Charles James Lever.

Charles O'Malley, the Irish dragon online

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The success of Harry Lorrequer was the reason for writing
Charles O'Malley. That I myself was in nowise prepared for the
favor the public bestowed on my first attempt is easily enough
understood. The ease with which I strung my stories together —
and in reality the Confessions of Harry Lorrequer are little other
than a note-book of absurd and laughable incidents — led me to be-
lieve that I could draw on this vein of composition without any
limit whatever. I felt, or thought I felt, an inexhaustible store of
fun and buoyancy within me, and I began to have a misty, half-con-
fused impression that Englishmen generally labored under a sad-
colored temperament, took depressing views of life, and were pro-
portionately grateful to any one who would rally them, even pass-
ingly, out of their despondency, and give them a laugh without
much trouble for going in search tof >t. -

When I set to work to wiite* Charles O'Malley, I was, as I have
ever been, very low with fortune, **.nd the "success" of a new venture
was pretty much as eventful 10 me as the turn of the right color at
rouge et noir. At the same time I had then an amount of spring in
my temperament, and a power of enjoying life, which I can honestly
say I never found surpassed. The world had for me all the interest of
an admirable comedy, in which the part allotted myself, if not a high
or a foreground one, was eminently suited to my taste, and brought
me, besides, sufficiently often on the stage to enable me to follow all
the fortunes of the piece. Brussels, where I was then living, was
adorned at the period by a most agreeable English society. Some
leaders of the fashionable world of London had come there to refit
and recruit, both in body and estate. There were several pleasant
and a great number of pretty people among them ; and, so far as I
could judge, the fashionable dramas of Belgrave Square and its
vicinity were being performed in the Rue Roy ale and the Boulevard
de Waterloo with very considerable success. There were dinners, balls,




dejeuners and picnics in the Bois de Cambre, excursions to Water-
loo, and select little parties to Bois-fort, a charming little resort in
the forest, whose intense cockneyism became perfectly inoffensive as
being in a foreign land, and remote from the invasion of home-bred
vulgarity. I mention all these things to show the adjuncts by which
I was aided, and the rattle of gayety by which I was, as it were,
" accompanied," when I next tried my voice.

The soldier element tinctured strongly our society, and I will say
most agreeably. Amongst those whom I remember best were several
old Peninsulars. Lord Combermere was of this number, and
another of our set was an officer who accompanied, if indeed he did
not command, the first boat party who crossed the Douro. It is
needless to say how I cultivated a society so full of all the storied
details I was eager to obtain, and how generously disposed were
they to give me all the information I needed. On topography
especially were they valuable to me, and with such good result that
I have been more than once complimented on the accuracy of my
description of places which I have never seen, and whose features I
have derived entirely from the narratives of my friends.

When, therefore, my publishers asked me could I write a story in
the Lorrequer vein, in which active service and military adventure
could figure more prominently than mere civilian life, and where
the achievements" of • "a, British." atafryf wight form the staple of the
narrative — when this" question wa^s propounded me, I was ready to
reply, not one,,'^u^ '.fifty.' ' De liot mfata'ke'mp, and suppose that any
overweening confidence in my literary* po Vers would have embold-
ened me to make this reply ; my whole strength lay in the fact that
I could not recognize anything like literary effort in the' matter. If
the world would only condescend to read that which I wrote pre-
cisely as I was in the habit of talking, nothing could be easier for
me than to occupy them. Not alone was it very easy to me, but it
was intensely interesting and amusing to myself to be so engaged.

The success of Harry Lorrequer had been freely wafted across the
German Ocean, but even in its mildest accents it was very intoxica-
ting incense to me ; and I set to work on my second book with a
thrill of hope as regards the world's favor, which — and it is no small
thing to say it — I can yet recall.

