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THE BURIAL OF SIR JOHN MOORE
Moore was commander-in-chief of the British troops in the Peninsular War during Wellington's absence, and was ordered by the Ministry, who were quite ignorant of the difficulties of the task and the forces at his disposal, to drive the French out of Spain. Moore had to retreat on Corunna, followed first by Napoleon and then by Soult. He was forced to fight in order to secure the embarcation of his troops, and won a brilliant victory at Corunna, though he himself was killed. Napoleon said, 'Moore is the only General fit to contend with me'; Soult raised a monument to him on the battle-field; but the Ministry and Government officials at home tried to hide their incompetence by throwing the blame on the dead soldier.
[See Sir William Butler's Sir Charles Napier, pp. 27-38.]
NOT a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
We buried him darkly at dead of night,
No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;
Few and short were the prayers we said,
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead, And we bitterly thought of the morrow.
We thought, as we hollow'd his narrow bed
And smooth'd down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head,
And we far away on the billow!
Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that's gone,
But half of our heavy task was done
When the clock struck the hour for retiring; And we heard the distant and random gun That the foe was sullenly firing.
Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone, But we left him alone with his glory.
THE FIELD OF TALAVERA
Talavera was one of the most important and hardly contested battles of the Peninsular War. After two days' fighting Wellington had the victory, but his troops were too exhausted to pursue.
[Talavera town, on the river Tagus, is at the extreme right of the foreground; a mountain range on the extreme left.
The allied army under Sir Arthur Wellesley stretches between-the English on the left, the Spanish on the right-part holding a hill to the left-centre of the scene, divided from the mountains by a valley, and part holding a redoubt to the right8. redoubt] outwork.
centre. This army of more than fifty thousand all told, of which twenty-two thousand only are English, has its back to the spectator.
Beyond, in a wood of olive, oak, and cork, are the fifty to sixty thousand French, facing the spectator and the allies. Their right includes a strong battery upon a hill which fronts the one on the English left.
Behind all, the heights of Salinas close the prospect, the small river Alberche flowing at their foot from left to right into the Tagus, which advances in foreshortened perspective to the town at the right front corner of the scene as aforesaid.]
[The hot and dusty July afternoon having turned to twilight, shady masses of men start into motion from the French position, come towards the foreground, silently ascend the hill on the left of the English, and assail the latter in a violent outburst of fire and lead. They nearly gain possession of the hill assailed.]
CHORUS OF RUMOURS.
Ten of the night is Talavera tolling:
Now do Ruffin's ranks come surging upward, Backed by bold Vilatte's. Lapisse from the vale, too, Darkly upswells there!
Downhill from the crest the English fling them, And with their bayonets roll the enemy backward: So the first fierce charge of the ardent Frenchmen England repels there!
[Having fallen back into the darkness the French presently reascend in yet larger masses. The high square knapsack which every English foot-soldier carries, and his shako, and its tuft, outline themselves against the dim light as the ranks stand awaiting the shock.]
38. shako] peaked cap.
CHORUS OF Rumours.
Pushing they spread, and shout as they reach the summit,
Strength and stir new-primed in their plump battalions:
Puffs of flame blown forth on the lines opposing Higher and higher.
There those hold them mute, though at speaking
Mute, while the clicking flints, and the crash of
Throw on the weighted gloom an immense distraction
Pending their fire.
Fronting visages each ranksman reads there, Epaulettes, and cheeks, and shining eyeballs, (Called from the dark a trice by the fleeting panflash)
Pressing them nigher!
[The French again fall back in disorder into the hollow, and Lapisse draws off on the right. As the sinking sound of the muskets tells what has happened the English raise a shout.]
CHORUS OF PITIES.
Thus the dim nocturnal voice of the conflict Closes with the receding roar of the gun-fire. Harness loosened then, and their day-long strenuous Strain unbending,
Worn out lines lie down where they late stood staunchly
Cloaks around them rolled-by the bivouac embers: There to pursue at dawn the dynasts' death-game Unto the ending!
T. HARDY (from The Dynasts).
46. flints. The muskets used in the Peninsular War were fitted with flints. Percussion caps had not yet been invented.
This extract from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage was written almost within a year of the battle, when the 'spot was marked with no colossal bust'. (The 'mound' was not put there till 1823.) The famous ball given by the Duchess of Richmond has been described by many who were present.
[See Thackeray's Vanity Fair (chaps. xxix-xxxi), for an account of the scene of panic in Brussels.]
THERE was a sound of revelry by night,
Soft eyes look'd love to eyes which spake again, And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!
Did ye not hear it?-No; 't was but the wind, Or the car rattling o'er the stony street; On with the dance! let joy be unconfined; No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet— But hark! that heavy sound breaks in once more, As if the clouds its echo would repeat; And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before! Arm! Arm! it is-it is-the cannon's opening roar !
Within a window'd niche of that high hall
And caught its tone with Death's prophetic ear;