Monday, January 23, 2017

Major Hodson's Life

Review of:
Twelve Years of a Soldier's Life in India (by George Hodson, 1859).

It is a difficult thing for those who are accustomed to use language with any degree of precision to bring themselves to make general statements about nations and national character; for a nation is so vast and so ill-defined a body, that it is almost impossible to have any very accurate or adequate knowledge of it. Still most of us do gradually form an estimate of the people amongst whom we live, sufficiently just for ordinary purposes, and sometimes of surprising accuracy; nor are any facts better attested than that this estimate varies materially in different nations, and that the differences it indicates regulate the position which such nations occupy in relation to each other. The whole course of history is mainly determined by the average qualities of human nature, and this fact gives peculiar interest to the cases in which average men are placed in extraordinary circumstances. Mechanical contrivances will inform us whether the gun-metal or the wrought-iron which present the same resistance to the touch is the stronger substance; but it is not once in a lifetime that the winds blow and the rains descend, and the floods beat upon the commonplace virtues of commonplace men, so as to show whether they are built upon sand or rock; and it is not once in an age, that the experiment is performed on such a scale as to throw light of the same kind on the character of a nation.

The Bengal Mutiny appears to us to derive a great part, perhaps the chief part, of its interest from the circumstance that it furnishes us with abundant evidence of this description. At a moment's notice, without the smallest preparation, far remote from effective assistance, thousands of ordinary Englishmen and women were plunged into what may, with no exaggeration at all, be called a fiery trial. In the midst of peaceful pursuits they were called upon to fight for their lives against overwhelming odds. From unsuspecting confidence and security they were suddenly awakened to the existence of universal treachery. The unquestioned rulers of a mighty empire on one day became proscribed fugitives on the next. Here, indeed, was an instance in which men might prove what they were made of Here if anywhere was a test which would show what were the materials of which so splendid a fabric as the Indian Empire had been constructed. It is as evidence of the character of an ordinary Englishman, endowed with no other gifts than hundreds of his fellow-countrymen possess, trained by no other education than that through which English gentlemen usually pass, favoured by no unusual combination of circumstances, the object of no other patronage than that which he won by a zeal, intelligence, and energy, which, though highly creditable, are of common occurrence, that we invite attention to the Memoirs of the late Major Hodson. We have selected him from many other brave men for this purpose, not because he was, but because he was not, one of the principal defenders of the British Empire in India. Whatever eminence he might have attained, had his life been spared, it would be absurd to place him in the same class with Lord Clyde, with General Havelock, or with Sir John or Sir Henry Lawrence. There is nothing to show that his name would not have risen (had he lived) to a height far greater than that which he did in fact attain; those who knew and loved him may have good reasons for believing that it would ; but the course of events was not so ordered. To the world at large, Major Hodson may stand as a fair specimen of the great staple produce of the country, the ‘good yeomen whose limbs are made in England.’ An outline of his career will show what that position implies.

Major Hodson was the third son of the late Archdeacon of Stafford, and was born near Gloucester, in March, 1821. He was educated at Rugby from his fifteenth to his twentieth year, establishing there a great reputation for bodily activity, and for that combination of moral and physical force on which Dr. Arnold placed so much value, and which his system undoubtedly tended to develope in some cases. In 1840 he was removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, where his pursuits were rather athletic than intellectual. After taking his degree he determined to enter the army; and, after a short term of service with the Guernsey Militia, obtained a cadetship in the Company's service, and landed in Calcutta in September, 1845, whence he went up the country to Agra, to join the troops proceeding to the Sutlej campaign. He did duty with the 2nd Grenadiers, and was present, within two or three months after the commencement of his military life, at three of the most desperate battles ever fought in India, battles which will sustain a comparison, in point both of fierceness and of slaughter, with the bloodiest engagements of European warfare. Nearly the first gun he heard fired, killed a man at his side; and immediately afterwards a ball, from the musket of a Sepoy behind him, grazed his cheek, whilst his face was blackened by the explosion of the powder.

