Cover image for The Nelson touch : the life and legend of Horatio Nelson
The Nelson touch : the life and legend of Horatio Nelson
Coleman, Terry, 1931-
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Publication Information:
Oxford : New York : Oxford University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xix, 424 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps, portraits (some color) ; 24 cm
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DA87.1.N4 C634 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Admiral Horatio Nelson captures our imaginations like few other military figures. A mixture of tactical originality, raw courage, cruelty, and romantic passion, Nelson in action was daring and direct, a paramount naval genius and a natural born predator. Now, in The Nelson Touch: The Life and Legend of Horatio Nelson, novelist Terry Coleman provides a superb portrait of Britain's most revered naval figure.
Here is a vivid account of Nelson's life, from his childhood and early career at sea--where a high-placed uncle helped speed his advancement to post captain--to gripping accounts of his greatest sea battles. Readers will witness the Battle of the Nile, where Nelson crushed a French squadron of thirteen ships of the line, and the Battle of Trafalgar, where he died at the moment of his greatest triumph. What emerges is a man of strength of mind amounting to genius, frequently generous, always fascinated with women, often uneasy with his superior officers, and absolutely fearless. Coleman also lays bare Nelson's faults: he was a ruthless commander, whose instinct was not just to defeat the enemy but to annihilate him. Indeed, some of Nelson's more controversial actions might be viewed as war crimes today. And he was a skillful self-promoter, who did all he could to advance his own fame. But in the end, that fame was well earned and he was deservedly idolized by the British people.
Sure to appeal to readers of Patrick O'Brian and other seafaring fiction, as well as all military history and naval history buffs, this is a superbly written biography that gives readers the texture and feel of this magnificent life.

Author Notes

Terry Coleman has reported from eighty countries as a British foreign correspondent. He is the author of a biographical study of Thomas Hardy and of Going to America, a history of English and Irish emigration

