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head, in which, however, I am the more excusable, being now on that part of his life which I am obliged to leave almost a blank.
During his lieutenancy, and after he had perfected himself in the knowledge and duties of a practical sailor, he was compelled by the state of his health to remain in England for a considerable length of time. Of this he industriously availed himself for the acquirement of substantial knowledge from books; and during his whole life afterwards, he considered those as his happiest hours, which, without any neglect of official or professional duty, he could devote to reading. He preferred, indeed he almost confined himself to, history, political economy, voyages and travels, natural history, and latterly agricultural works: in short, to such books as contain specific facts, or practical principles capable of specific application. His active life, and the particular objects of immediate utility, some one of which he had always in his view, precluded a taste for works of pure speculation and abstract science, though he highly honoured those who were eminent in these respects, and considered them as the benefactors of mankind, no less than those who afterwards discovered the mode of applying their principles, or who realized them in practice. Works of amusement, as novels, plays, and the like did not appear even to amuse him;
and the only poetical composition, of which I have ever heard him speak, was a manuscript poem, written by one of my friends, which I read to his lady in his presence. To my surprise he afterwards spoke of this with warm interest; but it was evident to me, that it was not so much the poetic merit of the composition that had interested him, as the truth and psychological insight with which it represented the practicability of reforming the most hardened minds, and the various accidents which may awaken the most brutalized person to a recognition of his nobler being. I will add one remark of his own knowledge acquired from books, which appears to me both just and valuable. The prejudice against such knowledge, he said, and the custom of opposing it to that which is learnt by practice, originated in those times when books were almost confined to theology and to logical and metaphysical subtleties; but that at present there is scarcely any practical knowledge, which is not to be found in books: the press is the means by which intelligent men now converse with each other, and persons of all classes and all pursuits convey, each the contribution of his individual experience. It was therefore, he said, as absurd to hold book-knowledge at present in contempt, as it would be for a man to avail himself only of his own eyes and ears, and to aim at nothing which could not be performed exclusively by his own arms. The use and necessity of personal experience, consisted in the power of choosing and applying what had been read, and of discriminating by the light of analogy the practicable, and probability from mere plausibility. Without a judgment matured and steadied by actual experience, a man would read to little or perhaps to bad purpose; but yet that experience, which in exclusion of all other knowledge has been derived from one man's life, is in the present day scarcely worthy of the name—at least for those who are to act in the higher and wider spheres of duty. An ignorant general, he said, inspired him with terror; for if he were too proud to take advice he would ruin himself by his own blunders; and if he were not, by adopting the worst that was offered. A great genius may indeed form an exception; but we do not lay down rules in expectation of wonders. A similar remark I remember to have heard from an officer, who to eminence in professional science and the gallantry of a tried soldier adds all the accomplishments of a sound scholar and the powers of a man of genius.
One incident, which happened at this period of Sir Alexander's life, is so illustrative of his character, and furnishes so strong a presumption that the thoughtful humanity by which he was distinguished was not wholly the growth of his latter years, that, though it may appear to some trifling in itself, I will insert it in this place, with the occasion on which it was communicated to me. In a large party at the Grand Master's palace, I had observed a naval officer of distinguished merit listening to Sir Alexander Ball, whenever he joined in the conversation, with so marked a pleasure, that it seemed as if his very voice, independently of what he said, had been delightful to him: and once as he fixed his eyes on Sir Alexander Ball, I could not but notice the mixed expression of awe and affection, which gave a more than common interest to so manly a countenance. During his stay in the island, this officer honoured me not unfrequently with his visits; and at the conclusion of my last conversation with him, in which I had dwelt on the wisdom of the governor's conduct in a recent and difficult emergency, he told me that he considered himself as indebted to the same excellent person for that which was dearer to him than his life. " Sir Alexander Ball,” said he, “has (I dare say) forgotten the circum
stances; but when he was Lieutenant Ball, he was the officer whom I accompanied in my first boat expedition, being then a midshipman and only in my fourteenth year. As we were rowing up to the vessel which we were to attack, amid a discharge of musketry, I was overpowered by fear, my knees trembled under me, and I seemed on the point of fainting away. Lieutenant Ball, who saw the condition I was in, placed himself close beside me, and still keeping his countenance directed toward the enemy, took hold of my hand, and pressing it in the most friendly manner, said in a low voice, 'Courage, my dear boy! don't be afraid of yourself! you will recover in a minute or so—I was just the same when I first went out in this way.' Sir,” added the officer to me, “it was as if an angel had put a new soul into me. With the feeling that I was not yet dishonoured, the whole burden of agony was removed; and from that moment I was as fearless and forward as the oldest of the boat's crew, and on our return the lieutenant spoke highly of me to our captain. I am scarcely less convinced of my own being, than that I should have been what I tremble to think of, if, instead of his humane encouragement, he had at that moment scoffed, threatened, or reviled me. And this was the more kind in him, because, as I afterwards understood, his own conduct in his first trial had evinced to all appearances the greatest fearlessness, and that he said this therefore only to give me heart, and restore me to my own good opinion.” This anecdote, I trust, will have some weight with those who may have lent an ear to any of those vague calumnies from which no naval commander can secure his good name, who, knowing the paramount necessity of regularity and strict discipline in a ship of war, adopts an appropriate plan for the attainment of these objects, and remains constant and immutable in the execution. To an Athenian, who in praising a public functionary had said that every one either applauded him, or left him without censure, a philosopher replied—“How seldom then must he have done his duty!"
