'For this is England's greatest son,
He that gained a hundred fights,
Nor ever lost an English gun
Dedicated to C. Alfred Hamilton, Esq.,
My Life-Long Friend.
Vera amicitia sempiterna est.
In this, the last of a trio of volumes dealing with
three great contemporary men of action, I have
attempted to tell the story, in its main lines, of
the crowded life of Wellington. The narrative provides
as substantial a view of Wellington as is possible within
the limits of my space, but I hope that readers of my
book will be so interested that they will go on to the
perusal of its companions, for the careers of Napoleon,
Nelson, and Wellington should be studied together.
They are the three sides of a triangle of which Napoleon
is the base.
The Duke's career, when compared to the others,
is "a plain, unvarnished tale," not altogether devoid
of romance, certainly not of adventure, but lacking in
many of the qualities which have endeared less notable
men. It would be obviously untrue to state that
Wellington lacked humanity, but he was certainly
deficient in that attractive personal magnetism so
evident in Nelson. Speaking broadly, he did not
repose that confidence in his subordinates which was
one of the great sea-captain's most marked characteristics, and he often said hard things of the men
under him. Nelson is " the darling Hero of England ";
Wellington will always be known as the Iron Duke.
If it ever became the fashion to canonize military and
naval men, Nelson's nimbus would be of rosemary,
Wellington's of steel. The mob never broke the
windows of Merton Place, but it shattered every exposed pane in Apsley House. The incident arose from
his conscientious opposition to reform, and occurred in
1881, sixteen years after the battle of Waterloo.
A little over a decade later, an immense mob cheered
him as he proceeded up Constitution Hill. His acknowledgment was to point to the iron shutters of his house
when he reached Hyde Park Corner. They had been
put up after the bombardment by brickbats, and were
never taken down during his lifetime.
In a way, Wellington is the typical John Bull of our
fancy. He gloried in an open-air life, he enjoyed sport,
he was a man wedded to duty, stern and uncompromising
once his mind was made up. We love to imagine that
the average Briton displays the same characteristics,
although we know at heart that he d&œelig;es not do so, and
that the secret of our material success as a nation is
our extraordinary power of absorption, of "setting
our sail to every passing breeze," of compromising
provided we get the best of the bargain.
This is how the Duke appeared to a foreigner, the
Duchesse de Dino, Talleyrand's niece: "He has a very
exact memory, and never quotes incorrectly. He
forgets nothing, and exaggerates nothing, and if his
conversation is a little dry and military, it attracts by
its fairness and perfect propriety. His tone is excellent,
and no woman has ever to be on her guard against
the turn that the conversation may take." In later
years Wellington's memory failed somewhat. He was
invariably precise, always a soldier, and never given
to what is generally known as small talk. In a word,
A more intimate and less familiar view of Wellington
is afforded us in the diary of Benjamin Robert Haydon,
who painted the Duke's portrait at Walmer Castle in
the autumn of 1839. During breakfast, he tells us,
"six dear, healthy, noisy children were brought to the
windows. 'Let them in,' said the Duke, and in they
came, and rushed over to him, saying, 'How d'ye do,
Duke ? How d'ye do, Duke ?' One boy, young Grey,
roared, 'I want some tea, Duke !' 'You shall have
it if you promise not to slop it over me, as you did
yesterday.' Toast and tea were then in demand.
Three got on one side, and three on the other, and he
hugged 'em all. Tea was poured out, and I saw little
Grey try to slop it over the Duke's frock coat. Sir
Astley [Cooper] said, 'You did not expect to see this.'
"They all then rushed out on the leads, by the cannon,
and after breakfast I saw the Duke romping with the
whole of them, and one of them gave his Grace a
tremendous thump. I went round to my bedroom.
The children came to the window, and a dear little
black-eyed girl began romping. I put my head out
and said, 'I'll catch you.' Just as I did this the Duke,
who did not see me, put his head out at the door close
to my room, No. 10, which leads to the leads, and said,
'I'll catch ye ! Ha, ha, I've got ye !' at which they
all ran away. He looked at them and laughed and
That is a very human picture of the grim warrior
when the sword had been put aside for ever and the
smoke of battle was cleared. "I hit his grand, upright,
manly expression," Haydon adds. "He looked like
an eagle of the gods who had put on human shape, and
had got silvery with age and service ... His colour
was fresh. All the portraits are too pale ... 'Twas
a noble head. I saw nothing of that peculiar expression
of mouth the sculptors give him, bordering on simpering. His colour was beautiful and fleshy, his lips
compressed and energetic.
From this passive scene in the evening of his days
let us turn to the more stirring days of the storming of
Badajoz for our final portrait of the Duke, for it is in
the field that we like to remember him. The glimpse is
afforded us by Robert Blakeney, one of the boy her&œelig;es
of the Peninsular War. "I galloped off,
" he writes,
"to where Lord Wellington had taken his station:
this was easily discerned by means of two fireballs
shot out from the fortress at the commencement of the
attack, which continued to burn brilliantly along the
water-cut which divided the 3rd from the other divisions.
Near the end of this channel, behind a rising mound,
were Lord Wellington and his personal staff, screened
from the enemy's direct fire, but within range of shells.
One of his staff sat down by his side with a candle to
enable the general to read and write all his communications and orders relative to the passing events. I stood
not far from his lordship. But due respect prevented
any of us bystanders from approaching so near as to
enable us to ascertain the import of the reports which
he was continually receiving; yet it was very evident
that the information which they conveyed was far
from flattering; and the recall on the bugles was again
and again repeated. But about half-past eleven o'clock
an officer rode up at full speed on a horse covered with
foam, and announced the joyful tidings that General
Picton had made a lodgment within the castle by
escalade, and had withdrawn the troops from the
trenches to enable him to maintain his dearly purchased
hold. Lord Wellington was evidently delighted, but
exclaimed, 'What ! abandon the trenches ?' and
ordered two regiments of the 5th Division instantly
to replace those withdrawn. I waited to hear no more,
but, admiring the prompt genius which immediately
provided for every contingency, I mounted my horse.
I shall not attempt to enumerate the lengthy list of
authorities I have consulted in writing this volume,
but special mention must be made of Professor Oman's
monumental " History of the Peninsular War," which
corrects Napier in many important points. Four
volumes have now been published, and I am under
obligation to the eminent scholar whose name appears
on the title-pages for his kindness in allowing me to
use without reserve the labour of many years. The
"Cambridge Modern History
" (vol. ix.), Rose's
," Croker's "Correspondence and Diaries
Siborne's "Waterloo Letters
," the "Lives
Wellington by Sir Herbert Maxwell, W. H. Maxwell,
Gleig, Hooper, Yonge, and many others have been laid
under contribution, as well as contemporary works
by soldiers who fought with the Iron Duke. As I have
endeavoured to let Wellington speak for himself whenever possible, Gurwood's " Dispatches " have been
frequently consulted, and for sidelights I have had
access to a large number of volumes of correspondence,
autobiography, and biography in which he plays a
part, however insignificant.
Finally, I must express the hope that my readers,
as they progress over the field which I have endeavoured
to open up to them, will share the love of the strong,
silent Man of Duty which has grown upon me as I have
become more intimate with the story of his life.
The path of duty was the way to glory.
His work is done.
But while the. races of mankind endure,
Let his great example stand
Colossal, seen of every land.
Harold F. B. Wheeler,
Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.