« PreviousContinue »
PROOFS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
1 P. 25. Other cases in point.] Two cis-Atlantic cases, of recent discussion, afford abundant matter for reflection. They are, the battle of Bunker's Hill, and the capture of major Andre. The opinions that have heretofore universally prevailed, respecting the conduct of general Putnam in the former, and on the character and motives of the captors of the unfortunate major, have been of late brought into controversy, and debated with great zeal and ardour. On the latter question, the opinion, so honourable to the parties, as well as to their country, whereby the procedure is rendered so invaluable and beneficial to the world in point of example, has been unanimously confirmed by the public. But with respect to general Putnam, the question appears to be adhuc sub judice, after having slept for above forty years. So much for history, even under its most favourable aspects! What must it be under its worst?
PROOFS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
. P. 20. “The rebellion and horrid massacre of English protestants in Ireland, to the number of one hundred and fiftyfour thousand in the province of Ulster only, by their own computation; which, added to the other three, makes up the total sum of that slaughter, in all likelihood, four times as great ;"7 that is, above six hundred thousand massacred in a few months, by insurgents, who, except in two or three instances, were uniformly defeated, and slaughtered without mercy !
? Milton's Iconoclastes, second edition, p. 49.
1 P. 24. Extract from the despatches of Commodore Rodgers to
the Secretary of the Navy, dated May 23, 1811. “At fifteen or twenty minutes past eight, being a little forward of her weather beam, and distant from seventy to a hundred yards, hailed, “What ship is that?” To this inquiry no answer was given : but I was hailed by her commander, and asked, “What ship is that?” Having asked the first question, I of course considered myself entitled, by the common rules of politeness, to the first answer. After a pause
of fifteen or twenty seconds, I reiterated my first inquiry of, “ What ship is that ?" and before I had time to take the trumpet from my mouth, was answered by a shot, that cut off one of our main-top back-stays, and went into our main-mast. At this instant, captain Caldwell (of marines) who was standing very near me, on the gangway, having observed, “Sir, she has fired at us,” caused me to pause. Just as I was in the act of giving an order to fire a shot in return, and before I had time to resume the repetition of the intended order, a shot was actually fired from the second division of this ship, and was scarcely out of the gun, before it was answered from our assumed enemy, by three others, in quick succession, and soon after by the rest of his broadside and musketry. When the first shot was fired, being under an impression that it might possibly have proceeded from accident, and without the orders of the commander, I had determined, at the moment, to fire only a single shot in return; but the immediate repetition of the previous unprovoked outrage induced me to believe that the insult was premeditated; and that, from our adversàry being at that time as ignorant of our real force as I was of his, he thought this, perhaps, a favourable opportunity of acquiring promotion, although at the expense of violating our neutrality, and insulting our flag. I accordingly, with that degree of repugnance incident to feeling, equally determined neither to be the aggressor, nor suffer the flag of my country to be insulted with impunity, gave a general order to fire; the effect of which, in from four to six minutes, as near as I can judge, having produced a partial silence of his guns, I gave orders to cease firing, discovering, by the feeble opposition, that it must be a ship of very inferior force to what I had supposed ; or that some untoward accident had happened to her.
PROOFS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
“My orders, in this instance, however, (although they pro. ceeded alone from motives of humanity, and a determination not to spill a drop of blood unnecessarily,) I had, in less than four minutes, some reason to regret; as he renewed his fire, of which two thirty-two pound shot cut off one of our fore shrouds, and injured our foremast. It was now that I found myself under the painful necessity of giving orders for a repetition of our fire, against a force which our forbearance alone had enabled to do us any injury of moment. Our fire was accordingly renewed, and continued from three to five minutes longer, when, perceiving our opponent's gaff and colours down, his maintopsail-yard upon the cap, and his fire silenced, although it was so dark, that I could not discern any other particular injury we had done, or how far he was in a situation to do us further harm, I nevertheless embraced the earliest moment to stop our fire, and prevent the further effusion of blood.” 1 P. 24. Extract of a letter from Captain Arthur Batt Bingham
to Admiral Sawyer, dated May 21, 1811. “The ship was brought to, her colours hoisted, her guns double-shotted, and every preparation made in case of a surprise. By his manner of steering down, he evidently wished to lay his ship in a position for raking, which I frustrated, by wearing three times. About fifteen minutes past eight, he eame within hail. I hailed, and asked, What ship that was? he again repeated my words, and fired a broadside, which I instantly returned. The action then became general, and continued so for three quarters of an hour, when he ceased firing, and seemed to be on fire about the main-hatchway. He then filled. I was obliged to desist from firing, as the ship falling off, no gun would bear, and had no after sail to keep her to, all the rigging and sails cut to pieces; not a brace nor a bow-line left. He hailed, and asked what ship this was: I told him. He then asked me if I had struck my colours? my answer, No: and asked what ship it was ? as plain as I could understand, (he having shot some distance at this time, he answered, The United States' frigate. He fired no more guns, but stood from us, giving no reason for his most extraordinary conduct.”
“ Who should be trusted, when one's own right hand
Subject continued. Sir John Temple. The age
of miracles revived. Bodies, after being six weeks drowned, rising en masse from the bed of a river. A man cut and hacked, and his entrails taken out, without bleeding. Watery ghosts screaming for revenge for three months.
IN such cases of discrepancy as that of the President and Little Belt, (and similar ones are to be found on almost every topic of importance) how can even a cotemporary historian, with very considerable advantages, decide between them? He can have been an eye-witness of few of the events he narrates. For all the rest, he must necessarily depend on the accounts of others. He must either rely on one side or the other, or blend the two accounts together. In either case, error appears, as already observed, absolutely inevitable. And even of those events in which the writer has himself been a party, he must derive much of his information from others. An officer, who has been engaged in a battle, can have had but a limited view of the passing events. Armies sometimes occupy miles square; and therefore small is the portion that can be accurately surveyed by any individual.
If this view be correct, as I think can hardly be disputed, even so far as respects history written with a sincere regard to truth, and a fixed and unalterable determination not to swerve, intentionally, from her luminous path, how deplorable must be the case with histories, of which the original authors were under the influence of all the hideous passions that deform and degrade human nature, and assimilate men to demonsbigotry,“ dire insatiable rancour, national hostility, a ravenous thirst for the blood and estatesc of the natives,
and where the modern authors are servile copyists, who implicitly follow in the beaten and foul path of their predecessors !
Almost all the writers of Irish history, down to Sir John Temple, were precisely in this situation, under the influence often of the whole, but never free from the goadings of some, of those dire passions. They were the historians of their own exploits, and pursued the horrible system of policy which led Rome to the establishment of her grinding tyranny over the greater part of the then known world, and which has laid the populous and once mighty empire of Hindostan prostrate at the feet of a small body of merchants in Leadenhall street. The unfortunate natives of Ireland, as well the descendants of the Strongbows, the Butlers, the Courcys, the Fitzstephenses, the Fitzgeralds," the Raymonds, and the Lacys, as the aboriginals of the country, were, under the most absurd pretexts, almost constant