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- Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit etc. - 20/22 -


French, or even indifferent, if they had not all indeed been most zealous and persevering in their hostility towards them, it would have been impracticable so to blockade that island as to have precluded the arrival of supplies. If the siege had proved unsuccessful, the Maltese were well aware that they should be exposed to all the horrors which revenge and wounded pride could dictate to an unprincipled, rapacious, and sanguinary soldiery; and now that success has crowned their efforts, is this to be their reward, that their own allies are to bargain for them with the French as for a herd of slaves, whom the French had before purchased from a former proprietor? If it be urged, that there is no established government in Malta, is it not equally true that through the whole population of the island there is not a single dissentient? and thus that the chief inconvenience which an established authority is to obviate is virtually removed by the admitted fact of their unanimity? And have they not a bishop, and a dignified clergy, their judges and municipal magistrates, who were at all times sharers in the power of the government, and now, supported by the unanimous suffrage of the inhabitants, have a rightful claim to be considered as its representatives? Will it not be oftener said than answered, that the main difference between French and English injustice rests in this point alone, that the French seized on the Maltese without any previous pretences of friendship, while the English procured possession of the island by means of their friendly promises, and by the co-operation of the natives afforded in confident reliance on these promises? The impolicy of refusing the signature on the part of the Maltese was equally evident; since such refusal could answer no one purpose but that of alienating their affections by a wanton insult to their feelings. For the Maltese were not only ready but desirous and eager to place themselves at the same time under British protection, to take the oaths of loyalty as subjects of the British Crown, and to acknowledge their island to belong to it. These representations, however, were overruled; and I dare affirm from my own experience in the Mediterranean, that our conduct in this instance, added to the impression which had been made at Corsica, Minorca, and elsewhere, and was often referred to by men of reflection in Sicily, who have more than once said to me, "A connection with Great Britain, with the consequent extension and security of our commerce, are indeed great blessings: but who can rely on their permanence? or that we shall not be made to pay bitterly for our zeal as partisans of England, whenever it shall suit its plans to deliver us back to our old oppressors?"

ESSAY VI.

"The way of ancient ordinance, though it winds, Is yet no devious way. Straight forward goes The lightning's path; and straight the fearful path Of the cannon-ball. Direct it flies and rapid, Shattering that it may reach, and shattering what it reaches. My son! the road the human being travels, That, on which blessing comes and goes, doth follow The river's course, the valley's playful windings, Curves round the corn-field and the hill of vines, Honouring the holy bounds of property! There exists A higher than the warrior's excellence." WALLENSTEIN.

Captain Ball's services in Malta were honoured with his sovereign's approbation, transmitted in a letter from the Secretary Dundas, and with a baronetcy. A thousand pounds were at the same time directed to be paid him from the Maltese treasury. The best and most appropriate addition to the applause of his king and his country, Sir Alexander Ball found in the feelings and faithful affection of the Maltese. The enthusiasm manifested in reverential gestures and shouts of triumph whenever their friend and deliverer appeared in public, was the utterance of a deep feeling, and in nowise the mere ebullition of animal sensibility; which is not indeed a part of the Maltese character. The truth of this observation will not be doubted by any person who has witnessed the religious processions in honour of the favourite saints, both at Valetta and at Messina or Palermo, and who must have been struck with the contrast between the apparent apathy, or at least the perfect sobriety of the Maltese, and the fanatical agitations of the Sicilian populace. Among the latter each man's soul seems hardly containable in his body, like a prisoner whose gaol is on fire, flying madly from one barred outlet to another; while the former might suggest the suspicion that their bodies were on the point of sinking into the same slumber with their understandings. But their political deliverance was a thing that came home to their hearts, and intertwined with their most impassioned recollections, personal and patriotic. To Sir Alexander Ball exclusively the Maltese themselves attributed their emancipation; on him too they rested their hopes of the future. Whenever he appeared in Valetta, the passengers on each side, through the whole length of the street, stopped, and remained uncovered till he had passed; the very clamours of the market-place were hushed at his entrance, and then exchanged for shouts of joy and welcome. Even after the lapse of years he never appeared in any one of their casals, which did not lie in the direct road between Valetta and St. Antonio, his summer residence, but the women and children, with such of the men who were not at labour in their fields, fell into ranks and followed or preceded him, singing the Maltese song which had been made in his honour, and which was scarcely less familiar to the inhabitants of Malta and Gozo than "God save the King" to Britons. When he went to the gate through the city, the young men refrained talking, and the aged arose and stood up. When the ear heard then it blessed him, and when the eye saw him it gave witness to him, because he delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and those that had none to help them. The blessing of them that were ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.

