The Wellington Connection: Lord Nelson

Horatio, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington met but once in their lives and, thanks to diarist John Wilson Croker (The Croker Papers), we have an account of that meeting, in Wellington’s own words. The following account was told to Croker whilst he was visiting the Duke at Walmer Castle on October 1, 1834. The Duke’s telling of the story was prompted by a question put to him by Croker concerning Nelson’s reputation for egotism and vanity –

“Why,” said the Duke, “I am not surprised at such instances, for Lord Nelson was, in different circumstances, two quite different men, as I myself can vouch, though I only saw him once in my life, and for, perhaps, an hour.

“It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into a little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secretary of State, a gentleman whom, from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognized as Lord Nelson.

“He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself, and in really a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affiars on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact, he talked like an officer and a stateman.

“The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly for the last half or three quarters of an hour I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.”

8 thoughts on “The Wellington Connection: Lord Nelson”

  1. I've read that story several times, since it shows up in all the Wellington biographies…and I don't think I would've liked Nelson very much. I've met that type several times, the ones who are all condescending and bragging until they find out you've actually done something impressive by their standards and then suddenly they're a whole different person. It's never not annoying.

  2. Superior not only in who he was as a man, but also in his ability to forgive the first version of Nelson and appreciate the second version. A lesser man might never have said anything kind about the vain man he first met. Wellington was and will remain a true officer and a gentleman.

  3. im not sure, nelson was loved by his men for his style….nelson his biographpy love and fame….may not have been a superior…person……BUT he was the bravest man I have ever read about in any biography…he was on deck in every battle lead from the front jammed his ship "the captain" into the enemy line when he wore out of line….rowed in a rowboat after the Russian invasion….lead his guys on the raid that lost his arm….as an admiral..siglehandely won the battle of Copenhagen agaisst the retreat orders of his superior….won the nile….in smashing fashion…and lead from the fron in the lead ship unecesarily so….the victory took every cannonball….before it crashed the line….no I don't know who is superior,,but no one can ever say nelson was inferior to ANYONE..his nile victory is what made wellington and formed the coalition.

  4. Wellington vs Nelson. 2 very different but highly successful men. I lean towards Wellington for his apparent order, pragmatism, intelligence and absolute lack of vanity. Nelson, though somewhat more popular to his contemporaries due to an early heroic death, was all that Wellington was not-vain, almost foolhardy, Keen for battle at the earliest presentable opportunity… But both mens lives are deeply instructive in that they teach the lesson that a man does not have to ape another inorder to attain similar success. All he needs is to be the best he can be by being his best self. I like that.

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