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I've heard Nelson being described as "incredibly vain" in the past. When his flaws are being discussed, usually vanity is one of the first things that is mentioned. This is probably because if he didn't get the praise he felt he deserved, he was known to get into a bit of a strop! Even he himself confessed to  having a considerable ego. he would always wear his medals and orders with pride, and he was a brilliant self-publicist, doing whatever he could to enhance his reputation.
 But, despite this, he was often able to acknowledge his own weaknesses. And, far from believing himself the greatest person to have ever lived, he often sought advice from fellow officers, some of which of lesser rank than himself, and readily admitted their superiority.  Also, while praise was obviously something he seemed to crave, he certainly wasn't stingy when it came to giving someone else recognition if he felt they deserved it- in fact he was always very quick to praise his comrades. He clearly thought it important for all officers to be given their due- and, of course, he himself was no exception to that rule.
 He was desperate for attention and he did what ever he could to stand out from the crowd. In his own words, "if it be a sin to covet glory, I am the most offending soul alive". 
 His seeking constant praise was, I think, much less a product of vanity, and instead evidence of insecurity. His relationships with women seem to support this, as he was hungry for their love, but also for their approval of his naval exploits- which played a huge part in his love for Emma Hamilton, who was an abundant source of both affection and adulation. 
 It is often suggested that this stems from being the middle-child of a large family, especially after his mother died. If any of the stories of Nelson's dauntlessness as a child are somewhere near true, they were probably caused by the young boy's need for applause from his peers. 
 Perhaps, rather than being daring out of pure courageousness and a longing to help, he became a risk-taker because of his own desire to impress those around him. Makes you wonder what would have happened if Nelson had been given all the praise and attention he'd been deprived of as a child, and he never became the risk-taking, glory seeking hero we celebrate today? How would history have gone then?

 


Comments

10/09/2012 9:43am

I have often thought the same. I don't think he actually thought himself particularly special, as in his 'Sketch of my Life', while some of it comes across as him singing his own praises, he then says at the end that basically anyone could have done what he had, if they put their mind to it. And, I think sometimes the descriptions of his illnesses sound like anxiety - heart palpitations, chest pains, cold sweats etc (there was nothing physically wrong with his heart), and anxiety and insecurity are often linked. In his letters there is also self-doubt at times, I think sometimes it sounds as if he doubts himself, but then decides "No, I must be right."

He also, I believe, fought for a long time for the seamen present at the battle of Copenhagen to get medals for it, and refused to wear his own in protest. Doesn't sound like the action of a purely vain man to me.

But anyway, why shouldn't someone want to get recognition for their efforts? I think he often felt unappreciated by those in high places, which is why he defiantly wore his foreign honours given him by those who were truly grateful for his efforts.

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    Hi there! I am second in command here at HMSH!
     My name is Rae-Rae and and I live in Worcestershire in the UK.
     I am a teen Nelson enthusiast and my passion has lasted since I was only nine- over seven years!
     I aim (rather ambitiously!) to rekindle the love of Nelson and his Navy for the younger generations and make him a well-known hero again. I want his memory never to fade!
     Please do check my YouTube channel for any Nelson-related videos, as I do post on there from time to time!

    http://www.youtube.com/raeraeandbunty/

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