Othello, confessing that he cannot grace his cause
with studied eloquence, pleads that at the tender age
of seven years he gave himself to the grim labours of the
tented field. Compared with this dark heroic babe, young
Blakeney, joining the 28th Regiment as a boy of fifteen,
must seem a hardy veteran.
Yet he too pleads, as excuse for lack of style in the Memoirs which he left behind him,
that soldiering and fighting began so early in his life
as to leave scant time for acquisition of the literary airs
and graces. And in the same apologetic vein he says that
he wrote his Memoirs in an island where were no libraries
and no books of reference in which he might verify the
dates and facts of his plain unvarnished tale.
It may be that to some more literary penman the idea of
writing memoirs in the Island of Zante, one of those Grecian
isles which toward sunset show form so delicate and colour
so exquisite that one would think them rather the
kingdom of Oberon than the haunt of a retired warrior
of the Peninsula - to sit at ease in that enchanted air
and summon from the past the gallant deeds of heroes
and the kind looks of friends - may seem no despicable
recompense for the sad want of all the books of reference.
With groaning shelves and ponderous catalogues in easy
reach, conscience makes cowards of us poor followers of
literature; we are chilled in mid career, and our happy
freedom of statement is checked by intrusive doubt of the
date of this battle or of the name of that general.
Even the irresponsible purveyor of fiction must tramp the
street or fly on the handy bicjxle, to make sure that he
has not plunged his hero into the midst of a revolution
two years before it took place, or shown his tender heroine
in tears over the song of an eminent composer ere yet
the moving song- writer was breeched.
How deep was the regret which the author of these
Memoirs felt for the premature end of his lessons and
for the want of invaluable books of reference, I am unable
to say; but I have ventured to suppress his brief preface
of apology because frankly I claim for him not pardon
nor tolerance, but gratitude and even affection.
As in that island of dreams he recalled his stirring
boyhood, his friendships formed and joyous under the
shadow of death, his zeal and admiration for the great
leaders under whom he served, his personal adventures
and historic battles, his marches, bivouacs and careless
jests, his pen became again like the pen of a boy who
describes his house football match or the exploits of the
favourite hero of the school.
Like a boy too, he had his more important moments - his fine attempts at elo-
quence, grandiloquence; he became literary, self-conscious,
innocently pompous, like a boy. The pen in his hand
grew great as he proclaimed the valour of the brave,
the pageant of plumed troops, the pomp of glorious war.
And indeed the pen, grown mightier than the sword,
executed at times cuts and flourishes so intricate that
the modest editor has had to bring it to the scabbard, or,
in his own language of the ink-pot, to contribute once or
twice the necessary fullstop. But these tempestuous
passages, these patches which aim at the purple, are few;
and it should be said at once that they are never concerned
with the author's own exploits.
It is the noble character of Sir John Moore that starts the rhapsody, or General
Graham, or Paget, or Hill, or the great Wellington himself;
and, above all, it is the indomitable valour of the British
soldier - of the British soldier who is so often Irish.
There may be some who think that Captain Blakeney
should have apologised for being Irish; and indeed, though
I protest against any shadow of apology, the Irish nature
of our author, whose ancestors came out of Norfolk, may
be mentioned as an explanation of the frank and flowing
statement of his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows,
his moving accidents and hairbreadth escapes.
Our Anglo-Saxon ideal of the young soldier becomes more and more
the youth who is a hero and won't mention it. He is a
most engaging person too. Ask him of the deed which
filled the daily papers and the mouths of men, and he
blushes, mutters, and escapes to his club.
If you bring all your power of persuasion to bear upon him in his
most yielding hour, you may draw from him some such
statement as this: " Well, I cut the Johnny down and
I brought the Tommy off. It was all rot, and there was
nothing in it; any chap would have done it." That is
fine. Perhaps it is the fine flower of a race more eminent
in action than in art.
But if we care for memoirs, let us be thankful for the Frenchman or the Irishman who
will do his deeds of daring and not be ashamed to
describe them for our profit and our pleasure. Nor is it
fair to infer that there is more vanity in the one than
in the other.
In the case of Blakeney, at least, I shall
be disappointed indeed if any reader suspect him of
braggadocio. When he relates his own adventures, his
own acts in battle, his language is simple, direct, vivid;
iie states plain facts.
When he recalls the exploits of others - of veteran generals, of boys like himself, of
private soldiers and especially of his own beloved 28th
Regiment, then he cries out a little gloriously perhaps,
but with a frankness, a generosity, an honest ardour of
admiration which surely may win pardon from the most
severe of critics.
