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The Seven Years Peace, 1748-1755
Wolfe was made welcome in England wherever he went.
In spite of his youth his name was well known to the chief men in
the Army, and he was already a hero among the friends of his family.
By nature he was fond of the society of ladies, and of course he
fell in love. He had had a few flirtations before, like most other
soldiers; but this time the case was serious. The difference was the
same as between a sham fight and a battle. His choice fell on
Elizabeth Lawson, a maid of honor to the Princess of Wales. The
oftener he saw her the more he fell in love with her. But the course
of true love did not, as we shall presently see, run any more
smoothly for him than it has for many another famous man.
In 1749, when Wolfe was only twenty-two, he was promoted major of
the 20th Regiment of Foot. He joined it in Scotland, where he was to
serve for the next few years. At first he was not very happy in
Glasgow. He did not like the people, as they were very different
from the friends with whom he had grown up. Yet his loneliness only
added to his zeal for study. He had left school when still very
young, and he now found himself ignorant of much that he wished to
know. As a man of the world he had found plenty of gaps in his
general knowledge. Writing to his friend Captain Rickson, he says:
'When a man leaves his studies at fifteen, he will never be justly
called a man of letters. I am endeavoring to repair the damages of
my education, and have a person to teach me Latin and mathematics.'
From his experience in his own profession, also, he had learned a
good deal. In a letter to his father he points out what excellent
chances soldiers have to see the vivid side of many things: 'That
variety incident to a military life gives our profession some
advantages over those of a more even nature. We have all our
passions and affections aroused and exercised, many of which must
have wanted their proper employment had not suitable occasions
obliged us to exert them. Few men know their own courage till danger
proves them, or how far the love of honor or dread of shame are
superior to the love of life. This is a knowledge to be best
acquired in an army; our actions are there in presence of the world,
to be fully censured or approved.'
Great commanders are always keen to learn everything really worth
while. It is only the little men who find it a bore. Of course,
there are plenty of little men in a regiment, as there are
everywhere else in the world; and some of the officers were afraid
Wolfe would insist on their doing as he did. But he never preached.
He only set the example, and those who had the sense could follow
it. One of his captains wrote home: 'Our acting colonel here is a
paragon. He neither drinks, curses, nor gambles. So we make him our
pattern.' After a year with him the officers found him a 'jolly good
fellow' as well as a pattern; and when he became their
lieutenant-colonel at twenty-three they gave him a dinner that
showed he was a prime favorite among them. He was certainly quite as
popular with the men. Indeed, he soon became known by a name which
speaks for itself--'the soldier's' friend.'
By and by Wolfe's regiment marched into the Highlands, where he had
fought against Prince Charlie in the '45. But he kept in touch with
what was going on in the world outside. He wrote to Rickson at
Halifax, to find out for him all he could about the French and
British colonies in America. In the same letter, written in 1751, he
said he should like to see some Highland soldiers raised for the
king's army and sent out there to fight. Eight years later he was to
have a Highland regiment among his own army at Quebec. Other themes
filled the letters to his mother. Perhaps he was thinking of Miss
Lawson when he wrote: 'I have a certain turn of mind that favors
matrimony prodigiously. I love children. Two or three manly sons are
a present to the world, and the father that offers them sees with
satisfaction that he is to live in his successors.' He was thinking
more gravely of a still higher thing when he wrote on his
twenty-fifth birthday, January 2, 1752, to reassure his mother about
the strength of his religion.
Later on in the year, having secured leave of absence, he wrote to
his mother in the best of spirits. He asked her to look after all
the little things he wished to have done. 'Mr Pattison sends a
pointer to Blackheath; if you will order him to be tied up in your
stable, it will oblige me much. If you hear of a servant who can
dress a wig it will be a favor done me to engage him. I have another
favor to beg of you and you'll think it an odd one: 'tis to order
some currant jelly to be made in a crock for my use. It is the
custom in Scotland to eat it in the morning with bread.' Then he
proposed to have a shooting-lodge in the Highlands, long before any
other Englishman seems to have thought of what is now so common.
'You know what a whimsical sort of person I am. Nothing pleases me
now but hunting, shooting, and fishing. I have distant notions of
taking a very little house, remote upon the edge of the forest,
merely for sport.'
