Arthur Coleman is Professor of English at Long Island University in Brookville, NY. He is the author of six books and numerous articles.
Hildy Neel teaches at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, New York.
Seize, Burn, or Sink: The Thoughts and Words of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson
Author: Steven Maffeo
Publishers: Scarecrow Press
Price $95 US
Publication Date: Jan 2007
Burn, or Sink: The Thoughts and Words of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson contains over 3,000 quotations from Sir Horatio Nelson, the most
famous leader in British Naval history. Taken from both Nelson's official
letters as well as his personal ones, the quotes presented within bring insight
into the thoughts and character of the greatest fighting admiral who ever
lived. Historian Steven Maffeo has carefully boiled down more than 4,000
letters and documents of Nelson's writing to single out the cream of Nelsonian
commentary. Organized chronologically by topic, Nelson's "cheerful, urgent
but often wayward and usually unpunctuated stream of consciousness"
tackles everything from death and desertion to leadership and loyalty. A
detailed index is also included for readers wishing to know Nelson's opinion on
a specific individual, event, or place.
Seize, Burn, or Sink is a goldmine of information and insight on this extraordinary man who has continued to capture the imagination of individuals for generations. Readers and historians engrossed with the age-of-sail and the late eighteenth century are finally presented with a firsthand look at Nelson's words gathered in one convenient source. Moreover, the addition of a chronology of Lord Nelson's life, a bibliography, and maps and photos further enhance the usefulness of Sir Horatio's quotes.
About the Author
Steven E. Maffeo is currently Associate Director of the U.S. Air Force Academy Library in Colorado; the Director of the part-time Postgraduate Intelligence Program at the U.S. National Defence Intelligence College (NDIC); and with the rank of Captain, the Commanding Officer of Navy Reserve Unit NDIC 0966. He is also visiting history instructor for the "Age of Nelson"-era frigate USS Constitution in Boston MA, as well as the author of Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson.
Reviews to Date
"Two hundred years ago admirals had no staff; yet, more time. In addition to his duties of leading his fleet, an admiral was also his nation's roving ambassador. Correspondence took months to get anywhere, so he was the 'man on the spot' who made political decisions and commitments wherever his ships happened to call. Riding their flagships around for months-even years-at sea, admirals spent much of their days hunched over a desk reading correspondence and writing letters with goose-quill pens; letters to everyone: their superiors, their families, other captains, government officials high-and-low-officials of their own nation as well as of the various ports in which their ships might call. One of these most famous, and victorious, admirals was Horatio Nelson-and he was an admiral who had a way with words. Historian Steven E. Maffeo has mined his voluminous correspondence to give us the nuggets in this book-the best of Nelson; or, if you will, Nelson unexpurgated. You will find this book a great read and a reference you will return to often, in the years ahead, when you need just the right phrase. I recommend it to you."-Stephen Coonts, New York Times best-selling author of Flight of the Intruder, Fortunes of War, Combat, Deep Black, and America
I write about the age of fighting sail, a period dominated by Horatio Nelson. In the course of doing research for my Thomas Kydd series it has to be said that my huge admiration for Nelson, which I've had ever since I was very young and first set eyes on HMS Victory, has increased and strengthened even more.
Whole flotillas of books (and numerous internet sites) have come out on Nelson in the past few years, especially in 2005, the Year of the Sea and the bi-centenary of his tragic death at the Battle of Trafalgar. One could ask "Do we really need yet more books on Nelson?"
I think the answer is "Yes", providing these new offerings bring something fresh to the table. Maffeo's book is the first publication to put together in one convenient volume the bulk of Nelson's most famous and interesting remarks.
Nelson was nothing if not a complex man and reading his actual thoughts, two hundred years on, does help us to understand just what it was about him that caused grown men to sob helplessly at his death, and what qualities made him such an icon for all time. I don't believe we can overestimate Nelson's place in history – as well as his heroic achievements in battle, in large measure he forged principles of behaviour in the Navy that endure to this day.
Having found Steven Maffeo's previous book Most Secret and Confidential an excellent treatment of naval intelligence in the period 1780-1815, I was intrigued to see what he had selected as throwing most light on a man, who, as I've said, is such a hero of mine. The author certainly set himself a daunting task in compiling a book of Nelsonian quotations from the huge amount of material now available; he consulted over 4000 letters and documents.
