Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Good Sleepers - Mr Pitt - The Duke of Wellington

At the same time I heard an interesting story upon the authority of Mr. Grenville. He told Lord Braybrooke that at the time, of the mutiny at the Nore, when, of course, the anxiety was intense upon the subject of the fidelity of the troops, a messenger arrived at a late hour of the night to Dundas with a letter from General ——, who had the command at Sheerness, containing the melancholy tidings of the apostacy of the marines. It was stated that, to a man, they had joined the mutineers, and that there was every reason to apprehend that the next day they would march upon London.

Dundas went immediately to Lord Grenville with the news, and together they went to Mr. Pitt. He was in bed and asleep. Of course they roused him, talked over this misfortune, consulted as to the precautionary measures to be taken, few and unavailing as they seemed. After a short time, Mr. Pitt said, 'I think we cannot do anything at this hour of night, and, as far as possible, we have arranged everything for the morning. I am anxious to get some sleep to recruit before the arduous day which awaits us, and shall wish you good night.'

The two others were far too anxious for sleep. I believe they remained together till, in the course of less than one hour, another messenger appeared bearing another letter from Sheerness. This was from the officer second in command, who, after many apologies for assuming an office that did not belong to him, said that, having heard that the commanding officer had just sent. off a messenger with despatches, he felt it his painful duty to inform the Government that the fatigue, the excitation of that eventful day had proved too much for the General, and had produced a sort of delirium; that probably, therefore, he might not have stated very accurately the state of affairs. He had the satisfaction of being able to say that they wore a much better aspect: that the marines were all staunch; so were the officers to a man; and the evil spirit which had existed seemed to be in a great measure quelled, &c. &c.

Lord Grenville and Dundas went once more to Pitt to communicate a change even more unexpected than it was favourable. He was, as they anticipated, in bed; but great was their surprise when they found that, during the short anxious hour that had elapsed since their last visit, he had been fast asleep.*

This is called a proof of greatness of mind. I am more inclined to believe that youth, health, and fatigue produce a sort of absolute necessity for sleep, which no mental excitation can remove; and I am confirmed in this opinion by hearing that, in his after days, and especially in his last illness, poor Pitt never could sleep. The Duke of Wellington is always brought forward as the most extraordinary instance of a person who, under the most violent excitations of his eventful career, could always, and at all hours of the day or night, get sleep during any repose, however short it might be, that circumstances allowed. Perhaps great bodily fatigue enabled him to find ' tired Nature's sweet restorer.' I wonder whether he is a good sleeper now.

Editor’s note
There is much good sense in the concluding observation that what enabled the Duke to sleep was his power of fixing on a course of conduct, doing or ordering to be done all that was necessary, and then dismissing the subject from his mind till the time for action came. It is impossible to he a great commander, or even a truly great man in any line, without this power; for ithout it both mind and body will prove unequal to a strain.

There are two instances of its display by the Duke not generally known, and resting on the best authority. On arriving personally before St. Sebastian, he was informed that the breaching batteries would not open for two hours. ' Then,' said he, turning to his aide-de-camp, ' the best thing we can do, Burghersh, is to go to sleep.' He got off his horse, slipped into a trench, sate down with his back against one side, and was fast asleep in a moment. Lord Burgherah. (the late Earl of Westmoreland) did the same,

The other occasion was, when having endured great fatigue, the Duke had gone to sleep in his tent, after giving strict orders not to be disturbed. An officer came in from the rear-guard —the army was in retreat—to say that the enemy were close at hand. The aide-de-camp on duty thought the contemplated emergency had arrived, and woke the Duke. ' Send the man in.' He entered. ' You have been hotly pursued the whole day.' ' Yes, my lord.' ' Are the troops much tired ?' ' Dead beat, my lord.' ' Then the French must be dead beat, too— they won't attack to-night. That will do.' Before the officer and aide-de-camp were well out of the tent, he was fast asleep again.

On the morning of one of his greatest battles, Napoleon had
to be awakened by his staff.

Lord Macaulay describes Frederick the Great as bearing up against a world in arms, with an ounce of poison in one pocket and a quire of bad verses in the other. Thus provided, he could sleep.

The superhuman energy and activity of Lord Brougham are only explicable on this principle. He can abstract his thoughts from an exciting topic, and he can sleep. During the Queen's trial, he had dined and slept at Holland House. The next morning before breakfast, his bust found him writing in the library. ' Are you polishing off your peroration ? ' ' No, I am drawing a clause of my Education Bill.' One day at Paris, he read a paper on Optics at the Institute, was busilv occupied the whole forenoon with his colleagues of that distinguished body, and at seven was the chief and best talker at a dinner-party, comprising D'Orsay and Alexander Dumas. He told the acquaintance who was with him most of the time, that he had slept soundly for an hour after leaving the Institute, and could do so at will during any interval of rest at any time.


* Earl Stanhope (Life of Pitt) tells the story thus : ' A strong instance of Pitt's calmness at a time when all around him shook was wont to be related by the First Lord of the Admiralty at that period. On a subsequent night, there had come from the fleet tidings of especial urgency. Lord Spencer thought it requisite to go at once to Downing Street and consult the Prime Minister. Pitt being roused, from his slumber, sat up in bed, heard the case, and gave instructions. Lord Spencer took leave arid withdrew. But no sooner had he reached the end of the street than he remembered one more point which he had omitted to state. Accordingly he returned to Pitt's house, and desired to he shown a second time to Pitt's chamber. There, after so brief an interval, he found Pitt, as before, buried in profound repose.' (Vol.
iii. p. 39.)

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