In Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley, the title character visits her old family schoolroom. There she talks with her nephew, who seems in low spirits. He's a weak boy, who needs physical assistance to get around. Yet he can't help but notice the tall, handsome men who swirl around Shirley, desirous of gaining her attention. He sees before him a life he can never have. He will never be strong. He will never gallop across the fields on a horse. He will never twirl a beautiful young woman across a dance floor. Hence, he believes he cannot hope to marry well, or gain the affections of a woman who desires a strong, virile husband. When he shares his concerns with Shirley, she reveals how differently she sees the world, and how she finds value in others.
"You need not be sorrowful. Have I not often told you who was almost as little, as pale, as suffering as you, and yet potent as a giant and brave as a lion?"
"Admiral Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Duke of Bronte; great at heart as a Titan; gallant and heroic as all the world and age of chivalry; leader of the might of England; commander of her strength on the deep; hurler of her thunder over the flood."
"A great man. But I am not warlike, Shirley; and yet my mind is so restless I burn day and night—for what I can hardly tell—to be—to do—to suffer, I think."
"Harry, it is your mind, which is stronger and older than your frame, that troubles you. It is a captive; it lies in physical bondage. But it will work its own redemption yet. Study carefully not only books but the world. You love nature; love her without fear. Be patient—wait the course of time. You will not be a soldier or a sailor, Henry; but if you live you will be—listen to my prophecy—you will be an author, perhaps a poet."
Shirley may not be a great lover of poetry, but she sees her nephew's strengths, and encourages him to achieve his potential. As England is bogged down in the Napoleonic Wars, she points to one of her country's foremost leader: Horatio Nelson. As she points out, he may not boast the most impressive, desirable figure, but people respect his leadership, and are grateful for how he has protected their country.
Even today, people still look up to this heroic figure. At least they do in London, when they visit Trafalgar Square.
Out of all the great leaders of England, Charlotte Bronte's character Shirley picks out Horatio Nelson as a role model.
I wonder what could have piqued her interest in the man?
Related Posts from Loving To The Manor Born
A Memorial to Horatio Nelson
Horatio Nelson and the Bronte Sisters