The last moments which Nelson passed at Merton were employed in praying over his little daughter as she lay sleeping. A portrait of Lady Hamilton hung in his cabin; and no Catholic ever beheld the picture of his patron saint with more devout reverence. The undisguised and romantic passion with which he regarded it amounted almost to superstition; and when the portrait was now taken down, in clearing for action, he desired the men who removed it to "take care of his guardian angel." In this manner he frequently spoke of it, as if he believed there was a virtue in the image. He wore a miniature of her also next to his heart.
Robert Southey, poet laureate, and conservative Churchman, wrote the life of Nelson, wrote it on stolen time--sandwiched in between essays and epics. And now behold it is the one effort of Robert Southey that perennially survives, and is religiously read--his one great claim to literary immortality.
Murray, the original Barabbas, got together six magazine essays on Lord Nelson, and certain specific memoranda from Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson's sisters, and sent the bundle with a check for one hundred pounds to Southey, asking him to write the "Life," and have it ready inside of six weeks, or return the check and papers by bearer.
Southey needed the money: he had his own family to support, and also that of Coleridge, who was philosophizing in Germany. Southey needed the money! Had the check not been sent in advance, Southey would have declined the commission. Southey began the work in distaste, warmed to it, got the right focus on his subject, used the wife of Coleridge as 'prentice talent, and making twice as big a book as he had expected, completed it in just six weeks.
Other men might have written lives of Lord Nelson, but they did not; and all who write on Lord Nelson now, paraphrase Southey.
And thus are great literary reputations won on a fluke.
* * * * * * *
Horatio Nelson, born in Seventeen Hundred Fifty-eight, was one of a brood of nine children, left motherless when the lad was nine years of age. His father was a clergyman, and passing rich on forty pounds a year. It was the dying wish of the mother that one of the children should be adopted by her brother, Captain Suckling, of the Navy.
This captain was a grandnephew of Sir John Suckling the poet, and one of the great men of the family--himself acknowledging it. Captain Suckling promised the stricken woman that her wish should be respected. Three years went by and he made no move. Horatio, then twelve years of age, hearing that "The Raisonnable," his uncle's ship, had just anchored in the Medway, wrote the gallant captain, reminding him of the obligation and suggesting himself as a candidate.
The captain replied to the boy's father that the idea of sending the smallest and sickliest of the family to rough it at sea was a foolish idea; but if it was the father's wish, why send the youngster along, and in the very first action a cannon-ball might take off the boy's head, which would simplify the situation.
This was an acceptance, although ungracious, and our young lad was duly put aboard the stage, penniless, with a big basket of lunch, ticketed for tidewater. There a kind-hearted waterman rowed the boy out to the ship and put him aboard, where he wandered on the deck for two days, too timid to make himself known, before being discovered, and then came near being put ashore as a stowaway. It seems that the captain had made no mention to any one on the ship that his nevy was expected, and, in fact, had probably forgotten the matter himself.
And so Horatio Nelson, slim, slight, slender, fair-haired and hollow-eyed, was made cabin-boy, with orders to wait on table, wash dishes and "tidy up things." And he set such a pace in tidying up the captain's cabin that that worthy officer once remarked, "Dammittall, he isn't half as bad as he might be."
Finally, Horatio was given the tiller when a boat was sent ashore. He became an expert in steering, and was made coxswain of the captain's launch. He learned the Channel in low tide from Chatham to the Tower, making a map of it on his own account. He had a scent for rocks and shoals, and knew how to avoid them--for good pilots are born, not made.
A motherless boy with a discouraged father is very fortunate. If he ever succeeds, he knows it must be through his own exertions. The truth is pressed home upon him that there is nothing in the universe to help him but himself--a great lesson to learn.
Young Nelson soon saw that his uncle's patronage, no matter how well intentioned, could not help him beyond making him coxswain of the longboat. And anyway, if he was promoted, he wanted it to be on account of merit, and not relationship. So he got himself transferred to another boat that was about to sail for the West Indies, and took the rough service that falls to the lot of a jack-tar. His quickness in obeying orders, his alertness and ability to climb, his scorn of danger, going to the yardarm to adjust a tangled rope in a storm, or fastening the pennant to the mainmast in less time than anybody else on board ship could perform the task, made him a marked man. He did the difficult thing, the unpleasant task, with an amount of good-cheer that placed him in a class by himself. He had no competition. Success was in his blood--his silent, sober ways, intent only on doing his duty, made his services sought after when a captain was fitting out a dangerous undertaking.
Nelson made a trip to the Arctic, and came back second mate at nineteen. He went to the Barbadoes and returned lieutenant. He was a lieutenant-commander at twenty, and at twenty-one was given charge of a shipyard. Shortly after, he was made master of a schoolship, his business being to give boys their first lessons in seamanship. His methods here differed from those then in vogue. When a new boy, agitated and nervous, was ordered to climb, Nelson, noticing the lad's fear, would say, "Now, lads, I am with you and it is a race to the crow's-nest." And with a whoop he would make the start, allowing the nervous boy to outstrip him. Then once at the top, he would shout: "Now isn't this glorious! Why, there is no danger, except when you think danger. A monkey up a tree is safer than a monkey on the ground; and a sailor on the yard is happier than a sailor on the deck--hurrah!"
Admiral Hood said that, if Nelson had wished it, he could have become the greatest teacher of boys that England ever saw.
At twenty-three Nelson was made a captain and placed in charge of the "Albemarle." He was sent to the North Sea to spend the winter along the coast of Denmark. A local prince of Denmark has described a business errand made aboard the "Albemarle." Says the Dane: "On asking for the captain of the ship, I was shown a boy in a captain's uniform, the youngest man to look upon I ever saw holding a like position. His face was gaunt and yellow, his chest flat, and his legs absurdly thin. But on talking with him I saw he was a man born to command, and when he showed me the ship and pointed out the cannon, saying, 'These are for use if necessity demands,' there was a gleam in his blue eyes that backed his words."
Before he was twenty-six years old Nelson had fought pirates, savages, Spaniards, French, and even crossed the ocean to reason with Americans, having been sent to New York on a delicate diplomatic errand. On this trip he spent some weeks at Quebec, where he met a lady fair who engrossed his attention and time to such a degree that his officers feared for his sanity. This was his first love-affair, and he took it seriously.
It was time for the "Albemarle" to sail, when its little captain was seen making his way rapidly up the hill. He was given stern chase by the second officer and on being overhauled explained that he was going back to lay his heart and fortune at the feet of the lady. The friend explained that, it being but seven o'clock in the morning, the charmer probably could not be seen, and so the captain in his spangles and lace was gotten on board ship and the anchor hoisted. Once at sea, salt water and distance seemed to effect a cure.
In Nelson's character was a peculiar trace of trust and innocence. Send your boys to sea and the sailors will educate them, is a safe maxim. But Nelson was an exception, for even in his boyhood he had held little converse with his mates, and in the frolics on shore he took no part. Physically he was too weak to meet them on a level, and so he pitted his brain against their brawn. He studied and grubbed at his books while they gambled, caroused and "saw the town."
When he was in command of the schoolship, the second officer taunted him about his insignificant size. His answer was: "Sir, the pistol makes all men of equal size--to your place! And consider yourself fined ten days' pay."
In buying supplies he refused to sign vouchers unless the precise goods were delivered and the price was right. On being told that this was very foolish, and that a captain was entitled to a quiet commission on all purchases, he began an investigation on his own account and found that it was the rule that naval and army supplies cost the government on an average twenty-five per cent more than they were worth, and that the names of laborers once placed on the payroll remained there for eternity. In his zeal the young captain made a definite statement and brought charges, showing where the government was being robbed of vast sums. On reaching London he was called before the Board of Admiralty and duly cautioned to mind his own affairs.
His third act of indiscretion was his marriage in the Island of Nevis to Mrs. Frances Woolward Nesbit, a widow with one child. Widows often fall easy prey to predatory sailormen, and sometimes sailormen fall easy prey to widows. The widow was "unobjectionable," to use the words of Southey, and versed in all the polite dissipation of a prosperous slave-mart capital. Nelson looked upon all English-speaking women as angels of light and models of sympathy, insight and self-sacrifice.
Time disillusioned him; and he settled down into the firm belief that a woman was only a child--whimsical, selfish, idle, intent on gauds, jewels and chucks under the chin from specimens of the genus homo--any man--but to be tolerated and gently looked after for the good of the race. He took his wife to England and left her at his father's parsonage and sailed away for the Mediterranean to fight his country's battles.
