While most schoolboys may have a mental picture of Nelson at Trafalgar, few except historians have any idea of the whole context in which that battle and the entire war against Revolutionary and Imperial France were waged by England's Royal Navy. In setting forth the clash and chronicle of naval warfare fom 1793 to 1815, Geoffrey Marcus has given the first modern history of what was in its time the most formidable fighting force on earth and the instrument that forged for England more than a hundred years of Empire.
The "Great War," as Englishmen of the nineteenth century called it, can be seen to have begun with the firing of the Brest shore battery on the sloop Childers and ended with Napoleon on the poop of the Bellerophon, bound for St. Helena. The years between—Jervis at St. Vincent, the naval mutinies of 1797, blockade, convoy, the strangling of the Emperor's "Continental System," Nelson at the Nile and Copenhagen, the Peninsular War, the War of 1812, and the Hundred Days—are limned unforgettably in these scrupulous yet inevitably stirring pages.
As Geoffrey Marcus accurately pictures it, this was a period that abounded in supremely important lessons for the Navy of the early twentieth century: the right use
of intelligence; defense against invasion; the conduct of conjoint operations; the various measures of commerce protection and attack—yet no attempt was then made by the Admiralty to record these lessons. In consequence of this official lethargy, "the living, continuous traditions of naval warfare" were all but lost to Great Britain.
Mr. Marcus sees the academic historians' cold-shoulder treatment of the Royal Navy in the age of its greatest power and glory as "a handicap to the proper knowledge and understanding of the Napoleonic era. . . . Notwithstanding that the Peninsular War may be considered the greatest combined operation in our history," he writes, "all too often the crucial factor of Sea Power has been overlooked in the conclusions of scholars."
Throughout, the Great War was a duel between Land Power and Sea Power, a struggle to the death. In the hands of Mr. Marcus that struggle lives again.
Illustrated with maps and halftones.
GEOFFREY MARCUS, whose most recent book was a highly praised, definitive account of the Titanic tragedy, The Maiden Voyage, is an English naval historian living in Sussex. He is also the author of Before the Lamps Went Out, a social and political history of Edwardian England. The Age of Nelson is the second of four volumes on English naval history that Mr. Marcus is currently writing.