Commentary Explorer Results

Commentary for Volume 2, Chapter 25: The Many Faces of Fame

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Wellington’s Peninsular Victories celebrated in popular entertainments:

Songs and popular entertainments kept the memory of each victory alive for a little longer. As early as the first excitement of 1808 a patriotic song ‘England’s Pre-eminence in Arms’ was published, ‘addressed to Sir Arthur Wellesley’. It was the first of many. Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre in London (which was more a circus than a conventional theatre) put on a succession of performances to mark the progress of his campaigns, beginning with Lisbon or Rose de Guerre on the Banks of the Tagus in January1811 which was complete with songs by Mr Jones and Mr Decastro, whose style can be guessed by the refrain,

With bayonets in close divisions, we’ll charge the Gallic ranks,

And drive the invading foe, by boys, from the Tagus banks.

                                                   (The Times 11 January 1811)

In May 1812 Astley’s was putting on The Siege and Taking of Badajoz in sixteen scenes, and in September The Battle of Salamanca: the Town Mayor and the Spanish Heroine. Henry Aston Barker displayed a panorama of the siege of Badajoz at Leicester Square in May 1813, and a few months later the Philharmonicon in Spring Gardens performed ‘The Victory at Vittoria’, a new march in which all two hundred instruments would play, and including a trumpet solo. (‘England’s Pre-eminence in Arms’ by Mr Courtney was published in The Gentleman’s Magazine for September 1808 p 823. The Times 5 May and 9 September 1812; 10 May and 23 July 1813: classified advertisements.).

Songs about Wellington’s Victories in the Peninsula printed during the war:

The extensive collection of broadside ballads put online by the Bodleian Library in Oxford ( includes only a few examples celebrating Wellington’s successes dating from 1814 or before. Three are particularly relevant: ‘Lord Wellington’s Victory over the French at Vittoria. A New Song’ whose first line is ‘Come all you gallant heroes, come listen to my song’. ‘The Invasion of France by Lord Wellington’ first line: ‘You heroes of old England I pray now attend’. And ‘Lord Wellington’s success near Bayonne. A New Song’ composed by John Newell, a blind soldier of the 20th.   Undoubtedly there would have been others, and familiar songs of the same type would have been adapted to incorporate references to the latest campaign; but it may be significant that more songs do not survive, and that those which do all refer to the closing campaigns of the war, which reinforces the suggestion from other sources that public enthusiasm for the war in the Peninsula only ignited again in 1812.

Many other ballads celebrating Wellington’s victories were published much later, often about the time of the Duke’s death in 1852: some of these would have been old songs, dating from the war, but others were undoubtedly new, incorporating imagery that only became popular in the years after 1815 and displaying a good deal of hindsight. They are therefore of little use in tracing changing attitudes to Wellington during the war.   See Karen Robson ‘The Depiction of the Duke of Wellington in the Broadside Ballad’ Wellington Studies V p 180-209.

Wellington and King Arthur:

In 1814 J. H. Merivale drew a parallel between Wellington and King Arthur in his poem Orlando in Roncesvalles,

Sleeps Arthur in his isle of Avalon?

High-favour’d Erin sends him forth once more

To realize the dreams of days far gone.

And other poets picked up the theme both then and later, contributing significantly to the revival of interest in the Arthurian legends as the century progressed. (Stephanie L. Barczewski Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth Century Britain p 38-39).

The Dublin Monument to Wellington:

The project had its origins in 1813 when a meeting of ‘the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Ireland’ was held in Dublin on 20 July.   Subscribers included a number of prominent Whigs and their allies including George Ponsonby, Henry Grattan, the Marquess of Lansdowne and the Earl of Fingall, as well as many supporters of the government. The meeting was chaired by Lord Roden who is said to have been the prime mover of the meeting. (The Times 31 July 1813).

On 7 October 1814 Croker wrote to the Secretary of the fund urging the advantages of a pillar or column as ‘the cheapest and one of the most certain [ways] of obtaining sublimity. Then thousand pounds will build you the highest column in the world, and will produce an astonishing effect; fifty thousand pounds would not serve to erect an arch’. He also urged that it should be ‘stupendously high’ and suggested 250 or even 300 feet. (Croker Papers vol 1 p 58; see also Yarrington The Commemoration of the Hero p 175-6, and p 178-9 for the choice of design).

The foundation stone was laid in 1817, but the project ran out of funds in 1820 (or possibly 1822) when the obelisk had been built, but without the bronze panels on its sides and the equestrian statue of Wellington that was intended to form part of the design. Lord Wellesley’s presence as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1821-1828, 1833-1834) did not see any further progress; and it was not until 1859 that Lord Carlisle, as Lord Lieutenant, pressed for the monument’s completion. The equestrian statue was abandoned, but four bronze plaques were designed and fixed to the base of the monument, one commemorated Wellington’s campaigns in India (specifically Seringapatam); one his campaigns in Europe (Waterloo); the third civil and religious liberty and the granting of Catholic Emancipation; while the fourth contains the inscription.   It is not clear whether Lord Wellesley’s ‘An Irishman for an Irishman/A brother for a brother’ ever actually formed part of the inscription on the monument.

