On this day in 1815 the Battle of Waterloo was fought.
As the Duke of Wellington later remarked, it was: ‘A damned close run thing.’ He would certainly know, having fought in at least twenty-four previous battles in various parts of the world. It was a tradition of Wellington to name his battles after the place where he had spent the previous night, hence Waterloo – It could have been Brussels, not such a memorable name for a railway station.
The battle was fought South of the town. Two nights before the battle, the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball, and invited many officers, including Wellington. During the evening, he received word that the French were advancing. Not wanting a panic, he sent the officers one by one to their regiments, and finally left himself.
Here is the start of Byron’s poem The Eve of Waterloo:
There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! Hark! A deep sound strikes like a rising knell!
Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;
On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
But hark! — That heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before;
Arm! Arm! It is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar!–
Today if life is ‘a damn close run thing’, I recall the serenity prayer.