Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

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Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1 May 176914 September 1852) was a British soldier and statesman. Rising to prominence during the Peninsular War, he became a national hero in Britain after the Napoleonic Wars during which he led the victorious Anglo-Allied forces at the Battle of Waterloo. He later became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on two separate occasions.


It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.
The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.
All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called "guessing what was at the other side of the hill."
Publish and be damned.
There is no mistake; there has been no mistake; and there shall be no mistake.
The only thing I am afraid of is fear.
  • I have seen their backs before, madam.
    • This is attributed to Wellington as a statement to an unidentified woman at a reception in Vienna, who had apologized for the rudeness of some French officers who had turned their backs on him when he entered, as quoted in The Guinness Book of Military Anecdotes (1992), by Geoffrey Regan, page 27
    • Variant: 'Tis of no matter, your Highness, I have seen their backs before.
    • This is attributed to Wellington as a statement to King Louis XVIII at a ball in the spring of 1814, as quoted in "Anecdotes of Wellington" at The Wellington Society of Madrid
  • I believe I forgot to tell you I was made a Duke.
    • Postscript to a letter to his brother Henry Wellesley (22 May 1814), published in Supplementary Despatches and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, Duke of Wellington, K. G.: South of France, embassy to Paris, and Congress of Vienna, 1814-1815. Editors: Arthur Richard Wellesley Duke of Wellington, Arthur Richard Wellesley Wellington (2d Duke of). Editor: J. Murray, 1862. Origin of the original: Universidad de Michigan. Digitized: 28 November 2006. p. 100. Arthur Wellesley, 2nd Duke of Wellington
  • Who will attack first tomorrow? I or Bonaparte?
    -Well, Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects, and as my plans will depend on his, how can you expect to tell me what mine are?
    • Wellington's response, on the night of 17th June 1815, to The Earl of Uxbridge's (his second-in-command) request to know the British Army's "plans" for the battle expected the following day; quoted in Bernard Cornwell's Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles
  • Up, Guards, and at them again.
    • Said at the Battle of Waterloo, as quoted in a letter from a Captain Batty of the Foot Guards (22 June 1815), often misquoted as "Up Guards and at 'em." Wellington himself, years later, declared that he did not know exactly what he had said on the occasion, and doubted that anyone did.
  • Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest.
  • Uxbridge: By God, sir, I've lost my leg!
    Wellington: By God, sir, so you have!
    • Exchange said to have occurred at the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815), after Lord Uxbridge lost his leg to a cannonball; as quoted in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
    • Variant account:
      Uxbridge: I have lost my leg, by God!
      Wellington: By God, and have you!
      • Thomas Hardy, in The Dynasts, Pt. III Act VII, scene viii, portraying the incident.
  • Give me night or give me Blücher.
    • Comment made at a crisis point during during Battle of Waterloo at about 5.45 pm on 18 June. The Military Maxims of Napoleon by Napoleon Bonaparte, David G. Chandler, William E. Cairnes , p. 143 Alternatively wording may have been "Night or the Prussians must come": quoted by David Howarth, page 162, "Waterloo: Day of Battle", ISBN=0-88365-273-0
  • My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won: the bravery of my troops hitherto saved me from the greater evil; but to win such a battle as this of Waterloo, at the expense of so many gallant friends, could only be termed a heavy misfortune but for the result to the public.
    • Letter from the field of Waterloo (June 1815), as quoted in Decisive Battles of the World (1899) by Edward Shepherd Creasy. Quoted too in Memorable Battles in English History: Where Fought, why Fought, and Their Results; with the Military Lives of the Commanders by William Henry Davenport Adams; Editor Griffith and Farran, 1863. p. 400.
  • It has been a damned serious business... Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. … By God! I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there.
    • Remark to Thomas Creevey (18 June 1815), using the word nice in an older sense of "uncertain, delicately balanced", about the Battle of Waterloo. Creevy, a civilian, got a public interview with Wellington at headquarters, and quoted the remark in his book Creevey Papers (1903), in Ch. X, on p. 236; the phrase "a damned nice thing" has sometimes been paraphrased as "a damn close-run thing."
  • They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way.
    • About the French attacks at the Battle of Waterloo, quoted in Roberts, Andrew (2010); Napoleon and Wellington; Hachette, UK; ISBN 0297865269.
  • The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.
  • Just to show you how little reliance can be placed even on what are supposed the best accounts of a battle, I mention that there are some circumstances mentioned in General —'s account which did not occur as he relates them. It is impossible to say when each important occurrence took place, or in what order.
  • Publish and be damned.
