Annunciata Walton picks her favourite quotes from the inimitable Iron Duke.
How well do you know Old Nosey? We can thank him for our lovably mud-splattered gumboots and victory at Waterloo, but the 1st Duke of Wellington could also be hilarious, pragmatic, whimsical, wise and even a little bit romantic. Here are our favourite Wellington quotes:
‘Because a man is born in a stable that does not make him a horse.’
‘I am nimmukwallah… that is I have eaten of the King’s salt, and, therefore, I conceive it my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his Government may think proper to employ me.’
‘I don’t mind the troops running away—they all do that at some time or other—as long as they come back…’
‘Really when I reflect upon the characters and attainments of some of the General Officers of this army… on whom I am to rely… against the French Generals… I tremble; and I only hope that when the enemy reads the list of their names he trembles as I do.’
‘The national character of the three Kingdoms was strongly marked in my Army. I found the English regiments always in the best humour when we were well supplied with beef; the Irish when we were in the wine countries and the Scotch when the dollars for pay came in… I assure you it was a fact… and I will venture to say that in our later campaigns, and especially when we crossed the Pyrenees, there never was an army in the world in better spirits, better order, or better discipline.’
‘The French planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid piece of harness; it looks very well until it gets broken and then you are done for. Now I make my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot and went on.’
‘I told him [Gen Sir Brent Spencer] I did not know what the words “Second in Command” meant any more than third, fourth or fifth… that I alone commanded the army… and above all that I would not only take but insist upon the whole and undivided responsibility.’
‘There,’ pointing at an English infantryman, ‘There, it all depends upon that article whether do the business or not. Give me enough of it and I am sure.’
‘By God, I’ve lost a leg,’ said Lord Uxbridge, who was commanding the cavalry at Waterloo.
‘Have you, by God,’ the Duke replied.
In response to the battered 3rd Division at Waterloo asking to be relieved: ‘Tell him what he asks is impossible. He and I and every Englishman on the field must die on the spot which we occupy.’
‘A damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. Blucher lost 1,400 Friday night and got so damnably licked I could not find him on Saturday morning.’
‘I hope to God that I have fought my last battle… I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost the greatest misery is a battle gained. Not only do you lose those dear friends with whom you have been living, but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you.’
‘We have always been, we are and I hope that we always shall be detested in France.’
‘There is no mistake; there has been no mistake, and there shall be no mistake.’ (Whence comes the saying, ‘And no mistake’.)
‘After you have sat one or two sessions in parliament… you will probably be as astounded as I have been how England came by her greatness.’
When a stranger helped him across Hyde Park Corner, saying ‘My Lord, I have passed a long and not uneventful life, but never did I hope to reach the day when I might be of some assistance to the greatest man that ever lived’, he was rewarded with ‘Don’t be a damned fool’.
‘Publish and be damned.’ To Stockdale the publisher, who was trying to blackmail Society figures to keep their names out of Harriette Wilson’s mendacious memoirs.
When the artist Sir William Allen asked why he was counting out banknotes instead of paying by cheque for this painting of Waterloo, the Duke responded: ‘D’you think I am going to let Coutt’s people know what a damned fool I have been.’
In response to a threatening mob demonstrating for Queen Caroline, who was about to be tried for alleged criminal behaviour: ‘Well, Gentlemen—since you will have it so—God save the Queen. And may all your wives be like her.’
At the deathbed of his wife: ‘How strange it is that two people can be together for half a lifetime and only understand one another at the end.’
The Iron Duke was known to say that the Church of England ‘makes us what we are—a nation of honest men’.
Taken from a marvellous book, ‘The Duke of Wellington: What they said and what he said’, with thanks to Quince Tree Press (01284 753228; www.quincetreepress.co.uk)
Wellington’s celebrity has ensured that his name, personality and achievements live on in the 20th century.