This rough entrance into the duties of his profession was succeeded by a period of quiet, as far at least as ordinary military service was concerned, though it was filled by a constant succession of those multifarious occupations, engineering, political, and military, which are commonly incidental to a successful Indian career. Of these avocations Lieutenant Hodson's correspondence with his family gives a very full account. He had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Mr. Thomason and Sir Henry (then Colonel) Lawrence; and as he was both older and far better educated than most officers of his standing, either civil or military, he obtained, through their means, abundant opportunities of distinguishing himself by activity, zeal, and intelligence. The list of his services gives a singular notion of the career of an active Indian officer. He was sent in the first instance to superintend the establishment of an orphan asylum, founded by Sir H. Lawrence at his own expense, at Subathoo, on the slope of the Himalayas, an institution intended to provide for the education of the motherless children of European soldiers in the Company's service. The mode in which the works had to be carried on was very characteristic. Not only were plans to be drawn, a house to be built, 450 workmen to be superintended, paid, and kept to their several duties, but every department of the work performed had to be invented from its first principles.
‘I have to get earth dug for bricks,’ says Lieutenant Hodson in a spirited letter to his father: “see the moulds made, and watch the progress of them till the kiln is filled, get wood for the kiln, and direct the lighting of the same, and finally provide a goat to sacrifice to the demon who is supposed to turn the bricks red. . . . . . Then the whole of the woodwork must be set out and made under one's own eye, and a lump of iron brought from the mine to be wrought (also under one's direction) into nails and screws, before a single door can be set up. . . . . . You will naturally ask how I learned all these trades. I can only say that you can't be more astonished than I am myself.'
Having completed the works at Subathoo, Lieutenant Hodson was deputed to make a road from Lahore to the Sutlej, a distance of forty miles, and to undertake a variety of police and surveying duties in the district. He was also second in command of the Corps of Guides, lately established, and found himself, with “a half sensation of modesty,’ administering justice in cases of very considerable importance.

In the course of these avocations the second Sikh war broke out. Our readers will remember the part which was played on this occasion by the irregular forces raised on the frontier by Lieutenant (now Colonel) Herbert Edwardes. Lieutenant Hodson had several somewhat similar opportunities of distinguishing himself. Though at that period he had no independent command, he played a principal part in several actions, and displayed, in a very unusual degree, the highest and least common, of all forms of courage—that which consists in accepting most serious responsibility. Thinking, on one occasion, that his commander, Brigadier Wheeler, did not advance as rapidly as was desirable, he himself marched on, at the head of 100 men, to attack 4000, ‘sending back a messenger to the Brigadier to say that I was close to the place, and that if he did not come on sharp they would run away or overwhelm me.' The Brigadier came on accordingly. The Sikhs had at first advanced on the small party which they saw in front of them, but they stopped on perceiving how it was supported. Brigadier Wheeler gave Lieutenant Hodson orders to charge with two regiments of irregular cavalry. The enemy fled in confusion, leaving 200 or 300 men dead on the ground. A little later in the campaign Lieutenant Hodson charged a body of 150 men with 15 troopers. Amongst the enemy were included a number of fanatics called Akhalees, who resisted with desperate ferocity. One, in particular, beat off four of the troopers, and was then attacked by Lieutenant Hodson, who thus describes the scene in a letter.
‘He rushed to meet me like a tiger, closed with me, yelling, ‘Wah Gooroo, ji!” and accompanying each shout with a terrific blow of his tulwar. I guarded the three or four first, but he pressed so closely to my horse's rein that I could not get a fair cut in return. At length I pressed in my turn upon him so sharply that he missed his blow, and I caught his tulwar with my bridle-hand, wrenched it from him, and cut him down with my right, having received no further injury than a severe cut across the fingers. I never beheld such desperation and fury in my life. It was not human scarcely.’
For this gallant action, as well as for the mode in which his other duties were discharged, Lieutenant Hodson received the thanks of the Governor-general.

