Today is Trafalgar Day. Unlike many this heart still beats red white and blue and I will raise my glass. Since my dear father in law died on this day my toast is to the Immortal and Recent Memory. Of the thirty odd friends I asked only six could find the time to support the breakfast I am hosting in Smithfield this morning.. No doubt many complain about the dilution of our culture. So be it.
Anyway a full English breakfast washed down by the nutmeg ale of England in the heart of England’s roast beef market is a fitting way of celebrating the man who Byron called England’s God of war. It is impossible not to have a soft spot for the gallant little fellow who believed so passionately in “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. Sadly few feel for him now, but in his time he was as popular and worshipped, with so much more cause ,that any film or sports star today.
The English knew that at St Vincent, the Nile and Copenhagen it was Nelson’s genius that stood between them and Napoleon’s Grande Armee. France’s top admiral Villeneuve was so petrified of going toe to toe with Nelson that he baulked at implementing Boney’s invasion plan. And the public knew it. They loved him. He was their darling Hero.
When on the 14th of September 1805 Nelson left Portsmouth for his date with destiny the public swarmed all over the beach to get one last look or even better touch of their Hero. Many knelt as if he were some saint in the hope of a blessing. They knew he might never come back.
As Robert Southey the poet laureate wrote,”England has had had many heroes, but never one who so entirely possessed the love of his countrymen as Nelson. All men knew that his heart was as humane as it was fearless; that there was not in his nature the slightest alloy of selfishness of cupidity; but that with perfect and entire devotion, he served his country with all his heart, and with his soul, and with all his strength; and therefore they loved him as truly and as fervently as he loved England.”
As he was rowed toward,his ship, the Victory that September morning the crowd gave him three cheers. He turned to Captain Hardy and said,”We have had their huzzahs before but now we have their hearts.” He raised his hat to acknowledge the cheers and the cheers echoed back with increased fervour. Within five weeks he was dead. Britannia ruled the waves for a hundred years.
On hearing the news of the victory George III said,”We have paid too much.”