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The Life of General The Hon. James Murray
Chapter XII. Public Opinion and Home Letters


Murray returned to Quebec about September 20, 1700. It is more than probable that a good many things had occurred which brought to him a feeling that he had received something less than a just consideration of his efforts. Amherst's despatch on the Montreal operations, in its reference to the part taken by the subordinate officers, was certainly brevity itself, and it scarcely conformed to Murray's own habit of giving generous acknowledgment to the action of others: "I should not do justice to Governor Murray and Colonel Haviland if I did not assure you they have executed the orders I gave them to the utmost of my wishes " (Amherst Despatch to Pitt, dated September 8, 1760).

If Murray was too loyal and too proud to say anything on the subject, he could hardly avoid reflecting that his men and himself had met with less than their due share of mention.

But not less galling was the inevitable criticisms of the newswriters, which began to filter through in open comments and inuendoes. The armchair critic of to-day is a mild and comparatively harmless individual compared with the mud-slinger of those days of unbridled anonymous license, when any name could be dragged through the dirt, if only the initial letters and a few asterisks were used to form a disguise which every one could see through ; when a person wrho had failed in business was described as a " bankrupt," to avoid any chance of libel!

The Grub Street fraternity were unlikely to lose a chance of sharpening their wits on the operations of the previous April, and men, whose nearest approach to active service was to bolt from an attachment bailiff, were quite prepared to criticise the action of those who had faced hardships and dangers of which they had no conception. But, quite apart from mere Grub Streeters, there were others, higher placed, who did not scruple to condemn what they did not understand; and it must be remembered that the Whigs were not likely to lose an opportunity of having a stab at Lord Elibank's brother. Horace Walpole wrote of "General Murray, who got into a mistake and a morass, attacked two bodies that were joined where he hopes to come up with one of them before the junction, was enclosed, embogged, and defeated."  But Walpole would no doubt have shone less as a leader than as a letter writer.

There was, besides, not a little evidence that there was a traitor from within the camp itself, who did not scruple to launch into anonymous attacks on superiors, as witness the scurrilous pamphlet which attempted to impute to Townshend much that he certainly was innocent of having done.

Even Townshend himself, who had left Quebec with the; full intention of clearing up the dark places, had failed to come forward, and had probably found quite as much to do as he wanted in repelling attacks made on himself. He had, however, made in public some cryptic remarks on Murray's siege, which did not tend to make, the latter feel good-tempered.

There was also a considerable current of opinion in England, which had probably by now reached Murray, that belittled the importance of the conquest of Canada, and urged its restoration at the peace, which was even then under discussion, a project which must have been very distasteful to him, for he recognised from the first the possibilities of the new acquisition.

Add to all this certain private sources of annoyance ; his appointment to the colonelcy of the 2nd battalion 00th (Royal Americans), dating from October 24, 1759, had not given Murray any very full satisfaction. lie was pleased with the honour, but, in common with all his compeers, he desired an "old regiment." What the particular differentiation was I am not sure, but presumably an "old" regiment was one which would not be broken up at the peace, as was so frequently the case with new ones. Besides, he had succeeded Monckton, transferred to an old regiment (17th Foot), and in his own mind he classed Monckton as junior to him in age, and having been his junior in the army until " promoted over his head " (for good service at Beausejour, be it noted).

Amherst had written hoping soon to wish him joy of the 40th regiment, but the desired transfer did not come. Lord Lauderdale had written that Pitt "is much your friend. ... I heard him hold forth upon you in the House of Commons; he also mentioned you to me in private with the utmost regard," and both Pitt and Lord Barrington had written to him in flattering terms and conveyed the King's approbation of his services and those of the troops, all of which was very satisfactory, but still lacked material evidence that his work, which he could not but feel hail been distinguished, was duly appreciated.

In this strained frame of mind, and perhaps somewhat overwrought by the constant anxieties of a campaign in which he had been a responsible leader for eighteen months without intermission, it is not surprising that some bitterness appeared in his letters written at the time. On September 20 he wrote to Amherst, for whom he had real affection: "It is unfortunate for these gentlemen"— referring to some officers who had been, he thought, wrongly.

From Pitt, dated July 23, 1760, passed over—"that they had not the honour to serve with you m the last two campaigns, and it may prove unhappy for the officers in this garrison that their destination is still at so great a distance from you." Which was pretty straight talk!

He reserved for his brother George, however, a more complete unbosoming of his feelings. Frankly, it is not a letter I like quoting, and it exhibits traits which were not natural to the writer. It reminds me again of Wolfe, to whom, as I have said, Murray's character bore resemblance, and more than one of whose sentiments, written or spoken, cannot be said to conform with his true character.

The letter was in reply to one from George, dated July 12, which has already been quoted, and is dated October 19, 1760.

"You seem nettled," he wrote, "at the silence of the news writers, but if you'll coolly consider, I am highly honoured thereof.

"Mr. Townshend, Monckton, etc., etc., were in the right, perhaps, to hire these miscreants to relate feats they never performed, and to ascribe to themselves the actions of other men. 1 don't want any such trappings ; it is praise of my brother soldiers I am ambitious of. I have the satisfaction to know my conduct has the approval of His Majesty and the Minister. ... It will no doubt be known hereafter to all the world who opposed the attack of the lines of Montmorency, and who in the beginning and to the very last of the campaign urged descent above the town at the very place where it was made, and surely nobody is ignorant of what the left wing of the army did on September 13; it broke the enemy's line and pursued the fugitives to the gates, and would have completed the destruction had it not been called off by superior authority.

