Their behaviour puzzled the diarist Charles Greville:
‘It is really curious to see the manner in which Soult has been received here, not only with every sort of attention and respect by persons in the most respectable ranks in life, members of all the great trading and commercial bodies, but with enthusiasm by the common people.
‘They flock about him, cheer him vociferously, and at the review in the park he was obliged to abandon both his hands to be shaken by those around him. The old soldier is touched to the quick at this generous reception.’
In fact, the British have traditionally been generous to vanquished foes. The ancient Romans paraded defeated generals through the streets in chains. London crowds prefer to cheer any visitor – Zulu chiefs, Boer generals – who has given the British a run for their money.
Except Germans, of course. British sporting instincts don’t stretch that far.
‘There was a dinner preparing at the Mansion House, and when I peeped in at a grated kitchen window, and saw the men cooks at work in their white caps, my heart began to beat with hope that the Lord Mayor, or the Lady Mayoress, or one of the young Princesses their daughters, would look out of an upper apartment and direct me to be taken in.
‘But, nothing of the kind occurred. It was not until I had been peeping in some time that one of the cooks called to me (the window was open) “Cut away, you sir!” which frightened me so, on account of his black whiskers, that I instantly obeyed.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 122. The urchin grew up to be rich and famous. Who was he?
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