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CHAP. XI.: The better Education of Officers. - Thomas Hodgskin, An Essay on Naval Discipline 
An Essay on Naval Discipline, Shewing Part of its evil Effects on the Minds of the Officers, on the Minds of the Men, and on the Community; with an Amended System, by which Pressing may be immediately abolished, by Lieut. Thomas Hodgskin, R.N. (London: Printed for the Author, by C. Squire, Furnival’s-Inn-Court, sold by Sherwood, Neely & Jones, Paternoster-Row 1813).
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The better Education of Officers.
Though taking from officers the vast and unnecessary power they now possess, will tend to make them feel the value of improvement; yet, as captains must frequently have a discretionary power of acting, where the interests and honour of their country are concerned; as they may, more than any other race of men, have the power to suggest improvements in its commerce; as the beśt interests of this commerce are frequently committed entirely to their protection; as they are, sometimes, placed in situations where negotiation is necessary; and, as by their conduct, they have frequent opportunities of making impressions on the minds of foreigners, which may ultimately tend either to benefit or injure our country: better education is for them absolutely necessary.
At present it appears requisite that officers should go to sea at the age of thirteen; this is not because six long years are required to learn a man to fulfil the duties of a lieutenant; they may be learnt better than they are now known in two years at the most; but, it is because every man, who goes to sea, late in life, is observed to feel a repugnance for the service, which prevents him properly executing his duties; with a better system this repugnance would not exist. As I believe it arises wholly from the opposition of the present discipline to the ideas of liberty and happiness acquired on shore; ideas which the boy has but imperfectly learnt, and he grows up with the knowledge to be procured in the navy, and is therefore satisfied with whatever is there is existence; I should therefore say, sixteen years of age is quite early enough for young men to go to sea, when they should be obliged to possess a specific quantity of knowledge before they were permitted to enter. Property could alone procure this knowledge, and this is the influence it ought to possess—this it can buy. Their emoluments should be very small till they were nineteen, or had served three years, when they should be certain of receiving a commission, because they have acquired a right, to be afterwards explained, of subsistence.
If it is still thought necessary to send them to sea so young as they now go, their parents should wholly provide for them, and pay all the expences of their education, till they were sixteen; and till that age, they should never be suffered to do any duty that in any way involved command. The duties they now have to do, would, under a better system, not be in existence, as they wholly arise from that suspicious mistrust the officers have of the men. The Admiralty have partly began a better system of education, by combining the offices of schoolmaster and clergyman; but, as these men require an excellent education, and as in early life they are accustomed to enjoy, and to look up for the comforts of existence; as their situation on board ship must be materially different to what they would have enjoyed on shore; as they share not in the rewards bestowed on successful courage, their situation is yet hardly good enough to tempt men of abilities to accept it. It should be made better by ensuring to them, after a certain period of service, comfortable situations in some part of our immense church establishment. They should also have entrusted to them the power of punishing or rewarding their scholars, without the interference of the captain. One effectual part of this power, and what I should think would be fully sufficient, would be leaving to the school-master’s discretion, without confining them to a few months of either side of the three years, to pronounce, when their pupils had attained knowledge to fit them for command.
To commence this part of their duties would doubtless be eagerly sought for; their own conduct would facilitate or retard it; they would be respectful and obedient to their master, because it depended upon his decision. The better education wanted for these officers, and which of course their masters should be able to teach them, is a knowledge of the present state of the feelings of mankind, of the languages most commonly in use, and of the sciences connected with their profession.
It is that manly kind of knowledge which gives energy to talents, which creates virtuous and honourable conduct, which on shore prevents them being evaporated in love sonnets, frittered away in critiscims, or foundered in horse-racing; that on board ship teaches nobler employments than placing blocks, leading ropes, or polishing iron, and prevents idleness heating the imagination into tyranny; that is absolutely wanted to make naval captains properly execute their duties. To promote knowledge amongst officers, libraries might be established at the different naval stations; such things already exist among the naval officers of every division, and among the military officers at Gibraltar and Malta. If these were countenanced by government for us, if they would furnish the building, our own pecuniary means would do all the rest; and they would, at all times, be a refuge from that perfect idleness which now on shore tempts us to dissipation, and they would materially benefit the country.
Unfortunately, in the navy, knowledge has hitherto been derided as useless, despised as superfluous, and treated with contempt as a hindrance to advancement; but, I hope, better days are coming, when officers will be themselves sensible of the value of knowledge; when, instead of being forbidden to think (as they now often are), they will be encouraged to it, as advantageous to the country, as the noblest prerogative of our nature, and the greatest distinction between man and brutes.
