the hearth. Ser Alliser Thorne shattered the silence. “The
Yet, with all this readiness of attention, and with all this zeal in collecting the sentiments of the well informed, never was a man more completely uninfluenced by authority than Sir Alexander Ball, never one who sought less to tranquillise his own doubts by the mere suffrage and coincidence of others. The ablest suggestions had no conclusive weight with him, till he had abstracted the opinion from its author, till he had reduced it into a part of his own mind. The thoughts of others were always acceptable, as affording him at least a chance of adding to his materials for reflection; but they never directed his judgment, much less superseded it. He even made a point of guarding against additional confidence in the suggestions of his own mind, from finding that a person of talents had formed the same conviction; unless the person, at the same time, furnished some new argument, or had arrived at the same conclusion by a different road. On the latter circumstance he set an especial value, and, I may almost say, courted the company and conversation of those whose pursuits had least resembled his own, if he thought them men of clear and comprehensive faculties. During the period of our intimacy, scarcely a week passed in which he did not desire me to think on some particular subject, and to give him the result in writing. Most frequently, by the time I had fulfilled his request he would have written down his own thoughts; and then, with the true simplicity of a great mind, as free from ostentation as it was above jealousy, he would collate the two papers in my presence, and never expressed more pleasure than in the few instances in which I had happened to light on all the arguments and points of view which had occurred to himself, with some additional reasons which had escaped him. A single new argument delighted him more than the most perfect coincidence, unless, as before stated, the train of thought had been very different from his own, and yet just and logical. He had one quality of mind, which I have heard attributed to the late Mr. Fox, that of deriving a keen pleasure from clear and powerful reasoning for its own sake--a quality in the intellect which is nearly connected with veracity and a love of justice in the moral character.
Valuing in others merits which he himself possessed, Sir Alexander Ball felt no jealous apprehension of great talent. Unlike those vulgar functionaries, whose place is too big for them, a truth which they attempt to disguise from themselves, and yet feel, he was under no necessity of arming himself against the natural superiority of genius by factitious contempt and an industrious association of extravagance and impracticability, with every deviation from the ordinary routine; as the geographers in the middle ages used to designate on their meagre maps the greater part of the world as deserts or wildernesses, inhabited by griffins and chimaeras. Competent to weigh each system or project by its own arguments, he did not need these preventive charms and cautionary amulets against delusion. He endeavoured to make talent instrumental to his purposes in whatever shape it appeared, and with whatever imperfections it might be accompanied; but wherever talent was blended with moral worth, he sought it out, loved and cherished it. If it had pleased Providence to preserve his life, and to place him on the same course on which Nelson ran his race of glory, there are two points in which Sir Alexander Ball would most closely have resembled his illustrious friend. The first is, that in his enterprises and engagements he would have thought nothing done, till all had been done that was possible:-
Nil actum reputans, si quid superesset agendum.
The second, that he would have called forth all the talent and virtue that existed within his sphere of influence, and created a band of heroes, a gradation of officers, strong in head and strong in heart, worthy to have been his companions and his successors in fame and public usefulness.
Never was greater discernment shown in the selection of a fit agent, than when Sir Alexander Ball was stationed off the coast of Malta to intercept the supplies destined for the French garrison, and to watch the movements of the French commanders, and those of the inhabitants who had been so basely betrayed into their power. Encouraged by the well-timed promises of the English captain, the Maltese rose through all their casals (or country towns) and themselves commenced the work of their emancipation, by storming the citadel at Civita Vecchia, the ancient metropolis of Malta, and the central height of the island. Without discipline, without a military leader, and almost without arms, these brave peasants succeeded, and destroyed the French garrison by throwing them over the battlements into the trench of the citadel. In the course of this blockade, and of the tedious siege of Valetta, Sir Alexander Ball displayed all that strength of character, that variety and versatility of talent, and that sagacity, derived in part from habitual circumspection, but which, when the occasion demanded it, appeared intuitive and like an instinct; at the union of which, in the same man, one of our oldest naval commanders once told me, "he could never exhaust his wonder." The citizens of Valetta were fond of relating their astonishment, and that of the French, at Captain Ball's ship wintering at anchor out of the reach of the guns, in a depth of fathom unexampled, on the assured impracticability of which the garrison had rested their main hope of regular supplies. Nor can I forget, or remember without some portion of my original feeling, the solemn enthusiasm with which a venerable old man, belonging to one of the distant casals, showed me the sea coombe, where their father Ball (for so they commonly called him) first landed, and afterwards pointed out the very place on which he first stepped on their island; while the countenances of his townsmen, who accompanied him, gave lively proofs that the old man's enthusiasm was the representative of the common feeling.
