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A Not-Too-Personal "Personal History"
on 13 January 2001
Christopher Hibbert, with a long and venerable list of biographies behind him, gives us an easy-to-read, detailed and moving portrait of the great naval hero in this Personal History. One of the book's great appeals is the lack of pseudo-Freudian or pop-psychology analyses of Lord Nelson's character and motivations : the reader is left to his or her own reflections. There are a good number of illustrations, from Rowlandson's rather rude cartoons to the master painters' portraits of Nelson's beloved "wife", Lady Emma Hamilton, in her various histrionic poses, as well as portraits of the hero himself in chronological sequence. Extracts from Nelson's insanely jealous letters to Emma, written sometimes at the rate of half a dozen per day while he was at sea, show the desperate,painfully human (and to many of his contemporaries, frankly ridiculous) private man, which stood in such contrast to the man of action, driven by "animal courage" to great victories at St Vincent, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. I found myself more and more inclined to treasure this book as I went along, and by the end to feel something like affection for its protagonist (who, as a young man, seemed the most monstrous bore imaginable) and something very definitely like gratitude to the author for taking me on such a entertaining and moving journey. I can't wait to read it again.