Littell's Living Age/Volume 140/Issue 1808/Trafalgar

From Macmillan's Magazine.


OCTOBER 21, 1805.

Heard ye the thunder of battle
Low in the south and afar?
Saw ye the flash of the death-cloud
Crimson on Trafalgar?
Such another day never
England will look on again,
Where the battle fought was the hottest,
And the hero of heroes was slain!


For the fleet of France and the force of Spain were gather'd for fight,
A greater than Philip their lord, a new Armada in might;
And the sails were white once more in the deep Gaditanian bay,
Where "Redoubtable" and "Bucentaure" and great "Trinidada" lay;
Eager-reluctant to fight; for across the bloodshed to be
Two navies beheld one prize in its glory, — the throne of the sea!
Which were bravest, who should tell? for both were gallant and true;
But the greatest seaman was ours, of all that sailed o'er the blue.


From Cadiz the enemy sallied: they knew not Nelson was there;
His name a navy to us, but to them a flag of despair.

From Ayamonte to Algeziras he guarded the coast,
Till he bore from Tavira south; and they now must fight, or be lost;
Vainly they steer'd for the Rock and the Midland sheltering sea,
For he headed the admirals round, constraining them under his lee,
Villeneuve of France, and Gravina of Spain: so they shifted their ground,
They could choose, — they were more than we; and they faced at Trafalgar round;
Banking their fleet two deep, a fortress-wall thirty-tower'd;
In the midst, four-storied with guns, the dark "Trinidada" lower'd.


So with those. — But meanwhile, as against some dyke that men massively rear,
From on high the torrent surges, to drive through the dyke as a spear,
Eagle-eyed all in his blindness, our chief sets his double array,
Making the fleet two spears, to thrust at the foe, anyway, …
"Anyhow! — without orders, each captain his Frenchman may grapple perforce:
"Collingwood first" (yet the "Victory" ne'er a whit slacken'd her course).
"Signal for action! Farewell! we shall win, but we meet not again!"
Then a low thunder of readiness ran from the decks o'er the main,
And on, — as the message from masthead to masthead flew out like a flame,
England expects every man will do his duty, — they came.


Silent they come; while the thirty black forts of the foemen's array
Clothe them in billowy snow, tier speaking o'er tier as they lay;
Flashes that came and went, as swords when the battle is rife;
But ours stood frowningly smiling, and ready for death as for life.
O in that interval grim, ere the furies of slaughter embrace,
Thrills o'er each man some far echo of England; some glance of some face!
Faces gazing seaward through tears from the ocean-girt shore;
Features that ne'er can be gazed on again till the death-pang is o'er. …
Lone in his cabin the admiral kneeling, and all his great heart
As a child's to the mother, goes forth to the loved one, who bade him depart
… O not for death, but glory! her smile would welcome him home!
Louder and thicker the thunderbolts fall; and silent they come.


As when beyond Dongola the lion, whom hunters attack,
Stung by their darts from afar, leaps in, dividing them back;
So between Spaniard and Frenchman the "Victory" wedged with a shout,
Gun against gun; a cloud from her decks and lightning went out;
Iron hailing of pitiless death from the sulphury smoke;
Voices hoarse and parch'd, and blood from invisible stroke.
Each man stood to his work, though his mates fell smitten around,
As an oak of the wood, while his fellow, flame-shatter'd, besplinters the ground:
Gluttons of danger for England, but sparing the foe as he lay;
For the spirit of Nelson was on them, and each was Nelson that day.


"She has struck!" he shouted. "She burns, the 'Redoubtable!' Save whom we can,
Silence our guns!" for in him tne woman was great in the man,
In that heroic heart each drop girl-gentle and pure,
Dying by those he spared; and now Death's triumph was sure!
From the deck the smoke-wreath clear'd, and the foe set his rifle in rest,
Dastardly aiming, where Nelson stood forth, with the stars on his breast:
"In honor I gain'd them, in honor I die with them" … Then, in his place,
Fell. … "Hardy! 'tis over; but let them not know;" and he cover'd his face.
Silent, the whole fleet's darling they bore to the twilight below;
And above the war-thunder came shouting, as foe struck his flag after foe.


To his heart death rose: and for Hardy, the faithful, he cried in his pain, —
"How gees the day with us, Hardy?" … "'Tis ours." Then he knew, not in vain
Not in vain for his comrades and England he bled: how he left her secure,
Queen of her own blue seas, while his name and example endure.
O, like a lover he loved her I for her as water he pours
Life-blood and life and love, given all for her sake, and for ours!
"Kiss me, Hardy! — Thank God! I have done my duty!" And then
Fled that heroic soul, and left not his like among men.


Hear ye the heart of a nation
Groan, for her saviour is gone;
Gallant and true and tender,
Child and chieftain in one?
Such another day never
England will weep for again,
When the triumph darken'd the triumph,
And the hero of heroes was slain.

F. T. Palgrave.