Thursday, September 29, 2011

People: The Birth of Jove

In her letters to Sarah Nelson, one of the few Nelsons who could tolerate that Hamilton woman, Emma Hamilton repeatedly referred to Horatio Nelson as Jove. While in life he was not so lofty a figure among his countrymen, in death he truly became something of a god.

Born on this day in 1758, the Hero of Trafalgar became the focus of not only a nation’s gratitude but of their curiosity as well. Figuring out what the enigmatic Admiral had been about became a minor obsession with many of the ladies and gentlemen of London’s elite. One of the more popular pseudo-sciences of the era, personology, was repeatedly applied to Nelson posthumously in this generally futile pursuit.

Personology, or the study of birth dates, sprang from the philosophical teachings of Hegel, the father of German Idealism. Hegel, who was perhaps one of the first philosophers to posit the theory that time is not linear, rejected stiff applications of time-based units in history. This was taken a step further by those who leached money from the well-to-do on the pretence of knowing the future and reading minds. Personologists rejected the old standard of astrology and claimed to be able to understand and advise an individual based on their birth date.

Personology and, more appropriately, the study of birth dates, is still practiced today. The most extensive treatise in recent years is The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider and Joost Elffers. Drawing on both modern understanding and historical descriptions, the book is surprisingly instructive, particularly when one looks at a life from the past, such as Admiral Nelson’s. From the book:

Those born on September 29 fight an ongoing battle to maintain stability in their lives. At times they can feel that they are masters of the universe and at other moments not worthwhile at all. Such swings in their mood and self-image are most often due to an underlying lack of self-confidence.

While at first glance this may seem not to apply to Nelson at all, further insight makes such a statement quite plausible in his case. He certainly had a well developed ego by the time he died fighting at Trafalgar. Doubtless, however, his humble origins made him feel the need to constantly prove himself better than men who, though equals in naval rank, may have come from far more lofty circumstances.

Those born on this day… can oscillate between very intense and very relaxed behavior.

Of course Nelson’s professional and personal life, particularly later in his career, were so polarized as to be almost unimaginable at the time. His scandalous, ongoing affair with Emma Hamilton made him a laughing stock in polite society. But no one dared to laugh in the Admiral’s face out of respect, awe and fear.

The final sentence in the book’s September 29 entry sums Nelson up nicely:

If, however, the unusual people born on this day can take the reigns of their career firmly in hand, without foundering or getting sidetracked, they are indeed capable of extraordinary achievements.

In Nelson’s case, even a major derailment in love did not seem to alter his focus. The brilliant seaman would live and die under the standard of his most famous quotation: “Never mind maneuvers, always go at them.” Those who did not know him intimately would be left to consult astrologers and personologists in an effort to understand where so much greatness originated.

Header: Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, artist unknown, via Napoleon Bonaparte


Undine said...

That really is a fascinating analysis. From what I've read of Nelson, I was most amazed by the duality of his personality: A remarkable hero on the high seas, but a floundering and (pardon my bluntness) somewhat pathetic figure everywhere else. Poor man. He just wasn't cut out for dry land.

Pauline said...

That sums the man up quite nicely, Undine. Like so many great seafarers before and after him, Nelson only tripped when his feet hit the earth.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! You know how I feel about these kind of "oogie-boogie" things... Just like with astrology, general statements like these can be made to apply to anyone.

And shouldn't she have referred to him as Neptune rather than Jove? Oh well, she wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, was she?

Pauline said...

Yes, there's that; you're right on all counts. Plus Sindbad was about to be given to another (should be equally) famous gentleman in the U.S. service.