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Great Englishmen by  M. B. Synge


 

 

ARTHUR WELLESLEY, DUKE OF WELLINGTON (1769-1852)

[123]

W
E have now come to the last and greatest of our English conquerors—a man whom you will love for his simple, true, noble life; a hero you will honour for his modest greatness, his bravery, his true idea of duty—Arthur, Duke of Wellington.

Where he was born or on what day we do not know, but it is curious to think that the two great rival generals, Napoleon and Wellington were born the same year. We hear little of Wellington, till he was eleven years old. His father was Lord Wellesley. He did not take much notice of his little boy Arthur, who was not clever at his books like his elder brothers.

Arthur Wellesley was sent to Eton at the age of eleven. There we have a story of him, and only one.

One of his friends was bathing one day, when Arthur Wellesley took up a clod and threw it at him for fun.

"If you do that again, I will get out and thrash you," cried the bather, angrily.

To tease him Wellesley threw another and another. The bather landed and struck Wellesley. A sharp fight began, but although Wellesley was smaller than his friend, he won. Little did the bather think that [124] boy would one day be England's hero, and beat many an army stronger and larger than his own.

It was settled that Arthur Wellesley should be a soldier. So he was sent to France to be trained, and there he stayed till he was eighteen, when he was made a lieutenant in the army.

He was a shy, awkward lad, in whom no one saw anything to admire. One night he was at a large ball, and not being able to find a partner to dance with, he sat down near the band to listen to the music. When the party broke up, and the other officers went home after a gay and happy evening, Lieutenant Wellesley was left to travel home with the fiddlers. When in after years he became a great man, whose deeds and victories were talked of by all, the lady who had given the ball, said to him, laughing:

"We should not let you go home with the fiddlers now!"

When he was twenty-one he got a seat in the Parliament of Ireland, where he spoke well and to the point.

"Who is that young man in scarlet uniform with such large epaulettes?" once asked a visitor who was in the House of Commons.

"That is Captain Wellesley," replied his friend. "I suppose he never speaks?"

"You are wrong; he does speak sometimes, and when he does, believe me, it is always to the point," said his friend, somewhat proudly.

Three years after this he became a Major in the regiment now known as the "Duke of Wellington's Own," and soon after fought his first battle in the Low Countries.

[125] After this he went to India, where his brother had been lately made Governor-General, and was therefore able to help on his young brother, Arthur Wellesley.

In 1797 he arrived, and found India in rather a disturbed state.

A native named Tippoo had seized the throne at Mysore, and although he seemed outwardly to be peaceable, he was really in league with the French, who were raising an army to help him against the Governor of India.

At last measures were taken against him, Tippoo was defeated, and slain, and Arthur Wellesley, who had been very brave and shown himself very capable, was made Governor of Mysore.

He at once set to work to draw up rules and laws for the people, he travelled about to see the state of the country, that he might better know how to rule them.

He had not ruled long, when he heard that a native army was again going to fight.

Wellesley was at this time placed in command of part of the English army. He marched towards the enemy, expecting to be joined by another regiment very shortly. But this was not to be. He suddenly came upon the enemy's huge army near Assays.

He must either fight without waiting for help from the rest of the army, or he must retreat, and so encourage the enemy. Wellesley knew his men, and resolved to attack. He crossed the rapid river which flowed between him and the foe, and found himself face to face with an army ten times the size of his own. He did not waver, but bravely rushed on the enemy. The charge threw them into confusion, but they resisted [126] bravely for a short time till they were obliged to give way and leave Wellesley victorious. This was the first battle Wellesley had fought alone, and he had reason to be proud of it, for it was one of the most severe ever fought.

This subdued the natives for a time.

In 1805 Wellesley returned to England. He had left it a young officer, little known, less admired. He returned, still a young man, a leader of armies, looked up to and honoured for his kind heart, and open, noble manners. His men loved him. He was always ready to show them kindness, to provide for their comfort, to watch those who were sick and wounded, to promote those who had fought bravely and well.

Wellesley arrived in England just a month before Nelson started to fight his last battle, and win his last victory. It is said that the two great men met one day for a short time—the young Wellesley, who was just beginning a career which would end in so much glory, the old Nelson whose glorious career was drawing to its close.

England and France were at war still in 1808, and Wellesley, now Sir Arthur Wellesley, was sent out with an army to help the Spaniards to drive the French out of Portugal.

Napoleon, Emperor of France, wanted to add Spain and Portugal to his vast possessions, and the English offered to help the Spaniards drive them away. Wellesley was received with honour at Lisbon, and the town was very well lit up in the evening to show him how welcome he was. He at once began to prepare for battle, and soon found the French at Oporto, [127] a town on the west coast of Portugal. He took them quite by surprise, and drove them out in one morning. Then the English entered the town, and Wellesley and his officers ate up the good dinner which had been carefully prepared for the French commander that evening.

The next great battle he fought was that of Talavera, an inland town on the river Tagus. The English army was ill provided with food, and watched, perhaps with envious eyes, the French army opposite making a hearty meal before the coming struggle. The fight began, and the French dashed forward sure of victory, but they were driven back by Wellesley and his brave soldiers.

