Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Story so Far

Books I've Read
This Sceptred Isle - Christopher Lee.  Where it all began.  Only a few paragraphs over about five pages, but enough to hook me probably for life.

The Pursuit of Victory - Roger Knight.  The first biography I read.  Quite hard going, actually, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Nelson, his times, his navy, and the people he encountered.  I think I'd recommend it as a second one to read; however, if you only intend to read one, then this should be it, though you might need a second read.  It's a little irritating in assuming that the reader knows some of the Nelson 'myths', and then either confirming or disproving them.  For example, of the story that, during the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson disobeyed his commander-in-chief's order to withdraw by raising a telescope to his (blind) right eye and saying "I really do not see the signal" (giving rise to the expression 'to turn a blind eye'), Knight simply says "It's a myth" with no explanation as to why.  So if you have never read anything about Nelson before, you are sometimes told the truth of an untruth that you didn't even know.  The descriptions of the battles and especially the accompanying diagrams are good, though, but Trafalgar ends quite abruptly.  It's almost 'Victory fought with Redoutable, Nelson got shot, took a while to die, Britain won.'  The short biographies of other 'characters', and lists of ships, are good, and overall I think it gives a balanced view of Nelson as a man as well as a commander, and doesn't become distracted by the rights and wrongs of his private life.

Nelson: Britannia's God of War - Andrew Lambert.  From the title I'd expected it to be a sort of hero-worship, but it's not.  Lambert gives a rounded view of Nelson's character and good narratives of the battles, though is annoyingly entirely unsympathetic towards Emma Hamilton.  He's not too interested in pulling apart certain legends, though does concede that some may be exaggerated or not entirely accurate.  There is a detailed dissection of the Naples controversy which blighted Nelson's career, and asks whether the heavy criticism heaped on him for it was deserved.  Has a good, detailed list of sources.  I would recommend this as a first read.

Trafalgar - Roy Adkins.  A thoroughly entertaining and detailed narrative of the Battle of Trafalgar, which reads almost like a novel.  It not only tells of the battle itself, but also graphic descriptions of the living conditions on board the ships.  It's full of quotes not only from officers, but from ordinary seamen.  He also tells the French and Spanish stories, and has a long section dedicated to the storm after the battle, which caused more damage to the fleet than the battle but which is often overlooked.

Horatio Nelson: A Controversial Hero - Marianne Czisnik.  Essentially a dissection of biographies and perceptions of Nelson and his actions, and how those perceptions have changed over time.  Boring.  I don't recommend it.

Nelson and his Captains - Ludovic Kennedy.  A great book, reads almost like a novel.  It tells the stories of the captains under Nelson, particularly during their time around the Battle of the Nile as Nelson's 'Band of Brothers'.  Nelson himself is in fact a little sidelined, so for a specific Nelson enthusiast it's good as a third read after a couple of biographies.

Nelson: A Personal History - Christopher Hibbert.  A biography with a particular interest in Nelson's character.  It contains lots of quotes and anecdoes, many that aren't often quoted.  Also contains quite a lot of detail on Nelson's personal life which is often skimmed over in books by naval historians.  This is probably my second favourite book, after Lambert's.

The Nelson Encyclopedia - Colin White.  It is what it says!  Written by one of the most acclaimed Nelson experts, there is a brief biography at the beginning but it is first and foremost an encyclopedia of the people Nelson knew, the ships he served in, the battles he fought, the women he loved, and more.  You wouldn't want to read it on its own, but as a supplement to other books.

The Nelson Portraits - Richard Walker.  Contains images of all the portraits of Nelson, analyses of them, and puts them in context of when they were painted, who by, and for whom.  Would also be good for someone with an interest in portraits in general as no two portraits look alike and you still don't get a complete idea of what Nelson actually looked like.  In fact, one artist actually refused to paint him because he didn't think it was possible to do justice to the charisma that Nelson exuded by his many expressions and his manner.   


The British Library
Add MS 34,902 - Draft holograph letters.  Originals written and signed by Nelson himself.
Add MS 34,966 - Nelson's Private Diary (24th July to 22nd October 1803) as he sits outside Toulon blockading the French fleet.  It's quite surreal to hold the journal that Nelson kept with him all the time, to see where his writing got messier and smudged as he wrote "all night strong gales" and the ship presumably lurched, and seeing the occasional fingerprint.


Things I Own

Scale Model of HMS Victory - A sexy beast.  Expensive, but worth every penny.
Victory Wood & Copper - Taken from HMS Victory while she was being refitted and displayed on a nice sepia picture of Victory at Portsmouth before she was taken in to drydock.
A Replica Trafalgar Medal - Made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle and displayed with another little piece of Victory wood.
DVD - In Nelson's Footsteps - Narrated by Colin White.  A nice little documentary visiting the places in Britain associated with Nelson.  Though, considering Nelson spent almost all of his 47 years at sea and on foreign shores, it feels a little redundant.  I guess the budget didn't stretch to plane or boat tickets.
Random Stuff - A quill pen (quite apt considering the amount of time Nelson spent writing - 8 hours a day solidly sometimes); a little notebook with a picture of Victory on the cover; a print of a letter and portrait together; a small bust of Nelson; an 1897 leather-bound copy of Robert Southey's 'The Life of...' (in great condition and smells nice!); coasters with Nelson portraits on them (yep, I really am that sad); a mouse mat with a picture of Victory at Trafalgar; digital scanned copies of fifty letters held at the National Maritime Museum; digital scanned copies of Nelson's will from the National Archives.

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