Among other errands he had dispatches to Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy at the Court of Naples. Sir William had never met Nelson; but he was so impressed at his first meeting with the little man, that he told his wife afterwards that if she had no objection he was going to invite Captain Nelson to their home. Lady Hamilton had no objection, although a sea-captain was hardly in their class. "But," argued Sir William, "this captain is different; on talking to him and noting his sober, silent, earnest way, I concluded that the world would yet ring with the name of Nelson. He fights his enemy for laying his ship alongside and grappling him to the death."
So a room was set apart in the Hamilton household for Captain Nelson. The next day the captain wrote home to his wife that Lady Hamilton was young, amiable, witty and took an active part in the diplomatic business of the court. Nelson at this time was thirty-five years old; Lady Hamilton was three years younger.
Nelson remained only a few days in Naples, but long enough to impress himself upon the King and all the court as a man of extraordinary quality.
Sorrow and disappointment had made him a fatalist--he looked the part. Admiral Hood at this time said: "Nelson is the only absolutely invincible fighter in the navy. I only fear his recklessness, because he never counts the cost."
It was to be five years before Nelson met the Hamiltons again.
* * * * * * *
The man who writes the life of Lady Hamilton and tells the simple facts places his reputation for truth in jeopardy.
Emma Lyon was the daughter of a day-laborer. In her babyhood her home was Hawarden, "the luster of fame of which town is equally divided between a man and a woman," once said Disraeli, with a solemn sidelong glance at William Ewart Gladstone.
At Hawarden, Lyon the obscure, known to us for but one thing, died, and if his body was buried in the Hawarden churchyard, Destiny failed to mark the spot. The widow worked at menial tasks in the homes of the local gentry, and the child was fed with scraps that fell from the rich man's table--a condition that grew into a habit.
When Emma was thirteen years old, she had learned to read, and could "print"; that is, she could write a letter, a feat her mother never learned to do.
At this time the girl waited on table and acted as nurse-maid in the family of Sir Thomas Hawarden. Doubtless she learned by listening, and absorbed knowledge because she had the capacity. When Sir Thomas moved up to London, which is down from Hawarden, the sprightly little girl was taken along.
Her dresses were a little above her shoe-tops, but she lowered the skirt on her own account, very shortly.
Country girls of immature age, comely to look upon, had better keep close at home. The city devours such, and infamy and death for them lie in wait. But here was an exception--Emma Lyon was a child of the hedgerows, and her innocence was only in her appearance. She must have been at that time like the child of the gypsy beggar told of by Smollett, that was purchased for two pounds by an admiring gent, who made a bet with his friends that he could replace her rags with silks and fine linen, and in six weeks introduce her at court, as to the manner born, a credit to her sex. All worked well for a time, when one day, alas, under great provocation, the girl sloughed her ladylike manners, and took on the glossary of the road and camp.
Emma Lyon at fifteen, having graduated as a scullion, went to work for a shopkeeper, as a servant and general helper. It was soon found that as a saleswoman she was worth much more than as a cook. A caller asked her where she was educated, and she explained that it was at the expense of the Earl of Halifax, and that she was his ward.
The Earl fortunately was dead and could not deny the report. Sir Harry Featherston, hearing about the titled girl, or at least of the girl mentioned with titled people, rescued her from the shopkeeper and sent her to his country seat, that she might have the advantages of the best society.
Her beauty and quiet good sense seemed to back up the legend that she was the natural child of the Earl of Halifax; and as the subject seemed to be a painful one to the child herself, it was discussed only in whispers. The girl learned to ride horseback remarkably well, and at a fete appeared as Joan of Arc, armed cap-a-pie, riding a snow-white stallion. Romney, the portrait-painter, spending a week-end with Sir Henry, was struck with the picturesque beauty of the child and painted her as Diana. Romney was impressed with the plastic beauty of the girl, her downcast eyes, her silent ways, her responsive manner, and he begged Sir Harry to allow her to go to London and sit for another picture.
Now Sir Harry was a married man, senior warden of his church, and as the girl was bringing him a trifle more fame than he deserved, he consented.
