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“I fancied—but nay, it must have been a dream, an idle dream -yet I confess it, I did fancy, that I had done my country service; and thus they use me. It was not enough to have robbed me once before of my West-Indian harvest ; now they have taken away the Spanish ; and under what circumstances, and with what pointed aggravations! Yet, if I know my own thoughts, it is not for myself, or on my own account chiefly, that I feel the sting and the disappointment. No! it is for my brave officers ; for my noble-minded friends and comrades—such a gallant set of fellows ! such a band of brothers! My heart swells at the thought of them !".
This strong attachment of the heroic admiral to his fleet, faithfully repaid by an equal attachment on their part to their admiral, had no little influence in attuning their hearts to each other; and when he died it seemed as if no man was a stranger to another : for all were made acquaintances by the rights of a common anguish. In the fleet itself, many a private quarrel was forgotten, no more to be remembered ; many, who had been alienated, became once more good friends ; yea, many a one was reconciled to his very enemy, and loved, and (as it were) thanked him, for the bitterness of his grief, as if it had been an act of consolation to himself in an intercourse of private sympathy. The tidings arrived at Naples on the day that I returned to that city from Calabria : and never can I forget the sorrow and consternation that lay on every countenance. Even to this day there are times when I seem to see, as in a vision, separate groups and individual faces of the picture. Numbers stopped and shook hands with me, because they had seen the tears on my cheek, and conjectured that I was an Englishman; and several, as they held my hand, burst themselves into tears. And though it may excite a smile, yet it pleased and affected me, as a proof of the goodness of the human heart struggling to exercise its kindness in spite of prejudices the most obstinate, and eager to carry on its love and honor into the life beyond life, that it was whispered about Naples that Lord Nelson had become a good Catholic before his death. The absurdity of the fiction is a sort of measurement of the fond and affectionate esteem which had ripened the pious wish of some kind individual, through all the gradations of possibility and probability, into a confident assertion believed and affirmed by hundreds. The feelings of Great Britain on this awful event have been described well and worthily by a living poet, who has happily blended the passion and wild transitions of lyric song with the swell and solemnity of epic narration :
-- Thou art fall’n ; fall'n, in the lap
Had lanc'd the bolt of victory.* I introduced this digression with an apology, yet ha extended it so much further than I had designed, that I must once more request my reader to excuse me. It was to be expected (I have said) that Lord Nelson would appreciate the isle of Malta from its relations to the British fleet on the Mediterranean station. It was the fashion of the day to style Egypt the key of India, and Malta the key of Egypt. Nelson saw the hollowness of this metaphor ; or if he only doubted its applicability in the former instance, he was sure that it was false in the latter. Egypt might or might not be the key of India ; but Malta was certainly not the key of Egypt. It was not intended to keep constantly two distinct fleets in that sea ; and the largest naval force at Malta would not supersede the necessity of a squadron off Toulon. Malta does not lie in the direct course from Toulon to Alexandria : and from the nature of the winds (one time taken with another) the comparative length of the voyage to the latter port will be found far
Sotheby's Saul. Ed.
less than a view of the map would suggest, and in truth of little practical importance. If it were the object of the French fleet to avoid Malta in its passage to Egypt, the port-admiral of Valetta would in all probability receive his first intelligence of its course from Minorca or the squadron off Toulon, instead of communicating it. In what regarded the re-fitting and provisioning of the fleet, either on ordinary or extraordinary occasions, Malta was as inconvenient as Minorca was advantageous, not only from its distance (which yet was sufficient to render it almost useless in cases of the most pressing necessity, as after a severe action or injuries of tempest) but likewise from the extreme difficulty, if not impracticability, of leaving the harbor of Valetta with a N. W. wind, which often lasts for weeks together. In all these points his lordship's observations were perfectly just; and it must be conceded by all persons acquainted with the situation and circumstances of Malta, that its importance, as a British possession, if not exaggerated on the whole, was unduly magnified in several important particulars. Thus Lord Minto, in a speech delivered at a country meeting and afterwards published, affirmed, that upon the supposition (which no one could consider as unlikely to take place that the court of Naples should be compelled to act under the influence of France, and that the Barbary powers were unfriendly to us, either in consequence of French intrigues or from their own caprice and insolence, there would not be a single port, harbor, bay, creek, or road-stead in the whole Mediterranean, from which our men of war could obtain a single ox or a hogshead of fresh water,—unless Great Britain retained possession of Malta. The noble speaker seems not to have been aware, that under the circumstances supposed by him, Odessa too being closed against us by a Russian war, the island of Malta itself would be no better than a vast almshouse of 75,000 persons, exclusively of the British soldiers, all of whom must be regularly supplied with corn and salt meat from Great Britain or Ireland. The population of Malta and Gozo exceeds 100,000; while the food of all kinds produced on the two islands would barely suffice for one-fourth of that number. The deficiency is supplied by the growth and spinning of cotton, for which corn could not be substituted from the nature of the soil, or were it attempted, would produce but a small proportion of the quantity which the cotton raised on the same fields and spun* into thread, enables the Maltese to purchase ;-—not to mention that the substitution of grain for cotton would leave half of the inhabitants without employment. As to live stock, it is quite out of the question, if we except the pigs and goats, which perform the office of scavengers in the streets of Valetta and the towns on the other side of the Porto Grande.
