Lord Wellington on bureaucracy

Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance…
2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.
Your most obedient servant,

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Thomas the Tout
Thomas the Tout
9 years ago

Ah Nicholas – you can be relied upon to unearth gems!

Do you have a reference to ‘source material’, perchance?

Winston Smith
Winston Smith
9 years ago

Nicholas and Thomas. I can assure you that this letter supposedly from Wellington is not by him. It was quoted in US Naval journal in the 80s but without a citation and has been re-quoted over and over since. The letter was supposedly written in early August, 1812 but a search of the correspondence of Wellington shows no letter. All of Wellington’s correspondence at that time shows he was already stationed in Madrid, and he was more concerned with the conduct of his officers when walking the streets than he was with counting stores.
Many of his letters were incredibly sarcastic and he had a reputation of being abrupt and he hated stupidity and frequently let people know. But he never began his letters with “Gentleman” and never ended them with “Your most obedient servant.” He always began his letters, no matter how angry and sarcastic, with “My dear Lord” and usually ended them with “Believe me, &c., Wellington.”
I have read thousands of Wellington’s letters, about 16 published volumes worth, plus those to the foreign office located at Kew, and this is not his style of writing.