These feelings were afterwards amply justified by his administration of the government; and the very excesses of their gratitude on their first deliverance proved, in the end, only to be acknowledgments antedated. For some time after the departure of the French, the distress was so general and so severe, that a large proportion of the lower classes became mendicants, and one of the greatest thoroughfares of Valetta still retains the name of the "Nix mangiare stairs," from the crowd who used there to assail the ears of the passengers with cries of "nix mangiare," or "nothing to eat," the former word nix being the low German pronunciation of nichts, nothing. By what means it was introduced into Malta, I know not; but it became the common vehicle both of solicitation and refusal, the Maltese thinking it an English word, and the English supposing it to be Maltese. I often felt it as a pleasing remembrancer of the evil day gone by, when a tribe of little children, quite naked, as is the custom of that climate, and each with a pair of gold earrings in its ears, and all fat and beautifully proportioned, would suddenly leave their play, and, looking round to see that their parents were not in sight, change their shouts of merriment for "nix mangiare," awkwardly imitating the plaintive tones of mendicancy; while the white teeth in their little swarthy faces gave a splendour to the happy and confessing laugh with which they received the good-humoured rebuke or refusal, and ran back to their former sport.

In the interim between the capitulation of the French garrison and Sir Alexander Ball's appointment as His Majesty's civil commissioner for Malta, his zeal for the Maltese was neither suspended nor unproductive of important benefits. He was enabled to remove many prejudices and misunderstandings, and to persons of no inconsiderable influence gave juster notions of the true importance of the island to Great Britain. He displayed the magnitude of the trade of the Mediterranean in its existing state; showed the immense extent to which it might be carried, and the hollowness of the opinion that this trade was attached to the south of France by any natural or indissoluble bond of connection. I have some reason for likewise believing that his wise and patriotic representations prevented Malta from being made the seat of and pretext for a numerous civil establishment, in hapless imitation of Corsica, Ceylon, and the Cape of Good Hope. It was at least generally rumoured that it had been in the contemplation of the Ministry to appoint Sir Ralph Abercrombie as governor, with a salary of 10,000 pounds a year, and to reside in England, while one of his countrymen was to be the lieutenant- governor at 5,000 pounds a year, to which were to be added a long etcetera of other offices and places of proportional emolument. This threatened appendix to the State Calendar may have existed only in the imaginations of the reporters, yet inspired some uneasy apprehensions in the minds of many well-wishers to the Maltese, who knew that--for a foreign settlement at least, and one, too, possessing in all the ranks and functions of society an ample population of its own--such a stately and wide-branching tree of patronage, though delightful to the individuals who are to pluck its golden apples, sheds, like the manchineel, unwholesome and corrosive dews on the multitude who are to rest beneath its shade. It need not, however, be doubted, that Sir Alexander Ball would exert himself to preclude any such intention, by stating and evincing the extreme impolicy and injustice of the plan, as well as its utter inutility in the case of Malta. With the exception of the governor and of the public secretary, both of whom undoubtedly should be natives of Great Britain and appointed by the British Government, there was no civil office that could be of the remotest advantage to the island which was not already filled by the natives, and the functions of which none could perform so well as they. The number of inhabitants (he would state) was prodigious compared with the extent of the island, though from the fear of the Moors one-fourth of its surface remained unpeopled and uncultivated. To deprive, therefore, the middle and lower classes of such places as they had been accustomed to hold, would be cruel; while the places held by the nobility were, for the greater part such as none but natives could perform the duties of. By any innovation we should affront the higher classes and alienate the affections of all, not only without any imaginable advantage but with the certainty of great loss. Were Englishmen to be employed, the salaries must be increased fourfold, and would yet be scarcely worth acceptance; and in higher offices, such as those of the civil and criminal judges, the salaries must be augmented more than tenfold. For, greatly to the credit of their patriotism and moral character, the Maltese gentry sought these places as honourable distinctions, which endeared them to their fellow-countrymen, and at the same time rendered the yoke of the Order somewhat less grievous and galling. With the exception of the Maltese secretary, whose situation was one of incessant labour, and who at the same time performed the duties of law counsellor to the Government, the highest salaries scarcely exceeded 100 pounds a year, and were barely sufficient to defray the increased expenses of the functionaries for an additional equipage, or one of more imposing appearance. Besides, it was of importance that the person placed at the head of that Government should be looked up to by the natives, and possess the means of distinguishing and rewarding those who had been most faithful and zealous in their attachment to Great Britain, and hostile to their former tyrants. The number of the employments to be conferred would give considerable influence to His Majesty's civil representative, while the trifling amount of the emolument attached to each precluded all temptation of abusing it.


Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit etc. - 20/22

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