Lord Nelson is a figure in British history that supersedes the normal boundaries of historical memory. His scarred body, lager-than-life persona, and bloody death at the height of victory have served to make him into something of a mythic figure. Just like King Arthur, he has become the invisible rescuer of bygone days who will come again in the spirit to save Britain in her darkest hour. During the two world wars, this sense of presence was fully realized. Nelson drove back the enemy by sea; the world wars saw the enemy come by air. Connection? Yes. Both the sea and the air have an aura of otherworldliness about them, and yet they both cast the stark realities of invasion on the island nation.
Nelson was neither saint nor supernatural being. But he was extraordinary, in every sense of the word. His paradoxical character only heightens this fact. He loved with passion and hated with ferocity. He was the epitome of egotism, and yet he was not haughty or unreachable. He was very religious, and yet his actions were often in contrast with his deeply held beliefs. He ran off with another man’s wife and left his own. He could be callous and mean-spirited. His vainglorious pride sometimes jeopardized the success of his mission and the lives of others. But he also had a personal touch, a genuine belief in and love for his cause and the men who fought under him.
Nelson’s courage was of a raw nature, nurtured by and independent spirit and a glory-seeking instinct. He saw himself as God’s officer, fighting for the cause he had been entrusted with by the Almighty. As a young man, bedridden with a fever, Nelson claimed to have experienced a vision of a glowing orb which enthused him with a sense of purpose and a love for king and country. Later, during his time in Italy as a seasoned naval professional, a Catholic priest approached him, prophesying that he would be instrumental in saving Rome, not just as a city, but as the capital of the Catholic World. This is highly ironic since Nelson was a hard-core Anglican, the son of a vicar. But that didn’t stop him from writing a letter to the pope, informing him that the British naval victories did indeed affect the liberation of Rome, proving the accuracy of the priest’s declaration.
This type of spiritual magnetism electrified the mood of Nelson’s career. But of course, he wasn’t all focused on the abstract world. His genius was quite concrete. He was an innovator and an instructor, never afraid to break tradition and color outside the lines. He wanted his subordinates to learn from him, and yet he also wanted them to experiment for themselves. His aggressive, sometimes impulsive, tactics reveal an appealing rebel streak beneath the conservative veneer, so much like the spirit of Britain in the fullness of her heritage. Also, as the incarnation of the British spirit, he was flawed yet always fighting, never willing to say die or give in to personal apprehensions. Survival with honor was what he gained for his country.
Lord Nelson sacrificed his life so that Britain might grow strong and Western Europe might regain its freedom by breaking the back of Napoleon’s Navy in successive victories, culminating in Trafalgar. For better or for worse, his legacy should be appreciated and remembered, especially in his native land. The lack of interest in him nowadays reveals a dismal reality that modern assessments of the past are clogged with political correctness and shame for being so jingoistic. The history of a country is the ingredients of identity, and rejecting any part of it is to invite cultural degeneration. The bad should be lamented and the good should be celebrated, but all should be taken into consideration, equipping future generations to imitate the good and avoid the bad. That’s what patriotism, and humanity, is all about. God preserve it.

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