See P. F. Garnett ‘The Wellington Testimonial’ Dublin Historical Record vol 13 1952 p 48-61 (especially p 58 for the inscription); Paula Murphy Nineteenth-Century Irish Sculpture: Native Genius Reaffirmed p 13-18; and Heather Stedman ‘Monuments to the Duke of Wellington in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: forging British and Imperial Identities’ Irish Geography vol 46 p 133-143.

Early portraits of Wellington, and public recognition of his appearance:

The full length portrait of Wellington painted in Calcutta by Robert Home in 1804 was published as an engraving in 1806 and enough copies reached England to be used as the model for some later engravings frequently just of Wellington’s head. Other engravings were based on the Hoppner portrait of 1806, while portraits painted during the Peninsular War by Pellegrini and Captain Raria were engraved and circulation to the British public. At least ten different prints were in circulation before Wellington’s return in 1814 gave British artists an opportunity to examine his appearance again for themselves. Some of these engravings were sold individually at quite high prices, but others appeared as illustrations in books and magazines. The issue of the British Neptune published in September 1809 contained a free copy of an engraving of the recently ennobled victor of Talavera based on the Hoppner portrait on 1806. The life of Wellington in the Royal Military Chronicle for 1810 also had an engraving based on the Hoppner portrait, but although the features are almost identical, the general impression is subtly different: both images are stiff, but the later engraving has a cold hauteur that is lacking from the complimentary print received by readers of the British Neptune. Prints based on other portraits naturally differ even more widely but none are particularly animated, most are either head-and-shoulders or at most half length, three quarter face, every inch a successful general, but lacking the vitality and swagger of Hoppner’s 1806 portrait, or even the background activity that enlivens Home’s 1804 full length. Wellington appears as worthy but a little dull and perhaps rather arrogant. The caricatures inspired by the capture of Madrid and the victory of Vitoria have a great deal more life and immediacy although they make no pretension to capture Wellington’s actual appearance. (This paragraph based on engravings of Wellington held by the British Museum and appearing in its online catalogue. See also Wellington Iconography p 20-23, 55. According to Peter Jupp approximately fifty different images of Wellington had been produced by the time he returned to England in 1814. Jupp goes on to state that few of these would have been widely seen, but he overlooks the distribution of inexpensive engravings in magazines such as The British Neptune. Peter Jupp ‘Pictorial Images of the First Duke of Wellington’ p 113.).

Engravings of Wellington’s portraits:

According to Peter Jupp there were more than three hundred different portraits, in oils, watercolours and drawings, of Wellington made in his lifetime (although this figure includes variant copies).  And there were no fewer than 180 published engravings of Wellington, more than for George III (160), George IV (150) and more than double the number for Nelson (80), Sir Walter Scott (80) or Pitt (70).   Wellington was only rivalled by Garrick (about the same number); but was far surpassed by Queen Victoria (370).   Wellington also appears in about one fifth of all political caricatures published between 1808 and 1852, and two fifths of those in the years 1827-34: more than any other figure.   ‘Wellington was the most portrayed Briton in his own lifetime’. (Jupp ‘Pictorial Images of the First Duke of Wellington’ p 106, 109, 110).

There was a rapid increase in the number of engravings of Wellington which appeared after he returned to England in 1814: about one hundred images were made – including many formal portraits – in the years from 1814 to 1827.   The most popular engraving may have been the portrait by Beechey, with Isabey’s the next in the number of editions. (Jupp ‘Pictorial Images of the First Duke of Wellington’ p 120-121).

From the later 1820s the market for engravings was dominated by the ‘Rosebery’ Lawrence – the engraving of the portrait painted for the Arbuthnots by Lawrence in 1820 and engraved in 1827. (Jupp ‘Pictorial Images of the First Duke of Wellington’ p 121).

Wellington wrote to Mrs Arbuthnot about this portrait in late 1820:

I have at last the pleasure of informing you that the Picture is finished, and it is as good as any Lawrence has ever painted. It will be dry & varnished at the end of next week, when you may have it home. I write to Arbuthnot to beg him to send the frame to Lawrence’s. (Wellington to Mrs Arbuthnot, 18 November 1820 Wellington and His Friends p 12).

