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Nelson: Love and Fame

Edgar Vincent
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 688
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Nelson's naval glory, public fame, charismatic leadership, scandalous romance, and untimely death as he led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar have ensured his enduring position as England's favorite hero. This engaging, full-length biography of Nelson (1758-1805) presents a gripping account of his career and climb to fame interwoven with the fascinating details of his personal and emotional life.A man of contradictions, Nelson emerges in this biography as a ruthless and aggressive leader; an ambitious attention-seeker capable of childish behavior; but a figure admired for his courage, kindness, and leadership skills. Edgar Vincent offers a number of new interpretations of aspects of Nelson's life, illuminates the motives and attitudes of key figures who surrounded him, and provides an account of his early infatuations, his courtship of his wife Fanny, and his passion for his celebrated mistress Lady Hamilton. Captured on these pages in all his vigor and complexity, Nelson is as charismatic a figure today as he was two hundred years ago.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12784-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Maps & Diagrams
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. Preface to the Yale Nota Bene Edition
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Lavinia Spencer, wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty, spoke of him as ‘That dear little creature’. To Vice Admiral Goodall he was, ‘My little hero’. He referred to his Nile captains as his ‘Band of brothers’, and ‘My darling children’. He said his reception by the officers of the Trafalgar fleet caused ‘the sweetest sensation of my life’. Never has a fighting commander evoked such love and tenderness or exercised such a direct and impelling grasp on our hearts.

    Nelson grew to be a man of charisma. In what did this consist? We look for a physical presence...

  8. Part I Early Years

    • 1 Foundations for Life
      (pp. 9-16)

      ‘Jump!’ shouted the boatman and on a chilly March morning in 1771 little Horatio Nelson leaped from the boat which had brought him out into the Medway, clutched at the gangway’s hanging side ropes, so thick that his childish hands could not close round them, and began an agile and eager assault on the towering side of theRaisonnable. Up he scrambled, past the lower deck gun ports and an instant stink of stale humanity and bilge water, past the main deck ports, until at last he hauled himself on to the upper deck which suddenly appeared, smooth and shining...

    • 2 Captain Suckling’s Legacy
      (pp. 17-34)

      TheRaisonnablewas moored in the Medway in the final stages of fitting out. She was swarming with life, getting cables on board, rigging the masts, swaying up the yards, bending sails, receiving seamen and marines. Harrison, writing Nelson’s biography in 1806, under the direction of Lady Hamilton, adopted her version of the story of his reception, or rather non-reception, which has been repeated and embellished by succeeding generations. ‘It would seem however that his uncle could not at this time be on board, or any person whatever who knew of his coming: for he had been repeatedly heard to...

    • 3 Five Frustrating Years
      (pp. 35-56)

      On 11 June 1779, three months before his twenty-first birthday, Nelson was ‘made’: he received his first appointment as a post captain. TheHinchinbrookwas a 28-gun frigate, the smallest class of frigate in the Navy. Fully manned, she carried 195 officers and men. Below Nelson were his first and second lieutenants, a lieutenant of marines, four midshipmen, the master, who ranked ‘with but after’ the commissioned officers, and a further group of warrant officers, gunner, carpenter, boatswain, surgeon, purser, schoolmaster and chaplain.

      Hinchinbrook’s former captain had been killed in action and the Commander-in-Chief had power to fill the vacancy...

    • 4 Trying To Get Noticed
      (pp. 57-85)

      On 18 March 1784 Nelson was appointed to command theBoreas, his third 28-gun frigate. He must have begun to wonder how, in a time of peace, he could ever be promoted to command a ship-of-the-line. He hoped they might be bound for the East India station but their destination was to be in exactly the opposite direction: the West Indies.

      It is often said that Nelson showed bouts of irritation only after his head wound at the Nile, but it was a decidedly grumpy officer who went to sea inBoreas. To be fair, he was suffering from intermittent...

    • 5 Black Marks and ‘On the Beach’
      (pp. 86-100)

      Just after noon on 4 July, after an Atlantic passage of almost a month, the high land on the Isle of Wight above Dunnose could be seen some eighteen miles to the north-west. Nelson orderedBoreasto alter course and for the next six hours she made her way through the approaches, and past the crowded anchorage of Spithead. Turning away from the busy approach to Portsmouth Harbour she came up to the wind near a group of five towering ships-of-the-line. With sails shivering and guns booming a salute to the Port Admiral, her best bower anchor rushed into the...

