‘Types of Naval Officers’, A.T. Mahan

Full title being ‘Types of Naval Officers Drawn from the History of the British Navy’, this book by the great (and reknown) Alfred Thayer Mahan took me longer to read than I thought it would but it also had content that I appreciated more than I would have considered possible.

As the title says, this book is an account by Mahan of the great 18th century British admirals (Howe, St. Vincent, Rodney, Hawke, Saumarez and Pellew). In their biographies he describes the reasons some of these are so well known (or rather, why they should be well known for I am confident that aside from select naval historians very few people actually knew of them) and how they achieved their greatness (mostly through innovation and drowning French).

What I really loved is how he described the actions — the style he writes in is rather winding but rather perfect to convey the image of naval conflict. Likewise, he has often brought in first hand accounts (such as the verdict of Admiral Byng, if I remember correctly) to help write the image of these navy-men.

I would otherwise say that the language is much as you’d expect from a 19th century author (though I would read his long and overly complex sentences over Thackeray’s every day of the week) he has also taken the effort to describe some of the naval terms for the layman (which is more considerate of him than the actions of his many colleagues).

I will add two quotes from the book:

Imagination is fondly impatient of warning by the past.

To do his own part to the utmost, within the lines of the profession he knew, was his conception of duty.

[Or well, I tried to keep to two but I found a third that I very liked as well in my notes so here it is:]

 Hawke died October 16, 1781. On his tomb appear these words, “Wherever he sailed, victory attended him.” It is much to say, but it is not all. Victory does not always follow desert. “It is not in mortals to command success,”—a favorite quotation with the successful admirals St. Vincent and Nelson.

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