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Unlike Hawke, Rodney drew his descent from the landed gentry of England, and had relatives among the aristocracy. The name was originally Rodeney. We are told by his son-in-law and biographer that the Duke of Chandos, a connection by marriage, obtained the command of the Royal yacht for the admiral's father, Henry Rodney. In one of the trips which George I. frequently made between England and Hanover, he asked his captain if there were anything he could do for him. The reply was a request that he would stand sponsor for his son, who accordingly received the name of George; his second name Brydges coming from the family through which Chandos and the Rodneys were brought into relationship.

The social position and surroundings resulting from such antecedents contributed of course to hasten the young officer's advancement, irrespective of the unquestionable professional merit shown by him, even in early years; but to them also, combined with narrow personal fortune, inadequate to the tastes thus engendered, was probably due the pecuniary embarrassment which dogged him through life, and was perhaps the moving incentive to doubtful procedures that cast a cloud upon his personal and official reputation.

Rodney was born in February, 1719, and went to sea at the age of thirteen; serving for seven years in the Channel Fleet. Thence he was transferred to the Mediterranean, where he was made lieutenant in 1739. In 1742 he went again to the Mediterranean with Admiral Mathews, who there gave him command of a "post" ship, with which he brought home the trade,--three hundred merchant vessels,--from Lisbon. Upon arriving in England his appointment by Mathews was "confirmed" by the Admiralty. Being then only twenty-four, he anticipated by five years the age at which Hawke reached the same rank of post-captain, the attainment of which fixed a man's standing in the navy. Beyond that, advancement went by seniority; a post-captain might be "yellowed,"--retired as a rear admiral,--but while in active service he kept the advantage of his early promotion.

When Rodney was in later years commander-in-chief in the West Indies, he made his son a post-captain at fifteen; an exercise of official powers which, though not singular to him, is too characteristic of the man and the times to be wholly unmentioned. His own promotion, though rapid, was not too much so for his professional good; but it is likely that neither that consideration, nor the good of the service, counted for much alongside of the influence he possessed. He appears, however, to have justified from the first the favor of his superiors. His employment was continuous, and in a military point of view he was more fortunate than Hawke was at the same period of his career. Within two years, when in command of a forty-gun ship, he fought and took a French privateer of the same nominal force, and with a crew larger by one hundred than his own. Thence he was advanced into the _Eagle_, sixty, in which, after some commerce-destroying more lucrative than glorious, he bore an extremely honorable part in Hawke's battle with L'Etenduère, already related. The _Eagle_ was heavily engaged, and was one of the three small ships that on their own initiative pursued and fought, though unsuccessfully, the two escaping French vessels. Rodney shared Hawke's general encomium, that "as far as fell within my notice, the commanders, their officers, and ships' companies, behaved with the greatest spirit and resolution." Rodney came under his close observation, for, the _Eagle's_ "wheel being shot to pieces and all the men at it killed, and all her braces and bowlines gone," she drove twice on board the flag-ship. This was before her pursuit of the two fliers.

In the subsequent trial of Captain Fox,--the minutes of which the present writer has not seen,--it appears, according to the biographer of Lord Hawke,[6] that it was Captain Saunders's and Captain Rodney's "sense of being deserted by Fox, and of the two French ships having escaped through his failure of duty, which forms the chief feature of the Court-Martial. Rodney especially describes his being exposed to the fire of four of the enemy's ships, when, as he asserted, Fox's ship might well have taken off some of it." The incident is very noteworthy, for it bears the impress of personal character. Intolerance of dereliction of duty, and uncompromising condemnation of the delinquent, were ever leading traits in Rodney's course as a commander-in-chief. He stood over his officers with a rod, dealt out criticism unsparingly, and avowed it as his purpose and principle of action so to rule. It is not meant that his censures were undeserved, or even excessive; but there entered into them no ingredient of pity. His despatches are full of complaints, both general and specific. When he spared, it was from a sense of expediency,--or of justice, a trait in which he was by no means deficient; but for human weakness he had no bowels. Hawke complains of but this one captain, Fox, and towards him he seems not to have evinced the strong feeling that animated his juniors. Each man has his special gift, and to succeed must needs act in accordance with it.

There are those who lead and those who drive; Hawke belonged to the one class, Rodney to the other.

