Okay, you are going to read the response the Duke of Wellington – the British Prime Minister and war hero who won the battle of Waterloo against Napoleon – wrote when the British government asked him for specific accounts. I’m not going to lie, you’re probably going to think the first paragraph is boring. Keep reading. If you are a heterosexual woman (or gay man), and, by the end of this letter your head is not tilted back and you are not muttering, “Marry me, Duke of Wellington”, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.
Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been complying diligently with your requests which have been sent by H.M. ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters. We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer.
Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an Army across these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one to the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London, or, perchance,
2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven from Spain.
Your most obedient servant
Oh, my God, if I lived in the 19th century, all I would do is try to persuade the Duke of Wellington to marry me. Just break out every possible seductive trick and ploy and maybe wear some disguises like in Shakespeare. The hideous confusion over the jam alone leads me to this pursuit.
It’s sort of incredible that the Duke of Wellington was all witticisms, all the time. Upon being told that people often mistook a “Mr. Jones” for him (the Duke of Wellington was super famous), Wellington replied,
“Mistaken for me, is he? That’s strange, for no one ever mistakes me for Mr. Jones.”
This is a line that should probably be employed by all famous people forever.
One of his other famous quips occurred during the battle of Waterloo. He was next to Lord Uxbridge when Uxbridge’s leg was shot off. Whereupon Uxbridge exclaimed, “”By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, to which Wellington replied, “By God, sir, so you have!”
God, Wellington could kind of be an ass. He was, like, the funniest jerk in the world. For what it’s worth, Uxbridge was also a funny guy; before he had his leg amputated he remarked, “I have had a pretty long run. I have been a beau these forty-seven years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer.” So that is probably why he and Wellington were friends.
I want you to bring this up any time any new-age hippie French Professor says that all the young kids are too ironic these days.
When considering love, not war, Wellington had a number of mistresses over the years, though he wasn’t known as being much of a ladies’ man, maybe because he approached them in the same forthright way he approached everyone in the army. He married, but of his wife he said only,”They told me to do it.” While the couple produced two sons, they lived almost entirely apart.
However, he did maintain a long and enduring romance with the salon hostess Harriet Arbuthnot, whom Walter Scott said had “the ways of a wild schoolboy.” When Wellington first met her (she was a courtesan, it was that kind of meeting) she exclaimed, “Good gracious, what come you here for, Duke?”
He replied, “Beautiful eyes, yours!”
She answered, “Yes, they’re greater conquerors than Wellington will ever be.”
That seemed like it worked for him.
Later he told her that he dreamt of her nightly, to which she replied, “How very polite to the Duchess.”
You know, I think that relationship must have worked because the Duke would only really feel at home when he was fighting.
They later had a falling out when Harriet tried to blackmail him when offering to keep his name out of the memoirs she was writing. He replied, “Publish, and be damned!” This quote is now apparently the name of a book fair? That seems appropriate.
In any event, this, like essentially everything Wellington did, feels fearless, and it’s probably because Harriet wrote about him at such length in her memoirs that he’s remembered so well today. If anyone ever tries to blackmail you, I like to think you would respond this way, although, personally, I am terrified of most people reading perfectly innocuous Facebook posts, so I would quite certainly not respond appropriately. I would offer a blackmailer a kidney not to share anything about me. But then, Wellington did say, “The only thing I am afraid of is fear.”
God, that Duke of Wellington. So cool.
And he was surprisingly nice, too! My favorite story of all about him runs thus:
The Duke once met a little boy, crying by the road. “Come now, that’s no way for a young gentleman to behave. What’s the matter?” he asked.
“I have to go away to school tomorrow,” sobbed the child, “and I’m worried about my pet toad. There’s no-one else to care for it and I shan’t know how it is.”
Keen to ease the little chap’s discomfort, the Duke promised to attend to the matter personally.
After the boy had been at school for just over a week, he received a note: “Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Master —- and has the pleasure to inform him that his toad is well.”
Hilarious. Unafraid of blackmail. Good with toads. What more could you ever want in a man?
And if all of that is not enough, at the very end of his life he was asked if he had any regrets and said only, “I should have given more praise.”
So, that. And the toad. And the irony. Though I think I’d be convinced he was so fantastic that I wouldn’t be able to fight with him effectively, so, you know, my affair would be doomed. But if we can find a way to resurrect people, I think, perhaps for your sake, we should start with Wellington.
Pictures via Wikipedia