1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nelson, Horatio Nelson, Viscount
NELSON, HORATIO NELSON, Viscount (1758–1805), duke of Bronte in Sicily, British naval hero, was born at the parsonage house of Burnham Thorpe, in Norfolk, on the 29th of September 1758. His father, Edmund Nelson (1722–1802), who came of a clerical family, was rector of the parish. His mother, whose maiden name was Catherine Suckling (1725–1767), was a grand-niece of Sir Robert Walpole (1st earl of Orford). This connexion proved of little or no value to the future admiral, who, in a letter to his brother, the Rev. William Nelson, written in 1784, speaks of the Walpoles as “the merest set of cyphers that ever existed—in public affairs I mean.” His introduction to the navy came from his maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling (1725–1778), an officer of some reputation who at his death held the important post of comptroller of the navy. Horatio, who had received a summary, and broken, education at Norwich Downham and North Walsham, was entered on the “Raisonable" when Captain Suckling was appointed to her in 1770 on an alarm of war with Spain. The dispute was settled, and Captain Suckling was transferred to the “Triumph,” the guard ship at Chatham, whither he took his nephew. In order that the lad might have more practice than could be obtained on- a harbour ship, his uncle sent him to the West Indies in a merchant vessel, and on his return gave him constant employment in boat work on the river. In a brief sketch of his life, which he drew up in 1799, Nelson says that in this way he became a good pilot for small vessels “from Chatham to the Tower of London, down the Swin, and the North Foreland; and confident of myself among rocks and sands, which has many times since been of great comfort to me.” Between April and October of 1772 he served with Captain Lutwidge in the “Carcass,” one of the vessels which went on a not otherwise notable voyage to the Arctic seas with Captain Phipps, better known by his Irish title of Baron Mulgrave. On his return from the north he was sent to the East Indies in the “Seahorse,” in which vessel he made the acquaintance of his lifelong friend Thomas Troubridge. At the end of two years he was invalided home. In after times he spoke of the depression under which he laboured during the return voyage, till “after a long and gloomy reverie, in which I almost wished myself overboard, a sudden glow of patriotism was kindled within me, and presented my king and my country as my patron. My mind exulted in the idea. ‘Well then,’ I exclaimed, ‘I will be a hero, and, confiding in Providence, I will brave every danger.’ ” He spoke to friends of the “radiant orb” which from that hour hung ever before him, and “urged him onward to renown.” On his return home he served during a short cruise in the “Worcester” frigate, passed his examination as lieutenant on the 9th April 1777, and was confirmed in the rank next day. He went to the West Indies with Captain Locker in the “Lowestoft” frigate, was transferred to the flagship by the admiral commanding on the station, Sir Peter Parker (1721–1811), and was then by him promoted in rapid succession to the command of the “Badger” brig, and the “Hinchinbrook” frigate. By this appointment, which he received in 1779, he was placed in the rank of post captain (from which promotion to flag rank was by seniority), at the very early age of twenty. His connexion with Captain Suckling may, no doubt, have been of use to him, but in the main he owed his rapid rise to his power of winning the affection of all those he met, whether as comrades or superiors. Sir Peter Parker and Lady Parker remained his friends all through his life. In 1780 he saw his first active service in an expedition to San Juan de Nicaragua, which was rendered deadly by the climate. He was brought to death’s door by fever, and invalided home once more. In 1781 he was appointed to the “Albemarle” frigate, and after some convoy service in the North Sea and the Sound was sent to Newfoundland and thence to the North American station. “Fair Canada,” as he has recorded in one of his letters, gave him the good health he had so far never enjoyed. At Quebec he formed one of those passionate attachments to women which marked his career. He now made the personal acquaintance of Sir Samuel Hood, Lord Hood. In the autobiographical sketch already quoted he mentions the high opinion formed of him by the admiral who presented him to Prince William, duke of Clarence, afterwards King William IV., as an officer well qualified to instruct him in “naval tactics,” by which we must perhaps understand seamanship. Prince William has left a brief but singularly vivid account of their first meeting. He appeared, says the Prince, “to be the merest boy of a captain I ever beheld; and his dress was worthy of attention. He had on a full-laced uniform; his lank unpowdered hair was tied in a stiff Hessian tail of an extraordinary length; the old-fashioned flaps of his waistcoat added to the general quaintness of his figure, and produced an appearance which particularly attracted my notice; for I had never seen anything like it before, nor could I imagine who he was or what he came about. My doubts were, however, removed when Lord Hood introduced me to him. There was something irresistibly pleasing in his address and conversation; and an enthusiasm, when speaking on professional subjects, that showed he was no common being.” The slight oddity of appearance, the power to arouse affection, and the glow indicating the fire within, are noted by all who ever looked Nelson in the face.
