Royal Naval Biography/Preface
A natural wish to become acquainted, to a certain degree, with the characters of my contemporaries in a profession to which I am most ardently attached, and to which almost all my life has been devoted, first led me to enquire into the services of the Officers whose Memoirs I now present to the public. In gratifying this desire I collected much information; and, as I gathered, arranged it. My materials, in time, became considerable; and, thinking that what I had found both pleasing and useful to myself, might not be uninteresting to others, I resolved, after some hesitation, to publish that collection in the form here offered. I was, however, chiefly determined to do so by reflecting, that in my researches, I had discovered, that many gallant exploits had been achieved which were either wholly unknown, or had been but little regarded. Every person is aware that it is not always in the events most important to the country, that the greatest skill and courage have been exhibited; and yet, it is only when bravery and superior tactics have been displayed in acts of great public interest, that the reputation they deserved has been bestowed. This work having for its object the preservation of the names of many brave officers, otherwise liable to be forgotten, and with their many meritorious actions in the warfare of their country, consigned to an oblivion which singly they are undeserving of, and collectively bid a proud defiance to; the present and succeeding volumes will contain the history of the numerous noble achievements of the eventful wars of the late reign, the brilliance of which is lost in the splendour of the more important triumphs by sea and on land. Having this for its design, I indulge a confident hope that it will be secure of consideration. To the Navy, I venture to think it cannot fail to be welcome: and to the British public, never insensible to the glory and security which it owes to his Majesty's fleets, I look with assurance for a favorable reception. It is urged as an objection to a work of this nature, that praise may be swelled beyond desert, or censure unduly restrained, while the object of the memoir is still in existence to encourage hope or excite fear; and truth be suppressed by expectation of favour or dread of resentment. If this objection were acquiesced in, the excitement of emulation in the youth of our country, by examples of merit, which is one of the most important objects of history, would in a great degree be defeated. In the Royal Navy, especially, the instances of living worth are hardly less numerous than of those gone by. How many are there, upon whom the approbation of the nation has been bestowed, and to whom Great Britain looks with as much expectation against the hour of her need for future services, as she regards them with gratitude for their past! I join with the whole country in the fervent wish, that, if the dead are the only legitimate themes of history, it may be very long before they become just subjects of biography. But it is obvious, that if we were condemned to silence as respects them and their actions, the influence of some of the most splendid examples would be lost to the rising generation. To the present attempt, however, the objection does not apply; and the benefit of example may be attained without the possibility of the evil supposed to be blended with it I have carefully abstained, in every doubtful case, from panegyric or censure. I have left praise or blame to result from a plain and simple narration of facts, as correct as my means of research, and industrious investigation, could render it. Some grammatical errors, and many inelegancies of composition, are, I have no doubt, discoverable in this volume; these defects will be excused when it is considered that I went to sea at nine years of age, and that I served during the whole of the late war in vessels of a class to which no schoolmaster is allowed. Those with whom I associated had received as little education as myself; and what, therefore, I had not gained from instruction, I could not derive from example. Such inaccuracies, however, in a work of this kind, will, by those who read from curiosity, or for information, be little regarded. The importance of the Duke of Marlborough’s communication of a victory was not diminished, nor the authenticity of its details affected, because he neglected his periods and wrote oxiliaries in his despatches; nor will the fidelity of this volume be impeached, in consequence of my having sometimes used the indicative mood when I ought to have employed the subjunctive. It is for fidelity alone, that I claim any praise, or expect further encouragement in my laborious undertaking. That there are no errors in this volume, and will be none in those that are to follow, it would be idle to assert. When it is considered, that in the course of the work I shall have to speak of near two thousand persons, my readers will readily pardon a few mistakes. I have at least been anxiously careful to avoid rnistatements ; and those, which, notwithstanding my diligence, have occurred, shall be corrected, as early as possible after they are pointed out to me. It will be seen that, of some of the officers mentioned in the present volume, the notices are very short. In this nothing invidious is intended. My respect and reverence for the naval profession is unbounded; and I have, thank God, no enmity to gratify against any individual in existence. The brevity is in some instances to be attributed to the bodily infirmities of the individuals, preventing them from using their pens any further than to acknowledge what they have been pleased to term my “courtesy,” in apprising them of my being engaged in such a work, and to express their “regret,” that the great distance of their respective residences from town, precluded the possibility of a personal interview. Some few have disregarded my request to be furnished with information relative to their services; and. others, being on the continent, or employed on foreign service, I have found it impracticable to communicate with, unless indeed I had subjected myself, and the friends of the numerous highly distinguished officers who have honored me with their confidence, to a much greater delay in the production and perusal of this volume, than that already caused by long and severe illness, domestic affliction, and a formidable train of et ceteras.
I acknowledge without hesitation, and with thanks, my obligations to previous biographers and compilers: but though a considerable portion of my information has been drawn from those who have preceded me, I have even in this the merit of having so much abridged what I have taken, that though much original matter is added, and nothing material omitted, the whole is comprised in a small space. I apprehend, that, thus to have used the labours of my predecessors, requires no defence; and I trust it will be thought an improvement of the compilations from which I have borrowed, to have introduced many facts and anecdotes not to be found in them.
9, Beaufort Row, Chelsea,
May 3, 1823.