I just finished reading Nelson, by David Walder. It’s a biography of Horatio Nelson, Lord Nelson, perhaps the most famous admiral in history.
It’s a great biography – the best are ones that develop a real sense or feeling for the object of the story. Not sympathy, and not something that obscures or obfuscates, just something that makes you feel like you’ve really gotten close to the person you’re reading about. Makes you feel like you know the person.
I recommend it highly, and not just for those who are interested in history, or warfare.
It’s amazing how many famous men and women are just like you and me. Average people like us have sides. Sometimes we’re happy. Sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we’re irritable; sometimes we’re patient.
And flawed. Nelson, otherwise by all appearances a dedicated Christian, was unfaithful to his wife. He made several major errors in tactics and strategy. And yet, when it counted, Nelson delivered.
All his life Nelson saw himeself as destined and capable of greatness. Perhaps we all do. But in his case, he fulfilled that vision, winning 4 major battles for England that turned the tides of war against Napolean, who was master of most of Europe for much of Nelson’s career. Dying at his last, and greatest victory, Trafalgar, Nelson became the hero he believed himself to be.
And perhaps it was a relief for him, in a sense, to have achieved what he did. His dying words, repeated over and over again, are: “Thank God, I have done my duty.”
If only we could do the same!