Clarissa: Chapter Thirteen

In his first letter to Clarissa after arriving at Gibraltar, where much of his regiment was posted, he called it one of the most un-English cities to be a part of England, and the more he spent time there, the more he felt like this was both true but also not nearly complete enough of a description. It was not as if Gibraltar felt like a colonial town, although Roland had not traveled the world enough to know how such a town would feel like. Gibraltar was not a bastion of English culture in the midst of a downtrodden local population, it was rather a town of an extremely small area that combined the features of the Mediterranean world of various Semitic peoples like Jews and Maltese living among a similarly diverse population of English naval and military types.

While Roland was a part of an army regiment, it seemed to him, the more he understood about his regiment and its duties, that he was really what other nations would consider to be marines. To be sure, the English did not seem to label their various expeditionary forces as marines, but Roland understood that his regiment was attached to various ships, that the places where the regiment was posted were not based on what areas were most convenient for armies to be posted but rather for quick access to ships to engage in littoral combat, and that much of British activity in the area consisted of holding onto or gaining island and coastal basis.

This was not something that Roland happened to mind, it was just something that was unfamiliar to him, but which he figured would become more familiar. He tried to explain to Clarissa the insights he was gaining about the way that the British army gained considerable power, from what he could see, through their possession of various island and coastal bases, and how useful these were in protecting against the forces of heathen pirates as well as revolutionary upstarts. He did not know how Clarissa felt about the desirability of living on the coast or of traveling frequently on ship from place to place. It did not appear, for example, that Gibraltar was the sort of town that would be most fit to purchase an estate, but much to his pleasure he found that living there attached to the British military was convenient for him and not particularly expensive living.

Clarissa herself was glad to receive such letters as she received frequently from Roland’s posting. Her questions to Lord Lipton allowed him to gain a more complete understanding of the British military’s efforts in the Mediterranean than he had previously had cause to know, since his own normal interests were in other places. He was able to inform her, though, of such matters as the availability of housing for soldiers and sailors in Gibraltar, about their safety from Barbary pirates and the threat of Spanish invasion, and also about the general range that the regiment was expected to serve, which had a fair amount of possibilities in the Mediterranean, North Sea, West Indies, and Indian Ocean fronts. Though Lord Lipton had never been a particular patron of the admiralty or the army, he was intrigued by the cooperation between the two services in certain areas and praised the ability of land and sea to work together for the best interests of English trade, diplomacy, and safety. The material he learned from his discussions not only aided the peace of mind of his ward but also allowed him to make such material part of his patriotic speeches given to audiences in Yorkshire as well as in the House of Lords.

Unbeknownst to Lord Lipton, or to anyone else within his household, Lord Lipton’s increasingly effective and knowledgeable defense of British war efforts against Revolutionary France drew increasing discussion within the palaces of state as well. Lord Lipton was known and praised for his relative lack of personal interest in war contracts, and in providing an example of someone with elevated interests in removing slavery and in his own high moral strivings but also someone who supported the patriotic well-being of his country and providing a reliable vote in the House of Lords for efforts to pay for military efforts as well as for efforts at expanding British trade and influence abroad. Indeed, it was the reliability of his vote that provided the chief reason why his name, though frequently referred to as being a possibility for various colonial posts of importance, was not awarded with such a position, because it was thought that in such tumultuous times that it would be better to appreciate his speeches and his vote to support government efforts to counter the spread of the French Revolution rather than to use his considerable talents in ruling over English provinces, at least at this time. If a greater government majority prevailed that did not need so much help, then perhaps conditions would be ripe to reward his loyal service with some sort of high office of that kind.

Not only matters of state were of interest, though, to Roland, as he walked through the streets of his home for now in Gibraltar. He thought of something that Lord Lipton had asked him concerning spiritual advice, and he was led to talk things over one afternoon with the chaplain for his regiment, who was, of course, surprised to see him.

“Is something wrong?”

“I do not think so.”

