"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sgt. Nelson over all

....That's an old story, like the death of Nelson. We—it is typical of us—hide our admiration in our hearts, and giggle at "Kiss me, Hardy," and "England expects …"

But Nelson knew exactly what to say on his last memorable naval occasion. Emotional as a ballerina, but calm as the Angel of Death in crisis; sick as a dog at the heave of a ship, yet dragged out onto the ocean by the ancient sea-wolf that tugged inside him; Norfolk Puritan salted with old Scandinavian—there was plenty of the pale firewater in his mixture; and something sweet, too, for he could be gentle as a woman. He was a very gentle Englishman; a very English gentleman.

But you can imagine the French admiral making a song and dance about glory, honour, death, the France, liberty, the Emperor, Marengo, Austerlitz, the illustrious memory of Monsieur Chose, and so to the peroration. Nelson merely said, in effect: "Being Englishmen, fight to the death."

That was the duty England expected of them. And there is no doubt at all that in every ship in the English fleet, sailors, treated much worse than dogs and scarred as much by punitive flogging as by battle, growled that England expected a hell of a lot…. England expected a bloody sight too much … and England could go and do something impossible to itself … and they were browned off, and to hell with England. Whereupon they fought furiously and won the day.

The Englishman, that inveterate gambler, has loved the feel of long odds against him, since the dawn of his history. You can't breed out what is in the old blood. And here, there is plenty left of the blood that got splashed about when Caractacus threw his handful against Rome—the Caractacus who said to Cæsar, as we might say to Hitler: "You fight to make men your slaves: we fight to stay free men." There is plenty of the spir(it that came out best in affairs like Agincourt, where 9,000 knights and bowmen engaged an army of 27,000, and killed a man apiece and sent the rest flying. History is veined like an inflamed eyeball with our Thin Red Lines!

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