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قراءة كتاب The Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence A Hero of the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns
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The Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence A Hero of the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns
Sergeant William Lawrence,
A HERO OF THE PENINSULAR AND WATERLOO CAMPAIGNS;
GEORGE NUGENT BANKES,
AUTHOR OF "A DAY OF MY LIFE AT ETON," ETC., ETC.
SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE, & RIVINGTON
CROWN BUILDINGS, 188, FLEET STREET
[All rights reserved]
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
Square 16mo, cloth extra, 2s. 6d. each.
A DAY OF MY LIFE AT ETON.
ABOUT SOME FELLOWS; or, Odds and Ends from My Note-book.
CAMBRIDGE TRIFLES; or, Splutterings from an Undergraduate's Pen.
A CAMBRIDGE STAIRCASE.
Crown 8vo, cloth, 6s.
WRITTEN TO ORDER: being some Account of the Journeyings of an Irresponsible Egotist, and of How he enjoyed himself thereon.
London: SAMPSON LOW & CO., 188, Fleet Street, E.C.
Sergeant William Lawrence died at Studland in Dorsetshire in the year 1867, bequeathing the manuscript of the accompanying autobiography to the family one of whose members now submits it to the notice of the public. Circumstances, which perhaps may be too often interpreted as really meaning an unfortunate tendency to procrastination, have hitherto prevented it being put into shape with a view to publication: one thing after another has intervened, and the work has been passed on from hand to hand, until after these long years a final effort has been made, and the self-imposed task completed.
The book is simply sent forth on its own merits in the hope that there are yet some, if not indeed many whose hearts are never weary of the tales of England's glory in the past, and seek to find in them reason why that glory should be perpetuated. Many an account have we already had of the victories of the Peninsula and Waterloo, and this but adds one more to the list: though perhaps it may be regarded in somewhat of a supplementary light, as treating of the campaigns neither from an entirely outside and soi-disant unprejudiced standpoint, nor with the advantages possessed by one who may have had access to the councils of the authorities, but as they were seen by one who came and went and did as he was told, and was as it were nothing more than a single factor in the great military machine that won our country those battles of which she has so much right to be proud. What criticisms of the conduct of the war our veteran occasionally does indulge in are of course chiefly founded on the camp gossip current at the time, and in reading them it must always be borne in mind that events at the moment of their happening often do not present the same appearance as when viewed from the calmer security of after years, and they must be judged accordingly.
As to the style. Lawrence, though he never betrayed the fact to the authorities during his whole military career, being possessed of a wonderful aptitude for mental calculation, and always contriving to get some assistance in concealing his deficiency when his official duties necessitated his doing so, and though he has carefully avoided all direct allusion to it in this work itself, never learnt to write, and the first form in which his history was committed to paper was from dictation. The person who took down the words as he spoke them, one of his fellow-servants, was but imperfectly educated himself, so that it may be imagined that the result of the narrative of one illiterate person being written down by another was that the style was not likely to aspire to any very high degree of literary merit. Still, to preserve the peculiar character of the book, it has been thought better to leave it as far as possible in its original shape: some emendations have perforce had to be made to render it actually intelligible—for instance, in the original manuscript there is scarcely any punctuation from beginning to end, with the exception of at those places where the amanuensis evidently left off his day's work; but the language, with its occasional half-flights into a poetry of about the standard of an Eton boy's verses, its crude moralizings, and imperfect applications of old proverbs and fables, has not been altered, nor, so far as there can be said to be one, has the method. It is trusted, therefore, that, remembering that the main object in the editor's mind has been to let the venerable hero tell his story in exactly his own words so far as his meaning can be thereby made out, no one will take any unnecessary pains to count up how often the words "likewise" and "proceed" are repeated in these pages, or to point out that the general style of the book combines those of Tacitus, Caesar's Commentaries, and the Journeyings of the Israelites. Nor, it is to be hoped, will any one be too severe in his comments on the fact that to the mind of a man in Lawrence's position the obtaining of a pair of boots was apparently quite as important an event as the storming of Badajoz, or the finding of a sack with a ham and a couple of fowls in it as the winning of the battle of Waterloo.
Interesting perhaps the book will prove as giving some of the details of what our soldiers had to undergo in those old times of war. Hardships they now have to endure, and endure them they do well, but all must be thankful to know that they are far better off than their forefathers; who, unsuitably clad, half starved, and with their commissariat such even as it was disgracefully mismanaged, and yet forbidden very often under pain of death to pick up what they could for themselves, submitted on the shortest notice to punishments which would nowadays call forth the indignant protests of hosts of newspaper correspondents; and still in spite of all fought stubbornly through every obstacle till they had gained the objects for which they had been sent out. What wonder can there be that under all these circumstances we should find our hero somewhat hardened in his estimate of human sympathies, and not altogether disinclined to view everything, whether it concerned life or death, or marriage, or parting or meeting, all in one phlegmatic way, as occurring as a matter of course? What ought to strike us as more curious is that he was only reduced to that level of intellect where he thought even that much of anything at all besides his actual eating, drinking, and sleeping.
But to go on further would be to depart from the original intention of letting the book speak for itself. To conclude therefore: there is much to wade through, though it is all more or less relevant to the progress of the story: some readers may like one part and some may prefer another; and if the pruning-hook had once been introduced it would have been difficult to decide what to leave and what to take, or whether it would not be better to publish another volume of the things pruned, since it had been determined to publish at all. But if the reader will accomplish the wading to the end, there will he find summed up in one simple paragraph the autobiographer's own ideas about the merits of his work. May it be received in the same spirit as it is sent forth!