When I was about four years old I was obsessed with a great many things. Looking back, I was a very well-rounded child. I loved food, especially carrots, Diego (for those who don’t remember he was Dora’s way cooler cousin), my stuffed animal Lolly, and Horatio Nelson. If you are unfamiliar with this naval admiral, he lived from 1758 to 1805. He proved the royal navy’s supremacy over the French, most famously saving his country from the threat of invasion by Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Trafalgar. To this day, my family and I have no idea where this obsession started, only that I loved this obscure naval hero. I referred to him as, and I quote, “Lord Nelson Boat Sailor” or “LNBS” for short. My family’s best guess is that my dad told me about this man, and something about him spoke to me. I looked up to him in childlike wonderment and curiosity, intrigued by his exciting lifestyle and heroics.
The tales of his daring and heroic deeds and many near-death experiences ignited my sense of curiosity. From the beginning, I was fixated by his skill at overcoming obstacles, most notably the time he lost an arm during battle, but somehow returned to fight a half hour later. Not only did he continue to fight bravely in the naval battle, he survived. Not letting his loss of his right arm put him off his game, he learned to write with his left hand, no small feat. Believe me, I tried to become ambidextrous once, and after a few wobbly scribbles, gave up. While I have never experienced a setback as large (or as painful!) as some of the ones Nelson faced, he inspired me to challenge myself and keep trying.
A few weeks into my obsession, my parents bought me a book titled Nelson. It was a book from a series of simple, non-fiction books for early readers called “Ladybird Books.” It was blue, about 6 inches tall, smelled like old paper, and had a portrait of Horatio Nelson on the front. Not knowing the word non-fiction, I referred to it and other books in its genre as “fact-books.” I was a little kid, and despite the best pleas of my parents would not try the learn-to-read BOB books they got for me. This book motivated me to start reading better, despite the simple reading level. Nelson was not the most detailed or scholarly of books, it was basically a highlight reel of his greatest moments, not his defeats or shortcomings as a person. In my four-year-old mind this “greatest hits” style of writing contributed to his God-like standing in my eyes. The book described his ability to overcome challenges, as well as his intelligence, making him the perfect role model.
I was so obsessed, I didn’t just read the book, I wrote my own. This early “fan-fiction” was complete with both illustrations and words. With an arsenal of washable markers, brightly colored construction paper, and crayons, I got to work. With the help of my mum I was able to “publish” this book by binding it together with ribbon. I poured my heart and soul into this work, as though my whole short life had been leading up to this point. In many senses, it was preparing me for writing assignments to come, like my essays for school, or this personal essay.
A few months later, my family and I were in England visiting relatives, when my mum found out about a museum of the one and only Horatio Nelson. The minute I found out about this museum, I insisted we go. While I was only four years old, I still managed to be very assertive when it came to my passions. When we arrived, I ran from one exhibit to the next, gazing up at them in wonderment. I was captivated by the wide array of artifacts concerning his life and legacy. I couldn’t believe I was that close to something he had touched! The museum was like the chance to actually talk to him. Visiting the museum only deepened my interest. Before, all I knew about my hero came from the little blue book, but now my mind had been opened to a wider view of his history. This museum was created by a group of Nelson enthusiast much like myself. In some senses, I felt understood and at home.
Almost ten years later, I was reading the January 2017 issue of History Revealed. I was engrossed the minute I saw the cover, as it featured a massive picture of Nelson, and below it the headline: “Commander, Rebel, Lover.” In addition to being a hero, I learned he was an unfaithful and bad husband, leaving for months at a time and having long-lasting affairs. I was disappointed and shocked. For the first time in my life, I began to think about whether there was more to him than his accomplishments. While impressive, his victories aren’t what made him a brilliant admiral and role model, but rather his defeats and ability to bounce back from them.
As a little four-year-old, I may have not been able to wrap my mind around the fact that Nelson was human, not just the superhero he was portrayed as in my book. This is similar to the way kids look up to their parents and older siblings in wonderment, not realizing that they are just as human as anyone else. Humans fail, and disappoint themselves and others, but also have the ability to love. In the article, it said, “The desire for an unblemished hero led later generations to blame Emma [Hamilton] for the affair, but the reality was more complicated.” It turned out that my hero had been involved in an affair with a married woman, who he claimed was his soulmate. We will never know whether his heart was with Hamilton, or if he really was a snake. As an innocent four-year-old, I assumed the best in people, it not even occurring to me that there may be more to people than their victories. Now, while I am not a sage, I have seen a little more of the world, I know that everyone is human, and that there is no such thing as a real life superhero. Coming to terms with that has made me realize that humanity is not only okay, it is something that should be treasured. The people of the world could benefit from a touch of that child-like naivety, before judging or hurting others. Nelson’s personal mistakes do not make him any less of a military genius, or a key figure in victory over the French. My evolving opinions of Admiral Horatio Nelson show my journey to the realization that people who do great things are never ever perfect humans.