After this victory Sir Arthur Wellesley received the title of Lord, and at the peace was made Duke of Wellington.

On the morning of one of his great battles the Duke was at breakfast with a friend. He sat silent, and deep in thought, but as he ate the egg that was set before him, his friend noticed that he made some very wry faces. Suddenly the Duke seemed to awake from his reverie, and looking up, said:

"By-the-bye, is that egg of yours fresh? Mine was quite rotten."

The Duke always planned his battles beforehand, and this was one of the secrets of his many victories.

At last he drove the French out of Portugal. It yet remained to drive them out of Spain, and beyond the Pyrenees, to their own country. This too the great Duke did.

He met the French army at a place on the borders [128] of Spain. Joseph Bonaparte, now King of Spain, brother of the great Napoleon, had already retired from Madrid with a large French army. Wellington, as soon as he saw the army, resolved to fight, and planned the battle.

At dawn on a misty June morning the battle of Vittoria began. A stern fight ensued. For some hours neither side seemed victorious. At last Joseph Bonaparte was seen retreating. Still the French held their ground. But the English advanced on all sides, and Wellington, who never saw more clearly than amid the smoke and confusion of a battle-field, now saw that the French in the rear were giving way. In a short time the great Duke once more stood victorious on the field of action, watching the beaten and retreating French. Never did such a vast mass of spoil fall to the share of an English army. Baggage, chests of money, powder, clothes, all were left behind by the flying French. A general rush took place to seize the forsaken treasure, and soon the whole plain was strewn with lace, feathers, silks, satins, and pomatums, while even the common soldiers might have been seen that night marching about the camp arrayed in turbans and plumes, carrying about French monkeys, lap dogs, and parrots.

Wellington had driven Joseph Bonaparte from his kingdom in Spain, and had therefore crushed the French power in Spain.

Not satisfied with this, he resolved to go into France and crush them there.

But his men were spoilt with so much success and plunder, and they behaved very badly. The Duke told [129] them he would not enter France unless they would promise not to plunder any more. He further told them that he should send back all offenders to England with a report of their conduct. He had many brought to trial, and before long order was again restored.

Victory followed victory in France, and defeat and loss at last obliged the French commander to retreat altogether.

Meanwhile Napoleon was very uneasy. He was forsaken by all save his faithful guard. At last he was forced to sign a paper saying he would give up the throne of France. He was given the island of Elba, and thither he went, the fallen chief, to govern in solitude.

Here was news for Wellington.

Napoleon had resigned! The war was over!

Cheers rent the air, as thousands flocked to their great leader, who was received with a perfect uproar.

The Duke could now return to England, which he had not seen for five long years.

The leave-taking of his army was very sad. The soldiers loved their leader. The leader loved his men. They had fought together for five years, without once being defeated or disgraced in any way. He had taught them to fight, but he took no honour to himself as he thanked them for their bravery and good service.

In the summer of 1814 the Duke of Wellington once more set foot on his native soil.

He found the nation nearly mad with delight. The nation's hero had come back. They would show their love for him, their pride in him, if it were possible.

[130] The people drew his carriage through the streets of London, and bore him on their shoulders to his house.

When he went to take his seat in the House of Lords, a vast crowd was waiting to hear the voice of their well-loved Duke. He spoke very modestly of all he had done, and laid great praise on his officers and soldiers, though all felt that it was the man who stood before them, with high forehead, neat figure, and keen blue eye, to whom chief praise was due. Wellington could not stay long in England. He had work to do in Paris, and later in Vienna, and the thought of pleasure never crossed his mind when duty was to be done. He had not been long at Vienna, when like a thunder-clap came the news that Napoleon had left Elba and intended to reign once more over France.

All Europe prepared for an attack—Prussia, Russia, Austria, England. He should be crushed, if it were possible.


[Illustration]

WELLINGTON AT WATERLOO.

Wellington hurried to the Low Countries, knowing that Napoleon was sure to attack them first. There he collected as large an army as he could, chiefly English and Prussians, and trained the men well and carefully. The other allies also raised large armies, but all the forces together were not as large as the French army under Napoleon. Already Napoleon had left Paris. His last words as he stepped into his carriage, were "I go to measure myself with Wellington." He had beaten nation after nation, but never the English. Now the struggle was at hand. Napoleon's plan was to prevent the Prussians from joining the English, which they had not yet done. He met them at Ligny, and though he defeated them, he lost [132] many men. He then advanced to the field of Waterloo, where Wellington awaited him. The Duke had long before planned the position for his armies, he knew the country round as well as any native, he knew that by protecting Waterloo he could keep the capital, Brussels. Wellington would not begin the battle, hoping the Prussians might yet arrive before Napoleon attacked.

The morning of the 18th of June, 1815, dawned at last, and early the British troops were astir. By eight o'clock they were ready armed, only waiting for the attack. Napoleon too rose early, and spent the morning reviewing his troops.