After the peace, which followed on the battle of Chillianwallah, Lieutenant Hodson was employed for a considerable time in various civil capacities, and, amongst other things, he accompanied Sir Henry Lawrence in a journey to Cashmere and Thibet. The change of occupation was not, however, very agreeable to his tastes, and he was accordingly greatly rejoiced at being appointed to the command of the Corps of Guides on the Peshawur frontier, on the return of their former commandant to England. Indeed the appointment was one of the most desirable and important in India. It conferred precisely one of those positions which distinguish the Indian service from any other. The Corps of Guides consisted of 5 English officers, 300 horse, and 600 foot, the latter being all riflemen. They were divided into three troops and six companies. Each of the troops and companies was of a different race, and in each the officers were of a different race from the men. During the period of his command Lieutenant Hodson was at the head of every department of business, judicial, financial, and military in one part of his district. It was a very wild, exciting way of life.
‘A daybreak parade or inspection, a gallop across the plain to some outpost, a plunge in the river, and then an early breakfast, occupy your time till 9 A.M. Then come a couple of corpses whose owners (late) had their heads broken over night, and consequent investigations and examinations. Next a patch of villagers to say their crops are destroyed by a storm and no rents forthcoming. Then a scream of woe from a plundered farm on the frontier; and next a grain dealer to say his camels have been carried off to the hills. . . . Then each of my 900 men considers me bound to listen to any amount of stories he may please to invent or remember of his own private griefs and troubles.’
The amount of the business discharged may be estimated . from the fact that in the course of a single month ‘he disposed  of twenty-one serious criminal charges, such as murder and wounding with intent, and nearly 200 charges of felony,  larceny, &c.’ The ordinary business of the station was varied by a campaign of seven weeks on the frontier against a wild Afghan tribe, who were attacked in order to secure the Kohat pass. For his services on this occasion he was mentioned in the despatches of Brigadier Boileau, and thanked by the commander-in-chief, Sir W. Gomm.

Up to this period, Lieutenant Hodson had enjoyed uninterrupted prosperity, but in the year 1853, he was accused of negligent management in respect of the public money which had passed through his hands. His brother's statement of the case is that his appointment had excited great jealousy, that on his arrival at the scene of his duties he found the affairs of the station in great confusion, and that he had in the course of twenty-four hours to take the field without any audit between his predecessor and himself, and that he tried to reduce this confusion to order, but was unable to do so effectually. Under these circumstances, a special military court sat in Peshawur in the end of 1854 to investigate the charges. They reported to the Governor-general, but their report was delayed till July 1855. The Governor-general referred to Major Reynell Taylor, who made his report in February 1856; but this report, according to Mr. George Hodson, was kept back by some private influence, and was never laid before Lord Dalhousie at all before his departure from India. Of its tenor, Sir Robert Napier and Mr. Montgomery, then one of the Commissioners in the Punjab, and now Chief Commissioner of Oude, both gave their written opinion. The former says,
‘The result of Major Taylor's laborious and patient investigation of Lieutenant Hodson's regimental accounts, has not at all added to the confidence that I have throughout maintained in the honour and uprightness of his conduct. It has, however, shown how much labour Lieutenant Hodson bestowed in putting the affairs of his regiment in order.’
Mr. Montgomery said,
“To me the whole report seemed more satisfactory than any one I had ever read; and considering Major Taylor's high character, patience, and discernment, and the lengthened period he took to investigate every item, most triumphant.”
 This evidence certainly exculpated Lieutenant Hodson from the imputation which such a charge carries with it, but the private letters which he wrote to his family at the time will to many minds convey a still stronger impression of his innocence, especially when their manly simple tone is connected with the equally manly and simple conduct which their writer constantly maintained.

For about two years from the beginning of 1855, till the outbreak of the mutiny in 1857, he underwent a series of the severest trials. He lost a child to whom he was very tenderly attached. He lost his father, and he was dismissed from his command, and obliged to return to his regimental duties as a simple lieutenant. He turned to them with as keen an interest, as strong a sense of duty, and as prompt efficiency as if he had never commanded on one of the most stirring positions in India. The regimental affairs had fallen into great disorder, and the Colonel requested Lieutenant Hodson to accept the post of quarter-master, . Instead of brooding over his grievances, he applied himself with such energy to this complicated and uninteresting task as to accomplish most successfully the objects which his superiors had in view, and to earn from them the warmest acknowledgments for his services.. Mr. George Hodson may well say, that nothing in his brother's career was more admirable, or showed more real heroism.