            Mrs Arbuthnot was delighted with the portrait writing in her journal:

Received from London the picture which Lawrence has been painting for us of the Duke of Wellington. I had not seen it before & was quite delighted with it. It is more like him than any other picture I ever saw of him & quite different. All the other pictures of him depict him as a hero; this has all the softness and sweetness of countenance which characterizes him when he is in the private society of his friends. As a painting it appears to me particularly good; the tone of colouring is so rich. The cloak is just as the Duke wears it, and the hand is remarkably like. (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot 13 December 1820 vol 1 p 58-59).

            The change in the style of caricatures in the early 1830s arose partly from changing tastes, partly from new technology (growing use of lithographs) and partly from changing personnel (with Doyle replacing Heath). There was a softening of the satire, they became much more naturalistic and more genteel, less savage; and this probably helped a little in the lessening of political tensions after 1832 and the recovery of Wellington’s image and popularity.   Jupp writes that in the 1830s the caricatures more commonly depicted Wellington in civilian dress than in uniform, ‘the gradual fading of the image of the despot and the rise of that of the sometimes rascally, sometimes bemused, elder statesman; anxious to serve; eager to maintain the status quo but not to the point of provoking an irreversible radical backlash.’ (Jupp ‘Pictorial Images of the First Duke of Wellington’ p 126).

Decline in the status of battle painting:

Wellington’s fame and reputation was not helped by the decline in the status and respect for paintings depicting soldiers in battle: in the mid- and late-eighteenth century such history painting – even of very recent events – was regarded very highly; but by the early nineteenth century its position was slipping rapidly, and it was being edged into the position of a poor cousin, a style of populist genre painting. (For more on this see Harrington British Artists and War p 102-3).

Was Wellington Irish or English?

The question is largely one of terminology arising from the failure of the word ‘Briton’ to ever establish itself comfortably in the vocabulary.   Wellington was indisputably British. He had his roots in Ireland, but severed his connections with Ireland as soon as he could and chose to live in England.   Whether that can be seen as a matter of reproach depends less on anything Wellington did than on the point of view and interest of those raising the question; but it is worth considering whether the same question would ever have been asked if Wellington had been born in Scotland not Ireland?   Was Sir John Moore Scottish and does it really matter?

Elizabeth Longford claimed that ‘Though the Duke rarely declared emotional feelings for any subject or person explicitly, apart from the constitution and monarch, he was deeply and emotionally committed to Ireland. The strength of this feeling was shown by the amount of time he gave throughout his life to research and writing on possible solutions for her problems.’ (Longford Wellington – Pillar of State p 114).   This is unconvincing.   Wellington devoted considerable time and thought to the problems of Ireland because they were one of the most important and long-lasting issues of concern for the British government during his lifetime, and because his experience as Chief Secretary gave him considerable insight into Irish questions.   In a similar way he devoted a good deal of time and effort to British relations with France and the problems of Spain, Portugal and the Low Countries, without regarding himself as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch or Belgian.

Wellington was a man who enjoyed talking about his past, but he was reticent about the days of his youth – indeed all his life up until his arrival in India – and seems to have regarded it without affection. He may have sometimes been nostalgic for life on campaign; he was not nostalgic for Eton, or for Ireland.

Waterloo eclipses Trafalgar:

Byron also commented on this

Nelson was once Britannia’s God of War

And still should be so, but the tide is turned:

There’s no more said of Trafalgar,

’Tis with our hero quietly inured,

Because the army’s grown more popular,

At which our naval people are concerned;

Besides, the Prince is all for the land-service,

Forgetting Duncan, Nelson, Howe and Jervis.

(Byron Don Juan canto I verse 4 1819).

Attitudes to Waterloo ten years later, in 1825:

As well as Pieneman’s exhibition of his painting of the battle there were some other indications that public attitudes to the battle had warmed by the mid 1820s. On 13 May 1825 a grand dinner was given to Wellington ‘by a number of the Noblemen and Gentlemen connected with the commerce of the metropolis’, at which they gave him a magnificent vase commemorating the victory. The Lord Mayor took the chair and the room (in the City of London tavern) ‘was decorated with national standards, and the table was most splendidly laid out.   After the cloth was removed, the Wellington Vase was brought into the room, and placed in the centre of the cross table.’   The vase was designed by Stothard, with a bas relief of Wellington in the centre of ‘one of the impenetrable squares of English Infantry.’   The Lord Mayor, in proposing the toast, said that ‘it was impossible to speak of victories without naming that extraordinary catalogue which filled the history of the celebrated campaign [cheers]. His Lordship finally named the battle of Waterloo, which for ever put an end to the desolating projects of Napoleon, and then presented the Vase to his Grace, stating to him that it had been subscribed as a tribute to the gratitude of those around him [loud cheers].’   In reply Wellington remarked ‘that the battle of Waterloo deserved the commendation bestowed upon it, having been productive of consequences unheard of with respect to any event of modern times, or indeed to any event of any times [cheers].   It completed the military glory of England, subdued a degrading military despotism on the Continent, and secured an honourable and advantageous peace, which, he trusted, would last long for the properity and glory of the country. He disclaimed any exclusive merit beyond an extreme anxiety and endeavour to do his duty. The merit was due to the Noble Marquess (Anglesea), and the officers and privates under his command [loud cheers].’   Morning Chronicle 14 May 1825.   It is significant that this Whig paper gave the dinner extensive and uncritical coverage.