"At last I have them, these English!" he said proudly.

"Sire," said one of his officers, "I know these English. They will die ere they quit the ground on which they stand."

"Bah!" answered Napoleon. "You think that because he defeated you, Wellington is a great general!"

It was Sunday. A drizzling rain had been falling all night, and the ground was moist and heavy.

Soon after eleven Napoleon gave orders to attack, and the French rushed forward.

Long and stern and bloody was the conflict. The air was thick with smoke, and shells rained without ceasing.

The English had filled the large chateau of Hougoumont, which stood on the field. The French at once rushed on it, and tried to take it. Again and again they failed. The English defended it bravely, and though flames issued from the tower, and shells burst around they held out nobly.

[133] Wellington rode along his front lines from time to time. Once, when expecting a severe charge from the French, he cried to the front regiment:

"Stand fast, 95th; we must not be beaten. What will they say in England?"

At one time the battle seemed to go badly with the English, several brave men had fallen, and many hearts were failing, when the Duke cried out:

"Never mind; we'll win this battle yet. Hard pounding, this, gentlemen. Let's see who will pound the longest."

The French never stopped firing, and they began again with extra violence, as they rushed up the hill, where the English were lying. Just as they gained the top, the English started to their feet, and poured on them a terrible fire. The French were driven down the hill, and three hundred killed.

"Let the whole line advance!" cried Wellington, for the first time since the battle had begun.

The order was received with shouts from the men, and the great mass, which had stood so patiently since early morning, swept grandly forward down the slope.

At that moment the setting sun gleamed for the first time through the heavy clouds, and shone on the British bayonets as the army rushed to victory.

The French army was thrown into confusion. Napoleon tried to rally them, but in vain. He struggled to the last, and then crying out that "all was lost," he galloped from the field of Waterloo, a fallen and defeated man!

It was with very mixed feelings that the Duke lay down wearily on his straw bed that night. The victory [134] had been dearly bought by the lives of the brave, and while the rest of the world was talking of nothing but his greatness and victory, Wellington was praying that he might never have to gain another victory at such cost of life.

Next morning when the doctor brought the list of dead and wounded to read to the Duke, he found him in bed, his face still black with the powder and dust of the great battle. He ordered the doctor to begin. It was a long list, and after he had read about an hour, he looked up.

There sat the great Duke, his hands clasped together, while tears were making long furrows on his battle-soiled cheek.

"Go on," he cried. "For God's sake go on. Let me hear all. This is terrible!"

The doctor finished, and then withdrew, leaving his chief, the conqueror of Waterloo, in an agony of grief.

Meanwhile Napoleon had fled, hoping to escape, but that was not possible, and he was obliged to give himself up as a prisoner. He was sent to the island of St. Helena, where he died six years after the defeat.

Peace was made with France, and Wellington went back to England.

His soldier's life was over. His statesman's life about to begin.

In 1828 the Duke of Wellington was made prime minister, and the following year he had a great triumph in passing a bill, which saved England from civil war.

Up to this time Roman Catholics had not been allowed to sit in Parliament. Now in this year several [135] seats in the House of Commons became vacant, and one of these had to be filled by an Irish member. The Irish people chose a Roman Catholic to go to Parliament, although it was against the rules.

Now Wellington, the prime minister, and one or two more great statesmen, who had formerly opposed the measure, saw very plainly that if they did not allow this Irish member to take his seat, war would break out in Ireland, which would bring misery on the nation.

Wellington begged the King to allow him to bring in a bill allowing this Irishman and other Roman Catholics to sit in the house. But many were against him. Some said that he must be a dissenter himself, some accused him of change of opinion, some said war would be better. But the "Iron Duke" was firm. He knew what civil war was, better than any other man in England.

"I am one of those who have passed a longer part of my life in war than most men," he said in a long speech in the House, "and if I could avoid even one month of civil war in the country I love so well, I would give my life in order to do it."

The Duke shuddered as he thought of the horror of civil war, the miseries of which he well knew. The bill passed at last, and the Duke's triumph was complete.

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in the year 1837, Wellington became her trusted adviser and friend till his death, fifteen years later.

The Duke passed away in his eighty-third year, very quietly, after a short illness. The suddenness of his death fell heavily on the nation, for he had filled so [136] large a space in the eyes of everyone, that each felt he had lost a true friend. Speakers in Parliament vied with one another as to who could speak highest in praise of the great warrior and statesman.

He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. Soldiers from every regiment in the kingdom, messengers from every foreign nation came to pay a last token of respect to the great hero. He was laid beside Nelson, "that most beloved of sailors," who half a century before had been borne to rest beneath the lofty dome of St. Paul's.

Thus died "England's greatest son," the grandest, truest man that modern times have seen, the wisest most loyal subject that ever served the English throne, the man "whose life was work," "who never spoke against a foe," "who never sold the truth to serve the hour." And though the great Duke's voice is silent now, he has left us an example which will never die.

"Till in all lands, and thro' all human story,

The path of duty be the way to glory."


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