Of Sir Alexander Ball's character, as Captain Ball, of his measures as a disciplinarian I have now to speak*. On assuming the command of a man-of-war, he found a m nous crew, more than one-half of them uneducated Irishmen, and of the remainder no small portion had become sailors by compromise of punishment. What terror could effect by severity and frequency of acts of discipline, had been already effected. And what was this effect? Something like that of a polar winter on a flask of brandy. The furious spirit concentered itself with tenfold strength at the heart; open violence was changed into secret plots and conspiracies; and the consequent orderliness of the crew, as far as they were orderly, was but the brooding of a tempest. The new commander instantly commenced a system of discipline as near as possible to that of ordinary law;-as much as possible, he avoided, in his own person, the appearance of any will or arbitrary power to vary, or to remit, punishment. The rules to be observed were affixed to a conspicuous part of the ship, with the particular penalties for the breach of each particular rule; and care was taken that every individual of the ship should know and understand this code. With a single exception in the case of mutinous behaviour, a space of twenty-four hours was appointed between the first charge and the second hearing of the cause, at which time
* This part of Mr. Coleridge's narrative is taken from a previous Section of The Friend,' and in this place he requests the reader to re-peruse that passage.
accused person was permitted and required to bring forward whatever he thought conducive to his defence or palliation. If, as was commonly the case-for the officers well knew that the commander would seriously resent in them all caprice of will, and by no means permit to others what he denied to himself,
; -no answer could be returned to the three questions–Did you not commit the act? Did you not know that it was in contempt of such a rule, and in defiance of such a punishment? And was it not wholly in your own power to have obeyed the one and avoided the other?-the sentence was then passed with the greatest solemnity, and another, but shorter, space of time was again interposed between it and its actual execution. During this space the feelings of the commander, as a man, were so well blended with his inflexibility, as the organ of the law; and how much he suffered previously to and during the execution of the sentence was so well known to the crew, that it became a common saying with them, when a sailor was about to be punished, the captain takes it more to heart than the fellow himself. But whenever the commander perceived any trait of pride in the offender, or the germs of any noble feeling, he lost no opportunity of saying, “It is not the pain that you are about to suffer which grieves me? You are none of you, I trust, such cowards as to turn faint-hearted at the thought of that! but that, being a man, and one who is to fight for his king and country, you should have made it necessary to treat you as a vicious beast-it is this that grieves me.”
I have been assured, both by a gentleman who was a lieutenant on board that ship at the time when the heroism of its captain, aided by his characteristic calmness and foresight, greatly influenced the decision of the most glorious battle recorded in the annals of our naval history; and very recently by a grey headed sailor, who did not even know my name, or could have suspected that I was previously acquainted with the circumstances—I have been assured, I
that the success of this plan was such as astonished the oldest officers, and convinced the most incredulous. Ruffians, who like the old Buccaneers, had been used to inflict torture on themselves for sport, or in order to harden themselves beforehand, were tamed and overpowered, how or why they themselves knew not. From the fiercest spirits were heard the most earnest entreaties for the forgiveness of their commander: not before the punishment, for it was too well known that then they would have been to no purpose, but days after it, when the bodily pain was remembered but as a dream. An invisible power it was, that quelled them, a power, which was therefore irresistible, because it took away the very will of resisting. It was the awful power of law, acting on natures pre-configured to its influences. A faculty was appealed to in the offender's own being; a faculty and a presence, of which he had not been previously made aware,—but it answered to the appeal; its real existence therefore could not be doubted, or its reply rendered inaudible; and the very struggle of the wilder passions to keep uppermost, counteracted their own purpose, by wasting in internal contest that energy which before had acted in its entireness on external resistance or provocation. Strength may be met with strength; the power of inflicting pain may be baffled by the pride of endurance; the eye of rage may be answered by the stare of defiance, or the downcast look of dark and revengeful resolve, and with all this there is an outward and determined object to which the mind can attach its passions and purposes, and bury its own disquietudes in the full occupation of the senses. But who dares struggle with an invisible combatant—with an enemy which exists and makes us know its existence—but where it is, we ask in vain ?—No space contains it-time promises no control over it—it has no ear for my threats—it has no substance, that my hands can grasp, or my weapons find vulnerable-it commands and cannot be commanded-it acts and is insusceptible of my re-action-the more I strive to subdue it, the more am I compelled to think of it—and the more I think of it, the