For someone with a reasonable knowledge of Nelson's achievements, I still found numerous delightful gems as I perused the pages of Seize, Burn, or Sink. And Nelson had a unique writing style, intriguing as much for what he said, as how he said it. One section I did find particularly poignant was "On His Own Health", which brought home just how much Nelson suffered from various injuries and ailments during his career. I also found "Others on Nelson" a fascinating miscellany of impressions of the great hero, varying from the hugely flattering to the downright insulting.
The book's add-ons are useful. The bibliography is extensive, and there is a comprehensive chronology of his life.
I do have some criticisms of this publication. The first is that to fully appreciate some of the quotations it could be said that they are best read in context, but obviously this would add many extra pages and would not be feasible within one volume. However Maffeo does give attribution, enabling follow-up of any particularly interesting ones.
I felt the artwork was disappointing: the illustrations were poorly reproduced, and the maps especially hard to read.
The index, while quite lengthy is not exhaustive. I tried to find "aft the more honour, forward the better man" by checking various key words in the index. It was only when reading "On Sayings" that I came across this phrase, written by Nelson in Minorca.
Overall, I will certainly have this book to hand in my collection of Nelson research material and I believe that for any serious student of Nelson it is an invaluable reference tool.
We live in an electronic age, however the art of communication and the written word are declining rapidly. It is excellent that we have so much of the thoughts and words of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson.
Those who served in the Royal Navy will certainly recall how the first person you saw on leave always said, "When are you going back?" Nelson had a different problem, a problem associated with his generation, "You ask when I will return to England? How can you, who have been to sea ask such a question? How can I possibly tell? And I never guess". He also said "However, in sea affairs, nothing is impossible, and nothing improbable".
Can it be possible that a Naval officer of this period could have written so much and remarkably that so much has survived? The answer may lie in the fact that Nelson kept copies of everything he wrote.
There still exist various views of Nelson. Books reflect this approach eg 'Nelson the Admiral', 'Nelson the Commander', 'Nelson's Hero', 'Nelson & his Captains', 'Nelson's Trafalgar Captains & their Battles' and 'A Portrait of Lord Nelson' to list just a few. But what of Nelson the man, where can we search?
Those of us who write a considerable amount must leave something of ourselves behind and of course when memories fade or all of our generation have passed on, it will be all that remains - unless of course we have left railways and bridges as Isambard Kingdom Brunel did.
Nelson left us a strong Navy and a legacy we are told, but it seems he also left us his thoughts and words. In 1776 at the age of 18 Nelson said "I will be a hero and, confiding in providence, I will brave every danger!". By his death in 1805 he had won fame as a brilliant fighting Commander and Naval tactician. His reputation as one of Britain's Naval heroes has lasted for more that two centuries and shows no sign of fading. But what was he really like?
Perhaps reading his thoughts might give us some idea, we are told in the 'Foreword'
by the author that, 'During the long course of human history only a handful of individuals have captured the enduring interest of succeeding generations. Horatio Nelson is one of this select group and there is something mysterious about the matter, for the fascination engendered by this extraordinary man is not easy to rationalize, even in a modem age addicted to the fawning apotheoses of so-called celebritie....
Nelson was occasionally and notoriously disobedient; he was vainglorious, appearing to the future Duke of Wellington, on the only occasion that they met, as distinctly odd (though on discovering who General Wellesley was, Nelson quickly changed his tack).
Curiously, this great naval commander was an indifferent seaman in his own right, and occasionally his judgement was clouded by his egotism. Nevertheless, Horatio Nelson was the most successful fighting admiral ever produced by Great Britain, a country which, by even the most hostile scale of reckoning, produced hundreds of brilliant sea officers….
Not surprisingly, such a charismatic and contradictory character was a complex person-and yet his entire life may be reduced to the simplest motivation of patriotic devotion'.
Here we have Nelson at work, writing as a private individual throughout his career and his rise to Admiral. Is it all he ever wrote? Very unlikely. However it certainly gives us plenty to expand what we think of him ourselves and there it must stand.