Romney writing to a friend, under date of June Nineteenth, Seventeen Hundred Eighty-one, says:
"At present, and the greater part of the summer, I shall be engaged in painting pictures from the Divine Lady. I can not give her any other name, for I think her superior to all womankind.
"I have two pictures to paint of her for the Prince of Wales. She says she must see you before she leaves England, which will be in the beginning of September. She asked me if you would not write my life. I told her you had begun it; then, she said, she hoped you would have much to say of her in the life, as she prided herself upon being my model.
"I dedicate my time to this charming lady; there is a prospect of her leaving town with Sir William, for two or three weeks. They are very much hurried at present, as everything is going on for their speedy marriage, and all the world following her, and talking of her, so that if she has not more good sense than vanity, her brain must be turned. The pictures I have begun of Joan of Arc, a Magdalen, and a Bacchante for the Prince of Wales; and another I am to begin as a companion to the Bacchante. I am also to paint her as Constance for the Shakespeare Gallery."
* * * * * * *
Twenty-three pictures of Emma Lyon painted by Romney are now in existence. England at that time was experiencing a tidal wave of genius, and Romney and his beautiful model rode in on the crest of the wave, with Sir Joshua, the Herschels, Edmund Burke, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Doctor Johnson, Goldsmith, Horace Walpole and various others of equal note caught in amber, all of them, by the busy Boswell.
Besides those who did things worth while, there were others who buzzed, dallied, and simply seemed and thought they lived. Among this class who were famous for doing nothing was Beau Nash, the pride of the pump-room. Next in note, but more moderately colored, was Sir Charles Greville, man of polite education, a typical courtier, with a leaning toward music and the arts, which gave his character a flavor of culture that the others did not possess.
The fair Emma was giving the Romney studio a trifle more fame than the domestic peace of the portrait-painter demanded, and when Sir Charles Greville, sitting for his portrait, became acquainted with the beautiful model, Romney saw his opportunity to escape the inevitable crash. So Sir Charles, the man of culture, the patron of the picturesque, the devotee of beauty, undertook the further education of Emma as an ethnological experiment.
He employed a competent teacher to give her lessons in voice culture, to the end that she should neither screech nor purr. Sir Charles himself read to her from the poets and she committed to memory Pope's "Essay on Man," and a whole speech by Robert Walpole, which she recited at a banquet at Strawberry Hill, to the immense surprise, not to mention delight, of Horace Walpole.
Sir Charles also hired a costumer by the month to study the physiological landscape and prepare raiment of extremely rich, but somber, hues, so that the divine lady would outclass in both modesty and aplomb the fairest daughters of Albion.
About this time, Emma became known as "Lady Harte," it being discovered that Burke's Peerage contained information that the Hartes were kinsmen of the Earl of Halifax, and also that the Hartes had moved to America. The testimony of contemporary expert porchers seems to show that Sir Charles Greville spent upwards of five thousand pounds a year upon the education of his ward. This was continued for several years, when a reversal in the income of Sir Charles made retrenchment desirable, if not absolutely necessary. And as good fortune would have it, about this time Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to the Neapolitan Court, was home on a little visit.
He was introduced to Lady Harte by his nephew, Sir Charles Greville, and at once perceived and appreciated the wonderful natural as well as acquired gifts of the lady.
Lady Harte was interviewed as to her possibly becoming Lady Hamilton, all as duly provided by the laws of Great Britain and the Church of England; and it being ascertained that Lady Harte was willing, and also that she was not a sister of the deceased Lady Hamilton, Sir William and Emma were duly married.
At Naples, Lady Hamilton at once became very popular. She had a splendid presence, was a ready talker, knew the subtle art of listening, took a sympathetic interest in her husband's work, and when necessary could entertain their friends by a song, recitation or a speech. Her relationship with Sir William was beyond reproach--she was by his side wherever he went, and her early education in the practical workaday affairs of the world served her in good stead.
Southey feels called upon to criticize Lady Hamilton, but he also offers as apology for the errors of her early life, the fact of her vagabond childhood, and says her immorality was more unmoral than vicious, and that her loyalty to Sir William was beautiful and beyond cavil.
Sir William Hamilton represented the British nation at Naples for thirty-six years. He was a diplomat of the old school--gracious, refined, dignified, with a bias for Art.