In March 1783, at the very end of the American War, he saw his second piece of active service. He was repulsed in an attempt to retake Turk’s Island from the French. The peace gave him leisure to pay a visit to France, for which country and all its ways he entertained a dislike and contempt characteristic of his time. In France he formed another attachment, and went so far as to apply to a maternal uncle for an allowance to eke out his half-pay. It came to nothing, presumably by refusal on the lady’s part. And now when the navy was cut down to the quick on the peace establishment, and the vast majority of naval officers were condemned to idleness on shore, he had the extraordinary good fortune to be appointed to the command of the “Boreas” frigate, for service in the West Indies. Nelson found in this commission an opportunity for the display of his readiness to assume responsibility.. He signalized his arrival in the West Indies by refusing to obey an order of the admiral which required him to acknowledge a half-pay officer acting as commissioner of the dockyard at Antigua as his superior. He insisted on enforcing the Navigation Laws against the Americans, who by becoming independent had become foreigners. He called the attention of the government to the corruption prevailing in the dockyard of Antigua. His line was in all cases correct, but it impressed the admiralty as somewhat assuming, and his strong measures against the interloping trade brought on him many lawsuits, which, though he was defended at the expense of the government, caused him much trouble for years. In the West Indies on the 12th of March 1787 he married Frances Nisbet (1761–1831), the widow of a doctor in Nevis, whose favour he first gained by being found romping on all fours with her little boy under the drawing-room table. The marriage was one of affection and prudence, rather than of love.
Though Nelson had as yet seen little active service, and that little had not been specially distinguished, he had already gained that reputation within his own service which commonly precedes public recognition. His character had been fully developed, and his capacity proved. His horizon was narrow, being strictly confined to his profession. He had all the convictions of the typical John Bull of his generation. The loyalty of a devoted subject was strong in him. He burned to win affection, admiration, distinction. He was a man to do whatever there was to be done to the utmost. A more magnificent instrument for use in the great Revolutionary struggle now close at hand could not have been forged.
War having broken out, he was appointed captain of the “Agamemnon” (64) on the 30th of November 1793; and joined his ship on the 7th of February. From this date till June 1800, rather more than seven years, he was engaged on continual active service, with the exception of a few months when he was invalided home. This period is the most varied, the busiest, the most glorious and the most debated of a very full career. It subdivides naturally into three sections; (1) From the date of his appointment as captain of the “Agamemnon” till he was disabled by the loss of his arm in the unsuccessful attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the 24th of July 1797 he served as captain, or commodore, under Hood, Hotham and Jervis, successive commanders-in-chief in the Mediterranean. (2) After an interval of nine months spent at home in recovering from his wound, and from the effects of a badly performed operation, he returned to the Mediterranean, and was at once sent in pursuit of the great French armament which sailed from Toulon under the command of Napoleon for the conquest of Egypt. His victory of the Nile on the 1st of August 1798 placed him at once in the foremost rank among the warriors of a warlike time, and made him a national hero. With his return to Naples on the 22nd of September the second period ends. (3) From now till he landed at Leghorn on the 26th of July 1800, on his return home across Europe, he was entangled at Naples in political transactions and intrigues, which he was ill prepared to deal with either by nature or training, and was plunged into the absorbing passion, which did increase his popularity with the mob, but cost him many friends.
