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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

The War Spirit at Sea

The War Spirit at Sea.

It has been a favourite dogma in England from very early times that Great Britain must rule the Sea. Our claim to have a right to do this has been as sturdily disputed by other nations, and much blood has been needlessly and wickedly shed over this vexed question of the Sovereignty of the Seas; but at length Englishmen are beginning to see through the folly and mischief of this haughty and arrogant assumption of a right, which has no other basis than the right of the strongest, and as a practical result, has done little more than foster page 542 exaggerated notions of national self-importance, and the display of an insolent and over-hearing deportment towards other nations upon the High Seas, which has made England many enemies and no friends. The lengths to which the British Naval Commanders have been led at some periods by the bullying spirit engendered of this absurd assumption of constitutional authority at sea, can hardly be credited now-a-days, yet there is good evidence to show that fierce and bloody battles at sea have been provoked by British Admirals, in order to compel a rival naval commander to salute their flag, as a tribute of respect to this assumed sovereignty of the Sea. We read that "In 1652 two fierce actions were fought on this very score. On the 14th of May, commodore Young fell in with a Dutch Convoy, escorted by three ships of war, from whom he demanded the usual honours to be paid to the English Flag. The Dutch commander positively refused to comply, giving as a reason that he had express orders from the States' General not to pay those honours which the English exacted from their ships in the Channel. Commodore Young on this refusal fired into the Dutch and brought on a smart action, but at length the Dutch ships struck, and after paying the compliment, were allowed to proceed on their voyage. Only four days later Blake himself and Van Tromp had a far more serious encounter on the very same sccre. Van Tromp and his fleet stood towards the Downs, off which Blake was lying with fifteen men-of-war, and paid no respect whatever to the English Flag. Blake instantly fired from his own ship three unshotted guns at the Dutch, as a reminder of their want of respect. Van Tromp retorted with a broadside, and a most furious engagement ensued, which lasted from four till nearly nine at night. One of the Dutch ships was captured and another sunk." We have no record of the number of lives lost in this foolish and wicked attempt to maintain a most unjust and unwarrantable stretch of arbitrary power. Is it by such acts as these that a nation is truly exalted? Such excesses would no longer be sustained by popular approval in this country. Let us hope that the time will come when all acts of war will be equally condemned by the good sense and Christian feeling of our countrymen.

E. F.