Among other good things done for his country was the collecting of a vast treasure of bronzes gotten from Pompeii and Herculaneum. This collection was sold by Sir William, through the agency of his wife, to the British nation for the sum of seven thousand pounds. There was a great scandal about the purchase at the time, and the transaction was pointed out to prove the absolutely selfish and grasping qualities of Lady Hamilton, the costly and curious vases being referred to in the House of Commons as "junk."
Time, however, has given a proper focus to the matter, and this collection of beautiful things made by people dead these two thousand years is now known to be absolutely priceless, almost as much so as the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon at Athens and which now repose in the British Museum, the chief attraction of the place.
There were many visitors of note being constantly entertained at the Embassy of Naples. Among others was the Bishop of Derry, the man who enjoyed the distinction of being both a bishop and an infidel. When he made oath in the courts of alleged justice he always crossed his fingers, put his tongue in his cheek and winked at the notary.
The infidelic prelate has added his testimony to the excellence of the character of Lady Hamilton, and once swore on the book in which he did not believe, that if Sir William should die he would wed his widow. To which the lady replied, "Provided, of course, the widow was willing!" The temperature suddenly dropping below thirty-two Fahrenheit, the bishop moved on.
And along about this time the "Agamemnon" sailed into the beautiful bay of Naples, and Captain Nelson made an official call upon the envoy.
It was at dinner that night that Sir William remarked to Lady Emma: "My dear, that captain of the 'Agamemnon' is a most remarkable man. I believe I will invite him here to our home." And the lady, generous, kind, gentle, answered, "Why certainly, invite him here--a little rest from the sea he will enjoy."
* * * * * * *
From Seventeen Hundred Ninety-three to Seventeen Hundred Ninety-eight, Nelson made history and made it rapidly.
For three years of this time he was in constant pursuit of the enemy, with no respite from danger night or day. When a ship mutinied, Nelson was placed in charge of it if he was within call; and the result was that he always won the absolute love and devotion of his men. He had a dignity which forbade him making himself cheap, but yet he got close to living hearts. "The enemy are there," he once said to a sullen crew, "and I depend upon you to follow me over the side when we annihilate the distance that separates our ships. You shall accept no danger that I do not accept--no hardship shall be yours that shall not be mine. I need no promises from you that you will do your duty--I know you will. You believe in me and I in you--we are Englishmen, fighting our country's battles, and so to your work, my men, to your work!" The mutinous spirit melted away, for the men knew that if Nelson fought with them it would be for the privilege of getting at the enemy first. No officer ever carried out sterner discipline, and none was more implicitly obeyed. But the obedience came more through love than fear.
Nelson lost an eye in battle, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-five. A few months after, in a fierce engagement, the admiral signaled, "Stop firing." Nelson's attention was called to the signal, and his reply was, "I am short one eye, and the other isn't much good, and I accept no signals I can not see: lay alongside of that ship and sink her."
Nelson was advanced step by step and became admiral of the fleet. At the battle of Santa Cruz, Nelson led a night attack on the town in small boats. The night was dark and stormy, and the force expected to get in under the forts without being discovered. The alarm was given, however, and the forts opened up a terrific fire. Nelson was standing in the prow of a small boat, and fell, his arm shattered at the elbow. He insisted on going forward and taking command, even though his sword-arm was useless. Loss of blood, however, soon made him desist, and he was transferred to another boat which was sent back loaded with wounded. The sailors rowed to the nearest anchored ship, her lights out and four miles from shore. On pulling up under the lee of the ship, Nelson saw that it was the corvette "Seahorse"; and he ordered the men to row to the "Agamemnon" a mile away, saying, "Captain Freemantle's wife is aboard of that ship and we are in no condition to call on ladies." Arriving at the "Agamemnon," the surgeons were already busy caring for the wounded. Seeing their commander, the surgeons rushed to his assistance. He ordered them back, declaring he would take his place and await his turn in line, and this he did.
When it came his turn, the surgeons saw that it was a comminuted fracture of the elbow, with the whole right hand reduced to a pulp, and that amputation was the only thing. There were no anesthetics, and at daylight, on the deck where there was air and light, Nelson watched the surgeons sever the worthless arm.
