The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Sir George Napier
Sir George Napier.
The three brothers Napier, Charles, William, and George, all became generals, after careers of much vicissitude and multifarious danger in the British army. Charles, the hawk-faced enemy of Lord Dalhousie, was the conqueror of Scinde, and sent the news of it in the shortest despatch ever written, one word, "Peccavi," "I have Scinde." His victory of Meeanee over the Belochees, was won against the longest odds on record.
William Napier became the biographer of Charles, and author of the "History of The Peninsula War." Very troublesome men were Charles and William Napier. George was of a quieter cast, but a tiger for bravery, like the others. The family was credited with possessing the nine lives of a cat. Charles, desperately wounded, fell into the hands of the French, and had long been given up for dead when he turned up as an exchange, fresh as a daisy. William carried, for the latter half of his life, a bullet in his back, which embittered his temper, and put an extra edge on his admirable history. George was badly wounded, too.
It is sixty years since General Sir George Napier wrote his page 40 military reminiscences, only for the gratification of his own family One of his sons, a well-known General Officer in the army, has justifiably published the bulk of the memoir. Sir George does not profess to compete with his brother's history, but merely furnishes side lights on the Peninsula War, and other operations.
He entered the Dragoons at fifteen years of age. Colin Campbell, afterwards Lord Clyde, was only fifteen when he fought as an ensign at Vimiera. Such officers found their Sandhurst College and Shoe buryness in active warfare, from their youth up. They did not have time to play the Game of Kriegspiel, which Lord Chelmsford practised with such disastrous effect in the Isandula region.
Not with standing the splendid record of Abuklea, the quality of British soldiers is at present regarded as rather an open question in France, Germany, and Russia. They were held very cheaply all over Europe when Wellington went to Portugal, to commence his superb career there. His Indian record, high as it was, did not give him anything like the reputation now possessed by Sir Frederick Roberts, although Assaye was far more brilliant than Roberts' perfectly accomplished march from Cabul to Candahar, followed by the collapse of Ayoub. Roberts rose to the possibilities, but Wellington, in India, had much higher possibilities to rise to. Roberts must have a slap at the Russians to equal them.
Never the less, we say that Wellington—or more properly General Wellesley—did not achieve a very high English reputation, much less a European one, by his Indian deeds. By-the-way, the names of Wellesley and Wolseley are very much alike, and we will add, further, that Lord Wolseley is transcendently higher in esteem than ever General Wellesley was. Yet, with all respect, it must be said that his opportunities have not enabled him to accomplish so much as General Wellesley did before entering upon the Peninsula War.
The finest passage in Sir George Napier's book is the description of a scene at sea. The transports carrying troops from England to Portugal, the future heroes of Talavera, Salamanca, and Vittoria, including Lieutenant George Napier, approached the spot where the Battle of Trafalgar was fought. Here they met a large fleet of British men-of-war. It was just a year after the Battle of Trafalgar, and this fleet was the very same one which had conquered there. The emotions roused by the situation can be imagined. The fleet hove to in line, while the transports passed by. Soldiers and sailors mingled their hurrahs. The noble Admiral Collingwood, who had fought at Trafalgar with Nelson, stood at his ship's stem, and waved his hat as the troop vessels passed, all cheering him.
This occurrence strangely symbolised the epoch of the war. page 41 The naval sensations were over with the Battles of Copenhagen, the Nile, and Trafalgar. The curtain was just about to rise upon the struggle between France and England on land.