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THE DUKE OF YORK.
FROM THE EDINBURGH WEEKLY JOURNAL, Jan. 10, 1827.
In the person of his Royal Highness the Duke of York, we may justly say, in the language of Scripture, “ there has fallen this day in our Israel a Prince and a Great Man.” He has, from an early period of his manhood, performed a most important part in public life. In the early wars of the French Revolution, the Duke of York commanded the British forces on the Continent, and although we claim not for his memory the admiration due to the rare and high gifts, which, in our latter times, must combine to form a military genius of the first order, yet it has never been disputed that in the field his Royal Highness displayed intelligence, military skill, and his family attribute, the most cool and unalterable courage. He had also the universal testimony of the army for his efforts
to lessen the distresses of the privates, during the horrors of an unsuccessful campaign, in which he aequired, and kept to his death, the epithet of the Soldier's Friend. It was singular that on the trial of the maniac Hatfield, where the Duke was examined as a witness, the accused person recognised his Royal Highness by that title.
But it is not on account of these early services that we now, as boldly as our poor voice may, venture to bring forward the late Duke of York's claims to the perpetual gratitude of his country. It is as the reformer and regenerator of the British army, which he brought from a state nearly allied to general contempt, to such a pitch of excellence, that we may, without much hesitation, claim for them an equality with, if not a superiority over, any troops in Europe. The Duke of York had the firmness to look into and examine the causes, which, ever since the American war, though arising out of circumstances existing long before, had gone as far to destroy the character of the British army, as the natural good materials of which it is composed would permit. The heart must have been bold that did not despair at the sight of such an Augean stable.
In the first place, our system of purchasing commissions,-itself an evil in a military point of view,
and yet indispensable to the freedom of the country,—had been stretched so far as to open the way to every sort of abuse., No science was required on the part of the candidate for a commission, no term of service as a cadet, no previous experience whatsoever; the promotion went on equally unimpeded; the boy let loose from school the last week, might in the course of a month be a field officer, if his friends were disposed to be liberal of money and influence. Others there were, against whom there could be no complaint for want of length of service, although it might be difficult to see how their experience was improved by it. It was no uncommon thing for a commission to be obtained for a child in the cradle; and when he came from college, the fortunate youth was at least a lieutenant of some standing, by dint of fair promotion. To sum up this catalogue of abuses, commissions were in some instances betowed upon young ladies, when pensions could not be had. We knew ourselves one fair dame who drew the pay of captain in the dragoons, and was probably not much less fit for the service than some who, at that period, actually did duty; for, as we have said, no knowledge of any kind was demanded from the young officers. If they desired to improve themselves in the elemental parts of their profession, there were no means open either of direction or of instruction. But as a zeal for knowledge rarely exists where its attainment brings no credit or advantage, the gay young men who adopted the military profession were easily led into the fashion of thinking, that it was pedantry to be master even of the routine of the exercise which they were obliged to perform. An intelligent sergeant whispered from time to time the word of command, which his captain would have been ashamed to have known without prompting; and thus the duty of the field-day was huddled over rather than performed. It was natural, under such circumstances, that the pleasures of the mess, or of the card or billiard table, should occupy too much of the leisure of those who had so few duties to perform, and that extravagance, with all its disreputable consequences, should be the characteristic of many officers, while others, despairing of promotion, which could only be acquired by money or influence, sunk into mere machines, performing without hope or heart a task which they had learned by rote, and only remaining in the profession because it was too late to begin another.
To this state of things, by a succession of wellconsidered and effectual regulations, gradually the Duke of York put a stop, with a firm yet gentle hand. Terms of service were fixed for every rank,
and neither influence nor money were permitted to force any individual forward, until he had served the necessary time in the inferior rank from which he desired to be promoted. No rank short of that of the Duke of York—no courage and determination inferior to that of his Royal Highness, could have accomplished a change so important to the service, but which yet was so unfavourable to the wealthy and to the powerful, whose children and protegés had formerly found a brief way to promotion. Thus a protection was afforded to those officers who could only hope to rise by merit and length of service, while at the same time the young military aspirant was compelled to discharge the duties of a subaltern before attaining the higher commissions.
In other respects, the influence of the Commander-in-Chief was found to have the same gradual and meliorating influence. The vicissitudes of real service, and the emergencies to which individuals are exposed, began to render ignorance unfashionable, as it was speedily found that mere valour, however fiery, was inadequate, on such occasions, for the extrication of those engaged in them; and that they who knew their duty and discharged it, were not only most secure of victory and safety in action, but chiefly distinguished at head-quarters,