Thursday, June 02, 2005

Clash of the Titans

Blackadder on last night, with Stephen Fry as the Duke of Wellington, blathering about Nelson being up in the Arctic. Bah.

Wellington and Nelson did actually meet, just the once. This from Philip Guedella's The Duke (pp122-3):

'One day he had a strange encounter in "the little waiting-room on the right hand" of the old colonial Office in Downing Street. Another visitor was waiting there already - a sad-eyed little man, "whom from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm" Sir Arthur promptly recognised as Nelson, home from the sea and happy in a few weeks of Emma Hamilton and "dear, dear Merton." The Admiral began to talk and, as Wellesley recollected drily, "entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side and all about himself, and in, really, a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me." (Sir Arthur was unlikely to be captivated by the manner which, when expressed in an excess of stars and ribbons, had elicited from John Moore the pained comment that their wearer seemed "more like the Prince of an Opera than the Conqueror of the Nile.) Then, suspecting something, the sailor left the room, learnt the identity of the spare military man, and came back transformed. All that the General "had thought 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 anda statesman." So the French marched to Austerlitz, and the first broadsides of Trafalgar came faintly up the wind, as Nelson and Wellesley sat talking one September day in a room off Whitehall. Lord Castlereagh was busy; and they talked above half an hour. The talk stayed in Sir Arthur's memory; and after thirty years he judged that "I don't know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more," adding the shrewd reflection that "if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw." They never met again.'

(It's the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar this year, with stuff going on and that.)

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