In truth it is a gallant and charming young soldier
who calls to us from the beginning of the century which
is now so near its close. He has waited long for friendly
recognition from any but the generals who saw him fight
and the young comrades who drank with him at mess and
marched with him to battle.
The young comrades, like the old generals, have marched the common road; and
it is to a generation who knew not the author that these
Memoirs modestly, but with a certain confidence, make
The ardent boy joined his regiment in 1804, at the
age of fifteen; and in the next ten years he had had
fighting enough to content most men for a lifetime.
It is the record of these years which has lain so long in
dust, and which I now offer to the reader; and I would
ask him to bear in mind, as he reads, the looks and nature
of the young soldier whose fortunes he will follow.
He was of middle height and lightly made, but active healthy
and handsome. He was eager for friendship and for fight,
quick and confident in action, observing with keen accurate
eyes, and so clever at languages that he picked them up
on the march and conversed with the natives of Spain and
Portugal and France with equal audacity and success.
Perhaps more than all one finds in him that natural gaiety
of heart which neither danger nor fatigue could dull,
neither the want of wealth and honours nor sight of the
appalling horrors of war.
His young eyes beheld some deeds done at Badajoz of which the mere description has
seemed to me too horrible for print. It will be held by
the most bloodthirsty of readers that enough remains.
We are all most warlike now - even the peaceful
guardians of the public purse and gentle editors who would
not hurt a fly; and perhaps it is no bad thing to recall the
horrors of a captured town, lest we take all war to be but
glory and gaiety and something to read about in the papers.
Modern governments offer to the people the alarums and
excursions of little wars, as the masters of ancient Rome
amused their citizens with the grim combats of the circus;
and we read the daily papers in the same spirit in which
the Roman crowd followed the fights of favourite gladiators
or the young Britons of to-day make holiday in looking on
at football matches instead of playing on more modest
War is a bad thing at the best. Even
our hero, for all his gladness and prowess, was disappointed
in the end; nor have many men that abounding gift of
gaiety which carried him, one may be sure, through the
peaceful years of later Jife, happy in spite of a recurring
sense of injury.
If he was neither rich nor famous, he
could sing, like the traveller with the empty pockets, in
the presence of the robber or of the War Office. And he
found pleasure too in the preparation of these Memoirs;
one feels it as one reads. He is in an amiable mood.
He expresses the hope that he will hurt the feelings of no
man, and all his pages are proof of his sincerity. Except
for one or two Spanish generals, whom he cannot endure
for the empty pomp and pride which marred the simple
valour of their men, he has abundant admiration for friend
He would have you know too, that when he
treats of movements and of battles already described, he
makes no claim to draw them better. He puts down
what he saw with his own eyes, what he heard with his
own ears, - that is the value of his work.
To me at least he seems to give the very air of the battlefield. He is
in the midst of the fight; he makes ns see it from inside,
breathe the smoke, and hear the hoarse word of command
answered by the groan of the wounded.
It may be of interest to some to know that this young
soldier was of the Blakeney family of Abbert in County
Galway, where they were granted lands in the time of
Queen Elizabeth. They came thither out of Norfolk, where,
I am told, there is a Blakeney Harbour, which was called
The Robert Blakeney of these Memoirs was born in
Galway in 1789, joined the army in 1804, and left it in
Not long before his resignation he married Maria
Giulia Balbi, the last of her ancient family whose name
is in the Libro d'Oro of Venice; for between her birth
and that of her brother the Venetian Republic had come
to an end.
The little Maria was brought by her parents
to Corfu. In that most lovely island of the world she
grew to womanhood, and there she loved and married
Robert Blakeney, whose fighting days were done.
Successive Lords High Commissioners were Blakeney's
friends, and found him work to do.
Under Lord Nugent he was Inspector of Police in Corfu; under Sir Howard
Douglas he was Inspector of Health in the Island of
Zante; and later, under Lord Seaton, he became Resident
of the Island of Paxo. This office he held for twentj^-one
years, until he died in 1868 in his seventieth year.
So there came to him, when he was still young, a life
of peace passed in a land of dreams. But the thoughts of
the old soldier turned often to the more misty island
of his birth, and to that famous peninsula made sacred
to his memory by the blood of gallant comrades.
His heart grew warm again as he summoned from the past
the battles, sieges, fortunes of his adventurous boyhood,
the happy days of youth, of friendship and of war.
Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.