The first of these three passages in his life is full of events which must, however, be told briefly. In May he sailed for the Mediterranean with Hood, and was engaged under his orders in the occupation of Toulon by the allied British and. Spanish forces. In August 1793 he was dispatched to Naples to convoy the troops which the Neapolitan government had undertaken to contribute towards the garrison of Toulon. It was on this occasion that he made the acquaintance of Emma Hamilton (q.v.), the wife of Sir William Hamilton, minister at the Court of Naples. References to Lady Hamilton begin to appear in his letters to his wife, but, as might be expected, they indicate little beyond respectful admiration, and he makes a good deal of her kindness to his stepson, Josiah Nisbet, whom he had taken to sea. Young Nisbet was afterwards promoted to post captain, and was put in command of a frigate at an improperly early age by Nelson’s interest. He proved quite unworthy, and in the end died mad. After the allies had been driven from Toulon by Napoleon, Nelson was employed throughout 1794 in the operations connected with the occupation of Corsica. In April and May he was engaged in the capture of Bastia, and June and July in the taking of Calvi. Both towns really surrendered from want of stores, but the naval brigades under Nelson’s personal direction were conspicuously active, and their energy was favourably contrasted with the alleged formality of the troops. During the operations at Calvi, Nelson’s right eye was destroyed by gravel driven into it by a cannon shot which struck the ground close to him. From the date of the occupation of Corsica till the island was evacuated, that is to say, from the end of 1794 till the middle of 1796, he was incessantly active. He served under Hotham, who undertook the command when Hood returned to England, and was engaged in the indecisive actions fought by him in the Gulf of Lyons in March and July 1795. The easy-going ways of the new admiral fretted the eager spirit of Nelson, and Hotham’s placid satisfaction with the trifling result of his encounters with the French provoked his subordinate into declaring that, for his part, he would never think that the British fleet had done very well if a single ship of the enemy got off while there was a possibility of taking her. His zeal found more satisfaction when he was detached to the Riviera of Genoa, where, first as captain, and then as commodore, he had an opportunity to prove his qualities for independent command by harassing the communications of the French, and co-operating with the Austrians. In Sir John Jervis, who superseded Hotham, he found a leader after his own heart. When Spain, after first making peace with France at Basel, declared war on England, and the fleet under Jervis withdrew from the Mediterranean, Nelson was dispatched to Elba on a hazardous mission to bring off the small garrison and the naval stores. He sailed in the “Minerve” frigate, having another with him. After a smart action with two Spanish frigates which he took off Carthagena on the zoth of December, and a narrow escape from a squadron of Spanish line of battle ships, he fulfilled his mission, and rejoined the flag of Jervis on the eve of the great battle off Cape St Vincent on the 14th of February 1797 (see St Vincent, Battle of). The judgment, independence and promptitude he showed in this famous engagement, were rewarded by the conspicuous part he had in the victory, and revealed him to the nation as one of the heroes of the navy. Nelson receiving the swords of the Spanish officers on the deck of the “San Josef” became at once a popular figure.
A few days after the victory he became rear-admiral by seniority, but continued with Jervis, who was made a peer under the title of Earl St Vincent. Nelson’s own services were recognized by the grant of the knighthood of the Bath. During the trying months in which the fleet was menaced by the Sedition then rife in the navy, which came to a head in the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore, he remained with the flag, and in the blockade of Cadiz. In July 1797 he was sent on a desperate mission to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It was believed that a Spanish Manilla ship carrying treasure had anchored at that place, and Lord St Vincent was desirous of depriving the enemy of this resource. The enterprise was, in fact, rash in the last degree, for the soldiers from the garrisons of Elba and Corsica having gone home, no troops were available for the service, and a fortified town was to be taken by man-of-war boats alone. Nelson’s well-established character for daring marked him out for a duty which could only succeed by dash and surprise, if it was to succeed at all. But the Spaniards were on the alert, and the attack, made with the utmost daring on the night of the 24th of July, was repulsed with heavy loss. Some of the boats missed the mole in the dark and were stove in by the surf, others which found the mole were shattered by the fire of the Spaniards. Nelson’s right elbow was shot through, and he fell back into the boat from which he was directing the attack. The amputation of his arm was badly performed in the hurry and the dark. He was invalided home, and spent months of extreme pain in London and at Bath. On the 10th of April 1798 he came back to the fleet off Cadiz as rear-admiral, with his flag in the “Vanguard” (74).
He was now one of the most distinguished officers in the navy. Within the next six months he was to raise himself far above the heads of all his contemporaries. It was notorious that a great armament was preparing at Toulon for some unknown destination. To discover its purpose, and to defeat it, the British government resolved to send their naval forces again into the Mediterranean, and Nelson was chosen for the command by Jervis, with whom the immediate decision lay, but also by ministers.
