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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I


Sir J. Jervis's Retreat from the Mediterranean


impracticable for the British to make any movement in pursuit, any, at all events, that was likely to succeed. Supposing the destination of this squadron to be the West Indies, Sir John Jervis, on the following day, the 11th, despatched a sloop of war with the intelligence to the commanders in chief at Barbadoes and Jamaica.

Figurative language, however much to be admired in poetry, ill suits the sober page of history : it is, indeed, so foreign to the subject, that the reader is apt to overlook the hyperbole, and either to treasure up in his memory the literal meaning, or wholly to reject it as too extravagant for his credence. A contemporary, feeling himself called upon to explain why Sir John Jervis quitted the Mediterranean with his fleet, says thus: "We now begin to perceive the full force of our mistaken lenity to the Toulonese, whose half-burnt fleet was, in conjunction with that of Spain, driving before them the most intrepid admiral and the bravest captains Britain had ever seen: Jervis, Nelson, Troubridge, Hood, Hallowell, and many others, were compelled to fly before the united forces of France and Spain." *

Can this allude to Sir John Jervis's voyage from Corsica to Gibraltar ? Who was "driving" him? Surely not Don Juan de Langara, who did not quit Toulon until the British admiral had been a month on his passage ; nay, not until he was in the very act of sheltering himself under the guns of an impregnable fortress ? It appears to us, that the writer would have better served the cause of his patron, by endeavouring to reconcile Sir John's proceedings to the pledge which, within a fortnight of the commencement of his retreat, he gave to the King of the two Sicilies, in the following words, part of a letter copied at full length into the same writer's work : "The gracious condescension your majesty has been pleased to show to me, in deprecating under your royal hand the dreadful effect which the retreat of the fleet of the king, my master, from these seas, would have on your majesty's dominions, and upon all Italy in the present crisis, has prompted me to exert every nerve to give all the support in my power to the cause of religion and humanity in which we are engaged ; and I have, in consequence thereof, and conformably to the instructions I have recently received, concerted with the Viceroy of Corsica to take post in the island of Elba, and to face the enemy as long as the subsistence of the fleet and the army will admit." *

The gale of wind, which came so opportunely for M. Villeneuve's passage through the straits of Gibraltar, fell heavily, and in one instance fatally, upon the British ships at anchor in the bay. The 74-gun ship Courageux, commanded by Lieutenant John Burrows, in the absence of Captain Benjamin Hallowell, who was on shore attending a court-martial, parted from

* Brenton, vol. ii., p. 138.

† Ibid p. 135.

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