In July he left the Highlands, which were then, in some ways, as
wild as Labrador is now. About this time there was a map made by a
Frenchman in Paris which gave all the chief places in the Lowlands
quite rightly, but left the north of Scotland blank, with the words
'Unknown land here, inhabited by the "Iglandaires"!' When his leave
began Wolfe went first to Dublin--'dear, dirty Dublin,' as it used
to be called--where his uncle, Major Walter Wolfe, was living. He
wrote to his father: 'The streets are crowded with people of a large
size and well limbed, and the women very handsome. They have clearer
skins, and fairer complexions than the women in England or Scotland,
and are exceeding straight and well made'; which shows that he had
the proper soldier's eye for every pretty girl. Then he went to
London and visited his parents in their new house at the corner of
Greenwich Park, which stands to-day very much the same as it was
then. But, wishing to travel, he succeeded, after a great deal of
trouble, in getting leave to go to Paris. Lord Bury was a friend of
his, and Lord Bury's father, the Earl of Albemarle, was the British
ambassador there. So he had a good chance of seeing the best of
everything. Perhaps it would be almost as true to say that he had as
good a chance of seeing the worst of everything. For there were a
great many corrupt and corrupting men and women at the French court.
There was also much misery in France, and both the corruption and
the misery were soon to trouble New France, as Canada was then
called, even more than they troubled Old France at home.
Wolfe wished to travel about freely, to see the French armies at
work, and then to go on to Prussia to see how Frederick the Great
managed his perfectly disciplined army. This would have been an
excellent thing to do. But it was then a very new thing for an
officer to ask leave to study foreign armies. Moreover, the chief
men in the British Army did not like the idea of letting such a good
colonel go away from his regiment for a year, even though he was
going with the object of making himself a still better officer.
Perhaps, too, his friends were just a little afraid that he might
join the Prussians or the Austrians; for it was not, in those days,
a very strange thing to join the army of a friendly foreign country.
Whatever the reason, the long leave was refused and he went no
farther than Paris.
Louis XV was then at the height of his apparent greatness; and
France was a great country, as it is still. But king and government
were both corrupt. Wolfe saw this well enough and remembered it when
the next war broke out. There was a brilliant society in 'the
capital of civilization,' as the people of Paris proudly called
their city; and there was a great deal to see. Nor was all of it
bad. He wrote home two days after his arrival.
The packet [ferry] did not sail that night, but we embarked at
half-an-hour after six in the morning and got into Calais at ten. I
never suffered so much in so short a time at sea. The people [in
Paris] seem to be very sprightly. The buildings are very
magnificent, far surpassing any we have in London. Mr Selwin has
recommended a French master to me, and in a few days I begin to ride
in the Academy, but must dance and fence in my own lodgings. Lord
Albemarle [the British ambassador] is come from Fontainebleau. I
have very good reason to be pleased with the reception I met with.
The best amusement for strangers in Paris is the Opera, and the next
is the playhouse. The theatre is a school to acquire the French
language, for which reason I frequent it more than the other.
In Paris he met young Philip Stanhope, the boy to whom the Earl of
Chesterfield wrote his celebrated letters; 'but,' says Wolfe, 'I
fancy he is infinitely inferior to his father.' Keeping fit, as we
call it nowadays, seems to have been Wolfe's first object. He took
the same care of himself as the Japanese officers did in the
Russo-Japanese War; and for the same reason, that he might be the
better able to serve his country well the next time she needed him.
Writing to his mother he says:
I am up every morning at or before seven and fully employed till
twelve. Then I dress and visit, and dine at two. At five most people
go to the public entertainments, which keep you till nine; and at
eleven I am always in bed. This way of living is directly opposite
to the practice of the place. But no constitution could go through
all. Four or five days in the week I am up six hours before any
other fine gentleman in Paris. I ride, fence, dance, and have a
master to teach me French. I succeed much better in fencing and
riding than in the art of dancing, for they suit my genius better;
and I improve a little in French. I have no great acquaintance with
the French women, nor am likely to have. It is almost impossible to
introduce one's self among them without losing a great deal of
money, which you know I can't afford; besides, these entertainments
begin at the time I go to bed, and I have not health enough to sit
up all night and work all day. The people here use umbrellas to
defend them from the sun, and something of the same kind to secure
them from the rain and snow. I wonder a practice so useful is not
introduced into England.
While in Paris Wolfe was asked if he would care to be military tutor
to the Duke of Richmond, or, if not, whether he knew of any good
officer whom he could recommend. On this he named Guy Carleton, who
became the young duke's tutor. Three men afterwards well known in
Canada were thus brought together long before any of them became
celebrated. The Duke of Richmond went into Wolfe's regiment. The
next duke became a governor-general of Canada, as Guy Carleton had
been before him. And Wolfe--well, he was Wolfe!
