Our Navy books comprise one of the largest sections in the shop, many of our customers who sell and buy having been in the Navy at one time. Whilst our shelves are quite full, last week we had space to squeeze in a small collection of ephemera relating to the Portsmouth Dockyards and by extension, the Victory and other victorious or vanquished relics of Naval History.
This collection may not be the most valuable, but I have an irrational enthusiasm for it and despite having no Naval credentials whatsoever and being from the land-locked Midlands, I for one, am itching to follow Colin White’s pamphlet ‘Nelson’s Last Walk’. The beginning point is at Penny Street, where Nelson took the back exit from the George Hotel to avoid the crowds who had gathered there to see him off and finishes at the sea wall in Southsea, from where it is possible to see the Eastern tip of the Isle of Wight and of course St Helens, where the Victory was waiting for him, a long hard row away. Having been mobbed by crowds as he walked his final journey, Nelson comments to Hardy, ‘I had their huzzas before - I have their hearts now’. He certainly has mine, though I suspect that my poorly informed enthusiasm for the Navy makes me rather like the silly but endearing Louisa Musgrove.
Amongst the books, 'The Last of the Wooden Walls of England' is a period piece from 1944, with green tinted paper and a browny red buckram cover with gold titles and is a rather wistful account of the wrecks of the Navy, with some black and white and other colour tipped-in illustrations by Frank Brangwyn, showing great naval hulks wrecked or in the process of demolition. Some have the slight misty air of Turner’s ‘Fighting Temeraire’ and are accompanied by saccharine poetry.
Behold yon black and batter'd hulk
That slumbers on the tide,
There is no sound from stem to stern,
For peace has pluck'd her pride;
Brangwyn's misty illustrations which may evoke Turner's work, have drawn me to a slim book entitled 'The Fighting Temeraire’. It is saving me from Wikipedia by filling some gaps in my knowledge and I am now more au fait with the fate of this great war ship, her role at the Battle of Trafalgar and the devastating blow she issued on Redoubtable, just at the point when Captain Lucas men prepared to swarm aboard the Victory, for 'Distinguished ships have a personality only less vivid than that of the men who fought them'. (AT Mahan)