    • His response in 1824 to John Joseph Stockdale who threatened to publish anecdotes of Wellington and his mistress Harriette Wilson, as quoted in Wellington — The Years of the Sword (1969) by Elizabeth Longford. This has commonly been recounted as a response made to Wilson herself, in response to a threat to publish her memoirs and his letters. This account of events seems to have started with Confessions of Julia Johnstone In Contradiction to the Fables of Harriette Wilson (1825), where she makes such an accusation, and states that his reply had been "write and be damned".
  • The national character of the three kingdoms was strongly marked in my army. I found the English regiments always in the best humour when we were well supplied with beef; the Irish when we were in the wine countries, and the Scotch when the dollars for pay came up. This looks like an epigram, but I assure you it was a fact, and quite perceptible; but we managed to reconcile all their tempers, and I will venture to say that in our later campaigns, and especially when we crossed the Pyrenees, there never was an army in the world in better spirits, better order, or better discipline. We had mended in discipline every campaign, until at last (smiling) I hope we were pretty near perfect.
    • Remarks to John Wilson Croker (20 October 1825), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. I (1884), p. 353
  • Buonaparte's mind was, in its details, low and ungentlemanlike. I suppose the narrowness of his early prospects and habits stuck to him; what we understand by gentlemanlike feelings he knew nothing at all about.
    • Remarks to John Wilson Croker (1826), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. I (1884), p. 339
  • The noble Earl had alluded to the propriety of effecting Parliamentary Reform. The noble Earl had, however, been candid enough to acknowledge that he was not prepared with any measure of reform, and he could have no scruple in saying that his Majesty's Government was as totally unprepared with any plan as the noble Lord. Nay, he, on his own part, would go further, and say, that he had never read or heard of any measure up to the present moment which could in any degree satisfy his mind that the state of the representation could be improved, or be rendered more satisfactory to the country at large than at the present moment... He was fully convinced that the country possessed at the present moment a Legislature which answered all the good purposes of legislation, and this to a greater degree than any Legislature ever had answered in any country whatever. He would go further and say, that the Legislature and the system of representation possessed the full and entire confidence of the country—deservedly possessed that confidence—and the discussions in the Legislature had a very great influence over the opinions of the country. He would go still further and say, that if at the present moment he had imposed upon him the duty of forming a Legislature for any country, and particularly for a country like this, in possession of great property of various descriptions, he did not mean to assert that he could form such a Legislature as they possessed now, for the nature of man was incapable of reaching such excellence at once; but his great endeavour would be, to form some description of legislature which would produce the same results. The representation of the people at present contained a large body of the property of the country, and in which the landed interests had a preponderating influence. Under these circumstances, he was not prepared to bring forward any measure of the description alluded to by the noble Lord. He was not only not prepared to bring forward any measure of this nature, but he would at once declare that as far as he was concerned, as long as he held any station in the government of the country, he should always feel it his duty to resist such measures when proposed by others.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (2 November 1830)
  • I never saw so many shocking bad hats in my life.
    • When asked what he thought of the first Reformed Parliament (1832), as quoted in Words on Wellington (1889) by Sir William Fraser, p. 12
  • The revolution is made, that is to say, that power is transferred from one class of society, the gentlemen of England, professing the faith of the Church of England, to another class of society, the shopkeepers, being dissenters from the Church, many of them Socinians, others atheists. I don't think that the influence of property in this country is in the abstract diminished. That is to say, that the gentry have as many followers and influence as many voters at elections as ever they did. But a new democratic influence has been introduced into elections, the copy-holders and free-holders and lease-holders residing in towns which do not themselves return members to Parliament. These are all dissenters from the Church, and are everywhere a formidably active party against the aristocratic influence of the Landed Gentry. But this is not all. There are dissenters in every village in the country; they are the blacksmith, the carpenter, the mason, &c. &c. The new influence established in the towns has drawn these to their party; and it is curious to see to what a degree it is a dissenting interest.
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (6 March 1833), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. II (1884), pp. 205-206
  • The foreign policy of England should be to maintain peace, not only for herself but between the powers of the world. This should be her policy, not only because she can have no interest in a change of the state of possession of the several powers...but because she has the most extensive commercial relations depending upon peace with each and all the powers of the world, the interruption of which must be injurious to her prosperity.
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (30 September 1833), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. II (1884), p. 218
  • I believe that if ever we are to come to blows with the Russians in India we must rely upon our sepoys, as we have in all our wars there with European as well as with native powers. These with our superior knowledge of the art of war in that country and our superior equipment, founded upon our knowledge of the resources of the seat of the war, the character of the natives and other circumstances, will give us advantages which will more than counter balance the supposed inferiority of our troops.
