THIS book, as far as its subject is concerned, is something of an experiment, something of a new departure. It is an attempt to interest people by recalling some of the associations of the brave days of old that cluster round and attach to certain historic man-of-war names. As far as that goes, indeed, having for its subject, as it has, the doings in battle of famous hearts of oak of the fighting times—
Those oaken giants of the ancient race
That ruled all seas,
the book ought not to require an elaborate introduction, any special pleading on its behalf, among those whose pride it is to count themselves the
Sons and sires of seamen
Whose realm is all the sea.
Further, it may possibly be, that in a degree, this book may serve as a reminder, even to some of those who to-day man His Majesty's Fleet, of what an inheritance is theirs, and how tremendous an obligation. The heroism of the Old Navy lives evermore in the man-of-war names of the modern navy, and should lead our sailors more even than they do, to 'glory,' in Kinglake's stirring language, in their ships' 'ancient names, connecting each with its great traditions, and founding upon the cherished syllables that consciousness of power which is a condition of ascendancy in war.'
The names of the men-of-war, the stories of which are told here, stand in the forefront among the famous names of the Sea Service for their associations with great and dashing exploits. They are possibly not the most widely known of all, not so familiar to everybody as are certain other names similarly associated with other famous feats of arms of the fighting days,—but that, after all, is perhaps all the more reason that their stories should be told now. 'We are few, but of the right sort,' said Nelson on one of the memorable occasions of his life, and it is hoped that the half-dozen stories within these covers may with justice say the same for themselves. The story of Lord Charles Beresford's little Condor, if not an Old Navy event, has much in keeping with the old order, and is included on its merits as being as gallant a piece of fighting-work in its way as has been done in the British Navy in our time.