A few months later the more conservative Morning Post published a letter from a reader recently returned from a visit to the battlefield of Waterloo, who assured his compatriots that they would not waste their time or money in imitating his example, ‘for what Englishman will not feel an exulting pride, as he traverses those plains, and thinks of that glorious day, which, while time shall endure, can never be forgotten – which has shed a glory and a terror around the very name of England, that shall make succeeding ages tremble. England it was which while the rest of Europe was crouching beneath the conqueror’s sway, stood forth alone and unsubdued; and England it was which in a last and dreadful struggle despoiled for ever the ambitious and faithless Despot of his bloated power, and irretrievably crushed his proudest hopes…’ (Morning Post 3 September 1825).   This was not, of course, the only view of the significance of Waterloo, but it was a view which was expressed with more confidence in 1825 than it had been in 1820, or probably would be in 1830, for the tide of public opinion continued to ebb and flow over the next decade as it had over the last.

Publication of Harriette Wilson’s Memoirs:

Although the details of the publication of Harriette Wilson’s Memoirs are obscure, authorities generally agree that it they appeared in 1825, and it must have been at the beginning of the year as Mrs Arbuthnot comments on them in February (Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot vol 1 p 378; Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot p 73).   The date of 1824, given in Wellington: the Path to Victory p 290 appears to be nothing more than a simple mistake: 1825 is the date given in the bibliography.

Wellington’s reputation as a soldier attacked:

As late as 1829 The Morning Chronicle, in an article reviewing the first issue of the United Service Journal showed a clear desire to belittle Wellington’s reputation as a soldier:

There is an article of interest on the storming of the Ciudad Rodrigo, which, to our mind, proves how much chance enters into military success. … The whole assault was wretchedly calculated, and succeeded only by Sir Thos. Picton’s energy and just estimation of the main design.   An article on Waterloo shews the admirable bravery with which our troops fought their General out of the scrape he had got into, until the error of Grouchy and the hussar rapidity of Blucher completed his rescue. … In a memoir of military adventures in India, we have a clear statement of Colonel Wellesley’s celebrated mishap [Sultanpettah tope]. … The battle of Assaye was a terrible series of blunders … (The Morning Chronicle 13 January 1829).

Revival of Wellington’s Reputation after 1832:

On Waterloo Day 1834 Lady Salisbury noted that ‘Gilt laurels were selling in the streets this morning, which is a mark of feeling in honor of the day which I did not expect. A great number of people of all sorts went to look at the preparations of the Duke’s great dinner at Apsley House. There was a dinner also of fifty at the Carlton Club.’ (Gascoyne Heiress p 123).

Wellington on Southey’s History:

‘Lord Mahon entered into a very interesting conversation with the Duke on the subject of Southey’s Peninsular War. The Duke spoke in very strong terms of reprehension of it, saying that he had a bad opinion of Southey for having written a book so much at variance with the facts. That he had, it was true, refused him his papers but that he might have had access to the dispatches in the possession of the Government and at all events have consulted the published Gazettes.’ (Lady Salisbury’s diary, 1 September 1836 Gascoyne Heiress p 211).

Napier on Southey’s History:

My dear Colborne, – I have just got the loan of Southey’s History. His malignity exceeds that of any other writer who has yet attacked Sir John Moore, and, as the general opinion is that the Duke of Wellington has given him materials for his work, it will of course be proportionately mischievous. I know from authority that the Duke refused to give him any papers, and I can see that his History is despicable, being a compilation of all the absurd stuff he wrote in the Edinburgh Annual Magazine, and extracts from the inflated Spanish papers and the catchpenny publication of Doctor Neale, I think, and others whose froth was received in England at that time instead of good ale. (William Napier to Sir John Colborne, [6 January 1823] ‘Letters from Colonel William Napier to Sir John Colborne’ ed by G. C. Moore Smith English Historical Review vol 18 1903 p 729)

Wellington gives Napier some but not all his papers:

On 8 April 1824 Napier told Colborne about some of the excellent material he had found in Paris. ‘I showed some of my papers to Lord Wellington, and he found them curious and has given me many more, and has spoken of me as a person who was writing a History and likely to do it well, having many scarce documents…. These materials are certainly very rich, as, in addition to what I have stated to you above, I have nearly a complete series of Lord Wellington’s dispatches, public and private, for the whole war, the morning states of the English and Portuguese troops, all Joseph’s intercepted papers…. Be secret about the Duke’s dispatches; he does not know it himself.’ (Napier to Colborne, 8 April 1824, ‘Letters from Napier to Colborne’ p 731).

