Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005
"A public but not a cynical act" was how I described Nelson's last prayer in this post. In this Samizdata review of several books on naval history in the time of Trafalgar, Findlay Dunachie discusses Nelson's paradoxical character. He quotes an extract from an account by the Duke of Wellington (as he then wasn't) of his only meeting with the other great British commander of the Napoleonic wars, a meeting that happened by chance in a waiting room of the old Colonial Office in Downing Street...
He entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was all on his side, and all about himself, and, really, in a style as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody,
"I happened to say," indeed! I yield to few in my admiration for the old buzzard, but he cannot seriously have expected anyone to believe that Arthur Wellesley would let any man alive go long under the misapprehension that he was not somebody. But we were talking about the Admiral rather than the future Duke. Wellington's description of his meeting with Nelson continues:
and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All I had thought was a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact he talked like an officer and a statesman.

Brian Micklethwait's site seems to be only intermittently available at the moment, but it is worth your while to keep trying. He recasts Nelson's instant transformation in modern terms.

Tony Blair is a lot more like Nelson than like Wellington.

Yes, I'm going to try to pull modern politics into it. Lightly, dear friends, only lightly. Napoleon was only somewhat like Saddam Hussein. They had being vicious, blood-soaked tyrants who got a ridiculously good press in common, but Napoleon's relatives whom he raised to brief power were a lot nicer than Saddam's. (Poor Joseph Bonaparte, who would have liked to have been a reforming monarch, died an exile in the States, but he did get to see the Jersey Devil before his time was up. Not everyone can say that they have been King of Spain and seen the Jersey Devil. Uday never managed it.)

There are better parallels with the modern day when one looks at the eloquent revolutionary aristocrats who gave Napoleon that ridiculously good press and who have had a ridiculously good press themselves. Call yourself a radical and you can get away with anything.

I dunno. Perhaps I am making the same mistake that Findlay Dunachie indentifies in one of the books he reviews. Some writers at the start of the twenty-first century unconsciously try to pull people living at the start of the nineteenth century into a very twentieth century pattern.

Nicolson [one of the authors reviewed] ignores upper-class "Napoleonists", such as the Hollands, Fox, Whitbread, Byron et al, but makes much of ineffective proletarian unrest, to some extent fuelled by millenarian fantasies. Unmentioned are the Christian Evangelicals, more middle and upper class, a far more sober lot, the founders of what became Victorian morality, concerned rather with individual than mass behaviour, their social goals piecemeal, such as the abolition of the slave trade and boy chimney-sweeps and other ameliorations, rather than utopian. But religion seems to be rather marginalized in historical studies, perhaps as an unacknowledged, or even unconscious legacy of Marxism, whose believers could not credit that people meant what they said, but were "really" motivated by other, economic reasons.