There is no reason to suppose that Sir Alexander Ball was at any time chargeable with that weakness so frequent in Englishmen, and so injurious to our interests abroad, of despising the inhabitants of other countries, of losing all their good qualities in their vices, of making no allowance for those vices, from their religious or political impediments, and still more of mistaking for vices a mere difference of manners and customs. But if ever he had any of this erroneous feeling, he completely freed himself from it by living among the Maltese during their arduous trials, as long as the French continued masters of their capital. He witnessed their virtues, and learnt to understand in what various shapes and even disguises the valuable parts of human nature may exist. In many individuals, whose littleness and meanness in the common intercourse of life would have stamped them at once as contemptible and worthless, with ordinary Englishmen, he had found such virtues of disinterested patriotism, fortitude, and self-denial, as would have done honour to an ancient Roman.
There exists in England a gentlemanly character, a gentlemanly feeling, very different even from that which is the most like it, the character of a well-born Spaniard, and unexampled in the rest of Europe. This feeling probably originated in the fortunate circumstance, that the titles of our English nobility follow the law of their property, and are inherited by the eldest sons only. From this source under the influences of our constitution, and of our astonishing trade, it has diffused itself in different modifications through the whole country. The uniformity of our dress among all classes above that of the day labourer, while it has authorised all classes to assume the appearance of gentlemen, has at the same time inspired the wish to conform their manners, and still more their ordinary actions in social intercourse, to their notions of the gentlemanly, the most commonly received attribute of which character is a certain generosity in trifles. On the other hand, the encroachments of the lower classes on the higher, occasioned, and favoured by this resemblance in exteriors, by this absence of any cognisable marks of distinction, have rendered each class more reserved and jealous in their general communion, and far more than our climate, or natural temper, have caused that haughtiness and reserve in our outward demeanour, which is so generally complained of among foreigners. Far be it from me to depreciate the value of this gentlemanly feeling: I respect it under all its forms and varieties, from the House of Commons to the gentleman in the shilling gallery. It is always the ornament of virtue, and oftentimes a support; but it is a wretched substitute for it. Its worth, as a moral good, is by no means in proportion to its value, as a social advantage. These observations are not irrelevant; for to the want of reflection, that this diffusion of gentlemanly feeling among us is not the growth of our moral excellence, but the effect of various accidental advantages peculiar to England; to our not considering that it is unreasonable and uncharitable to expect the same consequences, where the same causes have not existed to produce them; and, lastly, to our proneness to regard the absence of this character (which, as I have before said, does, for the greater part, and, in the common apprehension, consist in a certain frankness and generosity in the detail of action) as decisive against the sum total of personal or national worth; we must, I am convinced, attribute a large portion of that conduct, which in many instances has left the inhabitants of countries conquered or appropriated by Great Britain, doubtful whether the various solid advantages which they derived from our protection and just government, were not bought dearly by the wounds inflicted on their feelings and prejudices by the contemptuous and insolent demeanour of the English as individuals. The reader who bears this remark in mind, will meet, in the course of this narration, more than one passage that will serve as its comment and illustration.
It was, I know, a general opinion among the English in the Mediterranean, that Sir Alexander Ball thought too well of the Maltese, and did not share in the enthusiasm of Britons concerning their own superiority. To the former part of the charge I shall only reply at present, that a more venial, and almost desirable fault, can scarcely be attributed to a governor, than that of a strong attachment to the people whom he was sent to govern. The latter part of the charge is false, if we are to understand by it, that he did not think his countrymen superior on the whole to the other nations of Europe; but it is true, as far as relates to his belief, that the English thought themselves still better than they are; that they dwelt on and exaggerated their national virtues, and weighed them by the opposite vices of foreigners, instead of the virtues which those foreigners possessed and they themselves wanted. Above all, as statesmen, we must consider qualities by their practical uses. Thus, he entertained no doubt that the English were superior to all others in the kind and the degree of their courage, which is marked by far greater enthusiasm than the courage of the Germans and northern nations, and by a far greater steadiness and self-subsistency than that of the French. It is more closely connected with the character of the individual. The courage of an English army (he used to say) is the sum total of the courage which the individual soldiers bring with them to it, rather than of that which they derive from it. This remark of Sir Alexander's was forcibly recalled to my mind when I was at Naples. A Russian and an English regiment were drawn up together in the same square: "See," said a Neapolitan to me, who had mistaken me for one of his countrymen, "there is but one face in that whole regiment, while in that" (pointing to the English) "every soldier has a face of his own." On the other hand, there are qualities scarcely less requisite to the completion of the military character, in which Sir A. did not hesitate to think the English inferior to the continental nations; as for instance, both in the power and the disposition to endure privations; in the friendly temper necessary, when troops of different nations are to act in concert; in their obedience to the regulations of their commanding officers, respecting their treatment of the inhabitants of the countries through which they are marching, as well as in many other points, not immediately connected with their conduct in the field: and, above all, in sobriety and temperance. During the siege of Valetta, especially during the sore distress to which the besiegers were for some time exposed from the failure of provision, Sir Alexander Ball had an ample opportunity of observing and weighing the separate merits and demerits of the native and of the English troops; and surely since the publication of Sir John Moore's campaign, there can be no just offence taken, though I should say, that before the walls of Valetta, as well as in the plains of Galicia, an indignant commander might, with too great propriety, have addressed the English soldiery in the words of an old dramatist -