  9. Part II Unhonoured & Unsung

    • 6 Melpomene, Minerve, La Fortune
      (pp. 105-115)

      Nelson did not have to endure for long the indignity of cruising fruitlessly in the Channel. In June they sailed for the Mediterranean to join Hood. After the finest passage and weather possible, they arrived off Cape St Vincent on 14 June, where Nelson made his own emotionalrapprochementwith Hood, ‘I paid Lord Hood a visit a few days back and found him very civil. I dare say we shall be good friends again.’¹ Stopping off in Cadiz on their way round to Gibraltar he noted, ‘The Spaniards have been very civil to us. More in my opinion than...

    • 7 ‘Totally Neglected’ Nelson, February 1795
      (pp. 116-135)

      With the fall of Toulon, which ended for the time being any British hopes of supporting insurrection in France, came an urgent need for Hood to decide where to base his fleet. He decided on St Fiorenzo on the north-western side of Corsica. Its wide bay and sheltered port lay some hundred miles from the French Riviera coast. Here he would be strategically well placed to watch French ships-of-the-line in Toulon, guard British commerce, harry enemy shipping, influence neutral states, shield Naples, and by his presence so far up the Mediterranean, provide encouragement and active support to Britain’s Austrian allies....

    • 8 ‘My Disposition Can’t Bear Tame and Slow Measures’ Nelson, April 1795
      (pp. 136-148)

      It was now known that Hood was to leave the station and Nelson hoped to go with him: ‘When Lord Hood quits I should be truly sorry to remain. He is the greatest sea officer I ever knew.’ Writing to his Uncle William Suckling from Genoa where he had arrived in thick weather with dispatches for Drake, the Minister, he was clear about his ultimate destination: ‘Agamemnonis still on the wing, and will not rest, most probably, till she gets into Portsmouth, which I hope will be no great length of time, as Lord Hood is inclined to take...

    • 9 ‘It Is Active Young Men That Are Wanted, Not Drones’ Nelson, December 1795
      (pp. 149-168)

      The British fleet in the Mediterranean had not yet found an offensive role. Its performance under Hotham had been defensive and ineffective, partly because of its under-resourcing. It could blockade Toulon after a fashion. It could protect convoys, but found it difficult to prevent coastal vessels from supplying the French. It carried insufficient troops to support combined operations.

      Politically, the First Coalition against the French, orchestrated and subsidized by Britain, was finding it virtually impossible to act because of conflicting territorial ambitions among its members, especially those between Austria and Sardinia in this region. The port of Genoa was playing...

  10. Part III The Making of an Icon

    • 10 Into the Limelight
      (pp. 171-200)

      Politically and strategically the sky had been darkening for some time. Pitt’s First Coalition against the French was over. Prussia and Holland had already made peace with France and in July 1796 Spain had allied herself with France and was now only a month away from declaring war on England. Austria, the last of the allies, was reeling in the face of Bonaparte’s brilliance in Italy. In May, Naples had agreed an armistice with France, as a prelude to peace. England was vulnerable to uprising in Ireland and invasion across the Channel. It was not difficult for the Cabinet to...

    • 11 Hubris
      (pp. 201-218)

      Having returned to sea four years previously in a mere 64, the lowest form of ship-of-the-line, an officer with no particular achievement to his name, having no more significance in the scheme of things than the single line he occupied in the Admiralty’s list of 500 post captains, Nelson had, in the space of a single day, mutated into a glittering star. Moreover, St Valentine’s Day served to bring sudden illumination to everything else he had done previously, in Corsica and Elba, along the Italian riviera, and against theÇa Ira. In retrospect they would be seen as the achievements...

    • 12 The Admiralty Dips for Nelson
      (pp. 219-239)

      From the moment he arrived at Spithead on 1 September 1797 and was formally ordered to strike his flag and come on shore, Nelson was bent on getting back to the Mediterranean and to St Vincent.

      By this time the two men held immense attractions for each other. St Vincent, the most assiduous nurturer of talent in the Navy, was intent on surrounding himself with the best captains and flag officers he could find – and just as ruthlessly weeding out ‘old women’ and ‘drivellers’. It had not taken him long to form decided views about Nelson, to recognize his...

    • 13 The Hero Ascends
      (pp. 240-258)

      Making sure that Nelson first of all delivered his precious surplus of fresh water to the inshore blockading squadron off Cadiz harbour, St Vincent lost no time in sending him off on a mission of reconnaissance ‘to endeavour to ascertain the real object of preparations making by the French.’¹ Nelson was delighted by his reception and ‘found Lord St Vincent everything I wished him and his friends in England have done me justice to him for my zeal and affection’² – gossip travelled fast. The only cloud on the horizon was the unhappy thought of the possibility of losing his...