Having joined the flag of Lord St Vincent outside of the straits of Gibraltar on the 30th of April, Nelson was detached on the 2nd of May into the Mediterranean, with three line-of-battle ships and five frigates, to discover the aim of the Toulon armament. Napoleon had, however, enforced rigid secrecy, and the British admiral had to confess that the French were better than the British at concealing their plans. Beyond the fact that a powerful combined force was collected in the French port he could learn nothing. On the 20th of May the “Vanguard” was dismasted in a gale. Nelson bore the check in a highly characteristic manner. “I ought not,” he wrote, “to call what has happened by the cold name of accident; but I believe firmly that it was the Almighty’s goodness to check my consummate vanity.” The “Vanguard” was saved from going on shore by the seaman-like skill of Captain Ball of the “Alexander” against whom Nelson had hitherto had a prejudice, but for whom he had henceforth a peculiar regard. The “Vanguard” was refitted by the exertions of her own crew under cover of the little island of San Pietri on the southern coast of Sardinia. In the meantime the frigates attached to his command had returned to Gibraltar, in the erroneous belief that the liners would be taken there to make good the damage suffered in the gale. “I thought Hope would have known me better,” said Nelson. On the 30th of April he was off Toulon again, only to find that the French were gone, and that he could not learn whither they were steering. Racked by anxiety and deprived of his best means of obtaining information by the disappearance of his frigates, he remained cruising till he was joined, on the 7th of June, by Troubridge with ten sail of the line. And now he started on his fierce pursuit of the enemy, seeking him in the dark, for there were no scouts at hand; exasperated at being left without the eyes of his fleet; half maddened at the thought he might, by no fault of his own, miss the renown towards which his prophetic imagination had seemed to guide him; knowing that St Vincent would be blamed for choosing so young an admiral; but resolved to follow the enemy to the antipodes if necessary. From the coast of Sardinia to Naples, from Naples to Messina, from Messina to Alexandria, from Alexandria, where he found the road stead empty, back to Sicily, and then when at last a ray of light came to him, back to Alexandria—he swept the central and eastern Mediterranean. At no time in his life were the noble qualities of his nature displayed more entirely free from all alloy. He was an embodied flame of resolution, and as yet he showed no sign of the vulgar bluster which was to appear later. In the midst of his anxieties his kindness of heart shone forth without a trace of the tendency of sentimental gush so irritatingly obvious in after days. Unlike most admirals of his time, he did not live apart from his captains, but saw much of them, and freely discussed his plans with them. He had his reward in their devotion and perfect comprehension of what he wished them to do. At the same time he acquired an absolute confidence in the efficiency of his squadron, the magnificent force which had been formed by years of successful war, and by the careful training of his predecessors. The captains were the band of brothers he himself had made them.
The great victory of the 1st of August 1798 (see Nile, Battle of) brought Nelson yet another wound. He was struck on the forehead by a langridge shot, and had for a time to go below. It is perhaps to be lamented in the interest of his fame that the wound was not severe enough to compel him to return home. After providing for the blockade of what remained of the French fleet in Alexandria, he sailed for Naples, and arrived there on the 22nd of September. There was no rear-admiral of any standing in the navy who could not have done what remained to be done in the Mediterranean, under the supervision of St Vincent, as well as he. For him Naples was a pitfall. There awaited him there precisely the influences to folly which he was least able to resist. He loved being loved, and was the man to think the gift a debt. He had an insatiable appetite for praise. With those weaknesses of character which caused Lord Minto, who yet never ceased to regard him with sincere friendship, to say that he was in some respects a “baby,” he was disarmed in the presence of the two women who now made a determined attempt to capture him. Emma Hamilton, who could not help endeavouring to conquer every man she met, was naturally eager to dominate one who had filled Europe with his fame. Behind Emma was the queen of Naples, Maria Carolina, a woman who had a share of the ability of her mother Maria Theresa without any of her fine moral qualities. Maria Carolina was all her life trying to fight the power of revolutionary France, with no better resources than were afforded her by the insignificant kingdom of Naples, and a husband who was the embodiment of all the faults of the Italian Bourbons. She had made use of the English minister’s wife as an instrument of political intrigue, and now she employed her to manage Nelson. We have the repeated assertions of Nelson himself in all his ample correspondence from September 1798 to July of 1800, and indeed later, to prove that he was, in his own tell-tale phrase, persuaded to “Sicilyfy” his conscience—in other words to turn his squadron into an instrument for the ambition, the revenge and the fears of Maria Carolina, the “Dear Queen” of his letters to Emma Hamilton. It is highly probable that he was secretly influenced by annoyance at the pedantry of the British government, which only gave him a barony for the splendid victory of the Nile, on the ridiculous ground that no higher title could be given to an officer who was not a commander-in-chief. All doubt as to the character of his relations with Lady Hamilton has been laid at rest by the Morrison papers. None ought ever to have existed, for, if Nelson did not love this woman in the fullest possible sense of the word, his conduct would be inexplicable on any other hypothesis than that he was an imbecile. He allowed her to waste his money, to lead him about “like a bear,” and to drag him into gambling, which he naturally hated. For her sake he offended old friends, and quarrelled with his wife in circumstances of vulgar brutality. That he believed she had borne him a child can no longer be disputed, and he carried on with her a correspondence under the name of Thompson which was apparently meant to deceive her husband, but is varied by grotesque explosions which destroy the illusion, such as it was.
