Officers in the Age of Sail
Ships of Wood and Men of Iron
The sea makes to different people a varied appeal. There are those who dread to go upon the great waters; there are those who have a genuine mania for the sea. Some men are driven into sea life by their instinctive fondness for the sea. Many great naval fighters were nomadic or "fond of the sea" or adventurous or belligerent in their childhood and youth. The successful strategist is one who plans successful campaigns, can foresee the enemy's probable plans, and can take the appropriate steps to block them and start a series of offensive operations that shall bring the war to a close. Great strategists are relatively few. Of the men whose success in the navy was primarily administrative, some were good strategists, but they were chiefly noteworthy for organization and the maintenance of discipline; or for administrative work on land. Every navy has need of some of these, especially in time of peace. The English navy develops a great many of them. The sea is a magnet that draws its own to it wherever they may be. The love of the sea is one of the instincts that are original in the nature of some.
The characteristic qualities and habits of British seamen, are evidently and necessarily made up of those which they derive from their professional life and occupation, and those which proceed from the character of the nation to which they .belong. All seamen, must, though in different degrees, be obedient, submissive to the will of their superiors, unreflecting, active, and vigilant; uninformed respecting, or regardless of the habits and manners of common life. To these qualities and habits, British seamen add those which are derived from the freedom of the constitution under which they live, and from the firm belief, that the ocean is the dominion of Britain ; that she has entrusted this part of her dominion, in an especial manner, to their care and protection ; and that they are invincible on their own element.
In estimating the rank held by a British admiral amidst the roll of his peers before and after his time, the circumstances attending his first appearance are of the greatest moment. Hawke came prominently before his country at the precise period when a long peace had prevented the formation of any large number of officers of a high type, and when for nearly a century there had been no instance of a consummate commander such as Blake had been, and Rodney and Nelson were destined to be.
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