Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Volunteer-day in 1803


King (my friend Mr. Charles Keene has drawn an initial K, and therefore I must use it, or I should have liked to begin respectfully with His Gracious Majesty) George the Third reviewed Volunteers in Hyde Park on the 26th and the 28th of October, 1803. I thought, the other day, while everybody was talking about the glorious sight of last Saturday, that it would be interesting, and, what is much better, amusing, to turn back to the records of the King’s Reviews, and see whether fifty-seven years make any remarkable difference in the circumstances under which a Sovereign of England calls Englishmen to arm themselves and learn the quickest way of destroying Frenchmen.

That year, 1803, was a busy one. We were not at actual war with our friend Napoleon when it began, but before it was half through we were committed to a tremendous struggle. The Addington Cabinet was in office, but the “Doctor’s”[1] Ministry was not considered a strong one, and people said that it must go out when any grand crash came. Lord Hawkesbury (the Foreign Secretary), and Lord Eldon and Lord Castlereagh, were also in office. Outside were Pitt, and Fox, and Lord Grenville—all strong men—but the people looked to Pitt, in case war should come, just as the people looked a short time ago to another minister—extremely like him, as far as the initial goes and in each case the people looked the right way. However, war came, but the Ministry did not turn out, though the Doctor made proposals to Mr. Pitt to take office. Pitt knew his own value, and had no idea of being a doctor’s assistant. He would come in as head of the firm, or not at all. The medical ministry held on, somehow, until May in the following year, when the heaven-born William came in for the rest of his life, unfortunately a very short term. Pitt, Fox, and Nelson, all went down nearly together.

The Uncle of his Nephew was by no means so polite as is the Nephew of his Uncle. Napoleon was exceedingly arrogant just then, insulting the British Lion whenever he had a chance, saying that England, single-handed, could do nothing against France, and filling his newspapers with all kinds of anti-English matter. He had magnificent armies and a powerful fleet, and he was always making additions to both, though he persisted in saying that he was doing nothing of the kind, and declaring that England wanted war, not he. Perhaps it would have been better to have believed him, and not to have armed, but our fathers and uncles thought otherwise.

Parliament had met in the November of the preceding year, and the debates had been very interesting. With such men to speak as Pitt, Fox, Sheridan, Canning, and Wilberforce, and others whose names every schoolboy remembers (try him, Paterfamilias, he is just home for the holidays,—make him comfortable), the discussions were likely to be worth reporting, and one only regrets that the wonderful machine, called the Gallery, was then so imperfect, in comparison with what it is now, when oratory is so rare. But although the Ministers had been exposed to constant questionings, and several hot debates had arisen upon the state of the Continent and our own want of adequate defences, the fatal sign of certain war was not given until the 8th of March, when the King sent the House a Message. It was brief and to the purpose, and the answer was an instant vote of Ten Thousand Seamen.

Not much time was lost. On “the very next Sunday of all” our Ambassador, Lord Whitworth, attended a Court at the Tuileries (which used then to be spelt with an “h” in it), and the First Consul, in the presence of two hundred people, thus addressed the Englishman:

“So you want to go to war.”

“No,” responded the calm English nobleman; “on the contrary, we are too sensible of the advantages of peace.”

Thereupon the Uncle of his Nephew flew into a Satanic rage.

“The English want war; but if they are the first to draw the sword, I will not be the first to sheathe it. They don’t respect treaties.”

Lord Whitworth was, of course, too high-bred a gentleman to burst out laughing at the idea of a Napoleon talking about keeping treaties, and was sufficiently decorous in his reply to our rude Uncle. The latter broke out again:

“What are you arming for? I tell you that you may destroy France, but you cannot frighten her.”

There was some more of this kind of thing, which Lord Whitworth duly reported to his chief at home. It became more and more clear that the fight was coming. When an Emperor of France makes pointed remarks at a reception, the knapsacks are all but packed—we have seen something of that in our time. But when he grows abusive, ambassadors order the laundresses to send home those shirts.

The 21st of March was the anniversary of the Battle of Alexandria. If you will go into St. James’s Park, you will see a Turkish gun on a beautiful carriage, with sphinxes and other Egyptian ornaments. The gun passed from French hands to English, and other English hands placed it in that corner on this day. On the 11th, Bonaparte, while driving in a carriage and four, was thrown out at St. Cloud, but not much hurt. I wonder whether our fathers and uncles, when they heard the news, said anything about his neck, and put any sort of participle before the noun, and wished. I fear it is possible, from what one knows of their sons and nephews.