Nothing can so effectually make knowledge desirable, or be so strong a stimulus to its acquisition, as abolishing the compulsory mode of doing naval duties; then men will feel they will be respected, and willingly obeyed, in proportion as they merit it; the reputation of a smart officer will then, probably, depend upon a man’s virtues, and then talents and abilities will not be deprived, as they now are, of their legitimate reward—praise.
With this better education there will be a necessity better to provide for officers, since the world bestows much respect and praise on dignity of appearance; since the character of the country frequently depends upon the appearance her representatives make among foreigners, captains should be enabled to support a dignity of appearance.
Since the necessary education for captains, and since the situation of a lieutenant, gives men wants, which in the individual would never have existed, it becomes those who have created them by their encouragement, to afford us the means of gratifying them, or restore us to that situation, where they would never have been created.
It is distinctly stated, by Doctor Paley, in his Moral Philosophy, that any conduct towards another which excites expectations, is as much a promise as the most express declarations, and creates as great an obligation.—Vide Moral Philosophy, page 128, vol. 1. Can any person believe that there is not a tacit promise upon the part of the country, that lieutenants shall be promoted if they do not behave ill? Is it not clearly exemplified in the country making no other provision for us but this promotion? Is the pay of a lieutenant superior to the pittance daily labour acquires in our country, and is not their situation one requiring some dignity of appearance? Are they not exposed to more numerous privations and hardships, in the service of the country, than falls to the lot of similar classes of our community? Does not the waste of the early part of their life, in acquiring the knowledge to fit them for this situation, completely unfit them for every other employment? Is it not heart-breaking to be accustomed, on board ship, to every sort of superiority; and, when on shore, where wealth is the only distinction of rank, or the means that connects society, to be degraded to the very lowest classes of our fellew-creatures, or shut oneself up in anchorite obscurity? Is not a promise of promotion the means employed to promote industry in our profession, for our country reaps the fruits of our labours? Is the right to promotion not clearly exemplified in its occasionally being given to a few of the eldest lieutenants? I think it has also been expressly declared, by some of our senators, as an excuse for not increasing our pay, that we had promotion to look to as a reward. If this then is our only reward, if we are deprived by education of other means of seeking an honourable subsistence, and if we are taught by the praise, society has bestowed upon us, to seek its applause in preference to every other good; to deprive us of this right to promotion, to take from us the only means we have of acquiring this applause, must be the height of cruelty and injustice; it is no less than encouraging us, by promises, to employ our time in the prosecution of a particular object; and when we are completely unfitted for other occupations, when we are completely at the mercy of our rulers to deprive us of our reward, for claiming this right in the manly language of a Briton, for refusing to ask it as a favour. Naval custom, as interpreted by naval captains, have punished me; but I shall now shew to the public, by demonstrative evidence, that such punishment is not less destructive of my individual happiness, than it is of the public good. It will remain with them to support or abolish such illegal customs: I have done my duty in resisting them.
I apprehend, narrow as the principle of self love has been called, it is the sole motive for the actions of human beings; that the desire of happiness of one kind or another, or a wish to escape dreaded punishments, is the universal incitement to action, exclusive of the many solid arguments which learned men have advanced to support this opinion. It alone is the motive employed by the gospel to lead mankind to virtue; every individual is there taught that he is to do good, and shun evil, to promote his own individual happiness. Had there been any other motives, would they not have been employed by him who so well knew how we are made? Indeed, to assert that any human being acts without any intention of adding to his own happiness, either now or hereafter, appears not less absurd than to assert an effect exists without a cause. Now, surely, the hope of happiness hereafter can seldom cause those greater exertions, and submission to those greater privations which are required of naval people. Every man knows that the greater part of all military efforts take place from some hope of happiness here; they are produced by expecting the praise of society, or by the hope of bettering our condition; and that these military or naval efforts are absolutely necessary for the preservation of every state, and for ours in particular. Society has been generally benefitted in proportion, as its rewards for the production of virtues have been certain. Surely, the quiet obedience, the diligent application, and the occasional arduous duties of the lieutenant, are absolutely necessary; and as they cannot be produced in a Christian community, by any hopes of heavenly happiness, it is manifestly the interest of society to reward them. I have before shewn that promotion is the lieutenant’s reward, and to deprive him of it, and of every hope of enjoying it, is to take from him every motive for performing those duties which so materially benefit the community: as far then as utility is concerned, there is a moral obligation on society to fulfil the promises held forth to lieutenants. Though no man believes more than I do in the efficacious power of praise, in bestowing an earthly reward, praise is not the lieutenant’s lot; he is punished should be neglect the duties of a gaoler, and society marks that situation as one of dishonour and disgrace, should he repose an unsuspecting confidence in a British seaman, a man engaged in the same cause as himself; and should the man deceive him, naval customs, as interpreted by naval captains, severely punish the lieutenant: there can be no honour or any praise in this. Lieutenants are exposed, after years of service, to the intemperate, rebuking, and heart-breaking language of a boy, whom interest has made his captain, from being a youngster under his orders; praise, therefore, is not the lieutenant’s lot, and the nation may thank our rulers, should they come forward in a body and demand greater pecuniary rewards, for customs are established in the navy through the ignorance of our superiors, which take from them their honourable feelings; which take from them that praise so conspicuous a part of their legitimate reward for exertion, and creates a necessity for greater pecuniary emoluments as an indirect road to it.
