He was a boy of fifteen when, in November, 1756, he entered the Marine service as a royal cadet. He had not long to wait before tasting “delight of battle,” for the expected war was declared in May, and before he was much older he was in the thick of it.
THE FRENCH NAVAL OFFICER.
Laperouse first obtained employment in the French navy in the CELEBRE, from March to November, 1757. From this date until his death, thirty-one years later, he was almost continuously engaged, during peace and war, in the maritime service of his country. The official list of his appointments contains only one blank year, 1764. He had then experienced close upon seven years of continuous sea fighting and had served in as many ships: the CELEBRE, the POMONE, the ZEPHIR, the Cerf, the formidable, the ROBUSTE, and the six corps. But the peace of Paris was signed in the early part of 1763. After that, having been promoted to the rank of ensign, he had a rest.
It was not a popular peace on either side. In Paris there was a current phrase, “BETE COMME la paix,” stupid as the peace. In England, the great Pitt was so indignant on account of its conditions that, all swollen and pinched with gout as he was, he had himself carried to the House of Commons, his limbs blanketted in bandages and his face contorted with pain, and, leaning upon a crutch, denounced it in a speech lasting three hours and forty minutes. The people cheered him to the echo when he came out to his carriage, and the vote favourable to the terms of the treaty was carried by wholesale corruption. But all the same, Great Britain did very well out of it, and both countries —though neither was satisfied—were for the time being tired of war.
For Laperouse the seven years had been full of excitement. The most memorable engagement in which he took part was a very celebrated one, in November, 1759. A stirring ballad has been written about it by Henry Newbolt:—
“In seventeen hundred and fifty-nine
When Hawke came swooping from the West,
The French King’s admiral with twenty of the line
Came sailing forth to sack us out of Brest.”
Laperouse’s ship, the formidable, was one of the French fleet of twenty-one sail. What happened was this. The French foreign minister, Choiseul, had hatched a crafty plan for the invasion of England, but before it could be executed the British fleet had to be cleared out of the way. There was always that tough wooden wall with the hearts of oak behind it, standing solidly in the path. It baffled Napoleon in the same fashion when he thought out an invasion plan in the next century. The French Admiral, Conflans, schemed to lure Sir Edward Hawke into Quiberon Bay, on the coast of Brittany. A strong westerly gale was blowing and was rapidly swelling into a raging tempest. Conflans, piloted