Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood – 18th century snarker and tamer of 19th century Emo-Kids

28 March, 2007 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

It’s not fair, but Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood has been directed to the end of the car park, far, far away from the main entrance of The British History Shopping Center. Nelson, on the other hand, got that special plate for his car, so to speak.

At a later date, I’ll write a more serious review of the book

“Admiral Collingwood – Nelson’s Own Hero” by Max Adams

which is excellent, charming, touching, informative and a must-read for anybody with even the faintest interest in naval history or human nature. For now, I will post for you some – eh, less-naval aspects of Cuthbert Collingwood.

I admit a huge weak spot for Collingwood. He was a good man with a highly developed sense of honour and an oustanding naval officer. He opposed corporal punishment aboard his ships

“(…) I cannot for the life of me, comprehend the religion of an Officer, who prays all one day, and flogs his men all the next. (…)”

and held a very critical stance towards men being pressed into service.

But all his merits aside, he was also one hell of a gossip. Would Collingwood still be alive today, he’d probably run four LJ’s, had his own account on myspace and would very likely be a regular contributor of fandom_wank. He snarked with a wee bit more style, though…

Let’s have a look at this excerpt from a letter to his sister in April 1809, in which he describes his problems with a 19th century EMO-kid:

“(…) Mrs Currel’s son never can be a sailor: he has something very odd in his manner, or rather he has no manner at all, but saunters a melancholic for a week together, unnoticing and unnoticed, except when I give him a little rally to make his blood circulate, and this I do, not in the expectation that it will make him better in his profession, but merely for his health’s sake. (…)”

Collingwood suggested also a possible alternative career for poor young Currel. Further down the page, he writes that

“(…) It’s a pity she had not put him apprentice to Jno. Wilson, the apothecary; he might have gone on very wisely. His gravity would have established his reputation as a learned doctor, and if he did poison an old woman now and then, better do that than down an entire ship’s company at dash by running on the rocks.(…)”

The letter carries a post scriptum:

“Bounce desires his best respects to your dogs.”

Bounce was Collingwood’s loyal dog, who accompanied him for 19 (!!!) years everywhere. He only hid during battles, as he didn’t like the noise of the guns.

Not very flattering are Collingwood’s comments on some of his acquaintances. A certain Mrs. Massingberd was chasing after him in most original yet annoying ways, and Collingwood, while polite and galant towards her as usual, wrote to his brother John:

“(…) Let a woman alone for a good story. I begin John to think that they are more dangerous to encounter than Hurricanes, as they do not give so fair a warning. Would I was abroad again! Better be wrecked a thousand times at sea than once ashore. (…)”

Collingwood had a sharp tongue and lots of gallows humour. His notes on human behaviour among officers and normal seamen are not outdated in the least, and still manage to amuse us today.

“(…) The dresses of the women were mostly of light striped cottons, their teeth very white, and from wearing their head dress very high, their tout ensemble had rather a coqetish appearance, while their easy manners engaged very sensibly the attention of our young bucks of the navy. (…)”

He suffered no nonsense from the midshipmen, the “young gentlemen”, and wouldn’t tolerate any arrogant behaviour towards the crew or laziness in their work by them. On one occasion, he cut off the pigtails of some lazy midshipmen

“(…) close to their heads above the tie, then presenting them to their owners, desired they would put them into their pockets and keep them until such a time as they could work a day’s-work, when they might wear them again if they thought proper. (…)”

Upon reading Collingwood’s reaction on receiving the news of the capitulation of the French army in Alexandria, I had a short “Collingwood met Will Turner?” moment. But really only a brief one.

“(…) I was to take leave of my wife after breakfast, and we were both sad enough, when William came running in with one of his important faces on, and attempted to give his information in a speech; but, after two or three efforts, which were a confused huddle of inarticulate sounds, he managed to bring out Peace! Peace! Which had just good an effect as the finest oration he could have made on the subject. (…)”

Collingwood was a family man, devoted to his wife Sarah and their daughters. He also loved gardening; a fellow admiral

“(…) at last discovered him with his gardener, Old Scott, to whom he was much attached, in the bottom of a deep trench, which they were busily occupied in digging. (…)

The book also contains, of course, a lot of information on Collingwood’s merits in the Battle of Trafalgar and his friendship with Horatio Nelson, but first and foremost, it’s not a book on Collingwood the admiral, but on Cuthbert Collingwood the man. Max Adams did a brilliant job – he had me sort of sobbing by the end of chapter one, and that, dear friends, takes A LOT!

More to come. 🙂
''

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