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  ― 97 ―

X. The Fame of Laperouse.

INTELLECTUALLY, and as a navigator, LapérouseLaperouse was a son of James Cook, and he himself would have rejoiced to be so described. The allusions to his predecessor in his writings are to be numbered by scores, and the note of reverent admiration is frequently sounded. He followed Cook's guidance in the management of his ships, paying particular attention to the diet of his crews. He did not succeed in keeping scurvy at bay altogether, but when the disease made its appearance he met it promptly by securing fresh vegetable food for the sufferers, and was so far successful that when he arrived in Botany Bay his whole company was in good health.

The influence of the example and experience of Cook may be illustrated in many ways, some of them curious. We may take a point as to which he really had little to fear; but he knew what had occurred in Cook's case and he was anxious that the same should not happen to him. The published story of Cook's first South Sea Voyage, as is well known, was not his own. His journal was handed over to Dr. Hawkesworth, a gentleman who tried to model his literary style on that of Dr. Johnson, and evolved a pompous, big-drum product in consequence.


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Hawkesworth garnished the manly, straightforward navigator's simple and direct English with embellishments of his own. Where Cook was plain Hawkesworth was ornate; where Cook was sensible Hawkesworth was silly; where Cook was accurate, Hawkesworth by stuffing in his own precious observations made the narrative unreliable, and even ridiculous. In fact, the gingerbread Johnson simply spoiled Cook.

Dr. Johnson was by no means gratified by the ponderous prancings of his imitator. We learn from Boswell that when the great man met Captain Cook at a dinner given by the President of the Royal Society, he said that he “was much pleased with the conscientious accuracy of that celebrated circumnavigator, who set me right as to many of the exaggerated accounts given by Dr. Hawkesworth of his voyages.“ Cook himself was annoyed by the decorating of his story, and resented the treatment strongly.

LapérouseLaperouse knew this, and was very anxious that nobody in France should Hawkesworthify him. He did not object to being carefully edited, but he did not want to be decorated. He wrote excellent French narrative prose, and his work may be read with delight. Its qualities of clarity, picturesqueness and smoothness, are quite in accord with the fine traditions of the language. But, as it was likely that part of the history of his voyage might be published before his return, he did not want it to be


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handed over to anybody who would trick it out in finery, and he therefore wrote the following letter:

“If my journal be published before my return, let the editing of it by no means be entrusted to a man of letters; for either he will sacrifice to the turn of a phrase the proper terms which the seaman and man of learning would prefer, but which to him will appear harsh and barbarous; or, rejecting all the nautical and astronomical details, and endeavouring to make a pleasing romance, he will for want of the knowledge his education has not allowed him to acquire, commit mistakes which may prove fatal to those who shall follow me. But choose an editor versed in the mathematical sciences, who is capable of calculating and comparing my data with those of other investigators, of rectifying errors which may have escaped me, and of guarding himself against the commission of others. Such an editor will preserve the substance of the work; will omit nothing that is essential; will give technical details the harsh and rude, but concise style of a seaman; and will well perform his task in supplying my place and publishing the work as I would have done it myself.”

That letter is a rather singular effect of LapérouseLaperouse's study of Cook, which might be illustrated by further examples. The influence of the great English sailor is the more remarkable when we remember that there had been early French navigators to the South Seas before LapérouseLaperouse. There was the elder Bougainville, the discoverer of


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the Navigator Islands; there was Marion-Dufresne, who was killed and eaten by Maoris in 1772; there was Surville — to mention only three. LapérouseLaperouse knew of them, and mentioned them. But they had little to teach him. In short and in truth, he belonged to the school of Cook, and that is an excellent reason why English and especially Australian people should have an especial regard for him.

The disastrous end of LapérouseLaperouse's expedition before he had completed his task prevented him from adequately realising his possibilities as a discoverer. As pointed out in the preceding pages, if he had completed his voyage, he would in all probability have found the southern coasts of Australia in 1788. But the work that he actually did is not without importance; and he unquestionably possessed the true spirit of the explorer. When he entered upon this phase of his career he was a thoroughly experienced seaman. He was widely read in voyaging literature, intellectually well endowed, alert-minded, eager, courageous, and vigorous. The French nation has had no greater sailor than LapérouseLaperouse.