As they bandaged the stump, he dictated a report of the battle to his secretary; but after writing for ten minutes, the poor secretary fell limp in a faint, and Nelson ordered one of the surgeons to complete taking the dictation. This official report contained no mention of the calamity that had befallen the commander, he regarding the loss of an arm as merely an incident.
In six months' time he had met and defeated all the ships of Napoleon that could be located. When he returned to England, an ovation met him such as never before had been given to a sailorman. He was "Sir Horatio," although he complained that, "They began to call me Lord Nelson, even before I had gotten used to having my ears tickled by the sound of Sir."
He was made Knight of the Bath, given a pension of a thousand pounds a year, and so many medals pinned upon his breast that "he walked with a limp," a local writer said. The limp, however, was from undiscovered lead, and this, with one eye, one arm and a naturally slender and gaunt figure, gave him a peculiarly pathetic appearance.
The actions of his wife at this time in pressing herself on society and in her endeavors to make of him a public show were the unhappy ending of a series of marital misunderstandings which led him to part with her, placing his entire pension at her disposal.
Trouble in the East soon demanded a firm hand, and Nelson sailed away to meet the emergency. This time he was in pursuit of a concentrated fleet, with Napoleon on board. It was Nelson's hope and expectation to capture Napoleon; if he had, none would have been so fortunate as the Little Corporal himself. It would have saved him the disgrace of failure, a soldier of fortune seized by accident after a series of successes that dazzled the world, and then captured by a sea-fighter on the water as great as he himself was on land. But alas! Napoleon was to escape, which he did by a flight where wind and tide seemed to answer his prayer.
But Nelson crushed his navy. The story of the battle has been told in chapters that form a book, so no attempt to repeat the account need here be made. Let it suffice that sixteen English ships grappled to the death for three days with twenty-one French ships, with the result that the French fleet, save four ships, were sunk, burned or captured. "It was not a victory," said Nelson; "it was a conquest." The French commodore, Casabianca, was killed on board of his ship "Orient," and his son, a lad of ten, stood on the burning deck till all but him had fled, and supplied the subject for a poem that thrilled our boyish hearts and causes us to sigh, even yet.
The four ships that escaped would probably never have gotten away had Nelson not been wounded by flying splinters which tore open his scalp. The torn skin hung down over his one good eye, blinding him absolutely; and the blood flowed over his face in jets, making him unrecognizable. He was carried to the surgeons' table; there was a hurried, anxious moment, and a shout of joy went up that could have been heard a mile when it was found that he had suffered only a flesh-wound. The flap was sewed back in place, his head bandaged, and in half an hour he was on deck looking anxiously for fleeing Frenchmen. When the news of the victory reached England, Nelson was made a baron and his pension increased to two thousand pounds a year for life. England loved him, France feared him, and Italy, Egypt and Turkey celebrated him as their savior. The elder Pitt said in the House of Commons, "The name of Nelson will be known as long as government exists and history is read."
And Nelson, the battle won, himself wounded, exhausted through months of intense nervous strain, his frail body maimed and covered with scars, again sailed into the Bay of Naples.
* * * * * * *
Nelson had saved Naples from falling a prey to the French, and the city now rang with the shouts of welcome and gratitude.
The Hamiltons went out in a small boat and boarded the "Vanguard." Nelson came forward to greet them as they climbed over the side. The great fighter was leaning heavily upon a sailor who half-supported him. It is probably true, as stated by her enemies, that at sight of the Admiral, Lady Hamilton burst into tears, and taking him in her arms kissed him tenderly.
Nelson was taken to the home of the embassy. The battle won, the strain upon his frail physique had its way; his brain reeled with fever; the echoes of the guns still thundered in his ears; and in his half-delirium his tongue gave orders and anxiously asked after the welfare of the fleet. He was put to bed and Lady Hamilton cared for him as she might have cared for a sick child. She allowed no hired servant to enter his room, and for several weeks she and Sir William were his only attendants. Gradually health returned, and Nelson had an opportunity to repay in part his friends, by helping them quell a riot that threatened the safety of the city.
