George Bush and History’s Croakers

Claudio Veliz in Quadrant Online:

George-bush-sour The Duke of Wellington thought that “croaking” was the second-worst obstacle faced by the British army he led to victory during the protracted 1808–1814 Peninsular War; the worst was the political partisanship of some of the generals sent by London to serve under him either as a reward for services or as a harmless rebuke meted to aggravating, but otherwise socially or politically invulnerable personages in uniform (first prize, one week in Spain; second prize, two weeks in Spain). He wrote with feeling to the Prime Minister, “I only beg of you not to send me any violent party men. We must keep the spirit of party out of the army, or we shall be in a bad way indeed.”

They certainly were, and the badness of the way was compounded when partisan petitioners and patronage seekers went forth preceded and followed by a croaking obbligato. “Croaking” was the double-barrelled onomatopoeic witticism (vastly more clever and polite than “Pommie bastard” or “Damn Yankee”) first used by Wellington to describe the despondent, defeatist grumbling, moaning, rumour-mongering enmity of too many of the island’s intelligentsia. These croakers, like Shelley, Byron, Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt, shared with the aristocratic habitués of Lady Holland’s salon and with the Radical Whig opponents of the government a blinkered admiration for what they saw as the titanic Napoleonic effort to defend, perfect and extend the exemplary libertarian bequest of the French Revolution.

Such croaking was dismissive of the “Sepoy” general whose only battlefield experience had been gained in India and who was now challenging Napoleon’s towering military genius, but it was mostly driven by a blinding contempt of the Prime Minister ultimately responsible for conducting what the croakers considered to be an immoral, unnecessary and doomed war against their beloved France.

More here.