Wellington on Napier’s History:

In May 1834 Lord Mahon recorded a conversation with the Duke: ‘We spoke of Napier’s fourth volume just published. “I have not read it,” said the Duke; “I am determined not to read any of it till the six volumes – or whatever they are – are all out, and then I will read them fairly through, I dare say with much entertainment (smiling). But I will not read them now. I might else be tempted into contradicting him – into authorising somebody to answer him for me. Now I will have nothing to do with writing a book.”’ (Stanhope Notes 18 May 1834 p 58).

Colonel John Gurwood and Wellington’s Dispatches:

Anyone who has worked on Wellington’s life and career is indebted to Gurwood for his immense labours in editing the Dispatches.   Without his persistence it is unlikely that they would ever have been published, or that the second Duke would have undertaken the subsequent series of Despatches.   Still, if must be admitted that he was not a particularly appealing figure. He had won fame by his gallantry in the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo, but he ruthlessly pushed the claims this gave him to promotion and other advantages for years afterwards, and was frequently discontented and resentful.   Wellington did much to help him, both during the war and subsequently, but did not always escape his private reproaches, although Gurwood’s admiration for the Duke increased immensely as he was working on the Dispatches.   His biographer, C. H. Dudley Ward, declares that he was ‘during those years more happy than he had ever been. He saw a great deal of the Duke of Wellington, and, as he published volumes of the Dispatches he got into communication with notabilities, and acquired an importance which flattered and pleased him.’ (Ward Romance of the Nineteenth Century p 130-1 see also p 136 and 142).

It appears that even when Gurwood first proposed the publication of the General Orders he had a larger project in mind, and that he was motivated in part by his discontent with Napier’s History and its political bias.   He wrote that:

On the first appearance of Colonel W. Napier’s History of the war in the Peninsula, it struck me that, with whatever ability and talent His Grace’s career had been treated in that work, it was not wholly composed of historical facts; that the foundation of the Duke of Wellington’s reputation, as a soldier, had not been averted to; that the history of the war had been unfortunately mixed up with the political opinions and the assumptions and deductions of the author; and that, if I should ever have the opportunity, I would submit to the Duke of Wellington the project of making His Grace write his own history, in the publication of his letters and dispatches, by which the present age and posterity would be enabled to form a less erroneous judgement of his wonderful career. (Quoted in Woolgar ‘Wellington’s Dispatches and their Editor’ p 193).

            His last years were clouded by a controversy with Napier who asserted that the late Captain Mackie deserved more credit than Gurwood for the success of the forlorn hope at Ciudad Rodrigo and the strain of this may have led to his suicide on 27 December 1845 (Ward Romance of the Nineteenth Century p 162-4, 174).

Wellington on his dispatches:

According to Edward Littleton, at dinner in May 1820, Wellington said ‘he had never seen the truth printed about public matters in the course of his participation in public affairs. All men seemed to be liars. Someone asked him if he did not except his own dispatches, upon which he observed, “I never told a falsehood in them, but I never told the whole truth, nor anything like it. Either one or the other would have been contradicted by 5,000 officers in my army in their letters to their mothers, wives, brothers or sisters and cousins, all of whom imagined they as well understood what they saw as I did.’ Aspinall (ed) ‘Extracts from Lord Hatherton’s Diary’ 19 May 1820 p 19.

When James Hall visited Walmer in the autumn of 1836 he told him that his brother Basil Hall (a well known writer) ‘had been much struck with the style of his dispatches, and I asked him if he had ever carefully studied the subject? He said No. On the contrary, everything was written rather loosely and always at once: he rather had supposed the style rough & careless. Copies were generally taken for purposes of reference; but rarely previous draughts made.’ (Parker ‘A Visit to the Duke of Wellington’ p 78).

Wellington on his Dispatches as published:

In January 1838 Greville recorded a conversation with Wellington and noted, ‘I was amused at the simplicity with which he talked of the great interest of these despatches, just as he might have done if they had been the work of any other man; said he had read them himself with considerable astonishment and great interest, and that everybody might see that there was not one word in them that was not strictly and literally true.’ (Greville Memoirs 2 January 1838 vol 4 p 3).

Two days later, when Aberdeen told Wellington of Brougham’s praise of the Dispatches, the Duke agreed, ‘“It is very true: when I read them I was myself astonished, and can’t think how the devil I could have written them.”’ (Greville Memoirs 5 January 1838 vol 4 p 10).

In November 1838 Wellington wrote to Gurwood thanking him for his labours:

My dear Gurwood – I have received your note of yesterday, and the 12th volume, and I sincerely congratulate you on the termination of your labours.

