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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Duke of Wellington

  • [Arthur Wellesley; born in Ireland, May 1, 1769; ensign and lieutenant, 1787; served in India; member of Parliament, 1806; chief secretary for Ireland, 1807; commanded the British forces in Spain and Portugal, 1808; raised to the peerage, 1809; entered Madrid, 1812; gained the battle of Vittoria, 1813; created Duke of Wellington and sent as ambassador to France, 1814; represented England at the congresses of Vienna and Verona; gained the battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815; member of the cabinet, 1819; commander-in-chief, 1827; prime minister, 1828; secretary for foreign affairs, 1834; died Sept. 14, 1852.]
  • Hard pounding, this, gentlemen: let’s see who will pound the longest.

  • At Waterloo. Soult said of the English, “They will die on the ground on which they stand, before they lose it.” That Wellington said at a critical moment of the battle, as asserted by Alison, “Up, guards, and at them!” is now discredited; but Victor Hugo states (“Les Misérables: Cosette,” X.) that at five o’clock Wellington drew out his watch, and was heard to murmur, “Blücher or night.” To Napoleon have been attributed similar words: “Would that Grouchy or night were here!”
  • Asked by a lady to describe the battle of Waterloo, Wellington replied, “We pummelled them, and they pummelled us; and I suppose we pummelled the hardest, and so we gained the day.” Kosciusko answered Mme. de Staël’s request to relate the history of the Polish revolution, “Madame, I made it, but I cannot narrate it” (je l’ai fuite, mais je ne sais pas la raconter).
  • In a despatch in 1815, Wellington made use of the remark, which has become celebrated, “Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.” “I remember,” says Emerson, “to have heard Mr. Samuel Rogers in London relate, among other anecdotes of the Duke of Wellington, that, a lady having expressed in his presence a passionate wish to witness a great victory, he replied, ‘Madam, there is nothing so dreadful as a great victory—except a great defeat.’” “But this speech,” adds Emerson, “is d’Argenson’s, and is reported by Grimm.”—Quotation and Originality. Napoleon said, “The sight of a battlefield, after the fight, is enough to inspire princes with a love of peace and a horror of war.”
  • Wellington wrote from Coimbra, May 31, 1809, to the Right Hon. J. Villiers, “I have long been of the opinion that a British army could bear neither success nor failure.” But he said at another time, “English soldiers of the steady old stamp—depend upon it, there is nothing like them in the world in the shape of infantry.”
  • He said to Gen. Dumourier, in Paris, Nov. 26, 1814, “Bonaparte governed one part of Europe directly, and almost the other half indirectly.”
  • It is not the first time they have turned their backs upon me.

  • During Wellington’s embassy to Paris, Louis XVIII. apologized to him because the French marshals turned their backs upon their former antagonist, and retired from the king’s levée. “Don’t distress yourself, sire,” replied Wellington: “it is not the first time they have turned their backs upon me.”
  • When the king refused to allow the army, after the Restoration, to retain the tri-color, Wellington exclaimed, “What a people! it is easier to make them accept a sacrifice than a reasonable idea.”
  • An untoward event.

  • The battle of Navarino was fought on the 20th October, 1827, by the fleets of England, France, and Russia, against Turkey, who lost thirty ships, almost her entire fleet, many of them being blown up to prevent their falling into the enemy’s hands. The destruction of the Turkish naval power was characterized by Wellington as “an untoward event,” because it threatened to disturb “the balance of power.”
  • Your Majesty is not a gentleman.

  • When George IV. protested that he could not appoint Canning secretary for foreign affairs in 1822, “on his honor as a gentleman,” the Duke replied, “Your Majesty is not a gentleman,” by which he meant that his duties as sovereign were superior to personal considerations.
  • Of the chances of the Tories to come into power after the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, Wellington said, “I have no small talk, and Peel has no manners.”
  • Being told during a storm at sea that it would soon be all over with them, he coolly remarked, “Very well, then I shall not take off my boots.”
  • I mistrust the judgment of every man in a case in which his own wishes are concerned.

  • This and the following are included among the Duke’s “Maxims and Table-Talk:”—
  • Insurgents are like conquerors: they must go forward; the moment they are stopped, they are lost.
  • Napoleon was indeed a very great man, but he was also a very great actor.
  • I do not know which was the best of the French marshals, but I know that I always found Masséna where I least desired that he should be.
  • There are no manifestoes like cannon and musketry.
  • A great country can have no such thing as a little war.
  • When war is concluded, all animosity should be forgotten.
  • The history of a battle is like the history of a ball.
  • The Lord’s Prayer contains the sum total of religion and morals.
  • Be discreet in all things, and so render it unnecessary to be mysterious about any.
  • When one begins to turn in bed, it is time to get up.
  • It is difficult to say what will be successful, and what otherwise, in these governments of intrigue; but, in my opinion, the broad direct line is the best.

  • In a speech on the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, in the House of Commons, Nov. 15, 1852, Disraeli said, “The Duke of Wellington has left to this country a great legacy, greater even than his fame; he has left to them the contemplation of his character:” and again, “It was his sublime self-control alone that regulated his lofty fate.” Disraeli called the duke’s government “a dictatorship of patriotism.”—Endymion. He quoted Burnet’s observation in accounting for the extraordinary influence of Lord Shaftesbury, and applied it to Wellington: “His strength lay in his knowledge of England.”—Sybil.
  • Circumstances over which he has no control.