In July, 1857, Lieutenant Hodson's services were required on a very different scene. On the outbreak of the mutiny he received orders to raise the regiment of irregular cavalry which was known by his name. The services which they rendered at the siege of Delhi and during Lord Clyde's advance on Lucknow are too well known to require minute description. Nor do we feel prepared to enter upon the question of the justice of Major Hodson's view as to the possibility of taking Delhi at a much earlier period than that at which it actually was taken. The materials for the discussion of such a question are not, and perhaps never will be, collected. The proceedings of Major Hodson (for he gained brevet rank on obtaining his company in the course of the siege of Delhi) are so characteristically and so happily described in several passages of his brother's memoir, that we lay them before our readers in full, that they may judge for themselves as to the character of his exploits. The following is Lieutenant Macdowell's account of the capture of the princes. It supersedes all necessity for comment:
‘On the 20th the King gave himself up, and was lodged securely in Delhi under a guard. On this day all had evacuated the place, of which we were complete masters. On the 21st a note from Hodson, “Come sharp, bring one hundred men.” Off I went, time 6 o'clock A.M. To explain why he wrote to me, I must tell you that although he commanded the regiment, he was also the head of the Intelligence Department, and lived in the General's quarters, while I lived with the regiment, commanding it in his absence, as being Second in command. Well, down I went. He told me he had heard that the three Princes (the heads of the rebellion and sons of the King) were in a tomb six miles off, and he intended going to bring them, and offered me the chance of accompanying him. Wasn't it handsome on his part! Of course I went: we started at about eight o'clock, and proceeded slowly towards the tomb. It is called Humayoon's Tomb, and is an immense building. In it were the princes and about 3000 Mussulman followers. In the suburb close by about 3000 more, all armed, so it was rather a ticklish bit of work. We halted half a mile from the place, and sent in to say the princes must give themselves up unconditionally, or take the consequences. A long half hour elapsed, when a messenger came out to say the princes wished to know if their lives would be promised them, if they came out. “Unconditional surrender,” was the answer. Again we waited. It was a most anxious time. We dared not take them by force, or all would have been lost, and we doubted their coming. We heard the shouts of the fanatics (as we found out afterwards) begging the princes to lead them on against us. And we had only one hundred men, and were six miles from Delhi. At length, I suppose, imagining that sooner or later they must be taken, they resolved to give themselves up unconditionally, fancying, I suppose, as we had spared the King, we would spare them. So the messenger was sent to say they were coming. We sent ten men to meet them, and by Hodson's order I drew the troop up across the road, ready to receive them, and shoot them at once if there was any attempt at a rescue. Soon they appeared in a small “Ruth” or Hindoostanee cart drawn by bullocks, five troopers on each side. Behind them thronged about 2000 or 3000 (I am not exaggerating) Mussulmans. We met them, and at once Hodson and I rode up, leaving the men a little in the rear. They bowed as we came up, and Hodson, bowing, ordered the driver to move on. This was the minute. The crowd behind made a movement. Hodson waved them back; I beckoned to the troop, which came up, and in an instant formed them up between the crowd and the cart. By Hodson's order I advanced at a walk on the people, who fell back sullenly and slowly at our approach. It was touch and go. Meanwhile Hodson galloped back, and told the sowars (10) to hurry the princes on along the road, while we showed a front and kept back the mob. They retired on Humayoon's tomb, and step by step we followed them. Inside they went up the steps, and formed up in the immense garden inside. The entrance to this was through an arch, up steps. Leaving the men outside, Hodson and myself (I stuck to him throughout), with four men, rode up the steps into the arch, when he called out to them to lay down their arms. There was a murmur. He reiterated the command, and (God knows why, I never can understand it) they commenced doing so. Now you see we didn't want their arms, and under ordinary circumstances would not have risked our lives in so rash a way, but what we wanted was to gain time to get the princes away, for we could have done nothing had they attacked us, but cut our way back, and very little chance of doing even this successfully. Well, there we stayed for two hours, collecting their arms, and I assure you I thought every moment they could rush upon us. I said nothing, but smoked all the time, to show I was unconcerned; but at last, when it was all done, and all the arms collected, put in a cart, and started, Hodson turned to me and said, “We'll go now.” Very slowly we mounted, formed up the troop, and cautiously departed, followed by the crowd. We rode along quietly. You will say, why did we not charge them I merely say, we were one hundred men, and they were fully 6000. I am not exaggerating; the official reports will show you it is all true. As we got about a mile off, Hodson turned to me and said, “Well, Mac, we've got them at last;” and we both gave a sigh of relief. Never in my life, under the heaviest fire, have I been in such imminent danger. Everybody says it is the most dashing and daring thing that has been done for years (not on my part, for I merely obeyed orders, but on Hodson's, who planned and carried it out). Well, I must finish my story. We came up to the princes, now about five miles from where we had taken them, and close to Delhi. The increasing crowd pressed close on the horses of the sowars, and assumed every moment a more hostile appearance. “What shall we do with them?’” said Hodson to me. “I think we had better shoot them here; we shall never get them in.” 
