|Things I Know About The Duke Of Wellington
||[Apr. 19th, 2006|09:47 am]
The best people all hated Wellington. Byron mocked him, in a French accent, as "Villainton". Goya painted him a a pop-eyed hysteric.|
If I'd been around at the time I'd have hated him too. A professional military man and (inefficient) Tory Prime Minister- what's not to dislike?
I own a portrait of Wellington. It's a 19th century print my mother picked up at a house sale for 'arf a crown in the late 50s. I've been carrying it around with me and hanging it on walls ever since.
The English prefer their heroes to die at the moment of victory, like Wolfe or Nelson. Wellington, disobligingly, lived on and on.
Tennyson's Ode on the Funeral of the Duke of Wellington is a monument to technical virtuosity and incredibly boring.
"Let us bury the great Duke with a sound of lamentation.
Let us bury the great Duke with the sound of the mourning of a mighty nation."
I'm dropping off already- and it goes on like that for pages and pages. I've never yet managed to read to the end.
It's a Times leader wrenched into verse.
In Sergei Bondarchuk's Waterloo, while Rod Steiger's Napoleon is wrestling with his bowels and sweating horribly and failing to eat a hearty breakast, Christopher Plummer's Wellington is taking a nap under a tree with the Times spread over his face.
That's the essence of Wellington: he was incredibly cool- in every sense of the word.
He didn't care about personal popularity either. The self belief was awesome.
When a celebrity girlfriend threatened to name him in her kiss and tell memoirs unless he stumped up a large sum of money his response (which has passed into the language) was "publish and be damned."
He was very quotable. And quotable not merely because he was witty. He had absolutely no time for cant.
"People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling- all stuff - no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children- some for minor offences- many more for drink."
And here's my favourite:
"Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won."