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the English is beyond dispute, since, without the loss of one ship, and with no more than forty men killed, they drove the enemy into his own ports, took the rear admiral and another vessel, and so discouraged the Dutch admirals, who had not agreed in their measures, that De Ruyter, who had declared against hazarding a battle, desired to resign his commission, and De Witt, who had insisted upon fighting, fell sick, as it was supposed, with vexation. But how great the loss of the Dutch was, is not certainly known; that two ships were taken they are too wise to deny, but affirm that those two were all that were destroyed. The English, on the other side, affirm that three of their vessels were disabled at the first encounter, that their numbers on the second day were visibly diminished, and that on the last day they saw three or four ships sink in their flight.
De Witt being now discharged by the Hollanders as unfortunate, and the chief command restored to Van Trump, great preparations were made for retrieving their reputation, and repairing their losses. Their endeavours were assisted by the English themselves, now made factious by success; the men who were intrusted with the civil administration being jealous of those whose military commands had procured so much honour, lest they who raised them should be eclipsed by them. Such is generally the revolution of affairs in every state ; danger and distress produce unanimity and bravery, virtues which are seldom unattended with success; but success is the parent of pride, and pride of jealousy and faction; faction makes way for calamity, and happy is that nation whose calamities renew their unanimity. Such is the rotation
of interests, that equally tend to hinder the total destruction of a people, and to obstruct an exorbitant increase of power.
Blake had weakened his fleet by many detachments, and lay with no more than forty sail in the Downs, very ill provided both with men and ammunition, and expecting new supplies from those whose animosity hindered them from providing them, and who chose rather to see the trade of their country distressed, than the sea-officers exalted by a new acquisition of honour and influence.
Van Trump, desirous of distinguishing himself at the resumption of his command by some remarkable action, had assembled eighty ships of war, and ten fireships, and steered towards the Downs, were Blake, with whose condition and strength he was probably acquainted, was then stationed. Blake, not able to restrain his natural ardour, or perhaps not fully informed of the superiority of his enemies, put out to encounter them, though his fleet was so weakly manned, that half of his ships were obliged to lie idle without engaging, for want of sailors. The force of the whole Dutch fleet was therefore sustained by about twenty-two ships. Two of the English frigates, named the Vanguard and the Victory, after having for a long time stood engaged amidst the whole Dutch fleet, broke through without much injury, nor did the English lose any ships till the evening, when the Garland, carrying forty guns, was boarded at once by two great ships, which were opposed by the English till they had scarcely any men left to defend the decks; then retiring into the lower part of the vessel, they blew up their decks, which were now possessed by the
enemy, and at length were overpowered and taken. The Bonaventure, a stout well-built merchant-ship, going to relieve the Garland, was attacked by a man of war, and, after a stout resistance, in which the captain, who defended her with the utmost bravery, was killed, was likewise carried off by the Dutch. Blake, in the Triumph, seeing the Garland in distress, pressed forward to relieve her, but in his way had his foremast shattered, and was himself boarded; but beating off the enemies, he disengaged himself, and retired into the Thames with the loss only of two ships of force, and four small frigates, but with his whole fleet much shattered. Nor was the victory gained at a cheap rate, notwithstanding the unusual disproportion of strength; for of the Dutch flag-ships one was blown up, and the other two disabled ; a proof of the English bravery, which should have induced Van Trump to have spared the insolence of carrying a broom at his top-mast in his triumphant passage through the channel, which he intended as a declaration that he would sweep the seas of the English shipping; this, which he had little reason to think of accomplishing, he soon after perished in attempting.
There are sometimes observations and inquiries, which all historians seem to decline by agreement, of which this action may afford us an example: nothing appears at the first view more to demand our curiosity, or afford matter for examination, than this wild encounter of twenty-two ships with a force, according to their accounts who favour the Dutch, three times superior. Nothing can justify a commander ip fighting under such disadvantages, but the impossibility of
retreating. But what hindered Blake from retiring as well before the fight as after it? To say he was ignorant of the strength of the Dutch fleet, is to impute to him a very criminal degree of negligence; and, at least, it must be confessed that, from the time he saw them, he could not but know that they were too powerful to be opposed by him, and even then there was time for retreat. To urge the ardour of his sailors, is to divest him of the authority of a commander, and to charge him with the most reproachful weakness that can enter into the character of a general. To mention the impetuosity of his own courage, is to make the blame of his temerity equal to the praise of his valour; which seems indeed to be the most gentle censure that the truth of history will allow. We must then admit, amidst our eulogies and applauses, that the great, the wise, and the valiant Blake was once betrayed to an inconsiderate and desperate enterprise, by the resistless ardour of his own spirit, and a noble jealousy of the honour of his country.
It was not long before he had an opportunity of revenging his loss, and restraining the insolence of the Dutch. On the 18th of February, 1652-3, Blake being at the head of eighty sail, and assisted, at his own request, by colonels Monk and Dean, espied Van Trump with a fleet of above 100 men of war as Clarendon relates, of 70 by their own publick accounts, and 300 merchant-ships under his convoy. The English, with their usual intrepidity, advanced towards them; and Blake in the Triumph, in which he always led his fleet, with twelve ships more, came to an engagement with the main body of the Dutch fleet, and by the disparity of their force was reduced to the last extremity, having received in his hull no fewer than 700 shots, when Lawson in the Fairfax came to his assistance. The rest of the English fleet now came in, and the fight was continued with the utmost degree of vigour and resolution, till the night gave the Dutch an opportunity of retiring, with the loss of one flag-ship, and six other men of war. The English had many vessels damaged, but none lost. On board Lawson's ship were killed 100 men, and as many on board Blake's, who lost his captain and secretary, and himself received a wound in the thigh.
Blake having set ashore his wounded men, sailed in pursuit of Van Trump, who sent his convoy before, and himself retired fighting towards Bul. loign. Blake ordered his light frigates to follow the merchants, still continued to harass Van Trump, and on the third day, the 20th of February, the two fleets came to another battle, in which Van Trump once more retired before the English, and making use of the peculiar form of his shipping, secured himself in the shoals. The accounts of this fight, as of all the others, are various; but the Dutch writers themselves confess that they lost eight men of war, and more than twenty merchant-ships; and it is probable that they suffered much more than they are willing to allow, for these repeated defeats provoked the common people to riots and insurrections, and obliged the States to ask, though ineffectually, for peace.
In April following the form of government in England was changed, and the supreme authority assumed by Cromwell ; upon which occasion Blake, with his associates, declared that, notwith