Nelson died for his country,leading his fleet to total victory, establishing his nation as the top dog for 100 years. No wonder he is the Immortal Memory.
The fact that so few of my friends felt fit to celebrate says as much about our time as them. But six did turn up, for the men only affair, for a four hour alcoholic,very full English breakfast,in macho, meat market Smithfield. We were well served, and we tipped accordingly,by two ladies with the most admirable decolletage. Tania from the Ukraine, Joanna from Poland. How they could wink. How we could admire.
I had insisted that the tables be clothed in Union Jacks. Mother of the Free, father of navies,Pax Britannica,the foundation of the modern world. We thank you for our meat and gravy,But mostly for Nelson’s navy.
Sunday was Trafalgar Day. We celebrated early. Don ex CBC told how the French Catholics of Montreal paid for their Nelson’s monument because of their distaste for the anti Royalist sentiments of Boney. John the ex HSBC banker told of how the Bronte sisters were named after Our Hero, Eric the Professor read Louis MacNeice’s’ excellent poem, I gave a run down of the battle and how dulce et decorum est,pro patria mori. The bricklayer, economist and editor cheered to the rafters. Joanna and Tania kept serving drinks. Hurrah.
Hearts of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men,Steady boys, Steady. Sung on Friday in damp Smithfield and sung by Nelson’s fleet as it cruised 207 years ago, led by and towards Victory.
One question that arose was why Nelson and not Wellington who ten years later finally did for the Bonaparte beast,has become the most loved hero. Byron called Nelson “England’s God of War” No hero is more revered than he that dies on the battlefield. This has been established since Classical times and all men understand as did Macaulay’s’ Horatius on the Bridge that
How can man die better Than facing fearful odds For the ashes of his fathers And the temples of his Gods
Wellington also went onto be a stern and uncompromising Prime Minster who in the repressive era after the Napoleonic Wars,when revolution was feared, made few friends in making sure the ruling class survived. There is also little doubt that as the Empire expanded and common themes were needed, the heroism,sacrifice and symbol of Nelson were used and exaggerated. Many of the scenes- boyhood scrapes,band of brothers,early death, selflessness-deliberately echo the stories from the New Testament. Cities were named after him,monuments erected to emphasize a common theme throughout the British Empire. There are 36 streets named after Nelson in London alone.
One of Hitler’s ambitions if and when his Panzers had rolled down the Mall was to take Nelson’s column, the symbol of British history,grandeur and one time dominance back to Berlin. He forgot that Britons never shall be slaves.
But for me the romance of Nelson , his glory added to his outrageous relationship with Emma, hers with Sir William ,his with the British Museum etc. make the Immortal Memory burn ever more brightly. The fact that Vivien’s father who served his country with distinction died on Trafalgar Day makes October 21 all the more special in my family. Where we toast not only the Immortal but the Recent Memory.