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

This biography of British admiral Horatio Nelson does not include detailed descriptions of naval warfare; instead, it focuses on his personality as revealed by his course through eighteenth-century British society, politics, and admiralty. Controversy dogged Nelson, as conflicting contemporary observations of him make plain, but such controversy generated the abundant source material that Coleman weighs in formulating his conclusions. An early case, before he was famous, concerns Nelson's command in the early 1780s of a squadron in the West Indies: his unctuous command style alienated merchants and grandees alike. Coleman examines in particular detail Nelson's cavorting with the wife of the British ambassador in Naples, a notorious scandal at the time, as well as his ruthless role in suppressing a republican revolution in Naples in 1799. Describing Nelson as a «good hater,» Coleman depicts him not as an alabaster bust but rather as an all-too-human figure given to strong passions and prejudices. Gilbert Taylor.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Veteran British historian Coleman (Going to America) now tackles the life of Horatio Nelson, Britain's most celebrated naval hero. Admiral Nelson (1758-1805), whose glory was sealed with his death at the battle of Trafalgar, has been celebrated in various hagiographies, and his dashingly carried-off love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton has been Hollywood fodder. Coleman offers 27 short, solid chapters with lively headings like "I Shall Come Laughing Back," "Fiddlers, Poets, Whores, and Scoundrels," "Natural Born Predator" and "Well Then, I Will Be a Hero," making Nelson's Romantic renown seem deserved, but he also lays bare the admiral's faults, concluding "that Nelson was often ruthless, there is no doubt." (On one voyage he had fully half of the crew flogged, some of them merely for "mutinous language.") The book's title refers to Nelson's description of his special approach or talent for winning battles, a bit of self-praise that was deserved, even if immodest. Without seeming to have a scholarly axe to grind, Coleman offers a useful corrective to writers so enamored of maritime history and its heroes that they lose sight of the importance of accuracy. There are clearly written analyses of the major battles, as well as the admiral's complex private life, such as his dumping of his wife, Fanny, although supporting her for the rest of his life and retaining her affection. His passion for the wife of a nobleman, Sir William Hamilton, was less well received by the snobby Brit society of his day, but perhaps least popular of all was Nelson's endless careerism and appetite for honors. Coleman points out Nelson's bravery in the face of wounds that would have retired many a lesser sailor, including the loss of an eye and an arm. Nelson, who was always convinced he would be a famous man, would certainly be pleased by this renewed attention. (Apr.) Forecast: Certainly surpassing previous attempts such as Horatio Hornblower novelist C.S. Forester's life, this book is particularly notable for its rich recreations of late-18th-century British public life. Academic attention could lead to a belated American edition of Coleman's valuable 1965 study of the 19th-century laborers who built the British railway system, The Railway Navvies. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Novelist and historian Coleman (Going to America) employs his investigative skills in this carefully researched biography of Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) in an attempt "to tease out the man from the legend." Nelson, Coleman suggests, "was a paramount naval genius and a natural born predator, and those who look to find a saint besides will miss the man." Now, nearly 200 years after his death, it may be impossible to distinguish between the legend and the man himself. Certainly, Nelson's life story, as Coleman presents it, is a tantalizing mixture of opposites: a charismatic leader "with a strength of mind amounting to genius," who, as captain of the frigate Boreas, "flogged almost half his people"; a devoted family man who "delighted in women and always noticed them"; a national hero whose "private character" was "most disgraceful in every sense of the word," according to his great mentor, St. Vincent. Whether one agrees or disagrees that Nelson's legend has outlasted and overshadowed the man, this is an important addition to the more than 100 other Nelson biographies in existence. Coleman bases his study on extensive research in primary sources, meticulously footnoted. A wealth of illustrations complement the text admirably. Recommended for all libraries. Robert C. Jones, formerly with Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Coleman, finding a way to make history and biography enjoyable as well as a learning experience, has produced a well-researched, scholarly, yet engagingly written biography of Admiral Nelson. This reviewer questioned the need for yet another good biography of Nelson but, after reading the book and studying the bibliography and maps, decided that it is worthy of inclusion. Coleman relies on and quotes from selected letters, bringing people and events more immediately alive. The maps and illustrations are also helpful and interesting. Accounts of naval campaigns and battles are well written, yet not too technical for the nonspecialist. The admiral's equally interesting and scandalous personal life is also dealt with in detail, but the author avoids the pitfalls of gossip. Coleman is an independent scholar, novelist, and former journalist, and these varied interests have aided him in making this work approachable from a variety of educational backgrounds, from the advanced scholar to the lay reader. All collections. D. M. Hall Lake Erie College

Table of Contents

Author's Note and Acknowledgmentsp. ix
List of Illustrationsp. xi
1 Natural Born Predatorp. 1
2 Well Then, I Will Be a Herop. 9
3 The Whole Glory of the Servicep. 17
4 The Reduction of the New Worldp. 27
5 Fair Canada, and the Merest Boyp. 37
6 Subjects of the Grand Monarquep. 45
7 Running at the Ring of Pleasurep. 51
8 Let My Heart Speak for Mep. 61
9 I Perceive the Contrary Effectp. 71
10 Nelson Found Wantingp. 85
11 The Horror, and the Benefit to the Nationp. 105
12 I Shall Come Laughing Backp. 123
13 The Making of the Legendp. 139
14 The Nile, and the Happy Instrument of Godp. 149
15 The Family, and the Great Stage of Lifep. 165
16 Fiddlers, Poets, Whores, and Scoundrelsp. 175
17 The Sicilifying of My Own Consciencep. 187
18 Inactive at a Foreign Courtp. 217
19 The Homecomingp. 237
20 Champion of England in the Northp. 251
21 Not Since the Armada Businessp. 269
22 So Much for Gratitudep. 283
23 Planting Trees with One Handp. 291
24 The Long Watch, and the Grand Race of Gloryp. 301
25 A Legacy to My King and Countryp. 313
26 State Funeral and Empty Chariotp. 327
27 The Founding of a Familyp. 335
Appendix A Nelson at Naples, 1799p. 345
Appendix B Nelson's Textp. 351
Appendix C Ships' Ratingsp. 355
Notes and Sourcesp. 359
Select Bibliographyp. 403
Indexp. 409