I can recall, too, and I am afraid more vividly still, some of the
difficulties of my task when I endeavored to form anything like an
accurate or precise idea of some campaigning incident, or some pas-


sage of arm3, from the narratives of two distinct and separate " eye-
witnesses." What mistrust I conceived for all eye-witnesses from
my own brief experience of their testimonies ! What an impulse
did it lend me to study the nature and the temperament of the nar-
rator, as indicative of the peculiar coloring he might lend his narra-
tive ; and how it taught me to know the force of the French epigram
that has declared how it was entirely the alternating popularity of
Marshal Soult that decided whether he won or lost the battle of

While, however, I was sifting these evidences, and separating, as
well as I might, the wheat from the chaff, I was in a measure train-
ing myself for what, without my then knowing it, was to become my
career in life. This was not, therefore, altogether without a certain
degree of labor, but so light and pleasant withal, so full of pictur-
esque peeps at character and humorous views of human nature, that
it would be the very rankest ingratitude of me if I did not own that
I gained all my earlier experiences of the world in very pleasant
company — highly enjoyable at the time, and with matter for charm-
ing souvenirs long after.

That certain traits of my acquaintances found themselves em-
bodied in some of the characters of this story, I do not seek to deny.
The principle of natural selection adapts itself to novels as to
nature, and it would have demanded an effort above my strength to
have disabused myself at the desk of all the impressions of the
dinner- table, and to have forgotten features which interested or
amused me.

One of the personages of my tale I drew, however, with very little
aid from fancy. I would go so far as to say that I took him from the
life, if my memory did not confront me with the lamentable in-
feriority of my picture to the great original it was meant to portray.

With the exception of the quality of courage, I never met a man
who contained within himself so many of the traits of Falstaff as
the individual who furnished me with Major Monsoon. But the
Major — I must call him so, though that rank was far beneath his
own — was a man of unquestionable bravery. His powers as a story-
teller were to my way of thinking unrivalled ; the peculiar reflec-
tions on life which he would passingly introduce — the wise apo-
thegms — were after a morality so essentially of his own invention,
that he would indulge in the unsparing exhibition of himself in
situations such as other men would never have confessed to, all


blended up with a racy enjoyment of life, dashed occasionally with
sorrow that our tenure of it was short of patriarchal. All these,
accompanied by a face redolent of intense humor, and a voice
whose modulations were managed with the skill of a consummate
artist, — all these, I say, were above me to convey, nor, indeed, as I
re-read any of the adventures in which he figures, am I other than
ashamed at the weakness of my drawing and the poverty of my

That I had a better claim to personify him than is always the lot
of a novelist — that I possessed, so to say, a vested interest in his
life and adventures, I will relate a .little incident in proof; and my
accuracy, if necessary, can be attested by another actor in the scene
who yet survives.

I was living a bachelor life at Brussels, my family being at
Ostend for the bathing during the summer of 1840. The city was
comparatively empty, all the so-called society being absent at the
various spas or baths of Germany. One member of the British
Legation, who remained at his post to represent the mission, and
myself, making common cause of our desolation and ennui, spent
much of our time together, and dined tete-a-tete every day.

It chanced that one evening, as we were hastening through the
park on our way to dinner, we espied the Major — for as Major I
must speak of him — lounging along with that half-careless, half-
observant air we had both of us remarked as indicating a desire to
be somebody's, anybody's guest, rather than surrender himself to
the homeliness of domestic fare.

"There's that confounded old Monsoon," cried my diplomatic
friend. "It's all up if he sees us, and I can't endure him."

Now, I must remark that my friend, though very far from insen-
sible to the humoristic side of the Major's character, was not always
in the vein to enjoy it, and when so indisposed, he could invest the
object of his dislike with something little short of antipathy.
"Promise me," said he, as Monsoon came towards us, — "promise
me you'll not ask him to dinner." Before I could make any reply,
the Major was shaking a hand of each of us, and rapturously expa-
tiating over his good luck at meeting us. " Mrs. M„" said he; " has
got a dreary party of old ladies to dine with her, and I have come
out here to find some pleasant fellow to join me, and take a mutton
chop together."

" We're behind our time, Major," said my friend; "sorry to leave


you so abruptly, but must push on. Eh, Lorrequer?" added he,
to evoke corroboration on my part.