The months passed, and the only peace and calm that had been Nelson's in his entire life was now his. Nelson was forty years of age; Lady Hamilton was thirty-seven; Sir William was seventy-one. The inevitable happened--the most natural and the most beautiful thing in the world. Love came into the life of Nelson--the first, last and only love of his life. And he loved with all the abandon and oneness of his nature. Sir William was aware of the bond that had grown up between his beautiful wife and Lord Nelson, and he respected it, and gave it his blessing, realizing that he himself belonged to another generation and had but a few years to live at best, and in this he fastened to himself with hoops of steel their affection for him.
In the year Eighteen Hundred, when the Hamiltons started for England, Nelson accompanied them in their tour across the Continent, and great honors were everywhere paid him.
Arriving in London he made his home with them. There was no time for idleness, for the Home Office demanded his services daily for consultation and advice, for the Corsican was still at large: very much at large.
In two years Sir William died--passed peacefully away, attended and ministered to by Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
Two years more were to pass, and the services of a sea-fighter of the Nelson caliber were required. Napoleon had gotten together another navy, and having combined with Spain they had a fleet that outclassed that of England.
Only one man in England could, with any assurance of success, fight this superior foe on the water. Nelson fought ships as an expert plays chess. He had reduced the game to a science; if the enemy made this move, he made that. He knew how to lure a hostile fleet and have it pursue him to the ground he had selected, and then he knew how to cut it in half and whip it piecemeal. His fighting was consummate strategy, combined with a seeming recklessness that gave a courage to the troops which made them invincible.
English society forgives anything but honesty and truth, and the name of Nelson had been spit upon because of his love for Lady Hamilton. But now danger was at the door and England wanted a man.
Nelson hesitated, but Lady Hamilton said: "Go--yes, go this once--your country calls and only you can do this task. The work done, come home to me, and the rest shall be yours that you so richly deserve. Go and my love shall follow you!"
That night Nelson started for Portsmouth, and in four days was on the coast of Spain.
For the next two years and a half he was in the center and was one of the controlling spirits of the vast military and naval drama which found its closing scene in Trafalgar Bay--years which, to Nelson, in spite of the arduous duties of his command, constituted the most severe and peaceful period of his troubled career.
The Battle of Trafalgar was fought October Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Five. At daylight Nelson hoisted the signal, "England expects every man to do his duty," gave the order to close in and the game of death began. Each side had made a move. Nelson retired to his cabin and wrote this codicil to his will:
October Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Five.
In sight of the combined fleets of France and Spain, distance about ten miles.
Whereas the eminent services of Emma Hamilton, widow of the Right Honorable Sir William Hamilton, have been of the very greatest service to my king and country, to my knowledge, without ever receiving any reward from either our king or country.
First: That she obtained the King of Spain's letter, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six to his brother, the King of Naples, acquainting him of his intention to declare war against England: from which letter the ministry sent out orders to the then Sir John Jervis to strike a stroke, if the opportunity offered, against either the arsenals of Spain or her fleets. That these were not done is not the fault of Lady Hamilton: the opportunity might have been offered.
Secondly: The British fleet under my command could never have returned the second time to Egypt, had not Lady Hamilton's influence with the Queen of Naples caused a letter to be written to the Governor of Syracuse, that he was to encourage the fleet being supplied with every thing, should they put into any port in Sicily. We put into Syracuse, and received every supply; went to Egypt and destroyed the French fleet. Could I have rewarded these services, I would not now call upon my country; but as that has not been in my power, I leave Emma, Lady Hamilton, therefore, a legacy to my king and country, that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her rank in life.
I also leave to the beneficence of my country, my daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson; and I desire she will use in future the name of Nelson only.
These are the only favors I ask of my king and country, at this moment when I am going to fight their battle. May God bless my king and country, and all those I hold dear!
T. M. Hardy
Nelson ordered the "Temeraire," the fighting "Temeraire"--the ship of which Ruskin was to write the finest piece of prose-poetry ever penned--to lead the charge, then saw to it that the order could not be carried out, for the "Victory" led.
By noon Nelson had gotten several men into the king-row. Three of the enemy's ships had struck, two were on fire, and four were making a desperate endeavor to escape the fate that Nelson had prepared for them.
At one o'clock, Nelson's own ship, the "Victory," had grappled with the "Redoubtable" and was chained fast to her. Nelson's men had shot the hull of the "Redoubtable" full of holes and once set fire to her. Then, thinking the vessel had struck, since her gunners had ceased their work, Nelson ordered his own men to cease firing and extinguish the flames on the craft of the enemy.