‘We had identified them by means of a nephew of the king's whom we had with us, and who turned king's evidence. Besides, they acknowledged themselves to be the men. Their names were Mirza Mogul, the king's nephew and head of the whole business; Mirza Kishere Sultamet, who was also one of the principal rebels, and had made himself notorious by murdering women and children; and Abu Bukt, the commander-in-chief nominally, and heir-apparent to the throne. This was the young fiend who had stripped our women in the open street, and cutting off little children's arms and legs, poured the blood into their mothers’ mouths: this is literally the case. There was no time to be lost; we halted the troop, put five troopers across the road behind and in front. Hodson ordered the princes to strip and get again into the cart, he then shot them with his own hand. So ended the career of the chiefs of the revolt, and of the greatest villains that ever shamed humanity. Before they were shot, Hodson addressed our men, explaining who they were, and why they were to suffer death; the effect was marvellous, the Mussulmans seemed struck with a wholesome idea of retribution, and the Sikhs shouted with delight, while the mass moved off slowly and silently.'
No more righteous act was ever done. No history in the world records an instance of more heroic courage. [In the ‘Times’ of March 15. 1859, General Thompson is reported to have said in the House of Commons: ‘He stood up in that ‘house to speak of the murder of the princes of Delhi. There was a “slight probability that the man who committed these murders was ‘suffering under the affliction of insanity. We make no other comment upon this than that no other nation was ever so splendidly served as our own, and that in none have all the arts of detraction, ridicule, and contempt been exercised on public servants with such inveterate and ignorant malignity.]  The following passage, from the same pen, is an instance of courage of another kind. It reads like one of the most exciting scenes in Fenimore Cooper's novels. After describing how Major Hodson and himself rode over from Bewar to Lord Clyde's camp (fiftyseven miles) between 6 A.M. and 4 P.M., Lieutenant Macdowell thus describes their return. The road was beset by the enemy, but Hodson resolved, if possible, to push through:—
‘We had a very pleasant dinner, and at 8 P.M. started on our long ride (fifty-four miles) back. We arrived at Goorsahaigunge all safe, and pushed on at once for the next stage, Chibberamow. When we had got half way, we were stopped by a native, who had been waiting in expectation of our return. God bless him " I say, and I am sure you will say so too when you have read all. He told us that a party of the enemy had attacked our twenty-five sowars at Chibberamow, cut up some, and beaten back the rest, and that there was a great probability some of them (the enemy) were lurking about the road to our front. This was pleasant news, was it not? — twenty miles from the commander-in-chief’s camp, thirty from our own; time, midnight, scene, an open road; dramatis personae, two officers armed with swords and revolvers, and a howling enemy supposed to be close at hand. We deliberated what we should do, and Hodson decided we should ride on at all risks. “At the worst,” he said, “we can gallop back; but we'll try and push through.” The native came with us, and we started. I have seen a few adventures in my time, but must confess this was the most trying one I had ever engaged in. It was a piercingly cold night, with a bright moon and a wintry sky, and a cold wind every now and then sweeping by and chilling us to the very marrow. Taking our horses off the hard road on to the side where it was soft, so that the noise of their footfalls could be less distinctly heard, we silently went on our way, anxiously listening for every sound that fell upon our ears, and straining our sight to see if, behind the dark trees dotted along the road, we could discern the forms of the enemy waiting in ambush to seize us. It was indeed an anxious time. We proceeded till close to Chibberamow. “They are there,” said our guide in a whisper, pointing to a garden in a clump of trees to our right front. Distinctly we heard a faint hum in the distance—whether it was the enemy, or whether our imagination conjured up the sound, I know not. We slowly and silently passed through the village, in the main street of which we saw the dead body of one of our men lying stark and stiff and ghastly in the moonlight; and on emerging from the other side, dismissed our faithful guide, with directions to come to our camp—and then, putting spurs to our horses, we galloped for the dear life to Bewar, breathing more freely as every stride bore us away from the danger now happily past. All Hodson said when we were at Bewar, and safe, was “By George! Mac, I'd give a good deal for a cup of tea,” and immediately went to sleep. He is the coolest hand I have ever yet met. We rode ninety-four miles. Hodson rode seventy-two on one horse, the little dun, and I rode Alma seventy-two miles also.”
Major Hodson, with his regiment, was present at the operations before Lucknow. Lieutenant Macdowell, his gallant companion, and the author of the striking letters from which we have quoted the above extracts, was killed on the 27th of January, 1858. On the 12th of March Major Hodson himself met the same fate. He was shot through the body by a sepoy who with some others had taken refuge in a room in the begum's palace at Lucknow, which he entered to look for fugitives. He died the next morning with the same patient courage which he had so often displayed in life.