Against these latter arguments Sir A. Ball placed the following considerations. It had been long his conviction, that the Mediterranean squadron should be supplied by regular store-ships, the sole business of which should be that of carriers for the fleet. This he recommended as by far the most economic plan, in the first instance. Secondly, beyond any other it would secure a system and regularity in the arrival of supplies. And, lastly, it would conduce to the discipline of the navy, and prevent both ships and officers from being out of the way on any sudden emergence. If this system were introduced, the objections to Malta, from its great distance, and the like, would have little force. On the other hand, the objections to Minorca he deemed irremovable. The same disadvantages which attended the getting out of the harbor of Valetta, applied to vessels getting into Port Mahon; but while fifteen hundred or two thousand British troops might be safely intrusted with the preservation of Malta, the troops for the defence of Minorca must ever be in proportion to those which the enemy may be supposed likely to send against it. It is so little favored by nature or by art, that the possessors stand merely on the level with the invaders. Cæteris paribus, if there were 12,000 of the enemy landed, there must be an equal number to repel them ; nor could the garrison, or any part of it be spared for any sudden emergence without risk of losing the
* The Maltese cotton is naturally of a deep buff, or dusky orange color, and, by the laws of the island, must be spun before it can be exported. I have heard it asserted by persons apparently well informed on the subject, that the raw material would fetch as high a price as the thread, weight for weight; the thread from its coarseness being applicable to few purposes. It is manufactured likewise for the use of the natives themselves into a coarse nankin, which never loses its color by washing and is durable beyond any clothing I have ever known or heard of. The cotton seed is used as a food for the cattle that are not immediately wanted for the market : it is very nutritious, but changes the fat of the animal into a kind of suet, congealing quickly, and of an adhesive substance.
island. Previously to the battle of Marengo, the most earnest representations were made to the governor and commander at Minorca by the British admiral, who offered to take on himself the whole responsibility of the measure, if he would permit the troops at Minorca to join our allies. The governor felt himself compelled to refuse his assent. Doubtless, he acted wisely, for responsibility is not transferable. The fact is introduced in proof of the defenceless state of Minorca, and its constant liability to attack. If the Austrian army had stood in the same relation to eight or nine thousand British soldiers at Malta, a single regiment would have precluded all alarms, as to the island itself, and the remainder have perhaps changed the destiny of Europe. What might not, almost I would say, what must not eight thousand Britons have accomplished at the battle of Marengo, nicely poised as the fortunes of the two armies are now known to have been ? Minorca too is alone useful or desirable during a war, and on the supposition of a fleet off Toulon. The advantages of Malta are permanent and national. As a second Gibraltar, it must tend to secure Gibraltar itself; for if by the loss of that one place we could be excluded from the Mediterranean, it is difficult to say what sacrifices of blood and treasure the enemy would deem too high a price for its conquest. Whatever Malta may or may not be respecting Egypt, its high importance to the independence of Sicily can not be doubted, or its advantages, as a central station, for any portion of our disposable force. Neither is the influence which it will enable us to exert on the Barbary powers to be wholly neglected. I shall only add, that during the plague at Gibraltar, Lord Nelson himself acknowledged that he began to see the possession of Malta in a different light.
Sir Alexander Ball looked forward to future contingencies as likely to increase the value of Malta to Great Britain. He foresaw that the whole of Italy would become a French province, and he knew that the French government had been long intriguing on the coast of Barbary. The Dey of Algiers was believed to have accumulated a treasure of fifteen millions sterling, and Bonaparte had actually duped him into a treaty, by which the French were to be permitted to erect a fort on the very spot where the ancient Hippo stood, the choice between which and the Hellespont as the site of New Rome is said to have perplexed the judgment of Constantine. To this he added an additional point of connection