You have brought before the public a work which must be useful to statesmen and soldiers, as containing the true details of important political and military operations of many years’ duration.

I did not believe it possible that a correspondence which I had preserved at first solely as memoranda and for reference and afterwards from idleness and the desire to avoid the trouble of looking over the papers to see which might be destroyed, could ever be turned to a purpose so useful to our profession and the public interest.

The first notion I had of its utility was occasioned by the perusal of the letters written to and produced by Colonel Shaw. Your intelligence and diligence discovered the rest.

Besides the advantage to the public, and the military profession, from the publication of these letters, it has opened the eyes of the public to the real state of the facts regarding the colossal transactions of the late revolutionary wars. For this I am indebted to you.’ (Ward Romance of the Nineteenth Century p 144-5).

Other reactions to reading Wellington’s Dispatches:

Lord Grey’s second son, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Grey, read the Indian dispatches when he was in Canada in 1838, noting his reaction in his diary ‘excessively interested – Full of instruction – particularly for a Military man’ (25 August 1838 in Crisis in the Canadas: 1838-1839. The Grey Journals and Letters edited by William Ormsby (London, Macmillan, 1965) p 115).

Robert Whigram, at a Conservative dinner in Edinburgh in 1840, remarked that the Dispatches ‘in revealing the “minute workings of [Wellington’s] great mind … has added immeasurably to the conviction of the simplicity and true greatness of his character.”’ (The Edinburgh Advertiser 19 June 1840 quoted in Cookson ‘The Edinburgh and Glasgow Duke of Wellington Statues’ p 34n).

Thomas Creevey commented on both the Dispatches and Napier’s History in the autumn of 1836:

When I was at Stoke I fell in love with Wellington’s Peninsular dispatches, published by Gurwood; but as my supply from that library is now cut off, and the book itself too dear to buy, I am living upon Napier’s Peninsular War, which has been given me by Lord Allen, because he hates it so much. … Napier is a clever man, and has taken great pains with his subject; but he undertakes too much in his criticism upon all the French generals in Spain, and all their acts.   The Beau, the real official and efficient observer of all this, pretends to no such universal insight into the tactics of his enemy as is claimed by this subaltern in his own camp. (Creevey to Miss Ord, 4 October 1836, Creevey Papers p 656-7).

And again, four days later: ‘I shall certainly take your advice and subscribe to a circulating library; but I have enough on my hands at present with Napier, who rises in my estimation every page I read of him. His defence of poor Moore is perfect. … I think when I next see the portrait of that villain Frere hung up at Holland House, I shall not be able to contain myself!’ (Creevey to Miss Ord, 8 October 1836, Creevey Papers p 657).   Nearly a year later Creevey went even further: ‘I have taken to Wellington and his dispatches again, and the more I read of him the fonder I am of him. He really is in every respect a perfect man…’ ’ (Creevey to Miss Ord, 22 September 1837, Creevey Papers p 666).

Greville records, with admiration rather than derision, an anonymous reaction to reading the Dispatches in 1838: ‘The following panegyric on the sixth volume of the Duke’s despatches, evidently written by no common hand, was given by Dr Ferguson to E. Villiers, the Doctor not knowing the author: “The sixth volume appears to me among the most extraordinary of human productions, ancient or modern. It is not the mere power of sagacity, vigilance, acute and comprehensive reasoning, or, in short, the intellectual perfection of the book, various and wonderful as it is, which affects my mind most deeply: it is the love of justice, the love of truth, the love of humanity, the love of country, the fine temper, the tolerance of error, the mildness of reproof, the superb morality of the great and masculine spirit displayed throughout it, which it is impossible for an honest man to observe without affection and admiration.”’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) vol 4 3 August 1838 p 84-85).

And, according to an entry in Stanhope’s Notes of Conversations dated 28 June 1839, the American lexicographer Noah Webster ‘told me that in his way out he had been reading two or three odd volumes of the Duke of Wellington’s Despatches, and had been greatly struck at their total freedom from anything like pomp or ostentation, even in moments of the greatest triumph. The Waterloo dispatch itself contained nothing about “victory and glory”. So unpretending was it, said Mr Webster, that Mr Quincy Adams – who was our Minister at London at the time, and who had a good deal of bitter feeling against this country, with which peace had only just been concluded – declared on first reading the dispatch that it came from a defeated general, and that in real truth the Duke’s army must have been annihilated at Waterloo. This he seriously believed for some time.’ (Stanhope Notes p 145).

An interesting earlier response – to the dispatches as they appeared at the time – came from the Prince Regent’s sister, the Queen of Wurtemberg: ‘I doubly glory in being a Briton when I read Lord Wellington’s dispatches, they are written in so simple and plain a style they would have suited a Roman Consul; all must admire a General who performs such wonders without appearing to feel that he has done any thing extraordinary.’ (Queen of Wurtemberg to the Prince Regent, 3 April 1814, Letters of George IV vol 1 p 417-8).