    • Letter (1834), quoted in John Brooke and Julia Gandy (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: Wellington. Political Correspondence: 1833–November 1834 (1975), p. 457
  • Buonaparte's whole life, civil, political, and military, was a fraud. There was not a transaction, great or small, in which lying and fraud were not introduced.
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (29 December 1835), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. II (1884), p. 287
  • Buonaparte's foreign policy was force and menace, aided by fraud and corruption. If the fraud was discovered, force and menace succeeded; and in most cases the unfortunate victim did not dare to avow that he perceived the fraud.
    • Letter to John Wilson Croker (29 December 1835), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. II (1884), p. 288
  • The real question that now divides the country and which truly divides the House of Commons, is church or no church. People talk of the war in Spain, and the Canada question. But all that is of little moment. The real question is church or no church.
    • Statement (1838), quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. I (1903), p. 155
  • There is not a Moslem heart in Asia, from Pekin to Constantinople, which will not vibrate, when reflecting upon the fact that the European ladies, and other females attached to the troops at Cabul, were made over to the tender mercies of the Moslem chief, who had with his own hand murdered the representative of the British Government at the Court of the Sovereign of Afghanistan... It is impossible to impress upon you too strongly the notion of the importance of the restoration of our reputation in the East. Our enemies in France, the United States, and wherever found, are now rejoicing in our disasters and degradation. You will teach them that their triumph is premature.
    • Letter to Lord Ellenborough on the First Afghan War (31 March 1842), quoted in Charles Stuart Parker (ed.), Sir Robert Peel from His Private Papers, Volume II (1899), p. 582
  • Who? Who?
    • Repeatedly asked in a loud voice in February 1852, during the introduction of the new cabinet of the Prime Minister the Earl of Derby, composed largely of political unknowns not recognized by the deaf and octogenarian Duke. The cabinet became known as the Who? Who? Ministry. As quoted in The Speeches of the Duke of Wellington in Parliament (1854) edited by John Gurwood and William Hazlitt, p. 272.
  • All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called "guessing what was at the other side of the hill."
    • Remarks to John Wilson Croker and Croker's wife (4 September 1852), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. III (1884), p. 276

Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington (1886)

Quotes of Wellington from Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington (1886) by Philip Henry Stanhope
  • I used to say of him that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men.
    • On Napoleon Bonaparte, in notes for 2 November 1831; later, in the notes for 18 September 1836, he is quoted as saying:
It is very true that I have said that I considered Napoleon's presence in the field equal to forty thousand men in the balance. This is a very loose way of talking; but the idea is a very different one from that of his presence at a battle being equal to a reinforcement of forty thousand men.
  • The only thing I am afraid of is fear.
    • Referring to a cholera outbreak in London, 1831
    • Notes for 3 November 1831.
  • The French system of conscription brings together a fair sample of all classes; ours is composed of the scum of the earth — the mere scum of the earth. It is only wonderful that we should be able to make so much out of them afterwards.
    • Speaking about soldiers in the British Army, 4 November 1813
    • A French army is composed very differently from ours. The conscription calls out a share of every class — no matter whether your son or my son — all must march; but our friends — I may say it in this room — are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.
      • Notes for 11 November 1831.
  • My rule always was to do the business of the day in the day.
    • Notes for 2 November 1835.
  • Circumstances over which I have no control.
    • Phrase said to have first been used by Wellington, as quoted in notes for 18 September 1836
    • I hope you will not think I am deficient in feeling toward you, or that I am wanting in desire to serve you, because the results of my attempts have failed, owing to circumstances over which I have no control.
  • They wanted this iron fist to command them.
    • Of troops sent to the Canadian frontier in the War of 1812, in notes for 8 November 1840.


  • Mistaken for me, is he? That's strange, for no one ever mistakes me for Mr. Jones.
    • In response to being told that the painter George Jones bore a strong resemblance to him, and that he was often mistaken for him, as quoted in My Autobiography and Reminiscences Vol. 1 (1887).
  • If you believe that you will believe anything.
    • In reply to a man who greeted him in the street with the words "Mr. Jones, I believe?", as quoted in Wellington — The Years of the Sword (1969) by Elizabeth Longford.
  • You must build your House of Parliament on the river: so... that the populace cannot exact their demands by sitting down round you.
  • I have no small talk and Peel has no manners.
  • I should have given more praise.