“I must admit I am not used to seeing many of the officers or soldiers on a daily basis.”

“I have a question for you.”

“I assume it is a spiritual question?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Very well, then, ask away. I relish the opportunity to talk about matters of the spirit.”

“When I was still in England, I spoke with a gentleman who asked me what sort of spiritual adviser I had, and I admitted to him that I had not heard of such a figure. In discussing the matter with him, I found that he viewed questions of spiritual discipline in his daily life as being of immense importance, but these were not matters I had been led to think about often. I wondered what your own thoughts were of spiritual discipline.”

The chaplain looked thoughtful for a minute. “I am not certain about how I ought to respond. Are you asking me to be your spiritual advisor, or asking what I think the scope is of spiritual discipline?”

“A bit of both, I must admit. Given the peripatetic nature of life in this regiment, I did not think that a local clergyman would be fit for the office, and I figured that you would have insights that would be lacking in someone who was not familiar with the ways of military men. Also, though, I was curious if your ideas as to what spiritual discipline involved were as extensive as the gentleman I was talking to.”

“I do believe that spiritual discipline is extensive in its scope. Most of the time soldiers tend to think that spiritual discipline simply involves temperance in drinking, avoidance of swearing and whoring, and matters like that, but I agree with your gentleman friend that it is quite a bit more extensive. It is by no means easy to be a genuine Christian in the military life, though some people do manage such a task well, especially those who are officers like yourself who volunteered for the military life and were not forced into it by an absence of other options, or by the effects of drunkenness and being placed in a regiment by impressment.”

“What sort of advice would you give to someone like me concerning matters of spiritual discipline?”

With this request the chaplain was most willing to oblige. And so it was that in addition to walking around Gibraltar and thinking about his military efforts, that the young officer found himself with some reading material, not only a daily Bible reading program, but also some books on Christian maturity and spiritual disciplines to read to discuss matters like prayer and fasting as well. The increased studiousness of the young officer did not fail to attract notice, mostly of a positive kind though sometimes of a gently ribbing kind as well.

Before too long, in fact, Roland found himself talking to General Powell once again.

“Did you have a minute, sir?”

“No problem, Lt, what did you have in mind?”

“I wondered if there was any study that you think would be worthwhile for a young officer like myself.”

General Powell reflected to himself. “Are you familiar at all with the military classics?”

“Regrettably not, sir. Who did you have in mind?”

“I think I have a copy of Vegetius. That would be a good place to start.” He handed the young officer a well-worn copy of a translation of the classic text going back to the Roman empire.

“Some old books never go out of style, sir?”

“Not at all. What is a classic remains so.”

“I appreciate it, and will give it to you when I am done.”

And with that, the brief interview was over. Roland’s desire to learn more about his profession, both his earthly profession and his profession of faith, was noted by his superiors, who were always pleased to see people be conscientious about their lives, especially when it increased the knowledge and effectiveness of someone’s behavior in general. While at first some people were prone to wag tongues about Roland’s behavior, it became clear that he had a noble background, a firm attachment to a good English young woman, and the approval of the regiment’s higher officers, and these had the desired result of reducing the teasing that Roland was subject to and indeed making him somewhat of a source of envy among his fellow soldiers, some of whom came to him for matter of advice.

In such areas Roland was gentle and discreet, all that could be wished. Not being a person who tended to look down on others, and being secure in his status as an emigre noble whose hostility to the current French government could not be doubted, and whose commitment to self-improvement was viewed as admirable, he was also someone who combined a strong sense of personal purpose with a lack of interest in dominating others. His advice was sound, if not quick. He was patient in listening to others, and preferred to let his example do more of the talking than his speaking, and this led him to have an influence upon others that far exceeded his own notice and awareness, for though he was young and still new in his profession, he was a person whose seriousness led people to expect great things of him in the future. And as is often the case, before too long it became time to see how the promise of his skill would relate to the problem of actual military combat.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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