Reviews of Wellington’s Dispatches:

The editors of the Edinburgh Review ‘took enormous pains to canvas various contacts for a reviewer who could deal adequately with the book. Sir William Napier, the military historian, refused, having agreed to do it for the Westminster, and pointed out that his views of the way the Duke had been treated by the Whigs would prove unacceptable [to the Edinburgh]. G. R. Gleig, the historian and novelist, was also floated, and finally Sir George Murray, a confidential friend of the Duke’s, according to John Allen, and a one time Quarterly reviewer, emerged. He was given a free hand as to time and length, and extra-tight precautions were taken to protect his anonymity. After such trawling, the review appears to have gone virtually unremarked, except for Henry Rich’s comment that he wished a less Tory reviewer could have been found, and Allen’s report that the Duke was pleased with the review.’ (Shattock Politics and Reviewers p 141).

It is significant that the Edinburgh did choose such a sympathetic reviewer, but also that it left reviewing the Dispatches until 1838, and that Brougham first published two reviews of Marquess Wellesley’s Indian administration and Dispatches.   Murray’s review appeared in two parts: vol 68 October 1838 p 1-46 on the Indian letters, and vol 69 July 1839 p 297-348 on the European letters.   If this was a little belated, the Edinburgh did not review Napier’s History until January 1841 (vol 72) when J. A. Roebuck reviewed it.

Murray commented that despite precautions taken to protect his anonymity the secret would soon be out to those who were interested, although the pretence of anonymity might still be convenient. (Shattock Politics and Reviewers p 18).   Certainly the Duke knew, for (who had played a small role in facilitating the overture to Murray) told him, and asked if he had any suggestion for an alternative if Murray was unable to unwilling to undertake the task. According to Greville’s account, the Duke ‘seemed amazingly pleased at the idea, said he knew nobody, but Murray was the fittest man.’ (Greville Memoirs 2 January 1838 vol 4 p 3).

Murray had already trenchantly reviewed Napier’s History in the Quarterly in four substantial articles: vol 56 April 1836 p 131-219 and July 1836 p 437-89; vol 57 September 1836 p 492-542; and vol 61 January 1838 p 51-96.   According to the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals he was assisted in writing these reviews by Croker – which probably means that Croker wrote some additional material that was incorporated in the review.

Croker reviewed the Dispatches in the Quarterly in two articles in June 1834 and February 1837 (vol 51 June 1834 p 399-426; vol 58 February 1837 p 82-107).   According to Joanne Shattock the sixteen pages of Croker’s first review were written in four hours, although no doubt he had been assembling material as he looked through the volume(s) and that the four hours represents rather the time it took to put these together and write the beginning and end of the review. It was an era when reviewers quoted long passages of the work in question. (Shattock Politics and Reviewers p 119).

Gurwood’s pension and position at the Tower of London:

Wellington had to use considerable influence to secure both of these at a time when the Whigs were in power and eager to abolish offices of doubtful utility.   His correspondence on the subject is printed in Ward A Romance of the Nineteenth Century p 146-50.

The revival of Wellington’s popularity in the 1830s and early 1840s:

While Napier’s History, the publication of the Dispatches, and then the biographies were the most highpoints in this process, there were also countless articles in the press, journals and in general histories that touched on Wellington’s campaigns and earlier life, and recycled old anecdotes or added new ones to the common store, helping to make Wellington’s past life a subject of amusement and interest rather than political contention. Two examples will suffice: the artist James Hall’s account of his conversation with Wellington at Walmer in 1836, in which the Duke described his meeting with Nelson, was incorporated by Basil Hall (the artist’s brother) in a review of Barrow’s Life of Richard, Earl Howe which appeared in the Edinburgh Review in 1838 (vol 67 no 136 p 320-49); and the Backburn Standard on 18 March 1835 published an account of how another artist, Henry Pickersgill, had enquired of the Duke at dinner, with many preliminaries and formality, ‘ “if it be really true, as has often been reported, that your grace was taken by surprise at Waterloo! ”, a naïve query that was met with roars of laughter from the Duke and other guests, before Wellington assured the artist that “he had not been guilty of the unsoldierlike neglect imputed to him, and that he … did not achieve the conquest of Waterloo by mistake.”   Later popular writers reworked the anecdote, making it pithier and a better story (“No! but I am now”) but in the process also making Wellington appear stiffer, more intimidating and less relaxed than in the original. (Foster Wellington and Waterloo p 21-22. Such stories, along with letters from the Duke, some reprinted from the Dispatches, and some spoofs, appeared frequently in these years and had the effect of consolidating popular knowledge about him and softening his image (this in parallel to a similar trend in his visual image as noted by Peter Jupp – see above).