Had our country made a provision for lieutenants as they grow old, I might have thought a right of promotion did not exist; as they have made no provision of this kind, they have left it clear to every man that it does; nor would it ever have been doubted, but for the absurd prodigality of our rulers, who, by multiplying, without any necessity, the number of officers, have created an apparent impossibility of gratifying us all. The bounty of our country has been ample to the navy, but they have spread it abroad over so large a surface, that it has failed to fertilize any part; indeed, it is lamentably astonishing, that, with rewards in its possession, no individual can have to bestow, every inferior department of government service should teem with dissatisfaction; and it can arise from nothing but the improvident waste of the legal and beneficial patronage the country has vested in the crown. Perfectly convinced that I have this right to promotion, I never will resign it; it may be taken from me, as it has, but I never will acquiesce in it, or ask its restoration as a favour, convinced that such acquiescence or solicitation is immoral, and an injury to society. This must not be narrowed, by being called a military question, and left for the executive power to decide; it has the right of commanding us, but not the right of punishing us; and, assuming it in the military power, it may assume it in the civil, and thus lay waste the dearest rights of civilized society. In this question there is a wide distinction between our country and our rulers; the first has provided promotion as our reward; the last take it from us; with it they gratify themselves and their friends, and sacrifice the good of the country to their avarice; and, in resisting this usurpation of our rights, a man resists the few, and supports the virtues and the cause of many.
The apparent interest of our rulers and of our country is frequently in opposition; the first know that they are but tenants at will, and many of them care not how much they injure the estate, in order to enjoy a little present wealth and power; they heed not, that themselves and their children-must, ultimately, live by its produce. Could the question be examined, in all its bearings, upon individual happiness, the good of the country, and the real good of the individual are always the same. Had lieutenants long ago resisted this power in the Admiralty of taking from them their promotion, the country would long ago have seen the necessity there is to provide for them; and from that it would have clearly resulted, that bounds would have been set to the power of the admiralty to make as many officers as they please; and we should not now have had a naval list of 180 admirals, 798 captains, 595 commanders, 3227 lieutenants, besides superannuated officers of all classes, when the country only employs, afloat, about 35 admirals, 350 post-captains, 200 commanders, and 1900 lieutenants, and never can want or employ the sixth part of the remainder. I could not furnish a more demonstrative proof of the virtue there is in resistance than this, since not only the moral character, but the pecuniary means of the country would have been materially improved by it.
When, in the navy list, I see names that have never been heard of enjoying the half-pay of the re-rspective ranks to which they belong, at the rate of 2l.—1l. 10s. 6d.—1l. 2s. 6d.—12s. 10s. or 8s. a day, I cannot wonder at the country’s just complaint of expence; nor at the excessive dissatisfaction too generally and too justly manifested by the subordinate classes of officers. It is not right it should be concealed, that the greater part of this list consists of men who have owed their elevation to the influence of property alone; and here, the rewards appropriated by our country are taken, by our rulers, from virtuous endeavours, and given to vicious inactivity. Another instance of the unjust and injurious influence of property; for it absolutely (though the proportion may be ever so small) takes from the daily labourer to give to the idle gentleman. A principle of reformation that wants immediately applying to officers is, that when they had discontinued serving, their emoluments should not increase,—that is, they should have no more than the half-pay they enjoyed when they last served; but now a man is made a post-captain at an early age; he serves a short time, or, perhaps, not at all, yet his half-pay goes on, increasing from eight to ten and twelve shillings a day. With a very small portion of servitude, he receives his flag; and, without any further service, his emoluments continue to increase, till he receives from the country two pounds a day; and it is possible this man may have never served his country above seven years, six of which he was a boy, and was a burden, not a service. It is a rule in the navy, that officers-receive half pay in proportion to their seniority on the half-pay list; this might have been very well had no more officers ever been made than employed; but, from the present increased list, and from those who stay on shore being likely to live longest, they who render the least service to their country are likely to receive the greatest rewards.