One day he was presented to King Louis, from whom, seven years
later; he was to wrest Quebec. 'They were all very gracious as far
as courtesies, bows, and smiles go, for the Bourbons seldom speak to
anybody.' Then he was presented to the clever Marquise de Pompadour,
whom he found having her hair done up in the way which is still
known by her name to every woman in the world. It was the regular
custom of that time for great ladies to receive their friends while
the barbers were at work on their hair. 'She is extremely handsome
and, by her conversation with the ambassador, I judge she must have
a great deal of wit and understanding.' But it was her court
intrigues and her shameless waste of money that helped to ruin
France and Canada.
In the midst of all these gaieties Wolfe never forgot the mother
whom he thought 'a match for all the beauties.' He sent her 'two
black laced hoods and a vestale for the neck, such as the
Queen of France wears.' Nor did he forget the much humbler people
who looked upon him as 'the soldier's friend.' He tells his mother
that his letters from Scotland have just arrived, and that 'the.
women of the regiment take it into their heads to write to me
sometimes.' Here is one of their letters, marked on the outside,
'The Petition of Anne White':
Collonnell, Being a True Noble-hearted Pittyful gentleman and
Officer your Worship will excuse these few Lines concerning ye
husband of ye undersigned, Sergt. White, who not from his own fault
is not behaving as Hee should towards me and his family, although
good and faithfull till the middle of November last.
We may be sure 'Sergt. White' had to behave 'as Hee should' when
In April, to his intense disgust, Wolfe was again in Glasgow.
We are all sick, officers and soldiers. In two days we lost the skin
off our faces with the sun, and the third were shivering in great
coats. My cousin Goldsmith has sent me the finest young pointer that
ever was seen; he eclipses Workie, and outdoes all. He sent me a
fishing-rod and wheel at the same time, of his own workmanship.
This, with a salmon-rod from my uncle Wat, your flies, and my own
guns, put me in a condition to undertake the Highland sport. We have
plays, we have concerts, we have balls, with dinners and suppers of
the most execrable food upon earth, and wine that approaches to
poison. The men of Glasgow drink till they are excessively drunk.
The ladies are cold to everything but a bagpipe--I wrong them--there
is not one that does not melt away at the sound of money.'
By the end of this year, however, he had left Scotland for good. He
did not like the country as he saw it. But the times were greatly
against his doing so. Glasgow was not at all a pleasant place in
those narrowly provincial days for any one who had seen much of the
world. The Highlands were as bad. They were full of angry Jacobites,
who could never forgive the redcoats for defeating Prince Charlie.
Yet Wolfe was not against the Scots as a whole; and we must never
forget that he was the first to recommend the raising of those
Highland regiments which have fought so nobly in every British war
since the mighty one in which he fell.
During the next year and part of the year following, 1754-55, Wolfe
was at Exeter, where the entertainments seem to have been more to
his taste than those at Glasgow. A lady who knew him well at this
time wrote: 'He was generally ambitious to gain a tall, graceful
woman to be his partner, as well as a good dancer. He seemed emulous
to display every kind of virtue and gallantry that would render him
In 1755 the Seven Years' Peace was coming to an end in Europe. The
shadow of the Seven Years' War was already falling darkly across the
prospect in America. Though Wolfe did not leave for the front till
1757, he was constantly receiving orders to be ready, first for one
place and then for another. So early as February 18, 1755, he wrote
to his mother what he then thought might be a farewell letter. It is
full of the great war; but personal affairs of the deeper kind were
by no means forgotten. 'The success of our fleet in the beginning of
the war is of the utmost importance.' 'It will be sufficient comfort
to you both to reflect that the Power which has hitherto preserved
me may, if it be His pleasure, continue to do so. If not, it is but
a few days more or less, and those who perish in their duty and the
service of their country die honorably.'
The end of this letter is in a lighter vein. But it is no less
characteristic: it is all about his dogs. 'You are to have Flurry
instead of Romp. The two puppies I must desire you to keep a little
longer. I can't part with either of them, but must find good and
secure quarters for them as well as for my friend Caesar, who has
great merit and much good humor. I have given Sancho to Lord Howe,
so that I am reduced to two spaniels and one pointer.' It is strange
that in the many books about dogs which mention the great men who
have been fond of them --and most great men are fond of dogs--not
one says a word about Wolfe. Yet 'my friend Caesar, who has great
merit and much good humor,' deserves to be remembered with his kind
master just as much, in his way, as that other Caesar, the friend of
Edward VII, who followed his master to the grave among the kings and
princes of a mourning world.
This site includes some historical materials that
may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of
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Chronicles of Canada, The
Winning of Canada, A Chronicle of Wolfe, 1915
Chronicles of Canada