Then came the crash. The ambassadors of the two countries, hurrying home, cross each other, and an Order in Council comes out, for granting General Reprisals, and 5l. for every seaman. And next day, the 18th May, 1803, comes the Declaration of War. Please to note certain points in it.

King George begs to contrast the liberal commercial spirit of England with the spirit of France in such matters. The King calls attention to Napoleon’s military occupation of Holland, to his violation of the liberties of Switzerland, and to his territorial annexations in Italy. Our Sovereign states that Napoleon is threatening the integrity of the Turkish Empire. His Majesty remarks upon Napoleon’s having made attempts to shackle the press of England. I really feel bound to repeat that I am writing concerning 1803.

War is declared, and both parties go to work in earnest. Napoleon, in a very scoundrelly fashion, “detains” the English who had been residing in France, 11,000 of them, and 1300 in Holland, an act which is foolish as well as wicked, for it inflames the hatred of England against him to a degree not easily conceivable. The King of England declines entering the war as King of Hanover, and that province surrenders to Mortier—there was no saving it. On the other hand our ships dash at the French colonies, and take them one after the other, and we make the sea no safe place for French vessels. Parliament strengthens the hands of Government, and what opposition is made to the conduct of Ministers is borne down in the Lords by a majority of 142 to 10 (the Earl of Derby one of the ten), and in the Commons by a majority of 398 to 67 (Mr., afterwards Earl Grey, Fox, and Whitbread three of the 67), and Twelve Millions of War Taxes are granted. An army of reserve, of 50,000 men, is planned, and it is not to go out of the country; but an army of nearly eight times that number springs up voluntarily, as you shall see. There is a bill, too, for raising a levy en masse in case of invasion. The country is roused. London gives in its assurance of support to Government, and the Common Council raises 800 men. The merchants meet on the Royal Exchange, and do not talk at all in the tone of Lord Overstone, but are ready “to stand or fall with their King and country.” Lloyd’s raises a noble subscription, and, as in the days of the Pretender, the City—not then the sham it is now voted—“pronounced” for England, and with tremendous effect. Sad, indeed, was the contrast abroad. Napoleon closed the ports, and ruined the traders, and while English merchants were pouring out their gold to be transmuted into steel and lead, thirty wretched Hamburgh merchants cut their throats in one week. "Des bagatelles,” said Napoleon, when charged with one of his crimes.

Parliament was content to leave the war to the Ministers, and was prorogued on the 12th August, the King being hugely cheered by the excited people on his way to and from the House. The Volunteer movement had now spread all over the country, and everywhere there was drill, patient, earnest, vigorous, just such as has been going on, to the honour of the manhood of England, for several months past. I must speak of results only—the machinery by which such results are brought about is under the eyes of all of us. It was arranged that the King should review the Volunteers, or rather so many of them as could be brought together in London. There were to be two review days, one for the London men, the other for Westminster, Lambeth, and Southwark.

Everybody will have read the “Times” of last Saturday. Comparatively few are now living who read the “Times” on the morning of the 26th October, 1803, for fifty-seven years makes awful gaps in households. Still, there may be some who remember being told to read out with proper emphasis and due discretion the Leading Article of the day. Those who did so read as follows:

“This day will offer one of the noblest and most exhilarating spectacles that can possibly be exhibited to an honest and patriotic Briton.”

And the now aged reader may recollect that, after some manly and thoughtful remarks upon the subject of the national demonstration, the writer proceeds to say:

If that Presumptuous Man, Bonaparte, could see the sight, what an awful lesson he might learn.

But he could not see it, and would not learn it in print, and so we had to beat it into him for several years thence following; and having made the final impression upon him about this time of year in 1815, we permitted him to con it over in privacy and comfort for the rest of his life. It was a chivalrous way of treating a foul and bloody-minded burglar; and it may be a question whether, in the interests of humanity, similar treatment of a similar criminal, should such a one arise, will be held to be just. However, on with our notes.