  • In a notice of the death of the second Duke of Wellington, which occurred Aug. 13, 1884, Mr. G. A. Sala said in “Echoes of the Week” (“London Illustrated News,” Aug. 23), that this phrase, “one of the most familiar in modern English, was first used by Duke Arthur the First with reference to some business complications in which his son was mixed up, about 1839 or 1840: ‘F. M. the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Mr. ——, and declines to interfere in circumstances over which he has no control.’” Charles Dickens has given the expression greater circulation by employing it almost verbatim in a letter from Wilkins Micawber to Copperfield (“David Copperfield,” 1849, ch. 20): “Circumstances beyond my individual control have, for a considerable time, effected a severance of that intimacy,” etc. Capt. Marryatt, in his “Settlers in Canada” (p. 177), published in 1844, gives the exact form which Wellington originated some years before: “All Capt. Sinclair’s plans may be overthrown by circumstances over which he has no control.” Edmund Yates, in his “Recollections and Experiences” (ii. 156), says that some creditors of the Duke’s second son, Lord Charles Wellesley, wrote his father, demanding payment, and that the Duke replied, commencing in his usual style, “F. M. the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Messrs. B. & S. The Duke is not Lord Charles Wellesley, neither is he Messrs. B. & S.’s debt-collector.”
  • A battle of giants.

  • Other sententious remarks of Wellington are an echo of classical authors. Mention has been made of his calling Lord John Russell “a host in himself” (vide). This is a paraphrase of Homer’s epithet of Ajax “the great, himself a host.”—POPE: Translation of the Iliad, iii. 293. When it was probable that France would declare war against the United States, in 1798, President John Adams wrote Washington, who was then living in retirement at Mount Vernon: “We must have your name, if you will permit us to use it. There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army.”
  • “One blast upon his bugle-horn
  • Were worth a thousand men.”
  • SCOTT: Lady of the Lake, VI., 18.
  • Thus,—to illustrate further Wellington’s unintentional use of classical phrases,—he called Waterloo, in a conversation with Samuel Rogers, “a battle of giants.” Plato (“Republic,” Jowett’s translation, 378) says, “Far be it from us to tell them of the battles of the giants,” etc.; and “Gigantomachia” is the title of one of Claudian’s poems, both authors alluding to the combat of the Titans with Uranus and his other children. In a letter to Thomas Raikes, March 1, 1841, Wellington spoke of man as “a social animal,” but Aristotle called him (“Politics,” I. 1, 9) “a political animal” ([Greek]) in a sentence translated by Jowett, “Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.” The Duke was probably the first to use the word “machine” as a synonym of party organization, and his remark might have been written in more recent times. Speaking of the change in the deliberations of the House of Commons, by the increased influence of democracy, he said, in a letter to Thomas Raikes, Sept. 12, 1845, “Such is the operation of the machine, as now established, that no individual, be his character, conduct in antecedent circumstances, and his abilities, what they may, can have any personal influence in general…. Scarcely an individual is certain of his political existence.”—Private Correspondence of Thomas Raikes with the Duke of Wellington and others, 384.
  • A gentleman, not remarkable for saying the right thing at the right moment, was dining in company with Wellington, and, during a pause in the conversation, abruptly asked, “Duke, were you not surprised at Waterloo?” to which Wellington replied, “No, but I am now.” The publication of Croker’s “Memoirs” sets at rest the question whether the Duke uttered the words attributed to him at a critical moment of the battle: “Up, guards, and at ’em!” (vide); for in answer to a letter of inquiry by Mr. Croker, March 14, 1852, to the Duke’s secretary, Mr. H. Greville, the Duke himself wrote, “What I must have said, and possibly did say, was, ‘Stand up, guards!’ and then gave the commanding officers the order to attack.” He once recommended a lady to see a model of the battle, saying, “It is a very exact model of the battle, to my certain knowledge, for I was there myself.” George IV. used to claim to have been present at Waterloo; and when he would say, “Now, Arthur, was I not there?” the Duke’s diplomatic answer was, “I have often heard your Majesty say so.” Tact is a necessary accomplishment of the statesman. Thus Lord Palmerston was giving a sitting to Mr. Behnes, the sculptor, who incautiously asked, “Any news, my lord, from France? How do we stand with Louis Napoleon?” The foreign secretary quietly replied, “Really, Mr. Behnes, I don’t know; I have not seen the newspapers.” Palmerston was once asked when he considered a man to be in the prime of life; his immediate reply was “Seventy-nine!” “But,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “as I have just entered my eightieth year, perhaps I am myself a little past it.”
  • Napoleon said it was a mistake to send the Duke of Wellington as ambassador to France, after the Restoration: “A man is not liked by those whom he has beaten” (On n’aime pas un homme par qui on a été battu).
  • When asked what the result of the military operations of Sir De Lacy Evans, near San Sebastian, in Spain, would be; “Two volumes octavo,” was the Duke’s reply. A cavalry officer, whose regiment was unexpectedly ordered to the Cape of Good Hope, applied to Wellington for leave to remain at home. “Sail or sell,” was the brief answer. The Duke and J. W. Croker were once travelling together in a post-chaise, and beguiled the time by guessing what might be on the other side of the hills which they ascended. It chanced that the Duke was always right, and Croker always wrong. Many years afterward the latter recalled the circumstance to the Duke, who replied, “The whole art of war consists in getting at what is on the other side of the hill, or, in other words, in learning what we do not know from what we do.” The question was referred to the Duke, whether the garrison of Halifax should present arms to the Bishop of Nova Scotia, who complained that it was not done. The answer was, “The only attentions the soldiers are to pay the bishop are to his sermons.”
  • The phrase, “untoward event,” applied to the battle of Navarino (vide) was inserted by the cabinet, when Wellington was prime minister, in the speech of George IV. in opening Parliament in 1828: “His Majesty deeply regrets that this conflict should have occurred with the naval force of an ancient ally; but he still entertains a confident hope that this untoward event will not be followed by further hostilities.” The phrase was received with a burst of indignation throughout the country.—WALPOLE: History of England, ii. 556, 557.