    • As quoted in A History of Warfare (1968) by Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: "Sir Winston Churchill once told me of a reply made by the Duke of Wellington, in his last years, when a friend asked him: "If you had your life over again, is there any way in which you could have done better?" The old Duke replied: "Yes, I should have given more praise."
  • Depend upon it, Sir, nothing will come of them!
    • On the coming of the railways, in The Birth of the Modern (1991), by Paul Johnson. p. 993.
  • There is no mistake; there has been no mistake; and there shall be no mistake.
    • In response to William Huskisson declaring there had been a mistake, and he had not intended to resign, after Wellington chose to interpret a letter to him detailing his obligation to vote for a measure opposed by him as a letter of resignation. As quoted in The Military and Political Life of Arthur Wellesley: Duke of Wellington (1852) by "A Citizen of the World", and in Wellingtoniana (1852), edited by John Timbs
  • During the Peninsula War, I heard a Portuguese general address his troops before a battle with the words, "Remember men, you are Portuguese!"
    • Wellington's reply when asked, late in his life, what was the most inane remark he had ever heard, as quoted in Journals of Alec Guinness (February 1998) by Alec Guinness
  • Sparrow-hawks, Ma'am
    • Queen Victoria, concerned about the sparrows that had nested in the roof of the partly finished Crystal Palace, asked Wellington's advice as to how to get rid of them. Wellington’s reply was succinct and to the point, Sparrow-hawks, Ma'am. He was right, by the time the Crystal Palace was opened by the Queen in 1851, they had all gone![2]
  • Not at all. If I had lost the battle, they would have shot me.
    • Wellington's retort when he was asked if he felt honored at being feted as a hero by the people of Brussels after returning victorious from Waterloo, according to Sir John Keegan's chapter on Wellington in his book The Mask of Command
  • At first it was a lie, then a strong delusion, and at last downright madness.
    • Wellington's assessment of George IV's claims that he had been present at the Battle of Waterloo as later recalled by Earl Russell, quoted in Lady John Russell: A Memoir (1910), edited by Desmond McCarthy and Agatha Russell. p. 221


As Lord Chesterfield said of the generals of his day, "I only hope that when the enemy reads the list of their names, he trembles as I do."
  • I don't know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.
    • Said to be his remarks on a draft of new troops sent to him in Spain (1809), as quoted in A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources (1942) by H. L. Mencken, this quote is disputed, and may be derived from a comment made to Colonel Robert Torrens about some of his generals in a despatch (29 August 1810): "As Lord Chesterfield said of the generals of his day, "I only hope that when the enemy reads the list of their names, he trembles as I do."
  • [I don't] care a twopenny damn what [becomes] of the ashes of Napoleon Bonaparte.
    • As quoted in The Times [London] (9 October 1944); this attribution probably originates in a letter by Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay (6 March 1849), in which he states "How they settle the matter I care not, as the duke says, one twopenny damn."


  • If a gentleman happens to be born in a stable, it does not follow that he should be called a horse.
    • As quoted in Genetic Studies in Joyce (1995) by David Hayman and Sam Slote. Though such remarks have often been quoted as Wellington's response on being called Irish, the earliest published sources yet found for similar comments are those about him attributed to an Irish politician:
    • The poor old Duke! what shall I say of him? To be sure he was born in Ireland, but being born in a stable does not make a man a horse.
    • No, he is not an Irishman. He was born in Ireland; but being born in a stable does not make a man a horse.
    • Variants: If a man be born in a stable, that does not make him a horse.
      • Quoted as as an anonymous proverb in Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern English and Foreign Sources (1899), p. 171
    • Because a man is born in a stable that does not make him a horse.
      • Quoted as a dubious statement perhaps made early in his career in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs (1992) edited by John Simpson and Jennifer Speake, p. 162.
  • The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (26 December 1886), and in Words on Wellington (1889) by Sir William Fraser, this is almost certainly apocryphal. The first attributions of such a remark to Wellington were in De l'Avenir politique de l'Angleterre (1856) by Charles de Montalembert, Ch. 10, where it is stated that on returning to Eton in old age he had said: "C'est ici qu'a été gagnée la bataille de Waterloo." This was afterwards quoted in Self-Help (1859) by Samuel Smiles as "It was there that the Battle of Waterloo was won!" Later in Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (2nd Edition, 1876) by Sir Edward Creasy, he is quoted as saying as he passed groups playing cricket on the playing-fields: "There grows the stuff that won Waterloo."