"Harry says nothing of the kind," replied Monsoon; "he says,
or he's going to say, ' Major, I have a nice bit of dinner waiting for
me at home, enough for two, will feed three, or if there be a short-
coming, nothing easier than to eke out the deficiency by another
bottle of Moulton ; come along with us, then, Monsoon, and we
shall be all the merrier for your company.' "

Repeating his last words, " Come along, Monsoon," &c, I passed
my arm within his, and away we went. For a moment my friend
tried to get free and leave me, but I held him fast, and carried him
along in spite of himself. He was, however, so chagrined and pr6-
voked, that till the moment we reached my door he never uttered a
word, nor paid the slightest attention to Monsoon, who talked away
in a vein that occasionally made gravity all but impossible.

Our dinner proceeded drearily enough. The diplomatist's stiff-
ness never relaxed for a moment, and my own awkwardness damped
all my attempts at conversation. Not so, however, Morisoon ; he
ate heartily, approved of everything, and pronounced my wine to be
exquisite. He gave us a perfect discourse on sherry, and Spanish
wines in general, told us the secret of the Amontillado flavor, and
explained that process of browning by boiling down wine which
some are so fond of in England. At last, seeing, perhaps, that the
protection had little charm for us, with his accustomed tact, he
diverged into anecdote. " I was once fortunate enough," said he,
"to fall upon some of that choice sherry from the St. Lucas Luen-
tas which is always reserved for royalty. It was a pale wine, deli-
cious in the drinking, and leaving no more flavor in the mouth than
a faint dryness, that seemed to say, ' another glass.' Shall I tell
you how I came by it ?" And scarcely pausing for a reply, he told
the story of having robbed his own convoy, and stolen the wine he
was in charge of for safe conveyance.

I wish I could give any, even the weakest, idea of how he narrated
that incident, the struggle that he portrayed between duty and
temptation, and the apologetic tone of voice in which he explained
that the frame of mind that succeeds to any yielding to seductive
influences is often in the main more profitable to a man than is the
vain-glorious sense of having resisted a temptation. " Meekness is
the mother of all the virtues," said he, " and there is no being meek
without frailty." The story, told as he told it, was too much for the


diplomatist's gravity ; he resisted all signs of attention as long as he
was able, and at last fairly roared out with laughter.

As soon as I myself recovered from the effects of his drollery, I
said, " Major, I have a proposition to make you : let me tell the
story in print, and I'll give you five naps."

" Are you serious, Harry ?" asked he. " Is this on honor?"

" On honor, assuredly," I replied.

" Let me have the money down, on the nail, and I'll give you
leave to have me and my whole life, every adventure that ever
befell me, aye, and, if you like, every moral reflection that my expe-
riences have suggested."

" Done !" cried I ; " I agree."

" Not so fast," cried the diplomatist ; " we must make a protocol
of this ; the high contracting parties must know what they give
and what they receive. I'll draw out the treaty."

He did so at full length, on a sheet of that solemn blue tinted
paper so dedicated to dispatch purposes, — he duly set forth the con-
cession and the consideration. We each signed the document, he
witnessed and sealed it, and Monsoon pocketed my five napoleons,
filling a bumper to any success the bargain might bring me, and
of which I have never had any reason to express deep disappoint-

This document, along with my university degree, my commission
in a militia regiment, and a vast amount of letters very interesting
to me, were seized by the Austrian authorities on the way from
Como to Florence in the August of 1847, being deemed part of a
treasonable correspondence, — probably purposely allegorical in form,
— and never restored to me. I fairly own that I'd give all the rest
willingly to repossess myself of the Monsoon treaty, not a little for
the sake of that quaint old autograph, faintly shaken by the quiet
laugh with which he wrote it.

That I did not entirely fail in giving my Major some faint resem-
blance to the great original from whom I copied him, I may mention
that he was speedily recognized in print by the Marquis of London-
derry, the well-known Sir Charles Stuart of the Peninsula campaign.
" I know that fellow well," said he ; " he once sent me a challenge,
and I had to make him a very humble apology. The occasion was
this : I had been out with a single aide-de-camp, to make a recon-
naissance in front of Victor's division ; and to avoid attracting any
notice, we covered over our uniform with two common gray over-


