Review published on October 15, 2012. Reviewed by John Redfearn
With Nelson: A Dream of Glory John Sugden has written part 1 of the definitive biography of Nelson, covering the period up to 1797 and his return home from Tenerife. Intensely researched from original sources and written in a thoroughly readable style this work supercedes all earlier biographies of the man.
Horatio Nelson was born in 1758, joined the Royal Navy when he was twelve, became a Post Captain at twenty-two and was an Admiral before he was 40. He sailed to the Indian Ocean, the West Indies, the Arctic and around the Mediterranean. He lost the sight of one eye in Corsica, an arm in Tenerife and suffered many other battle wounds. He contracted malaria.
He probably didn’t believe in human rights, he thought Thomas Paine’s ideas particularly dangerous, but he believed passionately in responsibilities. Unlike rights, no-one has to give you responsibilities, responsibilities are something in you. He took his responsibilities seriously and expected everyone else to take theirs seriously too. When they didn’t he made his displeasure known in no uncertain terms.
He was a leader always searching for action, training his men, explaining how he wanted things done, looking for initiative. He praised good work and success and did his utmost to ensure his people were properly rewarded for their efforts. At sea his strategy and tactics were exemplary and revolutionary, he understood his ships and his fleets and what they were capable of, what his French and Spanish enemies were and were not capable of. On land, his eyes were bigger than his stomach. On land he seriously overestimated what his forces could do and seriously underestimated what the defenders could do. His enemies were indeed always the defenders.
He seems to have been easily led, especially by the Duke of Clarence, and liked the ladies. Adelaide Correglia, the mistress he kept until the British fleet was expelled from the Mediterranean, didn’t seem to reserve herself exclusively for him but did spend quite some time on his ship. Possibly she even spied for him.
He led from the front. He was personable. He was financially insecure. He provided financial support, moral support and patronage to his family, friends and members of his past crews. He did what he thought was right, regardless of the personal consequences. He was a blatant self-publicist. He was a severe Captain and not shy of flogging malefactors. He was a soft touch. He was very much the ideal man of his times. He was a mass of contradictions. People from the commonest sailor to the highest diplomats and officers loved him. All except King George.
This has to be the best biography yet of Admiral Lord Nelson and no matter what books you already have about him, you need this one.
Watch the trailer for You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney
The King’s Spy, by Andrew Swanston
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