Death of Copenhagen:

Copenhagen, the horse Wellington rode at Waterloo, died in 1836 and it is a sign of the rise of Wellington’s reputation that this event was reported at some length as an item of news, in the Times under the headline ‘Death of a Famous Waterloo Hero’:

By the orders of his Grace a salute was fired over his grave, and thus he was buried as he had lived, with military honours. This horse has long been a great attraction to strangers, who were accustomed to feed him over the rails with bread, and the Duke himself preserved an especial regard fro him, which cannot be wondered at upon considering that he bore him for 16 hours safe through the grandest battle that has occurred in the history of the world.   The late amiable Duchess was likewise particularly attached to him and wore a bracelet made of his hair. (The Times 8 February 1836).

Georgiana de Ros recalled riding him while watching some troops exercising during the Army of Occupation of France: ‘To the Duke’s great amusement we heard one of the soldiers saying to another: “Take care of that ‘ere horse, he kicks out; we knew him well in Spain,” pointing to Copenhagen! He was a most unpleasant horse to ride, but always snorted and neighed with pleasure at the sight of troops.’ (Swinton Sketch of the Life of Georgiana, Lady de Ros p 142).

Wellington’s reputation in 1838:

‘Nothing is more remarkable in the Duke than his habit of prompt obedience to his superiors and employers, and this shines forth as much when the triumphant Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies at the end of the Spanish war, as in his early campaigns in India. He was always ready to serve when, and how his services were required.’ (Greville Memoirs (ed Strachey & Fulford) vol 4 p 21 11 February 1838).

Wellington objects to the removal of Wyatt’s statue:

On 14 June 1847 Wellington wrote to Croker:

      from the year 1838 to the present moment I have considered it most becoming to avoid to interfere respecting a statue, of which the professed object is to commemorate bygone transactions in which I had borne a part.

      …. I never talk of myself.

These are the reasons for which they think that I don’t care what they do with the statue.

But they must be idiots to suppose it possible that a man who is working day and night, without any object in view excepting the public benefit, will not be sensible of a disgrace inflicted upon him by the sovereign and Government whom he is serving. The ridicule will be felt if nothing else is!

This last would have been vastly aggravated if I had not cautiously avoided to take any part in the affair since the year 1838. (Croker Papers vol 3 p 128).

Wellington’s character as depicted in the biographies of 1839-42:

Jackson and Scott, in their Military Life, wrote that:

As an official man, he was distinguished by extraordinary punctuality and assiduity, by great firmness of purpose and rapidity of decision, and by peculiar urbanity and friendliness of manner; though, from the proper value he set upon his own time and that of those under him, his method of transacting business may occasionally have appeared somewhat brusque. (Jackson and Scott Military Life of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington vol 1 p 254)

And W. H. Maxwell wrote:

An economist in time, the space allotted for personal indulgence was brief – his hours for repose were limited – his meals were simple and rapidly despatched – and hence, the greater portion of his time was passed in the saddle or bureau: and no hospital or cantonment escaped his visits, nor did a letter or report remain unanswered.

In his manner and address the Duke was always frank, and, when he pleased, dignified and graceful. Easy of access, the soldier’s complaint was as attentively listened to as the remonstrance of the general.   If a favour were required, it was promptly granted, or as decisively refused; and on the merits of a statement, when once a decision was made, influence would be used in vain, and entreaty pass unheeded.

In personal simplicity, the Duke’s costume was in keeping with his character. He despised everything like parade, and excepting when their services were necessary, dispensed with the attendance of his staff. Nothing could be more striking than the plainness of his appearance in public, when contrasted with the general frippery and parade of his opponents; and the peasantry could scarcely be persuaded that the unpretending personage who courteously listened to their story, or returned a passing salute, was that great captain whom conquest had attended from the Tagus to the Seine. (Maxwell Life of Wellington vol 3 p 520-1 (sixth edition, 1862)

Maxwell also explicitly contradicts the charges that Wellington was ‘constitutionally cold and … stern in the exaction of duty – careless in rewarding merit – the end his mighty object – the means a matter of indifference’ (ibid p 519), although as is frequently the case his denial probably only helped to fix these suggestions more firmly in his readers’ minds.

There is a highly suggestive and stimulating discussion of the way Wellington’s character was presented in Iain Pears ‘The Gentleman and the Hero: Wellington and Napoleon in the Nineteenth Century’ (in Myths of the English ed by Roy Porter), which is however marred by a rather superficial knowledge of Wellington’s life and times (e.g. his confident but most implausible suggestion that Wellington had an affair with the Duchess of Richmond! p 234), and a remarkably unself-conscious repetition of the radical stereotype of Wellington as a general who ‘pointed at his [soldiers] with a cane and called them scum’ (p 226).




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags for Chapter 25: The Many Faces of Fame

© Rory Muir

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.