The “Times” of that day is not a large paper. Four sides only; and though a respectable sheet, not an imposing one. It has but fifty-nine advertisements. They are not lively. The Two Original Invisible Girls are announced as included in the Grand Saloon of Arts and Illustrious Men, Wigley’s Royal Promenade Rooms, Spring Gardens. Admission to the invisibilities, half-a-crown by day, three shillings at night; so that they might have been spirits like those of the Rapping Jugglers, and performed best in the dark. Mr. Richardson, at the hotel under the Little Piazza, Covent Garden, killed a fine green turtle that day, doubtless for the Volunteers. A person of Character and Connexions (with some interest) wanted to meet a gentleman desirous to retire from office. Honour, secrecy and 5000l. are among the advertiser’s qualifications. I wonder what came of it. Instead of the column of close print in which all sorts of nobodies proclaim their conjugal and funeral happinesses, there is but a single announcement of a marriage. “Miss Deacon, of Wiggan Hall, near Watford,” is married. I trust she has had a happy life. There is a second leading article, containing very sensible counsel as to what we should do with Domingo, when the French were expelled. Then we have the little bits of news. Firing has been heard at Deal Preparations were being made for a Secret Expedition, and Dr. Addington had had a long interview with Lord St. Vincent. The rest of the paper is occupied chiefly with Volunteer news of all kinds, and a very mercilessly long address to the force: the writer, “Edgar,” taking immense pains to prove to them that Bonaparte really means to come. It is explained, I am happy to say, that the Chelsea Pensioners have plenty of prayers read to them, though the contrary had been maliciously stated. Commendation of a tradesman’s club at Dover, for drinking toasts in ridicule of Mr. Cobbett, and for burning his books; and a paragraph thanking God that neither the King nor the people want a Minister from Brookes’s or Newmarket, and that a man might have talents (contrary to Jacobin notions) without being a swindler or a sharper: mark the departing age of personalities, and curiously contrast with the honourable and manly tone of the paper generally. This was the “Times” of Volunteer-day, 1803; and when I have added that it notices with approbation the performance of “Henry V.,” at Covent Garden, overnight, the patriotic character of the play, and John Kemble’s acting being its principal merits—and, for the further delectation of theatrical readers, have said that at Drury Lane that night were performed the “Marriage Promise” (Lethe is a brave river), and “Fortune’s Frolic” (which survives), and that at Covent Garden there was the opera of the “Cabinet,” with Mr. Braham, and the “Irish Widow,” I may come on to my notes of the Review.

No, no—one thing more. Will not the ladies like to know that the “Riding Habits of that day were made with military stomachers”? which is described as a just “compliment from the Fair to those who defend them.” The Italics are those of the compositor of 1803, who, I suppose, has long since ceased to “justify.”

And now for the story of the Review of so many of the 379,945 Volunteers as could be brought into Hyde Park in that memorable October.

As early as seven o’clock several of the corps entered the Park at the Grosvenor and Hyde Park Corner Gates. By eight o’clock all the corps stood assembled in close column of companies, in and behind the right of its own ground. A quarter-master, with the camp colour-men of each corps, was on the ground at seven, and one of them belonging to each corps attended at the different gates to conduct his regiment to its proper point. As the corps proceeded to their different stations, each marched with its right in front, so that when it arrived at the proper point the right division stood on the ground it was to occupy in the line, and the other divisions were in close column behind it. The advantage of this arrangement was, that all the corps could, without the slightest confusion, deploy into line as soon as the signal was given. Soon after nine o’clock, a signal gun, a 12-pounder, was fired, and the general line was formed by deploying to the left. The line was formed at close ranks. The ranks were then extended, and the officers advanced in front. The corps that had guns stationed them on their right. The deploying into line, the forming close ranks, and the subsequent opening of the ranks, were executed with the greatest precision.

The Earl of Harrington, who commanded the line, was on the ground by eight, as were Major Generals Finch, Burrard (do you remember

Sir Arthur and Sir Harry, Sir Harry and Sir Hugh,
Sing, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle-doo;
Sir Arthur was a gallant knight, but for the other two,
Sing, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle-doo?)

