Wellington: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

38 Oxford University and Apsley House 1832-4

'If I could be spoilt by this sort of thing, they would spoil me here.'

THE DUKE sometimes thought, now that he was in his mid-sixties, that he would like to live as a private country gentleman, reading, entertaining and being entertained, talking to pretty women about his campaigns in the past, undertaking further improvements at Stratfield Saye where central heating was installed under his watchful eye, riding to hounds without discontented villagers gazing upon him sullenly and, as they sometimes did, raising their voices against him. He even thought how pleasant it would be to quit altogether this 'unfortunate and unhappy country', as he advised Harriet Arbuthnot to do. 1 But then he was, after all, a public figure with public duties to perform and public responsibilities to fulfil. In the early days of his opposition to the Reform Bill he had declared that he would never again enter the House of Lords should it become law. But his sense of duty was too strong for that declaration to be taken seriously; and when, after the Bill had become law, Croker wrote to tell him that he himself would not stand for Parliament again, the Duke replied, 'I am very sorry that you do not intend again to serve in Parlt. I cannot conceive for what reason.'2

As for himself, he considered that the Duke of Wellington -- referring to himself in the third person as though he saw the great statesman and soldier as a man apart -- could not abandon the role for which he had been cast. So long as he was needed he must serve his King and country as only he could. 'I am the Duke of Wellington,' he told Croker, 'and, bon gré, mal gré, must do as the Duke of Wellington doth.'3

And, after all, there were still many compensations in being the Duke of Wellington, and many agreeable functions for him to perform as a public figure. His duties as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports

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