The Collected Letters, Volume 10


TC TO [ARMAND MARRAST?] ; 10 December 1838; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18381210-TC-AMA-01; CL 10: 238-240


[ca. 10 December 1838]

My dear ———, ——Inclosed herewith are copies of Admiral Griffiths's two letters concerning the Vengeur,1 on which we communicated lately. You undertook the French side of the business; you are become, so to speak, advocate of France in this matter; as I for my share am put into the post of advocate for England. In the interest of all men, so far as that can be concerned here, the truth ought to be known, and recognised by all.

Having read the story in some English book in boyhood, naturally with indelible impression of it; reading the same afterwards with all detail in the Choix des Rapports,2 and elsewhere; and finding it everywhere acted upon as authentic, and nowhere called in question,3 I wrote down in my Book with due energy and sympathy, as a fact for ever memorable. But now, I am bound to say, the Rear-Admiral has altogether altered the footing it stands on; and except other evidence than I yet have, or know where to procure, be adduced, I must give up the business as a cunningly devised fable, and in my next edition contradict it with as much energy as I asserted it. You know with how much reluctance that will be; for what man, indeed, would not wish to believe it?

But what can I do? Barrère's Rapport4 does not even profess to be grounded on any evidence except what ‘the English Newspapers’ afforded him. I have looked into various ‘English newspapers’; the Morning Chronicle, the Opposition or ‘Jacobin’ journal of that period, I have examined minutely, from the beginning of June to the end of July 1794, through all the stages of the business; and found there no trace or hint of what Barrère asserts: I do not think there is any hint of it discoverable in any English newspaper of those weeks.5 What Barrère's own authority was worth in such cases, we all know. On the other hand, here is an eyewitness, a man of grave years, of dignified rank, a man of perfect respectability, who in the very style of these letters of his has an air of artlessness, of blunt sincerity and veracity, the characteristic of a sailor. There is no motive that could induce him to deny such a fact; on the contrary, the more heroic one's enemy, the greater one's own heroism. Indeed, I may say generally of England, at this day, that there could not be any where a wish to disbelieve such a thing of an enemy recognised as brave among the bravest, but rather a wish, for manhood's sake, to believe it, if possible.

What I should like, therefore is, that these circumstances were, with the widest publicity of Journals or otherwise, to be set openly before the French Nation, and the question thereupon put: Have you any counter-evidence? If you have any, produce it; let us weigh it. If you have none, then let us cease to believe this too widely credited narration; let us consider it henceforth as a clever fable got up for a great occasion; and that the real Vengeur simply fought well, and sank precisely as another ship would have done. The French, I should hope, have accomplished too many true marvels in the way of war, to have need of false marvels. At any rate, error, untruth, as to what matter soever, never profited any nation, man, or thing.

If any of your reputable Journalists, if any honest man, will publish, in your Newspapers or otherwise, an Article on these data, and get us either evidence or no evidence, it will throw light on the matter.6 I have not yet Admiral Griffiths's permission to print this second letter (though I have little doubt to get it very soon); but the first is already published, and contains all the main facts. My commentary on them, and position towards them, is substantially given above.

Do what is fit; and let the truth be known.

Yours always,