Leslie, and Fitzroy. About nine, the Commander-in-Chief entered from Hyde Park Corner, with the Duke of Cambridge, and their aides-de-camp. Then came the Duke of Cumberland, in his Light Dragoon uniform. A few minutes before ten, a 12-pounder announced the King, and the whole army shouldered arms. King George came in his private carriage, with General the Duke of Kent, and Teddington Volunteer the Duke of Clarence. He came at the gate at Kensington, where His Majesty mounted his charger, and rode forward, preceded by the Life Guards and the Royal grooms with four led horses, elegantly caparisoned in caparisons that were not odious. He was attended by the Princes, and followed by Queen Charlotte, and Princesses Augusta and Elizabeth, in an open carriage. Princesses Sophia and Mary, and the Princess of Gloucester, also came. Opposite the entrance of Kensington Gardens the King was met by his son of York and a brilliant following. He was joined by the French Princes, Monsieur and the Princes de Condè, de Bourbon, and de Berri, on horseback—detesting the whole English assemblage, no doubt, but rejoicing in anything that promised mischief to their friend the First Consul and his revolutionary friends. There, too, rode the gallant Dumouriez.

A salute of twenty-one guns from the Artillery Company announced the King’s entrance to the Park, and a second cannon his arrival at the centre of the line. The officers saluted, the corps presented arms, and the bands played the National Anthem. A third cannon, and the corps shouldered and then supported arms. The King then proceeded to the right of the line, and passed along from right to left, each corps carrying arms as His Majesty arrived near the right of the corps. While the King passed along the front the music played a variety of martial tunes.

The grandest part of the spectacle was when the King descended the hill to repass, at the “end” of the Serpentine (the report says “the bottom,” but I suppose that is to be translated as above), to the corps on the left of the line, which were stationed along the footway to Kensington Gardens, with their front towards the water. By this time an October fog had partially risen, and the whole procession and the immense crowd came well into sight. “The coup d’œil,” says the reporter of that day, “was grand beyond description,” and he then of course endeavours to describe it, and decidedly proves his case so far as he was personally concerned. But the significance of the sight, Twelve Thousand Armed Freemen in presence of their King, was the real grandeur.

On the signal of a seventh gun, volleys were fired by battalions from centre to flanks, and on the eighth there went up three tremendous and unanimous cheers, amid the waving of hats, hands, and kerchiefs, and “God Save the King” from all the bands went once more throbbing into the air. A ninth gun, and the corps wheeled backwards on their left by divisions, and having passed His Majesty in the prescribed order, proceeded to quarters. This was about half-past one, and the King and his party went by Rotten Row to “Buckingham House,” followed by the crowd, whose aroused national sympathies broke out into incessant and enormous shouting. It is stated that no accidents occurred. The report dwells upon the fact, that the multitude was vastly swelled by accumulations from the country, everybody in a circle of twenty miles having gathered, and “many persons” having come “as much as one hundred miles” to be present. The “circle” of Saturday was widened, thanks to certain diagonal lines of iron.

The second review, on the next day but one, paraded a larger number of men, and though the fog—(expressly sent by Bonaparte, who

Made the quartern loaf and Luddites rise,
And filled the butchers’ shops with large blue flies”)

—was very gloomy and scowling, it gave way in the presence of British valour, and the day was as splendidly successful as its predecessor. Son Frederick had his father’s orders to convey to the Volunteers the expression of their King’s highest approbation and heartfelt satisfaction, and the words of the General Order may appropriately be cited: “The spirit of loyalty and patriotism on which the system of the Armed Volunteers throughout the country was originally founded, has risen with the exigencies of the times, and at this moment forms such a bulwark to the constitution and liberties of the country, as will enable us, under the protection of Providence, to bid defiance to the unprovoked malice of our enemies, and to hurl back, with becoming indignation, the threats which they have presumed to vent against our independence, and even our existence, as a nation.” It is a long sentence this, and I do not know whose pen helped our Son Frederick to such a breather, but it contained truths for that time, and truths that will serve again in this present year of Grace and month of June.

Shirley Brooks.

  1. Addington’s father had been a Doctor, and his own manner was somewhat professional, but the name of “The Doctor” was finally affixed to the respectable statesman by another respectable statesman, best known in these days as having written the “School for Scandal.” In a debate in the Commons, Sheridan, who had been poking a good deal of fun at the Premier, proceeded to quote the English version of Martial’s Non amo te, Sabide, and laid such a marked stress upon the penulumate word

    “I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,”

    that thenceforth the name was branded upon him.