    • 14 The Nile
      (pp. 259-274)

      As they turned to run into Aboukir Bay Nelson’s ships were sailing easy, rigging singing in a fine topsail breeze, ahead the French fleet about two miles distant, now very distinct in its outlines, its centre dominated by the great three-decker flagshipL’Orient. It was a lovely evening, albeit still a touch sultry, with glittering blue skies, deep blue sea, sandy blue hazy shore in the distance beyond, sea birds wheeling and turning behind the ships. They had been cleared for action for some time, stripped from stem to stern, all partitions, furniture and possessions struck down into the holds....

  11. Part IV Finding Love

    • 15 Hero Meets Heroine
      (pp. 277-298)

      Somewhere between eight and 8.30 p.m., at the height of the battle for the centre, a piece of stray metal from a langrel shot, a crude but lethal confection of bolts, nails and pieces of iron designed to shredVanguard’s rigging, slashed suddenly across Nelson’s temple. Like a bloody flap the severed skin fell instantaneously over his good eye. Blinded, with blood pouring down his face, with the shouts of battle and the crash of cannon all around him, he recognized his fate; he knew his hour had come. ‘I am killed; remember me to my wife.’¹

      They helped him...

    • 16 Disappointments, Dilemmas and Disharmony
      (pp. 299-316)

      Professionally speaking, Nelson had not suspended his judgement. Something caused a snappy letter to St Vincent the day after his wonderful birthday party. ‘I trust, my Lord, in a week we shall all be at sea. I am very unwell, and the miserable conduct of this Court is not likely to cool my irritable temper. It is a country of fiddlers and poets, whores and scoundrels.’¹ On his birthday he had written to Saumarez, ‘This is a sad place for refitting, the swell sets in so heavy. Never again do we come to Naples: besides the rest we are all...

    • 17 Neapolitan Affairs
      (pp. 317-346)

      Vice-Admiral Lord Keith, who had joined the Mediterranean fleet in December 1798 as St Vincent’s second-in-command, wrote to his sister on 10 April 1799, ‘It is here reported Lord Nelson is to go home immediately. Lord St V says he shall not go in theVanguard. The world says he is making himself ridiculous with Lady Hamilton and idling his time at Palermo when he should have been elsewhere – so says G Hope and the officers who are come thence to me.’¹ George Hope was of course the officer who had taken Nelson’s frigates off their rendezvous in 1798,...

    • 18 Soulmates
      (pp. 347-372)

      On 16 January 1800 Nelson sailed inFoudroyantfor Leghorn and a first meeting with Lord Keith, who wrote to his sister, ‘Lord Nelson has arrived. I am much employed. Of course he brings no news.’¹ Nelson’s mind was indeed elsewhere and five days after they set sail on their return journey to Palermo he began a long and passionate love letter to Emma, the earliest that has survived.

      Separated from all I hold dear in this world what is the use of living if indeed such an existence can be called so, nothing could alleviate such a Separation but...

    • 19 Public Fame and Private Pain
      (pp. 373-392)

      Their continental progress home was triumphal, Trieste to Laibach (now Ljubljana in Slovenia), then via Klagenfurt to Graz, via Bruck an der Mur to Wiener-Neustadt, via Baden to Vienna, then to Prague, capital of Bohemia, down the Elbe to Dresden, capital of Saxony, thence to Magdeburg in Prussia and finally to Hamburg, where, after four months, the party crossed the North Sea to Yarmouth.

      The hero’s return Nelson had experienced at Naples in 1798 had been the delirious welcome of a court euphoric at deliverance from the guillotine at their gate. He now had his first experience of public fame....

  12. Part V Winning & Losing

    • 20 Bitter-sweet Emotions
      (pp. 395-418)

      For the next two months the emotionally immature Nelson would go through a form of hell. Emma, practical, resourceful Emma, would cope with the secret birth of her child; but there would be no escape from postnatal emotions nor from the stress of secrecy. Nelson, still hot with passion, all inner doubts about his masculinity triumphantly laid to rest by Emma’s pregnancy, was separated from her for the first time, without her undivided attention to appease his insecurity, and full of guilt at his betrayal of Fanny. In the final days of Emma’s pregnancy he began to entertain dark fears...