coats which reached to the feet, and effectually concealed our rank
as officers. Scarcely, however, had we topped a hill which com-
manded the view of the French, than a shower of shells flew over
and around us. Amazed to think how we could have been so quickly
noticed, I looked around me, and discovered, quite close in my rear,
your friend Monsoon with what he called his staff, a popinjay set
of rascals, dressed out in green and gold, and with more plumes and
feathers than the general staff ever boasted. Carried away by mo-
mentary passion at the failure of my reconnaissance, I burst out
with some insolent allusion to the harlequin assembly which had
drawn the French lire upon us. Monsoon saluted me respectfully,
and retired without a word ; but I had scarcely reached my quarters
when a 'friend' of his waited on me with a message, — a very cate-
gorical message it was too, — ' it must be a meeting or an ample
apology.' I made the apology, a most full one, for the Major was
right, and I had not a fraction of reason to sustain me in my con-
duct, and we have been the best of friends ever since."

I myself had heard the incident before this from Monsoon, but
told amongst other adventures whose exact veracity I was rather
disposed to question, and did not therefore accord it all the faith
that was its due ; and I admit that the accidental corroboration of
this one event very often served to puzzle me afterwards, when I
listened to stories in which the Major seemed a second Munchausen,
but might, like in this of the duel, have been amongst the truest and
most matter-of-fact of historians. May the reader be not less em-
barrassed than myself is my sincere, if not very courteous, prayer.

I have no doubt myself that often, in recounting some strange
incident, — a personal experience it always was, — he was himself
more amused by the credulity of the hearers, and the amount of
interest he could excite in them, than were they by the story. He
possessed the true narrative gusto, and there was a marvellous in-
stinct in the way in which he would vary a tale to suit the tastes of
an audience ; while his moralizings were almost certain to take the
tone of a humoristic quiz on the company.

Though fully aware that I was availing myself of the contract
that delivered him into my hands, and dining with me two or three
days a week, he never lapsed into any allusion to his appearance in
print, and the story had been already some weeks published before
he asked me to lend him "that last thing — he forgot the name of
it — I was writing."


Of Frank Webber I have said, in a former notice, that he was one
of my earliest friends, my chum in college, and in the very cham-
bers where I have located Charles O'Malley, in Old Trinity. He
was a man of the highest order of abilities, and with a memory that
never forgot, but was ruined and run to seed by the idleness that
came of a discursive, uncertain temperament. Capable of anything,
he spent his youth in follies and eccentricities ; every one of which,
however, gave indications of a mind inexhaustible in resources, and
abounding in devioes and contrivances that none other but himself
would have thought of. Poor fellow, he died young ; and perhaps
it is better it should have been so. Had he lived to a later day, he
would most probably have been found a foremost leader of Fenian-
ism, and from what I knew of him, I can say he would have been a
more dangerous enemy to English rule than any of those dealers in
the petty larceny of rebellion we have lately seen amongst us.

I have said that of Mickey Free I had not one, but one thousand,
types. Indeed, I am not quite sure that in my last visit to Dublin
I did not chance on a living specimen of the " Free " family, much
readier in repartee, quicker with an a propos, and droller in illustra-
tion than my own Mickey. This fellow was "boots" at a great
hotel in Sackville street ; and I owe to him more amusement and
some heartier laughs than it has been always my fortune to enjoy
in a party of wits. His criticisms on my sketches of Irish character
were about the shrewdest and the best I ever listened to ; and that
I am not bribed to this opinion by any flattery, I may remark that
they were more often severe than complimentary, and that he hit
every blunder of image, every mistake in figure, of my peasant char-
acters, with an acuteness and correctness which made me very grate-
ful to know that his daily occupations were limited to blacking boots,
and not polishing off" authors.

I believe I have now done with my confessions, except I should
like to own that this story was the means of according me a more
heartfelt glow of satisfaction, a more gratifying sense of pride, than
anything I ever have or ever shall write, and in this wise. My
brother, at that time the rector of an Irish parish, once forwarded
to me a letter from a lady unknown to him, but who had heard he
was the brother of " Harry Lorrequer," and who addressed him, not
knowing where a letter might be directed to myself. The letter was
the grateful expression of a mother, who said, " I am the widow of
a field officer, and with an only son, for whom I obtained a presenta-


tion to Woolwich. ; but seeing in my boy's nature certain traits of
nervousness and timidity, which induced me to hesitate on embark-
ing him in the career of a soldier, I became very unhappy and un-
certain which course to decide on.