    • Elizabeth Longford in Wellington — The Years of the Sword (1969) states he "probably never said or thought anything of the kind" and Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington in a letter published in The Times in 1972 is quoted as stating: "During his old age Wellington is recorded to have visited Eton on two occasions only and it is unlikely that he came more often. … Wellington's career at Eton was short and inglorious and, unlike his elder brother, he had no particular affection for the place. … Quite apart from the fact that the authority for attributing the words to Wellington is of the flimsiest description, to anyone who knows his turn of phrase they ring entirely false."

Quotes about the Duke of Wellington

  • [N]o man better exemplified the best qualities of the English ruling class than the Duke of Wellington, with his high-nosed aristocratic confidence and direct simplicity of speech and manners; a man remarkable for hard-minded good sense, steady nerve and a character as true and tough as the metal of a cannon. In Wellington Bonaparte had come up against an officer with the same simple resolve to do his duty as Colonel Maillard who had held the Citadel of Ajaccio against him in 1792. In Wellington also Bonaparte had come up against by far the most formidable opponent of his career, alike because of the Englishman's professionalism, his force of leadership and his sheer strength of will.
  • As one reads through the twelve portly volumes of Gurwood's edition of the Dispatches, one cannot but be amazed by the variety of knowledge, the clarity of exposition, the attention to detail, the relentless supervision or inspiration of such manifold activities—military, administrative and diplomatic.
    • Antony Brett-James, Wellington at War, 1794–1815: A Selection of His Wartime Letters (1961), p. xxix
  • Madame de Maurville now told me that an English commissary was just arrived from the army [at Waterloo], who had assured her that the tide of success was completely turned to the side of the Allies... [S]he...returned escorted by Mr. Saumarez himself. His narration was all triumphant, and his account of the Duke of Wellington might almost have seemed an exaggerated panegyric if it had painted some warrior in a chivalresque romance. He was everywhere, he said; the eye could turn in no direction that it did not perceive him, either at hand or at a distance; galloping to charge the enemy, or darting across the field to issue orders. Every ball also, he said, seemed fired, and every gun aimed at him; yet nothing touched him; he seemed as impervious for safety as he was dauntless for courage: while danger all the time relentlessly environed him, and wounds or death continually robbed him of the services of some one of the bravest of those who were near to him. But he suffered nothing to check or engage him that belonged to personal interest or feeling; his entire concentrated attention, exclusive aim, and intense thought were devoted impartially, imperturbably, and grandly to the Whole, the All.
    • Frances Burney, Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay, Vol. VII. 1813—1840 (1846), pp. 168-169
  • We were considering in the Cabinet how the Chartists should be dealt with, and when it was determined that the procession should be stopped after it had moved, we agreed that the particular place where it should be stopped was purely a military question. The Duke of Wellington was requested to come to us, which he did very readily. We had then a regular Council of War, as upon the eve of a great battle. We examined maps and returns and information of the movements of the enemy. After long deliberation, plans of attack and defence were formed to meet every contingency. The quickness, intelligence, and decision which the Duke displayed were very striking, and he inspired us all with perfect confidence by the dispositions which he prescribed... It was not I alone who was struck with the consultation yesterday. Macaulay said to me that he considered it the most interesting spectacle he had ever witnessed, and that he should remember it to his dying day.
    • John Campbell to his brother (9 April 1848), quoted in Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England: From the Earliest Times till the Reign of Queen Victoria, Volume 12 (1881), pp. 304-305
  • Last night at a grand ball at Bath House... By far the most interesting figure present was the old Duke of Wellington, who appeared between twelve and one, and slowly glided through the rooms—truly a beautiful old man; I had never seen till now how beautiful, and what an expression of graceful simplicity, veracity, and nobleness there is about the old hero when you see him close at hand. His very size had hitherto deceived me. He is a shortish slightish figure, about five feet eight, of good breadth however, and all muscle or bone... Eyes beautiful light blue, full of mild valour, with infinitely more faculty and geniality than I had fancied before; the face wholly gentle, wise, valiant, and venerable. The voice too, as I again heard, is "aquiline" clear, perfectly equable—uncracked, that is—and perhaps almost musical, but essentially tenor or almost treble voice—eighty-two, I understand. He glided slowly along, slightly saluting this and that other, clear, clean, fresh as this June evening itself, till the silver buckle of his stock vanished into the door of the next room, and I saw him no more.
    • Thomas Carlyle, journal entry (25 June 1850), quoted in James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London, 1834–1881, Vol. II (1884), pp. 38-39
  • I shall express a strong wish to see him here [in Paris], if he can manage it. I wish he would at the outset undertake this embassy. His military name would give him and us the greatest ascendency.