"I fought a battle; I lost it. What then? Is every day of battle a day of victory? Did it be asked of any soldier if, in my situation, it was right to fight He will answer without hestiation, 'To be sure!' Examine the disposition, compare it with the ground which must determine the propriety of it, and I flatter myself it will be allowed a good one. Was not the critical moment of attack made use of? Did it succeed? Was not the victory gained, had the right wing been as active and vigorous April 28, 1760, as the left wing was September 18, 1759? Was not aid instantly given during the action where it was wanted? Were not the cannon judiciously placed ? Does not all this denote a presence of mind and a coupd'oile? (sic). Where was the General in this battle ? Betwixt his own line and that of the enemy—everywhere where the enemy made a push animating his men by his presence. He had two horses shot under him, and his clothes riddled by the enemy's musketry. Where was he when the right wing faulter'd? He was placing the cannon on the heights in the centre, but rode instantly to the right, and there recovered the confusion. How did the troops retreat into town? In tolerable order, by means of the corps the General himself posted in the two unfinished redoubts, and on an eminence. Did he stay with the corps himself to the last? He did; he was the last man that enter'd the gates.

"The defence of the place, as it was successful, in England (where everything is right or wrong agreeable to the decision of Dame Fortune) will answer for itself. You arc to ask the French generals what share had this campaign in the total reduction of Canada. I am persuaded Mr. Amherst is too just to be silent on that head. He certainly has told that I left him nothing to do, and that the Marquis de Vaudreuil insinuated terms of surrender to me, before Mr. Amherst's army appear'd, which I would not listen to, as I had intelligence of the commander-in-chief's being within six days' march of me, and I was posted at Longviel, by which the junction of the three armys was infallible.

"This much I have open'd myself to my brother. It is very wrong for a man to speak of himself, but he that praises himself is unpardonable. 1 therefore conjure you not to show this letter to anybody but Elibank. He and you may make what use of the contents you please, provided you do not let it be known that I have trumpeted my own fame.

I think myself accountable to my family in a very particular manner for my actions, especially as the sphere I have lately acted in has been eminent. It will be your business to dive into the truth of every sentence of this letter, but not to expose me to the reproach of vain glory. I offer my very affectionate compliments to all my relations round you, and am, my dear George," etc.

With that part of his letter in which he unbared his soul regarding the action of April, for the private information of his family, I have no quarrel. It was natural that he should put his relations in possession of the part he had taken, and inform them of the inaccuracy of the insidious statements which had appeared in print; but I can only account for his bitterness regarding Townshend and Monckton, with both of whom he was on friendly terms, from the jaundiced view of the world which, at the moment, had possession of his mind, and from the fact that these officers, and many others, had left him with very inadequate resources to bear the brunt of the trouble-filled winter of 1759-6U. The statement which I have printed in italics is, however, one which I cannot reconcile with other evidence.

It is true that in the early days of July (1759) he reported that the idea of attacking at St. Michel was practicable, and, in common with others, looked upon that neighbourhood as including the Foulon ; probably, too, he urged this attack rather than the Montmorency venture, yet it is as certain as anything can be that he did not maintain this view after his reconnaissance in August, and then strongly recommended a descent much higher up the river. Every act and letter of the brigadiers indicate, without possibility of misconstruction, that the orders to land at Anse au Foulon came to them as an unwelcome surprise, and the plan of operations which they put forward involved a scheme differing essentially from that which was carried out.

A bunch of home letters had arrived at Quebec after the raising of the siege. For Murray the post bag had contained much of interest. Admiral George, with his inimitable spelling, gave his congratulations on his successful defence of Quebec:

" Everything I can say must be very trifaling, as you, without doubt, have all the congratulations due to so great an action. . . . The partiality of John Bull is provocking, for notwithstanding all you have done the villains have not done you justice. ... I am not surprised at the Monitors' being silent in regard to you, because I remember your being a little rough with him at the Mount Coffee House, where he was a patriot."

The death of his younger sister "Jenny" was announced, leaving a "guirl and a boy" —no doubt a shock, for the two were much attached.

From his nephew, George Johnston, who was, indeed, more like a brother, for they had been boys together at Westerhall, he had a long, newsy letter, some of which will bear quoting. "I think the military have now settled that Daun J is a superior General to the King of Prussia, who is quite exhausted." A remark which illustrates the danger of prophesying before you know!

"November 20 (1759) will ever stand remarkable in the annals of time, for on that day Minister surrendered to the Allies. . . . The last fleet of France destroyed by Admiral Hawke. This last affair I can speak of as a seaman. For whether we consider the critical conjunction where Duff was surrounded ; the grandeur of the two fleets; the objects in view; the impetuosity of the pursuit; the heat of the action; the tempest that attended; the studding of the scene with rocks, shoals, and darkness (sic); and the consequences of the whole, we must allow this to be the most engaging object (!) our element ever sustained."

Which is not a bad picture of the famous victory in Quiberon Bay, of which the sailors of the day sang:

"'Ere Hawke did bang Monsieur Conflans
You sent us beef and beer.
Now Monsieurs beat
We've nought to eat
Since you have nought to fear,"

which is rather typical of the relief in England at the unquestioned establishment of superiority at sea.

From his sister, Anne Ferguson, was a letter to her "Dearest brother," carrying a reflection of the affectionate anxiety which had followed him during the long months he had been shut off from communication with the world:

"Your letter of May 24 was most joyfully received by all under this roof. What sum would I have scrupled to have paid for it during that long time that passed betwixt our first account of the action of April 2 and the happy news of your miraculous success and safety? God, my dear brother, has done mighty things for you. . . . The happy first of July brought us by the express the Extraordinary Gazette, with your letter to Mr. Pitt. The world does you justice, and your letter is thought a masterpiece. . . ."

Womanlike, she had endeavoured to bring balm to ease the troubles which perhaps she guessed at.


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