Generals on the Staff
An aid-de-camp is to his general what Mercury was to Jupiter, and what the jackal is to the lion. It is a post that very few can fill with credit, and requires parts and education to execute its duties with propriety. Mistake me not; I do not mean that you are to puzzle your brain with Mathematics, or spoil your eyes with poring over Greek and Latin. Nor is it necessary you should understand military manoeuvres, or even the manual exercise. It is the graces you must court, by means of their high priest, a dancing-master. Learn to make a good bow; that is the first grand essential; the next is to carve and hold the toast; and if you aspire to great eminence, get a few French and German phrases by rote: these, besides giving you an air of learning, may induce people to suppose you have served abroad. Next to these accomplishments, the art of listening with a seeming attention to a long story, will be of great use to you; particularly if your general is old, and has served in former wars, or has accidentally been present at any remarkable siege or battle. On all occasions take an opportunity of asking him some question that may lead him to describe the particulars of those transactions.
You are not only the Sir Clement Cottrell at the general's levee, but you must also act as his Nomenclator abroad. Whenever you whisper in his ear the name of any officer, you should at the same time contrive, if possible, to drop some little hint of his character, or some anecdote, though it should be in the officer's favour. This will give the general an idea of your extensive knowledge.
You should always assume a mysterious air; and if anyone asks you the most trifling question, such as whether the line will be out at exercise to-morrow, or any other matter of equal importance, never give a direct answer, but look grave, and affectedly turn the discourse to some other subject.
If your general keeps a girl, it is your duty to squire her to all public places, and to make an humble third of a party at whist or quadrille; but be sure never to win: if you should be so unlucky as to have a good hand, when against your general, renounce, or by some other means contrive to make as little of it as you can.
When your general invites any subalterns to his table, it will be unbecoming your dignity to take any notice of them. If there are any field officers or captains invited, you may condescend to chatter and hob-nob with them. You may, indeed, be under the necessity of carving for the subalterns, that being your immediate office; in which case, help them to the coarsest bits, and take care that they are visited by the bottle as seldom as possible.
Whenever the general sends you with a message in the field, though ever so trifling, gallop as fast as you can up to and against the person, to whom it is addressed. Should you ride over him, it would show your alertness in the performance of your duty.
In delivering the message be as concise as possible, no matter whether you are understood or not, and gallop back again as fast as you came. To appear the more warlike, you should ride with your sword drawn; but take care you do not cut your horse's ear off.
When the general reviews a regiment, it is your business to receive the returns. Just as the officer passes by, contrive to run against him, so as to make him lose the step and put him out, at least, If you cannot throw the whole division into disorder. In coming with orders to a camp, gallop through every street of the different regiments, particularly if the ground is soft and boggy. A great man should always leave some tracks behind him.
Make it your business, in common, with the chaplain and adjutant, to collect all the news and scandal of the camp or garrison, and report it to your general. But be careful not to lose any particulars, especially if any officers of the general's regiment are concerned; this will prevent your being rivalled in his confidence.
You should always assume a mysterious air; and if anyone asks you the most trifling question, such as whether the line will be out at exercise to-morrow, or any other matter of equal importance, never give a direct answer, but look grave, and affectedly turn the discourse to some other subject. If a subaltern should only venture to ask you what it is o'clock? you must not inform him, in order to show that you are fit to be entrusted with secrets.
In a word, let your deportment be haughty and insolent to your inferiors, humble and fawning to your superiors, solemn and distant to your equals.