" While in this state of uncertainty, I chanced to make him a
birthday present of ' Charles O'Malley,' the reading of which seemed
to act like a charm on his whole character, inspiring him with a
passion for movement and adventure, and spiriting him to an eager
desire for a military life. Seeing that this was no passing enthu-
siasm, but a decided and determined bent, I accepted the cadetship
for him, and his career has been not alone distinguished as a stu-
dent, but one which has marked him out for an almost hare-brained
courage, and for a dash and heroism that gave high promise for his

" Thank your brother for me," wrote she, " a mother's thanks for
the welfare of an only son, and say how I wish that my best wishes
for him and his could recompense him for what I owe him."

I humbly hope that it may not be imputed to me as unpardonable
vanity — the recording of this incident. It gave me an intense
pleasure when I heard it ; and now as I look back on it, it invests
this story for myself with an interest which nothing else that I
have written can afford me.

I have now but to repeat what I have declared in former editions,
my sincere gratitude for the favor the public still continues to
bestow on me — a favor which probably associates the memory of
this book with whatever I have since done successfully, and compels
me to remember that to the popularity of " Charles O'Malley". I
am indebted for a great share of that kindliness in criticism, and
that geniality in judgment, which for more than a quarter of a
century my countrymen have graciously bestowed on their faithful
friend and servant,


Teieste, 1872.



I.— Daly's Club House, 17

II.— The Escape, . . 21

III.— Mr. Blake, 26

IV.— The Hunt, 33

V.— The Drawing-Room, 39

VI.— The Dinner, . . 42

VIL— The Flight from Gurt-na-Morra, 51

VIII.— The Duel, • . . 58

IX.— The Return, 64

X.— The Election, 68

XL— An Adventure, 75

XII.— Mickey Free, 79

XIII.— The Journey; 89

XIV.— Dublin, 97

XV.— Captain Power, . 104

XVI.— The Vice-Provost, 114

X VIL— Trinity College— A Lecture, 118

XVIIL— The Invitation— The Wager, 124

XIX.— The Ball, 127

XX.— The Last Night in Trinity, . 139

XXL— The Phosnix Park, 147

XXIL— The Road, 154

XXIIL— Cork, 160

XXIV.— The Adjutant's Dinner, 165

XXV.— The Entanglement, 168

XXVL— The Preparation, 172

XXVIL— The Supper, 177

XXVIIL— The Voyage, 184

XXIX.— The Adjutant's Story— Life in Derry, .... 190
XXX.— Fred Power's Adventure in Philipstown, . . .198

XXXL— The Voyage, 207

XXXIL— Mr. Sparks's Story, 210

XXXIIL— The Skipper, 219

XXXIV.— The Land, 232




XXXV.— Major Monsoon, 236

XXXVI.— The Landing, 244

XXXVII.— Lisbon, 253

XXXVIIL— The Rita Nuova, 258

XXXIX.— The Villa, 263

XL.— The Dinner, 266

XLL— The Route, 270

XLIL— The Farewell, 272

XLIIL— The March, 276

XLIV.— The Bivouac, 283

XLV— The Douro, 291

XLVI.— The Morning, 300

XLVIL— The Review, 303

XLVIIL— The Quarrel, 308

XLIX.— The Route, . 312

L.— The Watch-Fire, 315

LI.— The March, . . . - 322

LIL— The Page, 324

LIIL— Alvas, 330

LIV.— The Supper, 334

LV.— The Legion, 340

LVL— The Departure, . . . 342

LVIL— Cuesta, ' 350

LVIIL— The Letter, 352

LIX.— Major O'Shaughnessy, 355

LX.— Preliminaries, 358

LXL— All Right, 360

LXIL— The Duel, 362

LXIIL— News from Galway, 367

LXIV.— An Adventure with Sir Arthur, 373

LXV.— Talavera, • 375



I.— Night after Talavera, 383

II.— The Outpost, 38$

III.— The Doctor's Tale, 394

IV.— The Skirmish, 404

V.— The Lines of Ciudad Rodrigo, 410

VI.— The Doctor, 416

VII.— The Coa, 419

Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 1 of 80)