Thursday, April 23, 2009
Horatio Nelson Attacks a Polar Bear
One of the most enduring figures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who managed to gain an historical reputation for being dashing even though he had one arm, one eye and missing teeth ("Being shot in the face really, really sucks," quoth one of the Amateur Historian's friends). This is half due to his infamous affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton, one of the great beauties of her time, and his own personal interpretation of what it means to be an action hero.
Lord Admiral Nelson had, in the Amateur Historian's opinion, the sort of courage that seems to be stupidity and occasionally dips a toe into the pool of 'Oh-my-God-are-you-sane?!'
When Nelson was fifteen and serving as a midshipman in the inspirationally named HMS Carcass, his ship was part of a fleet trying to find a passage to the Pacific through the artic. The fleet (really two ships, the Carcass and the Racehorse) became predictably trapped in the ice. One day, Nelson and a friend set off to stalk a polar bear. Nelson's gun misfired, the friend vanished and the polar bear turned to attack them.
At that point, Nelson attempted to clobber the polar bear to death with the butt-end of his musket.
This plan met with little efficacy since a. Nelson was rather short and scrawny and b. the polar bear was large, heavy and enraged. Nelson's captain fired a canon and scared off the polar bear, at which point the captain insisted that, though it was a fine ambition to want to get a polar bear skin for one's father (Nelson's justification for attacking the polar bear) it was a supremely bad idea to go about getting it by beating the polar bear over the head with an unloaded musket.