    • Lord Castlereagh to Lord Liverpool (13 April 1814), quoted in Archibald Alison, Lives of Lord Castlereagh and Sir Charles Stewart, The Second and Third Marquesses of Londonderry, With Annals of Contemporary Events in Which They Bore a Part: From the Original Papers of the Family, Vol. II (1861), pp. 464-465
  • This was the death-year of the Great Duke—the "Iron Duke," as we so often called him. Living in Knightsbridge, about a quarter of a mile beyond Apsley House, I had to pass by his dwelling every time that I went into the heart of London; and saw him, sometimes, every day for weeks together. What a fascination, what an irresistible attraction there was about that grand old man! How all the memorable doings of our century seemed to gather around him, as you looked at his rigid, stern figure! I often walked close by his horse, for half a mile out of my way, marking his bearing, and noting the uniform "military tip," of his forefinger towards his forehead, that he gave to all those, great or little, who took off their hats to him; and there were usually scores who did this... I remembered his opposition to Reform... But all this had passed away; and Wellington had become not only the great pillar of State and most valued counsellor of his Queen; but, next to her, the most deeply respected and most heartily honoured person in the realm. Everybody liked to see "the Duke"; and no one would hear a word against him. Soldiers—old soldiers—they idolized him. They regarded him as the very personification of English valour and English sagacity. Politicians—they all had a glance towards him when they contemplated new measures. He was an institution in himself. We all felt as if we lived, now he was dead, in a different England.
  • The funeral of the Great Duke was the most impressive grand spectacle I ever beheld... The varied costume of the English regiments mingled with the kilted Highlanders, and Lancers and Life Guards with the Scotch Greys, rendered the vision picturesque as well as stately. But it was upon the huge funeral car, and the led charger in front of it, that all eyes gazed most wistfully:—above all, it was upon the crimson-velvet covered coffin, upon the vast pall—not covered by it, borne aloft, on the car, with the white-plumed cocked hat, and the sword and marshal's baton lying upon the coffin, that all gazed most intently. I watched it—I stretched my neck to get the last sight of the car as it passed along Piccadilly, till it was out of sight; and then I thought the great connecting link of our national life was broken: the great actor in the scenes of the Peninsula and Waterloo—the conqueror of Napoleon—and the chief name in our home political life for many years,—had disappeared. I seemed to myself to belong now to another generation of men; for my childhood was passed amid the noise about Wellington's battles, and his name and existence seemed stamped on every year of our time.
  • [I]t is customary to say—and nothing is more true—that the most economical Government we ever had in England was the Government of the Duke of Wellington. Why was that Government so economical? Because the Duke of Wellington paid the greatest possible attention of any Minister who ever ruled in this country to the interests and business of England abroad. He attended to them so successfully and so sedulously that during his administration we were not involved in expensive wars; we did not get into difficulties in which we were obliged to have recourse to expensive arbitration...and I repeat it was essentially by his attention to foreign affairs, and by his knowledge of foreign affairs...that he was able to make his an economical Government and had not to appeal, as has been our custom of late, for increased armaments.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, speech in Newport Pagnell (4 February 1874), quoted in The Times (5 February 1874), p. 5
  • Met dear Sir Andrew Barnard at Apsley House... Told me the best troops we had at Waterloo were almost all second battalions, scarcely out of the goose-step. They stood, and hammered away as well as the oldest, but it would have been very hazardous to have manoeuvred with them under fire as with the old Peninsulars. The Duke said of Napoleon during the action: "D—n the fellow, he is a mere pounder after all." ... I asked him (Sir Andrew) if he had any anxiety about the result. He said, "Oh no, except for the Duke. We had a notion that while he was there nothing could go wrong."
    • Lord Ellesmere, 'Note of a Memorandum' (6 May 1845), quoted in Lord Ellesmere, Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington, ed. Alice, Countess of Strafford (1903), p. 179
  • In so far as the conduct of campaigns...Wellington was a dangerous opponent. However, if that was the case, on the battlefield he was absolutely deadly. In the Peninsula he triumphed, generally resoundingly so, over every French commander that came against him...while at Waterloo he held off Napoleon himself for a full day at the head of an army that was not remotely comparable to the troops he had headed in Spain and Portugal... [I]t is evident that Wellington's icy manner reflected a cool detachment that allowed him constantly to out-think the enemy, to exploit any accident of ground to the full, to maximise the strong points of his own forces and to get the best out of his officers and men: liked he may not have been, but respect and confidence he inspired in abundance... In Wellington, then, Britain truly had one of the greatest generals of all time.