In direct consequence of this difference of temperament, it will be found, in contrasting the schools of which Hawke and Rodney are the conspicuous illustrations, that the first represents the spirit, and the second the form, which were the two efficient elements of the progress made during the eighteenth century. The one introduces into a service arrested in development, petrified almost, by blindly accepted rules and unintelligent traditions, a new impulse, which transforms men from within, breaking through the letter of the law in order to realize its forgotten intent; the other gives to the spirit, thus freed from old limitations, a fresh and sagacious direction, but needs nevertheless to impose its own methods by constraint from without. It is the old struggle, ever renewed, between liberty and law; in the due, but difficult, combination of which consist both conservation and progress.

And so in the personality of the two great admirals who respectively represent these contrasting schools of practice; while we find in both these two elements, as they must exist in every efficient officer, yet it is to be said that the one inspires and leads, the other moulds and compels. The one, though seemingly reserved, is in character sympathetic, and influences by example chiefly; the other, austerely courteous, is towards associates distant and ungenial, working by fear rather than by love. For these broad reasons of distinction it is Mathews's battle that best measures the reaction of which Hawke is the type, for there was especially illustrated defect of spirit, to cover which the letter of the law was invoked; whereas in Byng's action, extremely bad form, in the attempt to conform to the letter of the Instructions, emphasizes the contrast with Rodney's methods, precise and formal unquestionably, but in which form ceases to be an end in itself and is reduced to its proper function as the means to carry into effect a sound military conception. Of these two factors in the century's progress, it needs hardly to be said that the one contributed by Hawke is the greater. In spirit and in achievement he, rather than Rodney, is the harbinger of Nelson.

A short time after the action with L'Etenduère the cruise of the _Eagle_ came to an end. When she was paid off Rodney was presented at Court by Anson, the First Lord of the Admiralty; a merited and not unusual honor after distinguished service in battle. The King was struck by his youthful appearance, and said he had not known there was so young a captain in the Navy. As he was then nearly thirty, and had seen much and continuous service, it is singular that his face should not have borne clear traces of the facts. Anson replied that he had been a captain for six years, and it was to be wished that His Majesty had a hundred more as good as he. Making allowance for courtly manners and fair-speaking, the incident may be accepted as showing, not only that aptitude for the service which takes its hardships without undue wear and tear, but also an official reputation already well established and recognized.

Professional standing, therefore, as well as family influence, probably contributed to obtain for him in 1749 the appointment of Commodore and Commander-in-chief on the Newfoundland station; for he was still junior on the list of captains, and had ten years more to run before obtaining his admiral's flag. He remained in this post from 1749 to 1752. They were years of peace, but of peace charged full with the elements of discord which led to the following war. Canada was still French, and the territorial limits between the North American possessions of the two nations remained a subject of dispute and intrigue. The uncertain state of political relations around the Gulf of St. Lawrence added to the responsibility of Rodney's duty, and emphasized the confidence shown in assigning him a position involving cautious political action.

Explicit confirmation of this indirect testimony is found in a private letter to him from the Earl of Sandwich, who had succeeded Anson as First Lord in 1748. "I think it necessary to inform you that, if the Governor of Nova Scotia should have occasion to apply to you for succor, and send to you for that purpose to Newfoundland, it would be approved by Government if you should comply with his request. It is judged improper, as yet, to send any public order upon a business of so delicate a nature, which is the reason of my writing to you in this manner; and I am satisfied that your prudence is such as will not suffer you to make any injudicious use of the information you now receive. There are some people that cannot be trusted with any but public orders, but I shall think this important affair entirely safe under your management and secrecy." Language such as this undoubtedly often covers a hint, as well as expresses a compliment, and may have done so in this instance; nevertheless, in after life it is certain that Rodney gave proof of a very high order of professional discretion and of independent initiative. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to suppose that he had thus early convinced the Government that he was a man competent and trustworthy under critical conditions, such as then characterized the intercolonial relations of the two states. The particular incident is farther noteworthy in connection with the backwardness, and even reluctance, of the Government to employ him in the War of the American Revolution, though Sandwich was again First Lord, and Rodney a strong political supporter of the party in power. The precise cause for this is probably not ascertainable; but it is a matter of perfectly reasonable inference that the early promise of the young officer had meanwhile become overclouded, that distrust had succeeded to confidence, for reasons professional, but not strictly military. Rodney's war record continued excellent from first to last; one not good only, but of exceptional and singular efficiency.