Friday, December 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, excerpt seven)

from Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell:

D’Estaing’s timidity could be explained by simple lack of experience, especially when he was compared with Black Dick Howe, the human sea shanty he was up against. The older brother of the recently departed commander in chief General Sir William, Admiral Lord Richard Howe joined the Royal Navy at thirteen. Andrew O’Shaughnessy writes in The Men Who Lost America, “Howe pioneered the naval code of practice for amphibious warfare, in which the navy transported and gave logistical support to the army in beachhead landings.” Theory and practice—Howe was the whole package. Despite the superior size and firepower of the French fleet, d’Estaing would have been insane not to dread him.

D’Estaing hailed from Lafayette’s birthplace, Auvergne—a landlocked province that did not scream maritime potential. The presence of his fellow Auvergnat seemed to amplify Lafayette’s homesickness, perhaps reminding him of Britain’s role in his fatherless boyhood at Chavaniac. He egged on d’Estaing: “May you defeat them, sink them to the bottom, lay them as low as they have been insolent; may you begin the great work of their destruction by which we shall trample upon their nation; may you prove to them at their expense what a Frenchman, and a Frenchman from Auvergne, can do.”

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