    • Charles Esdaile, 'Introduction', The Duke of Wellington, Military Dispatches (2014), pp. xxx-xxxi
  • Cold and indifferent, nay, apparently careless in the beginning of battles, when the moment of difficulty comes intelligence flashes from the eyes of this wonderful man; and he rises superior to all that can be imagined.
    • Augustus Frazer, letter written after the Battle of Waterloo (20 June 1815), quoted in Letters of Colonel Sir Augustus Simon Frazer, K.C.B., Commanding the Royal Horse Artillery in the Army under the Duke of Wellington. Written during the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns, ed. Edward Sabine (1859), p. 550
  • In everything the Duke and Napoleon stood in strong contrast one towards the other. Napoleon could not serve. He never undertook a trust in a subordinate situation which he did not divert to purposes of his aggrandisement. He never, when advanced to the pinnacle of power, entered into an engagement which he was not prepared, when it suited his own interests, to violate. The Duke was the most perfect servant of his King and country that the world ever saw. He flourished no doubt in a condition of society which presented insuperable obstacles to the accomplishment of ambitious projects, had he been unwise enough to entertain them: but there is proof in almost every line which he has written, in almost every word which he spoke, that, be the condition of society what it might, the one great object of his life would have been to secure the ascendancy of law and order, and to preserve the throne and the constitution of the country unharmed. Nor can you place your finger upon a single engagement into which the Duke ever entered, whether in private life as a member of society, or in public life as a general or a statesman, the terms of which were not rigidly fulfilled, however serious to himself the inconveniences might be.
  • In spite of some foibles and faults, he was, beyond all doubt, a very great man—the only great man of the present time—and comparable, in point of greatness, to the most eminent of those who have lived before him. His greatness was the result of a few striking qualities—a perfect simplicity of character without a particle of vanity or conceit, but with a thorough and strenuous self-reliance, a severe truthfulness, never misled by fancy or exaggeration, and an ever-abiding sense of duty and obligation which made him the humblest of citizens and most obedient of subjects. The Crown never possessed a more faithful, devoted, and disinterested subject. Without personal attachment to any of the monarchs whom he served, and fully understanding and appreciating their individual merits and demerits, he alike reverenced their great office in the persons of each of them, and would at any time have sacrificed his ease, his fortune, or his life, to serve the Sovereign and the State. Passing almost his whole life in command and authority, and regarded with universal deference and submission, his head was never turned by the exalted position he occupied, and there was no duty, however humble, he would not have been ready to undertake at the bidding of his lawful superiors, whose behests he would never have hesitated to obey. Notwithstanding his age and his diminished strength, he would most assuredly have gone anywhere and have accepted any post in which his personal assistance might have been essential to the safety or advantage of the realm. He had more pride in obeying than in commanding, and he never for a moment considered that his great position and elevation above all other subjects released him from the same obligation which the humblest of them acknowledged. He was utterly devoid of personal and selfish ambition, and there never was a man whose greatness was so thrust upon him. It was in this dispassionate unselfishness, and sense of duty and moral obligation, that he was so superior to Napoleon Bonaparte.
    • Charles Greville, diary entry (18 September 1852), quoted in The Greville Diary, Including Passages Hitherto Withheld from Publication, Volume I, ed. Philip Whitwell Wilson (1927), p. 172
  • In Mr. Gladstone's view, it was difficult to overrate the influence for good which the Duke, by his commanding personality and personal weight, exercised over his fellow-peers in counselling them, for the first twenty years after the Reform Act of 1832, to be moderate, and in persuading them not to resist popular demands.
  • When did any nation wisely determine for order and freedom without enlisting at once the sympathies of England? England determines aid—and never did she possess, by the blessing of God, a subject and a soldier better calculated to carry out her intentions than General Sir Arthur Wellesley.
  • So we have at last lost our great Duke. Old as he was, and both bodily and mentally enfeebled by age, he still is a great loss to the country. His name was a tower of strength abroad, and his opinions and counsel were valuable at home. No man ever lived or died in the possession of more unanimous love, respect, and esteem from his countrymen.
    • Lord Palmerston to Sir William Temple (17 September 1852), quoted in Evelyn Ashley, The Life and Correspondence of Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, Vol. II (1879), p. 250
  • Summoning the Duke of Richmond, who was to have command of the reserve when formed, he asked for a map. The two withdrew to an adjoining room. Wellington closed the door, and said, with an oath, "Napoleon has humbugged me." He then explained that he had ordered his army to concentrate at Quatre Bras, adding, "But we shall not stop him there; and if so, I must fight him here," marking Waterloo with his thumb-nail on the map as he spoke. It was not until the next morning that he left for the front.
