"This is he that far away
Against the myriads of Assaye
Clash'd with his fiery few and won."
For the moment it seemed as if the genius of Napoleon would triumph over England herself. But she was now to find herself armed against him by one of her greatest soldiers,—none other than the famous Duke of Wellington,—who should make her almost as strong by land as Nelson had made her at sea. The same year that Napoleon was born in Corsica, a son was born to Wellesley, Earl of Mornington, in Ireland. He was called Arthur. Little enough is known of Arthur Wellesley's childhood.
"I vow to God," his mother exclaimed in the strong language of the day, "I don't know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur."
At the age of eleven he was sent to school at Eton, in England, where we get a glimpse of his first fight. One of his boy friends was bathing one day in the river Thames, when Arthur Wellesley took up a clod and threw it at him for fun. "If you do that again, I will get out and thrash you," cried the bather angrily. To tease him, the small boy Arthur threw another and yet another. The bather then landed and struck Wellesley. A sharp fight began, in which the smaller boy, Wellesley, easily won.
At the age of twelve, he was taken to Brussels by his mother. Here he learnt music, and little else. He played well on the fiddle, but displayed no other talent. In after years, when he was in India, he used to amuse himself by playing on the fiddle, till suddenly one day it occurred to him, that it was not a very soldier-like calling, and he threw his instrument into the fire.
His mother soon came to the conclusion that her "ugly son Arthur" was "fit food for powder, and nothing more." So he was sent to a military school in France, where he studied at the same time that Napoleon Bonaparte was training for a soldier in the same country. On Christmas Day, 1787, Arthur Wellesley became a lieutenant in an English infantry regiment. He was still a shy, awkward lad, in whom no one saw anything attractive. One night at a large ball, being unable to find a partner to dance with, he sat down near the band to listen to the music. When the party broke up and the other officers went home after a gay and happy evening, young Wellesley was left to travel home with the fiddlers. When in after years he became a great man, his hostess said to him, laughing, "We should not let you go home with the fiddlers now!"
When he was twenty-one, he got a seat in the Irish Parliament, which then sat in Dublin.
"Who is that young man in scarlet uniform with large epaulettes?" asked a visitor to the Irish House of Commons.
"That is Captain Wellesley," was the reply.
"I suppose he never speaks."
"You are wrong," was the answer; "he does speak. And when he does, it is always to the point."
Wellesley began his Indian career in 1797. Matters in the East were once more in a critical condition. Tippoo, Governor of Mysore, son of Britain's old foe Hyder Ali, was in secret correspondence with Napoleon for driving the English out of India.
"I am coming to help you drive the English out of the country," Napoleon had written to Tippoo, as he started for Egypt on his way to India. The battle of Aboukir Bay put an end to that promise; but Tippoo's attitude was very threatening, and against him, young Wellesley was now sent in command of troops. At Seringapatam, the capital of Mysore, Tippoo was defeated and slain. Wellesley was made Commander of the Forces in Mysore, with power over the whole dominion of Mysore, till the little new five-year-old Raja was older. For the next two years he worked hard in Mysore, bringing the country into order, until early in 1803 he was given command of a large number of troops, with orders to march against one of the Rajas who was threatening the English frontiers. The rising was assuming a very alarming size when Wellesley encountered the enemy, strongly posted behind the river Kaitna, near the village of Assaye. His troops were tired with a long march, and the meeting was unexpected. He must either fight at once or retreat. He resolved to fight, though the force against him numbered some 50,000 men and 128 guns, as opposed to his 8000 men and 17 guns. It was a great decision. It was his first great battle. The native guides assured him, that it was impossible to cross the river; the banks were steep and rocky, and there was no ford. But Wellesley made up his mind to take the risk. It was a breathless moment, when the advance-guard reached the river. The Highlanders plunged in, and suspense gave way to triumph, as Wellesley saw them half across with the water only waist high. Shot ploughed the water around, them, but bravely they reached the farther bank, and a sharp conflict ensued. Wellesley himself was in the thick of the action the whole time, giving his orders as coolly as an experienced veteran. His horse was shot under him, but he mounted another and fought on. By evening the enemy was in full retreat. Wellesley was victorious on the field of Assaye. He had crushed the rebellion, and secured to England her dominions.
For this he received the thanks of Parliament and a sword of honour from Calcutta, being also made a knight—a great honour in those days, when there were but twenty-four.
His brother was now Governor-General of India, for which country a new era of prosperity had now begun. In the course of seven years British power was established all over India. But better than this, the brothers Wellesley put an end to the corrupt practices, that had ended the rule of Warren Hastings so miserably. Under them a new rule of honour and justice began for India, which is carried on by England to-day.
Sir Arthur Wellesley now returned to England. He had left home eight years before, a young officer little known, less admired. He returned, having won his spurs and earned for himself fame and honour. He arrived just a month before Nelson started to fight his last great sea-fight at Trafalgar. For a few minutes only, the two men met—young Wellesley on the threshold of a career, which was to end in so much glory, and Lord Nelson, whose famous career was so nearly drawing to its close.