Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rocket's Red Glare

‘…"Why, you see, neighbour," answered Demetrius, yonder western heretic continues to advance without minding the various signs which our Admiral has made to him to desist, and now ho hoists the bloody colours, as if a man should clench his fist and say, If you persevere in your uncivil intention, I will do so and so."
"By St. Sophia," said Lascaris," and that is giving him fair warning. But what is it the Imperial Admiral is about to do?"
"Run! run! friend Lascaris, " said Demetrius, " or you will see more of that than perchance you have any curiosity for."
Accordingly, to add the strength of example to precept, Demetrius himself girt up his loins, and retreated with the most edifying speed to the opposite side of the ridge, accompanied by the greater part of the crowd, who had tarried there to witness the contest which the newsmonger promised, and were determined to take his word for their own safety. The sound and sight which had alarmed Demetrius, was the discharge of a large portion of Greek fire, which perhaps may be best compared to one of those immense Congreve rockets of the present day, which takes on its shoulders a small grapnel or anchor, and proceeds groaning through the air, like a fiend overburdened by the mandate of some inexorable magician, and of which the operation was so terrifying, that the crews of the vessels attacked by this strange weapon frequently forsook every means of defence, and run themselves ashore…’

The Congreve rocket was first employed against Napoleon’s navy at the British siege of the port of Boulogne; October 8, 1806.  These rockets were developed by William Congreve, after the British learned the hard way how effective rockets could be, while fighting Tipu Sultan during various Mysore campaigns.  It is the Congreve rocket’s red glare that is referred to in the American national anthem, in remembrance of the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814. 

The text above, with one of Walter Scott’s references to Congreve rockets, comes from “Count Robert of Paris”.

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