    • William Milligan Sloane, on Wellington prior to the Battle of Waterloo, in "the Eclipse of Napoleon's Glory" in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Vol. LII, New Series Vol. XXX (May - October 1896), p. 883
  • Our own Wellington was a far greater man. Not less resolute, firm, and persistent, but much more self-denying, conscientious, and truly patriotic. Napoleon's aim was "Glory;" Wellington's watchword, like Nelson's, was "Duty." The former word, it is said, does not once occur in his despatches; the latter often, but never accompanied by any high-sounding professions. The greatest difficulties could neither embarrass nor intimidate Wellington; his energy invariably rising in proportion to the obstacles to be surmounted. The patience, the firmness, the resolution, with which he bore through the maddening vexations and gigantic difficulties of the Peninsular campaigns, is, perhaps, one of the sublimest things to be found in history. In Spain, Wellington not only exhibited the genius of the general, but the comprehensive wisdom of the statesman. Though his natural temper was irritable in the extreme, his high sense of duty enabled him to restrain it, and to those about him his patience seemed absolutely inexhaustible. His great character stands untarnished by ambition, by avarice, or any low passion. Though a man of powerful individuality, he yet displayed a great variety of endowment. The equal of Napoleon in generalship, he was as prompt, vigorous, and daring as Clive; as wise a statesman as Cromwell; and as pure and high-minded as Washington. The great Wellington left behind him an enduring reputation, founded on toilsome campaigns won by skilful combination, by fortitude which nothing could exhaust, by sublime daring, and perhaps still sublimer patience.
  • The late Duke of Wellington was a great routinist, because he was a first-rate man of business. He possessed in perfection all the qualities which constitute one. He was a most punctual man; he never received a letter without acknowledging or replying to it; and he habitually attended to the minutest details of all matters entrusted to him, whether civil or military. His business faculty was his genius, the genius of common sense; and it is not perhaps saying too much to aver, that it was because he was a first-rate man of business that he never lost a battle.
  • The Duke of Wellington, who had an inflexible horror of falsehood, writing to Kellerman, when that general was opposed to him in the Peninsula, told him that if there was one thing on which an English officer prided himself more than another, excepting his courage, it was his truthfulness. "When English officers," said he, "have given their parole of honour not to escape, be sure they will not break it. Believe me—trust to their word; the word of an English officer is a surer guarantee than the vigilance of sentinels."
  • Bury the Great Duke
    With an empire's lamentation;
    Let us bury the Great Duke
    To the noise of the mourning of a mighty nation;
    Mourning when their leaders fall,
    Warriors carry the warrior's pall,
    And sorrow darkens hamlet and hall.
    • Alfred Tennyson, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852), stanza I
  • Lead out the pageant: sad and slow,
    As fits an universal woe,
    Let the long, long procession go,
    And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
    And let the mournful martial music blow;
    The last great Englishman is low.
    • Alfred Tennyson, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852), stanza III
  • O friends, our chief state-oracle is mute:
    Mourn for the man of long-enduring blood,
    The statesman-warrior, moderate, resolute,
    Whole in himself, a common good.
    Mourn for the man of amplest influence,
    Yet clearest of ambitious crime,
    Our greatest yet with least pretence,
    Great in council and great in war,
    Foremost captain of his time,
    Rich in saving common-sense,
    And, as the greatest only are,
    In his simplicity sublime.
    • Alfred Tennyson, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852), stanza IV
  • For this is England’s greatest son,
    He that gain'd a hundred fights,
    Nor ever lost an English gun.
    • Alfred Tennyson, Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington (1852), stanza VI
  • When men in after times shall look back to the annals of England for examples of energy and public virtue among those who have raised this country to her station on the earth, no name will remain more conspicuous or more unsullied than that of ARTHUR WELLESLEY, THE GREAT DUKE OF WELLINGTON. The actions of his life were extraordinary, but his character was equal to his actions. He was the very type and model of an Englishman; and, though men are prone to invest the worthies of former ages with a dignity and merit they commonly withhold from their contemporaries, we can select none from the long array of our captains and our nobles who, taken for all in all, can claim a rivalry with him who is gone from amongst us, an inheritor of imperishable fame.
  • Macaulay was fond of repeating an answer made to him by Lord Clarendon in the year 1829. The young men were talking over the situation, and Macaulay expressed curiosity as to the terms in which the Duke of Wellington would recommend the Catholic Relief Bill to the Peers. "Oh," said the other, "it will be easy enough. He'll say 'My lords! Attention! Right about face! March!'"
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