Wednesday, October 08, 2008


From Noel Mostert's A Line Upon A Wind: The Great War at Sea, 1793-1815 (2008) at 111-12:
It is strange to reflect on how alike these two were at the moment. They were types as unprepossessing as any within their respective milieux. Both were poor physical specimens, almost fragile in their thin, unimpressive frames, hardly the movers and shakers of land and sea. Yet it was already powerfully there. In Nelson, a mere junior post-captain, the thrust to impose himself on the war and its direction wherever he found himself was ever determined, irrepressible. So, too, with Napoleon. These two whose war it swiftly would become, upon whose genius and actions so much of fate and failure were decided, were here [Toulon] at the start the closest that they would ever be to one another. As he moved between posts to place cannon and to engineer fortifications, Napoleon's attention would continually be drawn to the harbor below and the ships that were seeking the range of his battlements. And from his quarterdeck, Nelson would perpetually be scanning through his glasses the heights where the other was clearly seeing the small figures bent on destruction of his own ship and the other vessels around him. Did each in his sweeping view of the scene on some occasion have the fleeting, unwitting sight of the other? Here the metaphysical, never far from the historical imagination, intervenes. For it is impossible not to be drawn to the strange quirk of destiny that should have brought them here, so close together at the very start: two minor players placed on the stage as the curtain rises on the first major act of the long drama that will steadily enlarge their roles and characters until they are finally delivered to a climactic duel.

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