As seen in the photographs, Portsmouth very much retains its nautical character. There are far fewer pubs now than there were in the past, but when walking in the Old Port I could get a sense of how rowdy Portsmouth must have been when the fleet was in.
The Nelson-Wellington connection is intriguing and I will divert from Portsmouth because it illuminates the Nelson dual character more fully and emphasizes the difficulty of separating the “true” immortal memory from the legendary one. In London, Waterloo Place is adjacent to Trafalgar Square, and the former was established before the latter. I suppose surviving one’s epic victory and becoming Prime Minister establishes a “first in time” right, but the fame of Nelson’s place in the Capitol has certainly surpassed Wellington’s.
The two famous men met only once, shortly before Nelson set sail for Trafalgar in September of 1805. Wellington’s commentary on the chance meeting shows Nelson’s contradictory personalities. They both were killing time in the same Colonial Office waiting room, awaiting the pleasure of Secretary of State for War and Colonial Affairs Viscount Castlereagh. Wellington, who was only Sir Arthur Wellesley then, had recently returned from successful campaigning in India and was about to embark on the Peninsular Campaign that earned him his dukedom and eventually led to Waterloo. Wellington also divined Nelson’s dual character. During the first part of their conversation Nelson talked only about himself, and, according to Wellington, in “a style so vain and silly as to surprise and disgust me.” As the conversation went on, writes Wellington, “something I happened to say made him guess that I was somebody,” Nelson left the room and came back a different man. Wellington surmised that he had asked and found out the identity of the young general sharing the waiting room and thereafter Nelson’s “charlatan style” vanished and Nelson “talked like an officer and a statesman”, a “really superior man,” instead of someone with “a light and trivial character.” Wellington never suffered fools gladly and no doubt he wrote this character portrait with an eye for the historical record. It shows, however, that part of Nelson that demanded attention, reveled in public adoration, and sought to impress.