|Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain|
Quick, name a historical British naval officer. Now name another, this time not Nelson.
If you recognize the name “Edward Pellew”, it’s probably as a character in fictional works such as C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels rather than as the real-life man. That’s unfortunate, for if any of Nelson’s contemporaries deserves to be remembered, it’s Pellew, “the greatest seaman of his age”.
The book is a well-researched biography. Taylor makes good use of letters from the Pellew’s family, friends, rivals, and enemies.
In some of the most interesting sections, the author compares and contrasts Pellew and Nelson, casting Pellew as the better family man, frigate captain, and seaman, while Nelson had political savvy, connections, and the good fortune to die gloriously in battle.
Taylor makes the case for the death of Pellew’s father, when Edward was just seven, as being a major influence on his life. To the positive, Pellew became very family-oriented and was a loving husband, father, and brother. To the negative, he pushed his sons into a naval life when they were just children. He also nepotistically pushed his brother and sons up through the ranks of the Navy far beyond their abilities. His desire for wealth was (at least in part) a desire to ensure his children didn’t grow up as poor as he had. An examination of Pellew begs the question: at what point have you gone too far in advancing your family?
The Age of Sail is one of my favorite historical periods, so I was predisposed to like this book. If the setting interests you at all, check out Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain.