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.