De Lesseps, the companion of his voyage as far as Kamchatka, has left a brief but striking characterisation of him. “He was,” says this witness, “an accomplished gentleman, perfectly urbane and full of wit, and possessed of those charming manners which pertained to the eighteenth century. He was always agreeable in his relations with subordinates and officers alike.” The same writer


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tells us that when Louis XVI gave him the command of the expedition he had the reputation of being the ablest seaman in the French navy.

Certainly he was no common man to whose memory stands that tall monument at Botany Bay. It was erected at the cost of the French Government by the Baron de Bougainville, in 1825, and serves not only as a reminder of a fine character and a full, rich and manly life, but of a series of historical events that are of capital consequence in the exploration and occupation of Australia.

It will be appropriate to conclude this brief biography with a tribute to the French navigator from the pen of an English poet. Thomas Campbell is best remembered by such vigorous poems as “Ye Mariners of England,” and “The Battle of the Baltic,” which express a tense and elevated British patriotism. All the more impressive for that very reason is his elegy in honour of a sailor of another nation, whose merits as a man and whose charm as a writer Campbell had recognised from his boyhood. The following are his

LINES WRITTEN IN A BLANK LEAF OF LAPEROUSE'S “VOYAGES”

Loved Voyager! whose pages had a zest
More sweet than fiction to my wondering breast,
When, rapt in fancy, many a boyish day
I tracked his wanderings o'er the watery way,



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Roamed round the Aleutian isles in waking dreams,
Or plucked the fleur-de-lys by Jesso's streams,
Or gladly leaped on that far Tartar strand,
Where Europe's anchor ne'er had bit the sand,
Where scarce a roving wild tribe crossed the plain,
Or human voice broke nature's silent reign, —
But vast and grassy deserts feed the bear,
And sweeping deer-herds dread no hunter's snare.
Such young delight his real records brought,
His truth so touched romantic springs of thought,
That, all my after life, his fate and fame
Entwined romance with LapérouseLaperouse's name.

Fair were his ships, expert his gallant crews,
And glorious was the emprise of LapérouseLaperouse —
Humanely glorious! Men will weep for him,
When many a guilty martial fame is dim:
He ploughed the deep to bind no captive's chain —
Pursued no rapine — strewed no wreck with slain;
And, save that in the deep themselves lie low,
His heroes plucked no wreath from human woe.
'Twas his the earth's remotest bounds to scan,
Conciliating with gifts barbaric man —
Enrich the world's contemporaneous mind,
And amplify the picture of mankind.
Far on the vast Pacific, 'midst those isles
O'er which the earliest morn of Asia smiles,
He sounded and gave charts to many a shore
And gulf of ocean new to nautic lore;
Yet he that led discovery o'er the wave,
Still finds himself an undiscovered grave.



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He came not back! Conjecture's cheek grew pale,
Year after year; in no propitious gale
His lilied banner held its homeward way,
And Science saddened at her martyr's stay.

An age elapsed: no wreck told where or when
The chief went down with all his gallant men,
Or whether by the storm and wild sea flood
He perished, or by wilder men of blood.
The shuddering fancy only guess'd his doom,
And doubt to sorrow gave but deeper gloom.

An age elapsed: when men were dead or gray,
Whose hearts had mourned him in their youthful day,
Fame traced on Vanikoro's shore at last,
The boiling surge had mounted o'er his mast.
The islesmen told of some surviving men,
But Christian eyes beheld them ne'er again.
Sad bourne of all his toils — with all his band
To sleep, wrecked, shroudless, on a savage strand!
Yet what is all that fires a hero's scorn
Of death? — the hope to live in hearts unborn.
Life to the brave is not its fleeting breath,
But worth — foretasting fame that follows death.
That worth had LapérouseLaperouse, that meed he won.
He sleeps — his life's long stormy watch is done.
In the great deep, whose boundaries and space
He measured, fate ordained his resting place;
But bade his fame, like th' ocean rolling o'er
His relics, visit every earthly shore.



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Fair Science on that ocean's azure robe
Still writes his name in picturing the globe,
And paints (what fairer wreath could glory twine?)
His watery course — a world-encircling line.

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