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I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”
When a subject presumes publicly to address his sovereign, on a matter which he deems of the very highest importance to the welfare and happiness of mankind, he cannot, if his motives are pure, help feeling much anxiety to acquit himself in a way that may best promote his views; that may give no offence to the sovereign he addresses ; and that may, as much as possible, disarm public censure.
This, Sire, is my case: and when I inform Your Majesty that the purport of this letter is to announce my resignation of the commission and rank I hold in Your Majesty's Naval Service, from a conviction that my retaining them is incompatible with my Christian profession, it will be obvious that my situation, if not one of great difficulty, is, at least, one of peculiar delicacy. It will be equally obvious, that it is no easy matter for me to avoid giving offence, or even to escape
The difficulties of my situation are increased by the consideration that I have no precedent for my guidance, either as to the letter I am addressing to Your Majesty, or to the important and unusual act to which this letter relates. In both cases, I am acting, and I feel the weighty responsibility, solely on my own judgment, and without the aid of precedent or example. This consideration ought to make me both humble and cir
cumspect; that I may neither do nor say any thing of which I may hereafter see just cause to repent. I trust, Sire, this will not be my case ; for on the subject of these pages I have not thought lightly or casually, but seriously and intensely; and this not merely during a week, a month, or even a year, but almost daily for the last three years. After endeavouring to gain the best information on a subject continually becoming more interesting to me; and after imploring the guidance of that Being who alone can direct the hearts of men to what is right; my scruples concerning the accordancy of the military profession with the precepts of the Christian religion have ended in the conviction, that the duties of this profession are altogether irreconcilable with the plain fundamental principles of our holy religion.
Considering the subject-matter of this letter, and the profession of its writer, it might be deemed more respectful to Your Majesty, as well as to the distinguished persons who compose the Board of Admiralty, that I should, according to professional etiquette, address myself to them, through their Secretary. After due consideration, it appears necessary for me, on the present occasion, to depart from this custom. Whether, Sire, I regard Your Majesty as the fountain of military rank and honour, or as the Supreme Head of the Church of Christ in the nation you govern, but more especially as the latter, I feel it to be my duty to address these pages to Your Majesty; and I trust that my boldness, in doing so, will not be considered as a departure from Christian humility, or from the deference and duty justly required from a subject to his sovereign.
When a man, by many years of assiduity and active exertion, has gained a highly respectable rank in his profession ; when, indeed, he has nearly arrived at the goal of his wishes,-it may be expected that he will thankfully enjoy this rank, and its emoluments. But when, instead of doing so, he, in advanced life,
resigns these, he is likely to be taxed with something beyond mere imbecility,—the remark of Festus to St. Paul will scarcely be thought too severe for a person acting thus at variance with common feelings and practice. As this remark may possibly be applied to me; I hope, though I have no pretensions to the learning of the Apostle, that I may be permitted to answer in his words, that “ I am not mad, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness."
To account for a conduct so perfectly strange and unusual, is a duty I owe to Your Majesty : but before I proceed to discharge this duty, it may
proper to examine how far I may lawfully, under any circumstances, withdraw myself from my profession.
In whatever light I regard my half pay, I am duly sensible that my engagement to Your Majesty and my country is one of a very sacred nature, and that I ought to be able to adduce, weighty and satisfactory reasons for the step I am taking. I cannot be ignorant that such a line of conduct, if generally adopted, would produce very important consequences to society in all nations: I therefore feel it, not only an imperative duty to Your Majesty, to my brother-officers, and to the world at large, but also a most sacred duty to my Maker, that I should, with the greatest plainness, state my reasons, or rather my apology, for a proceeding which, as far as I know, is in modern times unprecedented. In doing this, it will be my most anxious wish and endeavour to observe that deference and profound respect justly due to Your Majesty's person, and to the elevated and important station you fill
. Should I fail in doing this, I entreat you, Sire, to believe that my failure, does not arise from a wish to withhold from Your Majesty the honour justly due to you ; but from an overpowering anxiety to "render unto God the things that are God's."
Although, Sire, I feel the fullest conviction that the case I am going, hypothetically, to state, could not under any circumstances happen to me; yet permit me to suppose, though living under your protection, that I should so far forget my obligations and my allegiance to Your Majesty as to unite myself to your enemies. Were I, by any possibility, implicated in a transaction so truly degrading, I should consider it as my first duty, as soon as I became sensible of the enormity
of my crime, to make the most ample and the most public reparation for it. Though my doing so might subject me to the charge of cowardice and treachery; yet, unquestionably, it would be my bounden duty to retrace my steps and return to my allegiance to you, my lawful sovereign; and it would be equally my duty to do this in the most public manner.
In some points my own real situation appears to me very similar to the imaginary case I have here stated. With much zeal and sincerity I entered into the Naval Service of Your Majesty's revered Father, and swore allegiance to him. This allegiance is now, of course, due to Your Majesty, as his lawful successor. When I entered into this solemn contract, I entertained no apprehension that I was acting in opposition to the principles of the Christian religion; nor did any apprehension of this kind ever arise in my mind during the time I was actively employed in the service of my country. Nay, so far from suspecting that I was departing from Christian rectitude, it appeared to me almost certain, if I should lose my life in the service of my king and my country, that this would serve as a kind of passport to the favour and acceptance of God. This opinion, which has been frequently inculcated by ministers of the Gospel of Peace, as well as by pagan writers, is, I believe, generally entertained by those who think at all when they enter the naval or military profession.
Those, Sire, who live much in the world are imperceptibly led to think, and act, upon the principles of those with whom they associate. Though, in the busy scenes of naval service, I never entertained an idea of my profession being irreconcilable with the