« AnteriorContinua »
In the very subordinate capacity of a midshipman—and he was a very young midshipman in his first ship-it cannot be expected that he could perform any feat worthy of record. In this situation he had to learn the first and the most distasteful duty--to obey. Comparatively speaking, his post was a private, and certainly an obscure one, and hardly any naval combination of circumstances, however stirring they might have been, could then have put him prominently forward.
From the Sandwich he passed into the Greyhound in the same rank, gaining thus experience in two very different classes of vessels. During the period of his service in this latter ship, nothing occurred to him that demands a place in this biography
Immediately that he had served the time allotted by the rules of the navy, he obtained his commission as lieutenant on the 22nd of May, 1781, and was, what is technically called, “made" into the Alcide 74, at that time commanded by Captain C. Thompson.
In this last-mentioned line-of-battle ship he shared in the action of Admiral Graves off the Chesapeake ; and though no opportunity was offered to him in that affair eminently to distinguish himself in the limited sphere in which he was compelled to act, he did that which English seamen have ever done-his duty.
Those conversant with the naval history of the country, must well remember the many indecisive skirmishes that took place between Lord Howe and the Count de Grasse, in the seas near the island of St. Christopher's, in the West Indies. At this period, the weather-gage was considered almost as a gage of victory, and hostile fleets would consume days in endeavouring to gain it. The French count took advantage of this prejudice; and when the English admiral bore down upon the French fleet, the line of the latter would discharge its raking broadside, bear up, and run to leeward, and again forming the line, have recourse to the same tactics. By means of this slippery manœuvre, this particular action consisted of nothing but numerous and indecisive skirmishes. It
gave Sir Sidney a lesson that he remembered in his after life, and it was one by which English commanders profited in succeeding encounters.
It does not fall within the scope of our undertaking to record the victories of the naval chiefs under whom our officer had the good fortune to act in a subordinate capacity. We have merely to mention them to show that the extent of his services justified his very rapid promotion, notwithstanding his very early youth.
He participated in the gallant Sir George B. Rodney's glorious victory of the 1st of April, 1782, and, immediately subsequent to this splendid event, he obtained his commission, bearing date 2nd of May, 1782, as commander, and was appointed to the Fury sloop of war, having served as a lieutenant less than one year.
In the next year, 1783, he was made post captain, an exceedingly rapid, and a not strictly regular, promotion—a rapidity of advancement that can only be accounted for by his father's interest at court, and justified by Sir Sidney's great merit. He was a post captain at the juvenile age of nineteen, having served as a commander only one year and five days.
With this promotion he obtained the command of the Alcmene, a small class frigate of twentyeight guns; and as a short and deceitful though a profound peace had appeared to have hushed up the angry feelings of the European powers, he returned to England, and on his arrival his ship was immediately paid off.
Now, with the certainty of life, was the certainty of the highest honours of his noble profession assured to him. Without meaning the imbecility of a pun, before he had reached his majority as a civilian, as a naval officer he ranked with a full colonel in the army. The minor man
was a full post. He had passed, when in the eye of the law he was only considered as an infant, as a warrior entitled to the command of hundreds of men, those difficult, and too often impassable portals which open to that path, which requires only time to guide the fortunate traveller to the high station of admiral of the red. Truly may it be said of Sir Sidney, that he possessed, in an eminent degree, that (by the Romans) much venerated attribute in a commander, good luck ; and it was happy for his country, and glorious to our hero, that he possessed merits equal only to his brilliancy of accident.
On his return to England he found his worthy parent residing at Carrington-street, May Fair; and though, as yet, he had not graven his name deeply on the tablets of fame, he had signalised himself sufficiently to make all connected with him proud to own him as an acquaintance, friend, or relation. His father, at this period, seemed to exist but for his favourite son ; every indulgence was his that he could bestow, and much more excellent advice was at his son's service than he chose to receive. It must be confessed that at this time he fell in with the gaieties of lis station, and the opportunities that were offered him in the best metropolitan society, but in a manner neither vicious nor outrageous. With the
With the excep