A few of the anecdotes of his behaviour during the siege of Delhi may serve to complete his portrait:–
‘The way Hodson used to work was quite miraculous. He was a slighter man and lighter weight than I am. Then he had that most valuable gift, of being able to get refreshing sleep on horseback. I have been out with him all night following and watching the enemy, when he has gone off dead asleep, waking up after an hour as fresh as a lark; whereas, if I went to sleep in the saddle, the odds were I fell off on my nose. 
In a fight he was glorious. If there was only a good hard skrimmage he was as happy as a king. A beautiful swordsman, he never failed to kill his man; and the way he used to play with the most brave and furious of these rebels was perfect. I fancy I see him now, smiling, laughing, parrying most fearful blows, as calmly as if he were brushing off flies, calling out all the time, “Why, try again, “now,” “What's that?” “Do you call yourself a swordsman?” &c. 
He has wonderful tact in getting information out of the natives, and divining the movements of the enemy. He is scarcely out of the saddle day or night, for not only has he to lead his regiment and keep the country clear, but being Intelligence Officer, he is always on the move to gain news of the progress of affairs, and acts and intentions of the enemy. He used to know what the rebels had for dinner in Delhi. 
Even when he might take rest he will not, but will go and help work at the batteries, and expose himself constantly, in order to relieve some fainting gunner or wounded man.’ 
We may seem to be doing injustice to the memory of such a man as Major Hodson in saying that we have chosen his life for special notice, because he is a representative of the ordinary and not of the extraordinary virtues of his countrymen. Nothing is further from our wish than to say a single word about him which could convey any impression of coldness or indifference to his merits. What his career appears to us to prove is, that there must be amongst us many hundreds, perhaps many thousands, of persons who, in the common course of life, attract no attention, but who, if they were placed in extraordinary circumstances, would show that they possessed qualities which every one would call extraordinary. The proof of this is that in Major Hodson's career there is no violent break or transition, and that great part of his career was in no way remarkable. Such as he was at Rugby he continued to be at Cambridge. The different occupations in which he was engaged in India were all of the same character. They do not seem to have required other faculties than that sort of Robinson Crusoe independence and self-reliance which we see in a thousand cases on less picturesque stages without being at all surprised at it. . An active clergyman in a neglected parish; a clever attorney who puts a case together from incoherent materials; a country gentleman who brings an ill-managed estate into good order, and raises its value by agricultural improvements; any man who works his way in life by the exercise of enterprise and intelligence, is doing, on a commonplace stage, just the same sort of things that Major Hodson did on an exciting one. We meet with such men in abundance in all directions. Any one of our readers could, no doubt, name scores of them with a little thought. We usually tacitly assume that such men must be commonplace, because they are placed in commonplace positions; and Mr. John Mill, in the latest and one of the ablest of his publications, has very emphatically indorsed this opinion, by expressing his belies, that a great decay has taken place, and is continuing to proceed, in the power and originality of individual character: Major Hodson's career appears to us to show that such an opinion is most unjust. That he was a man of great power and vivacity of character, no one who reads his memoir can possibly doubt. If he had worn a coat of mail and lived in a feudal castle, his career might have been quoted as a proof of the racy vigour which feudalism developed; but it is strictly true that he was only a specimen of a class. There is nothing in his life or letters to show that he possessed any supernatural powers either of mind or body. Each, no doubt, was trained to the highest pitch. His mind was in a state of constant and wholesome employment. His body was hardened by continual exercise, but the capacity, as distinguished from the training, displayed by his performances, does not appear to us to have been at all uncommon, though it was certainly considerable. His letters are exactly the sort of letters which might be expected from a shrewd lively man, with a keen eye and plenty of sound good sense, but they contain no traces of any qualities of a higher kind. Thousands of such letters arrive by every mail, and during the Crimean campaign, scarcely a day passed in which a considerable number were not published in the papers. Curiously enough, an exact measure of Major Hodson's physical powers is given in one of these letters. Speaking of prodigious marches which he had accomplished on horseback, he says that he certainly shall never again be able to repeat his college feat of walking from a ferry between the mainland and the Isle of Skye to Inverness (about sixty miles) in thirty hours. It is a feat which would present no insuperable difficulty to any man of active out-door habits in the vigour of life. We will venture to say that scores of Major Hodson's contemporaries at Rugby and Trinity were thoroughly equal to him both in mental and physical capacity. Where are they now? They are the leaders of every day English life, – what we may call the non-commissioned officers of English society, — the clergy, the lawyers, the doctors, the country squires, the junior partners in banks and merchants' offices, men who are in every sense of the word gentlemen though no one would class them with the aristocracy. Take a man of this order at random, throw him into strange circumstances, repose confidence in him, subject him to responsibility, and Major Hodson is the result.