    • 21 Copenhagen
      (pp. 419-440)

      Nelson had little scope for fancy tactics. He intended a controlled and disciplined battle. This time there was no reference in his orders to captains using their initiative. He hoped to position his biggest ships against the strongest opposition; to use his gunboats to rake the Danish positions from their flank; he hoped to puncture a hole in the Danish line that would enable him to use his bomb ships to rain shells on the arsenal and Citadel; to storm the Trekroner, once it had been bombarded, using troops in the flat boats, sheltered by his ships’ sides until the...

    • 22 Phoney War
      (pp. 441-459)

      Nelson reached Yarmouth on 30 June 1801, visited the hospitals where the Copenhagen wounded had been sent and made his way to London to call on St Vincent. The idyll he had looked forward to so eagerly, and the passionate encounters he intended it should involve, was to last precisely three weeks and four days. The first week, spent between Lothian’s Hotel and 23 Piccadilly, was interrupted by the inevitable round of courtesy calls, professional discussions and correspondence. He fled to the country on a three-day excursion to Box Hill with the Hamiltons, ‘a very pretty place and we are...

    • 23 Fame without Fortune
      (pp. 460-486)

      From the moment he first stepped on boardRaisonnablethirty years previously, Nelson spent less than seven years on shore; amost half of it accounted for by his first six years of marriage when he was unemployed and living under his father’s roof. By comparison with the lack of interest he had shown in the purchase of Roundwood he was enthusiastic about Merton. He was certain, ‘I shall like Merton.’¹ In his eyes Emma could do no wrong, and he happily busied himself with lists of domestic impedimenta. He was thinking of using his cot as a spare bed. ‘I...

  13. Part VI The Road to Trafalgar

    • 24 Commander-in-Chief
      (pp. 489-515)

      The thing that strikes one most about the Nelson of this final period is the power resting in his face. His figure might be slight, his height might be no more than average, but his was now a fully matured face of command. He sat for Catherine Andras in 1805 and her waxwork of a year later makes this abundantly clear. The prominent nose, the wide, powerfully sculpted mouth, confront you; the face pronounces a willingness to make decisions and bear responsibility. His string of victories have invested him with charisma; it becomes a moving experience just to catch sight...

    • 25 Waiting
      (pp. 516-532)

      The winter weather which had caused him to position himself under Cape San Sebastian, rather than face the full blast of the mistral in the Gulf of Lions; the weight of responsibility, his constant expenditure of mental and physical energy, frequent seasickness, the battering his ships were taking and their slow but palpable decay, were all bearing down on Nelson and his interior mood. Private letters were his only therapy. He wrote to Davison, ‘But my time of service here is nearly over. A natural anxiety must attend my station; but my dear friend, my eyesight fails me most dreadfully....

    • 26 French Diversions
      (pp. 533-558)

      It was on to such a scene on 19 January 1805 that the frigatesSeahorseandActivearrived at Maddalena. The French fleet had put to sea the previous day.

      Nelson immediately ordered his ships to sail, and to hoist lights ready for a night action or chase in company. His frigates had been in sight of the enemy until ten o’clock the previous night and had continued in contact with one of them till two in the morning, the enemy’s reported course causing Nelson to deduce that they were intending to sail round the southern end of Sardinia. He...

    • 27 Dame Fortune’s Last Favour
      (pp. 559-583)

      At eight o’clock on Sunday, 15 September theVictoryweighed and set sail. Sailing past Portland, Nelson was dealing with home affairs, including the rescheduling of his debt to Davison. There were still alterations to be done at Merton, ‘the kitchen, ante-room, and for altering the dining room … the alteration will cost three times as much as if it had been done at first’.¹ He was again shouldering the debts of his brother Maurice’s blind wife. Off Plymouth on the 17th he wrote to Emma, ‘I intreat, my dear Emma, that you will cheer up; and we will look...

  14. Exeunt Omnes
    (pp. 584-586)

    In the scene of his death Nelson revealed spontaneously the dimensions of his charismatic personality. In it there is something for all of us. To leave Emma as a legacy to the nation seems to some ridiculous, to others a gesture of true romance. ‘Kiss me Hardy’ appeals wonderfully to some, revealing the gentleness and love among comrades jointly engaged in horror, to others it is an example of the charismatic Nelson’s drive to seduce.Kiss me Hardy, andEngland Expects, have, like certain phrases from the Bible and Shakespeare, become part of the nation’s consciousness. No onlooker could remain...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 587-620)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 621-625)
  17. Index
    (pp. 626-640)