposition, and allowed to pass by the Ministry, enabling the CourtMartial, contrary to the common rule of the service, to meet on shore. It did meet accordingly at Portsmouth. There Keppel was seen attended by many of his principal Opposition friends, as their Royal Highnesses of Gloucester and of Cumberland, the Duke of Richmond and the Marquis of Rockingham, Fox and Burke, and two young men, as yet unknown to fame, nor yet in Parliament, Sheridan and Erskine. It was an anxious time for all concerned. After thirty-two days' sitting, the Court came to an unanimous decision that the charges were malicious and ill founded, and that Keppel, far

VOL. vi. s

from having sullied the honour of the service, had acted in all respects as became a judicious, brave, and experienced officer. By this time the tide of public feeling was running strongly in his favour. Gibbon writes as follows, in London, on the expected news of the acquittal: —" In a night or two we shall be in a blaze of illumination "from the zeal of naval heroes, land patriots, and tallow"chandlers; the last are not the least sincere." * The enthusiasm rose even higher than Gibbon had foreseen. For two successive nights were the cities of London and Westminster illuminated at the tidings of KeppePs triumph, whilst a lawless mob deemed they did him honour in breaking open the house of Sir Hugh Palliser, destroying its furniture, and burning Sir Hugh himself in effigy. The houses of Lord North and Lord George Germaine were likewise assailed, and their windows broken; and at the Admiralty the iron gates were forced from their hinges.

The popular excitement was revived a few days afterwards, when Keppel was presented with the freedom of the City, and went to dine with the Common Council at the London Tavern. At Charing Cross the mob insisted on taking the horses from his carriage and drawing him onwards by their own strength. His coachman at the same time found it necessary to relinquish the box; "in "favour," says a contemporary, "of a number of Jack "Tars, who swarmed about the carriage like bees round "a hive." f Nor can it be said that this revulsion of feeling in behalf of the Admiral was confined to the capital alone. In the country villages "The Admiral "Keppel" became a favourite sign; held equal, at the least, to the effigy of other Admirals, who, unlike Keppel, had had the opportunity of gaining some great victory, and doing their country some signal service.

In both Houses of Parliament a vote of thanks to the acquitted Admiral was moved and carried, with only one dissentient voice; this came from Mr. Strutt, a gentleman of Essex, grandfather of the present Lord Rayleigh.

* Letter to Holroyd, February 6. 1779.

+ Town and Country Magazine for 1779, as quoted in Kcppel's life, vol. ii. p. 209. ed. 1^42

Sir Hugh Palliser felt keenly the reflection implied against himself by the recent decision of the Court Martial, as well as by the votes of Parliament. With high spirit he resigned, not only his employments, amounting to 4000/. a year, but also his seat in the House of Commons, and demanded a Court-Martial on himself. This new Court-Martial continued to sit for three and twenty days. At last they declared that the behaviour of Palliser had been in many respects exemplary and meritorious. They could not help thinking it was incumbent on him to have made known to the Commander-in-chief the disabled state of his own ship, but on no other point did they consider him chargeable with misconduct, and therefore upon the whole they acquitted him. But this acquittal did not at first by any means appease the rancour of the multitude. *

The Ministers, though not perfectly satisfied with Keppel, had no intention of withdrawing him from the command of the Channel fleet. But Keppel had conceived the utmost resentment against them. He had by nature a haughty temper, or, according to the fine image which Burke applies to him, "it was a wild-stock of pride." He wrote a letter to the King, entreating that he might not be expected to go again to sea under men who had treated him with "so glaring an injustice." He also, as he tells us, took great umbrage at the expressions of a subsequent letter from the Board of Admiralty, although in that letter, as published, and as now before me, it is not easy to discover a single word or thought to give offence. Under the influence of feelings which, with all respect to him, we may consider overstrained, he invited and received directions to strike his flag; thus deeming himself justified in leaving the active service of his country at a time when it greatly needed men like him. f

* An accomplished contemporary, on reviewing these transactions many years afterwards, observes of Sir Hugh Palliser: "Perhaps no "man was ever more cruelly used by the public, through a virulent "party-spirit." (Lord Sheffield, note to Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, vol. ii. p. 228.)

t The Life of Admiral, afterwards Viscount, Keppel, has been written by his kinsman, the Hon. and Rev. Thomas Keppel, with care and perspicuity, but not without strong party and family bins.

« PreviousContinue »