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Drake, Nelson and Napoleon   By: (1847-1937)

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London T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. Adelphi Terrace




We have travelled far since those early days when you and I, who are of totally different tastes and temperament, first met and became friends. I was attracted by your wide knowledge, versatile vigour of mind, and engaging personality, which subsequent years have not diminished. You were strenuously engaged at that time in breaking down the weevilly traditions of a bygone age, and helping to create a new era in the art of steamship management, and, at the same time, studying for the Bar; and were I writing a biography of you, I would have to include your interesting travels in distant lands in quest of business and organizing it. That must be left for another occasion, when the vast results to the commercial life of the country to which you contributed may be fittingly told.

At the present time my vision recalls our joyous yachting cruises on the Clyde, when poor Leadbitter added to the charm that stays. Perhaps best of all were the golden days when we habitually took our week end strolls together by the edge of the inspiriting splendour of the blue North Sea, strolls which are hallowed by many memories, and gave me an opportunity of listening to your vehement flashes of human sympathies, which are so widely known now. It is my high appreciation of those tender gifts and of your personal worth, together with the many acts of kindness and consideration shown to me when I have been your guest, that gives me the desire to inscribe this book to you and Lady Knott, and to the memory of your gallant sons, Major Leadbitter Knott, D.S.O., who was killed while leading his battalion in a terrific engagement in Flanders, and Captain Basil Knott, who fell so tragically a few months previously at his brother's side.

With every sentiment of esteem, I am, dear Sir James, Ever yours sincerely,


March 1919.


This book has evolved from another which I had for years been urged to write by personal friends. I had chatted occasionally about my own voyages, related incidents concerning them and the countries and places I had visited, the ships I had sailed in, the men I had sailed with, and the sailors of that period. It is one thing to tell sea tales in a cosy room and to enjoy living again for a brief time in the days that are gone; but it is another matter when one is asked to put the stories into book form. Needless to say for a long time I shrank from undertaking the task, but was ultimately prevailed upon to do so. The book was commenced and was well advanced, and, as I could not depict the sailors of my own period without dealing as I thought at the time briefly with the race of men called buccaneers who were really the creators of the British mercantile marine and Navy, who lived centuries before my generation, I was obliged to deal with some of them, such as Hawkins, Drake, Frobisher, Daimper, Alexander Selkirk of Robinson Crusoe fame, and others who combined piracy with commerce and sailorism. After I had written all I thought necessary about the three former, I instinctively slipped on to Nelson as the greatest sea personality of the beginning of the last century. I found the subject so engrossing that I could not centre my thoughts on any other, so determined to continue my narrative, which is not, and never was intended to be a life of Nelson. Perhaps it may be properly termed fragmentary thoughts and jottings concerning the life of an extraordinary human force, written at intervals when I had leisure from an otherwise busy life.

Even if I had thought it desirable, it was hardly possible to write about Nelson without also dealing with Britain's great adversary and Nelson's distracted opinion of him.

It would be futile to attempt to draw a comparison between the two men. The one was a colossal human genius, and the other, extraordinary in the art of his profession, was entirely without the faculty of understanding or appreciating the distinguished man he flippantly raged at from his quarterdeck... Continue reading book >>

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