The constitutional mode of preventing all this is, by the house of commons appropriating certain sums for the payment of a certain number of each class of officers, as many as the service might want, then no more could be promoted than paid.
As the soul of the military profession is the hope of bettering your condition, my opinion is, that lieutenants pay does not want to be increased, but they want a certainty of provision ensured to them; it is sufficient for a young man of nineteen, just beginning the world, but it will not supply the wants of age; it is as much as a man who has been brought up at the expence of the country can ask, but it is not enough for him who has spent his life in its service; it is abundant to supply the wants of the boy, but it will not provide for the man. Our country has, evidently, left promotion to do this, and fully to ensure it to all the lieutenants: I should say, that those employed might, with benefit to the service, and great advantage to the country, be reduced in all ships one-half. The duties they now have to do are not the duties of men of education; but education is absolutely necessary to make a captain. The greater part of them spring from that distrust which exists of the men, but which would not be known with a voluntary service; they are the duties of guards and upper workmen, and belong, with much greater propriety, to that class of men known as petty officers.
Another principle of reformation that wants immediately applying to the navy, is to forbid more than a certain number of young men being allowed as midshipmen; for it is now evidently impossible for the country to provide for them all.
It is cruelly unjust to encourage them by hopes which can never be fulfilled; to waste the seed-time of life in pursuing unprofitable knowledge, that, when they possess it, only unfits them for other occupations; indeed, by permitting them to spend their youth in the service, the country becomes pledged to provide for them by the tacit promises of its rulers; and, as to provide for them all must be utterly impossible, the good faith of the country becomes sacrificed by the inattention or neglect of its rulers. There are many young gentlemen, just entering the service, who should, in justice, be sent back to their friends; for the country cannot provide for those who are already its servants. There is an apparent and an ungenerous aim by this unnecessary introduction of young men; it is to make all more slavishly dependant. The service gives us numerous wants which we can gratify no where else; and, as our superiors have the power of employing us or not; they have the means of depriving us of an honourable subsistence, and, consequently, a very strong hold of our fears, to compel us to do every thing, however unworthy; and its end will be the reduction of men, whose souls ought to be sensibly alive to the praise of society, to a compleat state of dependant pauperism. Whether this, when combined with the destruction of the seamen’s energy, by the existing system of cruelty, will produce a frame of mind capable of defending our country, of bearing hardships, and of winning victories at sea, appears to me not at all doubtful. It may conquer the slaves of a military despot, like Bonaparte, but will inevitably fail when opposed to the free-born sons of America. For my part, this degradation is what I cannot submit to; I must have a conviction, that my life is useful to make existence bearable; I must feel that my exertions entitle me to subsistence, and that it does not depend upon the arbitrary will of others, for I cannot live upon the eleemosynary smiles of any men. Indeed, I cannot find a single motive for submission to so great a degradation. Neither religion nor morality furnish me with any; it is destructive of the virtue and happiness of my country, and dreadfully pernicious to my individual good. Fear might teach me submission; but the principal end of a sailor’s education is to teach him, that fear is the most short-sighted and base of all motives for action.
To me, contending for slavery appears to be a vice; when seeking the enemies of my country, I must know that I am serving its cause, and the cause of morality and liberty; that I am its honourable servant, not the menial of my superiors; and if they will interpose between me and my country, and require me to act in opposition to that country’s interest; if they labour to reduce me to their tool, they take from me what can be my only, (and, I suppose, every reflecting man’s) rational motives for fighting; they deprive me of some of the dearest privileges of an English-man; and the same principle, followed from its beginnings,—self-defence, which could justify me to resist, with all my might, the French despot, is more imperative on me legally to resist oppression at home, in as much as the danger is more certain and evident.