Just at this time a musket-ball, fired from the yards of the "Redoubtable," struck Nelson on the shoulder and passed down through the vertebrĉ. He fell upon the deck, exclaiming to Captain Hardy who was near, "They have done for me now, Hardy--my back is broken."
He was carried below, but the gush of blood into the lungs told the tale: Nelson was dying. He sent for Hardy, but before the captain could be found the hurrahing on the deck told that the "Redoubtable" had surrendered. A gleam of joy came into the one blue eye of the dying man and he said, "I would like to live one hour just to know that my plans were right--we must capture or destroy twenty of them."
Hardy came and held the hand of his friend. "Kiss me, Hardy--I am dying--tell Lady Hamilton that my last words were of her--good by!" and he covered his face and the stars on his breast with a handkerchief, so that his men might not recognize the dead form of their chief as they hurried by at their work.
Nelson was dead--but Trafalgar was won.
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Lady Hamilton was unfortunate in having her history written only by her enemies--written with goose-quills. Taine says: "The so-called best society in England is notoriously corrupt and frigidly pious. It places a premium on hypocrisy, a penalty on honesty, and having no virtues of its own, it cries shrilly about virtue--as if there were but one, and that negative." Nelson in his innocence did not know English society, otherwise he would not have commended Lady Hamilton to the gratitude of the English. It was a little like commending her to a pack of wolves. The sum of ten thousand pounds was voted to each of Nelson's sisters, but not a penny to Lady Hamilton, "my wife before the eyes of God," as he himself expressed it.
Fortunately, an annuity of four hundred pounds had been arranged for Horatia, the daughter of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and this saved Lady Hamilton and her child from absolute want. As it was, Lady Hamilton was arrested on a charge of debt, imprisoned, and practically driven out of England, although the sisters of Lord Nelson believed in her, and respected her to the last. Lady Hamilton died in France in Eighteen Hundred Thirteen.
Her daughter, Horatia Nelson, became a strong, excellent and beautiful woman, passing away in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-one. She married the Reverend Philip Ward, of Teventer, Kent, and raised a family of nine children. One of her sons moved to America and made his mark upon the stage, and also in letters. The American branch spell the name "Warde." In England several of the grandchildren of Lord Nelson have made the name of "Ward" illustrious in art and literature.
Mrs. Ward wrote a life of her mother, but a publisher was never found for the book, and the manuscript was lost or destroyed. Some extracts from it, however, were published in the London "Athenĉum" in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-seven, and the picture of Lady Hamilton there presented was that of a woman of great natural endowments: a welling heart of love; great motherly qualities, high intellect and aspiration, caught in the web of unkind condition in her youth, but growing out of this and developing a character which made her the rightful mate of Nelson, the invincible, Nelson, the incorruptible, against whose loyalty and honesty not even his enemies ever said a word, save that he fell a victim to his love, his love for one woman.
Loveless, unloved and unlovable Tammas the Titan, from Ecclefechan, writing in spleen says: "Nelson's unhappy affair with a saucy jade of a wench has supplied the world more gabble than all his victories." And possibly the affair in question was quite as important for good as the battles won. The world might do without war, but I make the hazard it could not long survive if men and women ceased to love and mate. However, I may be wrong.
People whose souls are made of dawnstuff and starshine may make mistakes, but God will not judge them by these alone. But for the love of Lady Hamilton Nelson would probably never have lived to fight Trafalgar--one of the pivotal battles of the world.
Nelson saved England from the fell clutch of the Corsican, and Lady Hamilton saved Nelson from insanity and death. Nelson knew how to do three great things--how to fight, how to love, how to die.
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SO HERE ENDETH "LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF GREAT LOVERS," BEING VOLUME THIRTEEN OF THE SERIES, AS WRITTEN BY ELBERT HUBBARD: EDITED AND ARRANGED BY FRED BANN; BORDERS AND INITIALS BY ROYCROFT ARTISTS, AND PRODUCED BY THE ROYCROFTERS, AT THEIR SHOPS, WHICH ARE IN EAST AURORA, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK, MCMXXII.
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