 If it were necessary in these days to give any formal proof of the soundness of that popular instinct which attaches the highest importance to military prowess, we should find it in the belief that it is the rough but certain test of those broad, deep, common virtues, which are not too great and good for the aspirations of common men, but which are so great and good that without them a nation would be no more than a mob of cheats, slaves, cowards, and liars, more or less cunning. We have all heard a great deal more than enough of the horrible, the ludicrous, and contemptible side of war, and of the foibles and follies of soldiers. Let us turn for once to the other side of the picture. What a world of silent, untold worth must have preceded so much rude heroism, -- what lessons of obedience, patience, and honesty are implied in that iron stubbornness which won the battle of Inkermann! What numbers of parents must have taught their children to fear God and honour the Queen, before six hundred carters and ploughboys could be capable of being drilled into the cavalry who charged at Balaklava! What self-reliance, what resource, what a frank, hearty, common understanding, must have been learnt in the schools which trained the civil and military servants of the East India Company! what a vast mass of unemployed energy and latent courage must be diffused through the classes of society from which they were chosen The Army and the Company's Service were true samples of the material of which the English nation is composed. It is as a faithful picture of a noble specimen of this class, that Major Hodson's life well deserves wide and lasting attention. We will add that the execution of the book is thoroughly worthy of its subject. The skill, the modesty, and the self-respect with which Mr. George Hodson relates his brother's life almost entirely by means of his letters, are very remarkable. That form of narrative is now very common, and is often extremely tiresome; but there is not a page of Mr. Hodson's book which has not its own interest, or which fails to carry the story forward.

Edinburgh Review, April 1859.

No comments:

Post a Comment