Thursday, November 19, 2020

WELLINGTON AND BOOKS

Sir Arthur Bryant, The Great Duke (Wellington)
New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1972, 28-29

If success in his chosen profession seemed elusive, during the eight months’ voyage to the Cape and India, which restored his health and spirits, Arthur Wesley [late Wellesley] did his best to deserve it. Like the young Winston Churchill on a similar voyage a century later, he used the time to increase his knowledge of his profession and of the distant world to which he was traveling. To make himself a fuller man by study, he took with him a carefully chosen library of two hundred volumes, half of them bought from a Bond Street bookseller at a cost of £58—a considerable sum at that time for a financially embarrassed man with little to live on but his pay. A large portion were books on India and Indian campaigns, laws and customs, including Persian, Arabic and Bengali grammars and dictionaries from which to gain a working knowledge of the peninsula’s principal languages. Others were Caesar’s Commentaries, military works by Marshal Saxe, Frederick the Great and General Domouriez, the French Revolutionary general, Plutrarch’s Lives, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Blackstone’s legal ˆ, and Hume’s, Smollett’s and Robertson’s histories. Locke, Paley, Voltaire, Rousseau and Swift, too, were represented....

Many years later when his friend Lady Shelley, consulted him about a young kinsman embarking on his career, the Duke of Wellington replied, “There is nothing like never having an idle moment. If he has only one quarter of an hour to employ, it is better to employ it in some fixed pursuit of improvement of mind than to pass it in idleness or listlessness....There is nothing learnt but by study and application. I study and apply more, probably, than any man in England.” It was true of this long voyage in wind and sunshine when he was laying the foundations of the military and administrative knowledge and lore which he was to apply with such far-reaching results in the years ahead.


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