‘England expects every man will do his duty.’ ‘Thank God I have done my duty.’ With these stirring words — the first his signal to the British fleet on the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar, the second his last recorded utterance as he expired on the deck of the aptly-named HMS Victory — Horatio, Viscount Nelson created and crafted his own story-book ending to his own story-book life on 21 October 1805. For his death came at his supreme moment of triumph, his annihilation made possible his apotheosis, and Nelson was launched on his new career of posthumous fame, national glory and global heroism which continues to flourish, to fluctuate, and to renew itself, down to our own day. Thus did a mere mortal man become ‘the immortal memory’ — perpetuated in countless biographies, in shrines and relics and statues and rituals, in the Trafalgar Day toast, in Trafalgar Square itself, and much more besides. In 2002, Nelson was the only military figure voted into the top ten of the BBC’s ‘Great Britons’, and the two hundredth anniversary of his death witnesses another upsurge of interest, analysis, reflection and retrospection.
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