Two faces of Horatio Nelson and the excellence of Findlay Dunachie

This recollection about Nelson is fascinating:

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, 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. The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly, for the last half or three quarters of an hour I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now if the Secretary of State had been punctual & 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.

That is Lord Castlereagh remembering the great man. [Correction: It was the future Duke of Wellington. Thanks Natalie – see comment.]

Was there ever a more prefect example of image projection, the nature of which is illuminated dazzlingly, by at first being done wrongly? Whoops! Wrong performance for this bloke! So, leave the stage. Then, re-enter, performing quite differently.

We are not talking “image” and “reality” here. Just two different images and two different realities.

I do not criticise Nelson for his obvious emphasis on image-mongering. On the contrary, it is all part of what an excellent commander he was. I feel exactly the same about another hero of mine, Montgomery, who was similarly devoted to cultivating his own fame.

For me the crucial thing is that the men being lead in battle preferred it this way. Better a self-promoter than a cypher whom you never see. Central to great leadership is understanding and controlling the effect you have on other people.

Findlay Dunachie supplies the above quote in a Samizdata review of books about Nelson, Collingwood, Trafalgar, etc., which is outstanding, as several commenters have pointed out.

Over the last few months and years, the usually quite long review articles by Findlay Dunachie have been, I would say, just about the classiest things at Samzidata. He is not listed there as a “principle contributor”. He is merely a “contributor”. But as far as quality is concerned he has been and is a principle, no doubt about it.

For technical reasons it is not now possible to link to individual author archives on Samizdata, but if you look at everything in the category of book reviews, you will find most of Findlay’s stuff, and not a lot else.

I also particularly recommend this 1996 Libertarian Alliance Historical Note, entitled The Success of the Industrial Revolution and the Failure of Political Revolutions: How Britain Got Lucky.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The risk of not taking any risks

This is depressing. I found it in a set of rules for blogging.

Whenever you post anything to the Internet — whether on a weblog, in a discussion group, or even in an email — think about how it will look to a hiring manager in ten years. Once stuff’s out, it’s archived, cached, and indexed in many services that you might never be aware of.

Years from now, someone might consider hiring you for a plum job and take the precaution of ‘nooping you first. (Just taking a stab at what’s next after Google. Rest assured: there will be some super-snooper service that’ll dredge up anything about you that’s ever been bitified.) What will they find in terms of na├»vely puerile “analysis” or offendingly nasty flames published under your name?

Maybe. Maybe.

But here’s another thought. Your future employer will be looking to see if you have a bit of go about you, a bit of spirit, or that at least you once did, once upon a time. Have you any youthful indiscretions to talk about, and if not why not? He wants, above all, to avoid hiring one of those completely risk-averse, bloodless semi-humans who organised his entire adolescence around not looking bad twenty years later. He wants someone who has tried stuff, done stuff, and made mistakes. He does not want William bloody Hague, who only became human after he had made a total cods of being Leader of the Conservative Party.

David Cameron looks just like another of these bloodless, calculating, boy-machines. If he becomes the next Leader of the Conservatives, it will be because he has now, suddenly, acquired a bit of a past, with human blood flowing through it, possibly, allegedly, maybe, no concrete evidence.

If you never do anything or even say anything that you regret, then the chances are that you will have something far bigger to regret later, which is never having done anything at all.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog