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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I

1691

Introduction

20

which were, to reconnoitre the enemy, to chase away stragglers, and to perform various other detached services : the remainder consisted of hospital-ships, bomb-vessels, and fireships. The reconnoitring or cruising portion usually comprised the fifth and sixth rates, and were denominated frigates. A navy was therefore composed of line-of-battle ships, frigates, bomb-vessels, fire and hospital ships: the two first, as comprehending within the six rates the bulk of the fighting navy, constituted the two grand or principal divisions.

No one can dispute the propriety of the term line-of-battle ship, as above applied. We will now endeavour to ascertain how friggot, * frigat, † or in modern English, frigate, a term that in itself conveys no meaning, became invested with the extensive signification which we have also shown it to possess. The author of the "Dictionnaire de la Marine," published at Amsterdam in 1739, is the earliest writer we know of that treats on the frigate. He says, "The word frégate derives its origin from the Mediterranean, where it was usual to designate as frigates long vessels, that used both sails and oars, and carried a deck, of which the top-side, being higher than that of galleys in general, had openings resembling portholes, for the oars to pass through." __" Ce mot de frégate tire son origine de la Méditerranée, où l'on appeloit frégates de longs bâtimens à voile et à rame, qui portoient couverte, et dont le bord, qui étoit beaucoup plus haut que celui des galères, avoit des ouvertures, comme des sabords, pour passer les rames." ‡ What occasioned these sailing galleys to be named frégata § is not very clear ; but, at all events, we may safely conjecture, that the principal quality for which they were famed was swiftness of sailing. ¶

The contiguity of France, by her Mediterranean frontier, to the waters that gave birth to the " frégata," renders it easy to conceive that, ere many years had elapsed, vessels of a somewhat similar form, bearing the same name, appeared in the channel. Augmented size and a bluffer body would diminish the rate of sailing, but were requisite, nevertheless, to counteract the storms and swells of a northern sea. Towards the middle of the sixteenth century, the generality of English merchant-ships were called frigates; some of which, towards the latter part of the

* Fuller in his worthies, Pepys, Raleigh, &c. Mr. Derrick, whenever he quotes passages from these and other English writers, alters the language to the modern standard. This is highly improper ; as, were the reader not aware that such a liberty had been taken, he might justly doubt the authenticity of the quotations.

† Johnson. Mr. Todd, also, spells it in the same manner. We may here remark, that Johnson, or rather his printer, has mispelt the French word, calling it Frigate instead of Frégate. Both in Mr. Todd's edition, and Mr. Chalmers's Abridgement, the same error prevails.

‡ Dict. de la Marine, p. 498.

§ "Frégata ; Picciol navilo tia remo." Baretti.

¶ The French give the name of frégate to a very swift-flying sea-gull.

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