NELSON by David Walder
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This Nelson biography will be the standard modern study of the man, if not of the soldier; it is perceptive, objective, polished with a stout degree of irony, and thorough without academicism. Whereas in Nelson: The Essential Hero (1977), Ernle Bradford focused on Nelson's heroism and the particulars of naval warfare and troop management, Walder pursues Nelson's pre-Victorian individualism, along with the politics of his career and Britain's overall strategic situation vis-a-vis the French and the unimpressive but troublesome Spanish. Nelson was not simply a poor clergyman's son (his mother's well-placed family aided his preferment for years) nor a frozen-out husband (before his spectacular liaison with Emma Hamilton, he seemed devoted to his wife Fanny). Drawing on a wide span of contemporary accounts, Walder--a novelist as well as a historian, journalist, and Conservative politician--finds Lady Hamilton a magnetic but unromantic courtesan (""'All Nature, and yet all Art'"") with an enervating, rather degrading influence on Nelson. But he never abandoned the quest for ""public honours"" which impelled his announcement before the 1798 Battle of the Nile: ""Before this time tomorrow, I shall have gained a Peerage or Westminster Abbey."" The battered little man, Walder suggests, was ""an incredibly mixed human being,"" but no intricate depths emerge; by comparison, the Duke of Wellington, ten years Nelson's junior, was diabolically complex. This biography will be a counterpart to the Longford Wellington: what it shows beyond Nelson's energy and ambition, and the embroilments of Crown military fortunes, is the Admiral's ""incredible, invincible innocence.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1978
Publisher: Dial