The Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence

Cover of book The Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence
Categories: Nonfiction

From Preface: "Sergeant William Lawrence died at Studland in Dorsetshire in the year 1867, bequeathing the manuscript of the accompanying autobiography to the family one of whose members now submits i


t to the notice of the public. Circumstances, which perhaps may be too often interpreted as really meaning an unfortunate tendency to procrastination, have hitherto prevented it being put into shape with a view to publication: one thing after another has intervened, and the work has been passed on from hand to hand, until after these long years a final effort has been made, and the self-imposed task completed. The book is simply sent forth on its own merits in the hope that there are yet some, if not indeed many whose hearts are never weary of the tales of England's glory in the past, and seek to find in them reason why that glory should be perpetuated. Many an account have we already had of the victories of the Peninsula and Waterloo, and this but adds one more to the list: though perhaps it- may be regarded in somewhat of a supplementary light, as treating of the campaigns neither from an entirely outside and soi-disant unprejudiced standpoint, nor with the advantages possessed by one who may have had access to the councils of the authorities, but as they were seen by one who came and went and did as he was told, and was as it were nothing more than a single factor in the great military machine that won our country those battles of which she has so much right to be proud. What criticisms of the conduct of the war our veteran occasionally does indulge in are of course chiefly founded on the camp gossip current at the time, and in reading them it must always be borne in mind that events at the moment of their happening often do not present the same appearance as when viewed from the calmer security of after years, and they must be judged accordingly. As to the style. Lawrence, though he never betrayed the fact to the authorities during his whole military career, being possessed of a wonderful aptitude for mental calculation, and always contriving to get some assistance in concealing his deficiency when his official duties necessitated his doing so, and though he has carefully avoided all direct allusion to it in this work itself, never learnt to write, and the first form in which his history was committed to paper was from dictation. The person who took down the words as he spoke them, one of his fellow-servants, was but imperfectly educated himself, so that it may be imagined that the result of the narrative (p. vii) of one illiterate person being written down by another was that the style was not likely to aspire to any very high degree of literary merit. Still, to preserve the peculiar character of the book, it has been thought better to leave it as far as possible in its original shape: some emendations have perforce had to be made to render it actually intelligible-for instance, in the original manuscript there is scarcely any punctuation from beginning to end, with the exception of at those places where the amanuensis evidently left off his day's work; but the language, with its occasional half-flights into a poetry of about the standard of an Eton boy's verses, its crude moralizings, and imperfect applications of old proverbs and fables, has not been altered, nor, so far as there can be said to be one, has the method."

The Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence
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