Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N.

By W. D. Puleston | Go to book overview

Chapter XXVI "The Life of Nelson"

ALTHOUGH Mahan had resented the department's insistence that he go to sea in command of the Chicago, it was very fortunate for him that he went. The attentions shown him in England and on the Continent partly convinced his still skeptical brother officers and his indifferent fellow citizens that he was a naval historian of the first order. His actual presence abroad not only increased the interest there in his books on sea power, but inspired a confidence that unlocked family archives and placed at his disposal private papers concerning Nelson's life which previously had been inaccessible. He was assisted by Lord Nelson, a representative of Lady Nelson's family, and by Nelson Ward, the son of Nelson's beloved daughter Floratia. Descendants of Nelson's captains contributed some of Nelson's letters, and Professors Laughton and Thursfield, who knew more about Nelson's life and career than any other's of their generation, also helped.

He began work on his life of Nelson in 1893, and by the time he abandoned the effort to write aboard the Chicago in April, 1891, he had carried the story to the beginning of the war with France. Once he had fixed his mind on this undertaking, Nelson was never far from his thoughts. No better preparation for the work could have been conceived than the cruise of the Chicago which took him to many ports that were closely connected with Nelson's career and brought him into friendly touch with descendants of Nelson's colleagues. Above all, the respect and admiration shown Mahan by the civil, military, and naval leaders of the western European nations were precisely the tonic for his diffident disposition. It is easy to see from his letters

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