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the centre rearwards did not fire. "As the enemy were under a press of sail, none but the van of our fleet could come in for any part of the action without wasting his Majesty's powder and shot, the enemy wantonly expending theirs at such a distance as to have no effect." Here again the French were evidently taking the chance of disabling the distant enemy in his spars. The British loss in the action of May 15th was 21 killed and 100 wounded.
The fleets continued their respective movements, each acting as before, until the 19th, when another encounter took place, of exactly the same character as the last, although without the same preliminary manoeuvring. On that occasion the British, who in the interim had been reinforced by one 74 and one 50-gun ship, lost 47 killed and 113 wounded. The result was equally indecisive, tactically considered; but both by this time had exhausted their staying powers. The French, having been absent from Martinique since the 13th of April, had now but six days' provisions.1 Rodney found the Conqueror, Cornwall, and Boyne so shattered that he sent them before the wind to Santa Lucia, while he himself with the rest of the fleet stood for Barbados, where he arrived on the 22d. The French anchored on the same day at Fort Royal. "The English," says Chevalier, "stood on upon the starboard tack, to the southward, after the action of the 19th, and the next day were not to be seen." "The enemy," reported Rodney, "stood to the northward with all the sail they could possibly press, and were out of sight the 21st inst. The condition of his Majesty's ships was such as not to allow a longer pursuit."
By their dexterity and vigilance each admiral had thwarted the other's aims. Rodney, by a pronounced, if cautious, offensive effort, had absolutely prevented the " ulterior object" of the French, which he clearly understood to be Santa Lucia. 1 Chevalier, p. 91.
De Guichen had been successful in avoiding decisive action, and he had momentarily so crippled a few of-the British ships that the fleet must await their repairs before again taking the sea. The tactical gain was his, the strategic victory rested with his opponent; but that his ships also had been much maltreated is shown by the fact that half a dozen could not put to sea three weeks later. The French admiral broke down under the strain, to which was added the grief of losing a son, killed in the recent engagements. He asked for his recall. "The command of so large a fleet," he wrote, "is infinitely beyond my capacity in all respects. My health cannot endure such continual fatigue and anxiety." Certainly this seems a tacit testimony to Rodney's skill, persistence, and offensive purpose. The latter wrote to his wife: "For fourteen days and nights the fleets were so near each other that neither officers nor men could be said to sleep. Nothing but the goodness of the weather and climate would have enabled us to endure so continual a fatigue. Had it been in Europe, half the people must have sunk under it. For my part, it did me good."
Rodney stated also in his home letters that the action of his subordinates in the last affairs had been efficient; but he gave them little credit for it. "As I had given public notice to all my captains, etc., that I expected implicit obedience to every signal made, under the certain penalty of being instantly superseded, it had an admirable effect; as they were all convinced, after their late gross behaviour, that they had nothing to expect at my hands but instant punishment to those who neglected their duty. My eye on them had more dread than the enemy's fire, and they knew it would be fatal. No regard was paid to rank: admirals as well as captains, if out of their station, were instantly reprimanded by signals, or messages sent by frigates; and, in spite of themselves, I taught them to be, what they had never been before, — officers." Rodney told his officers also that he would shift his flag into a frigate, if necessary, to watch them better. It is by no means obligatory to accept these gross aspersions as significant of anything worse than the suspiciousness prevalent throughout the Navy, traceable ultimately to a corrupt administration of the Admiralty. The latter, like the government of 1756, was open to censure through political maladministration; every one feared that blame would be shifted on to him, as it had been on to Byng, — who deserved it; and not only so, but that blame would be pushed on to ruin, as in his case. The Navy was honeycombed with distrust, falling little short of panic, in this state of apprehension and doubt, the tradition of the line of battle, resting upon men who did not stop to study facts or analyse impressions, and who had seen officers censured, cashiered, and shot, for errors of judgment or of action, naturally produced hesitations and misunderstandings. An order of battle is a good thing, necessary to insure mutual support and to develop a plan. The error of the century, not then exploded, was to observe it in the letter rather than in the spirit; to regard the order as an end rather than a means; and to seek in it not merely efficiency, which admits broad construction in positions, but preciseness, which is as narrowing as a brace of handcuffs. Rodney himself, Tory though he was, found fault with the administration. With all his severity and hauteur, he did not lose sight of justice, as is shown by a sentence in his letter to Carkett. "Could I have imagined your conduct and inattention to signals had proceeded from anything but error in judgment, I had certainly superseded you, but God forbid I should do so for error in judgment only," — again an illusion, not obscure, to Byng's fate.