In the hands of these two women, and in the intoxication produced on him by flattery, which could not be too copious or gross for his taste, Nelson speedily became a Neapolitan royalist of far greater sincerity than was to be found among the king’s subjects except in the ranks of the Lazzaroni. He gratified the headlong queen by egging her torpid husband into an exceedingly foolish attack on the French garrisons then occupying the so-called Roman republic. The collapse of the Neapolitan forces was instant and ignominious. The court fled to Palermo in December, under the protection of the British squadron. At Palermo Nelson remained directing the operations of the ships engaged in blockading Malta, then held by the garrison placed in it by Napoleon when he took it on his way to Egypt, and sinking continually deeper into his slavery to Lady Hamilton, till the spring of the following year. He was then aroused by a double call. A royalist army led by the king’s vicar-general, Fabrizio Ruffo (q.v.), had succeeded in recovering the greater part of the kingdom of Naples from the government set up by the French, and called, in the pedantic style of the revolutionary epoch, the Parthenopean republic. A French fleet commanded by Admiral Bruix entered the Mediterranean. News of the appearance of Bruix reached Nelson just as he was about to sail for Naples with the heir apparent to co-operate with Ruffo and his “Christian Army.” He immediately took steps to concentrate his ships, which had been reinforced by a small Portuguese squadron, at Marittimo on the western coast of Sicily, where he would be conveniently placed to meet the French, if they came, or to unite with the ships of Lord St Vincent. He was, however, half distraught between his sense of what was required by his duty to his own service and the obligations he had assumed towards the sovereigns of Naples. In the end he resolved to sail for Naples, this time without the crown prince, in order to carry out a mission entrusted to him by the king.
The story of Nelson’s visit to Naples in the June of 1799 will probably remain a subject for perpetual discussion. His reputation for humanity and probity is considered to depend on the view we take of his actions there and at this period. It is true that the relative importance of these episodes has been much diminished by the publication of the Morrison Papers, and that it has at all times been exaggerated. From the Morrison Papers we know that, when his passions were concerned, he was not incapable of stratagems to deceive his old friend Sir William Hamilton. It is the less incredible that he should have been willing to use deceit against persons whom he hated so fiercely as he did the Neapolitan Jacobins, in his double quality of English Tory and Neapolitan Royalist. But apart from his laxity in the course of a double adultery, his letters, written to many different people during his stay on the coasts of Naples, contain more than sufficient evidence to show that he was utterly unhinged by excitement, and was unable to estimate the real character of many of his own words and deeds. He considered himself as owing an equal allegiance to Ferdinand of Naples and to his own sovereign. His feelings towards the Jacobin subjects of his Italian king are expressed in terms which bear a remarkable likeness to the rhetoric of the Jacobins of France when they were most vigorously engaged in ridding their country of aristocrats. To Troubridge he writes: “Send me word some proper heads are taken off, this alone will comfort me.” To St Vincent he reports that “Our friend Troubridge had a present made him the other day of the head of a Jacobin, and makes an apology to me, the weather being very hot, for not sending it here.” Some allowance may be made for a rude taste in jocularity, but it is impossible to mistake the scream of fury in Nelson’s letters, imitated from the style of Lady Hamilton, who in these things was the sycophant of the queen. A man who allowed his thoughts to dwell in an atmosphere of hysterical ferocity, and was above all a man of action, was well on the way to interpret his words into deeds. It was while he was in this heated state that he was sent to preside over the fall of the Parthenopean republic at the end of June 1799.
King Ferdinand had not been unwilling to offer terms to those of his subjects who had joined with the French to establish the republic, so long as he was under the influence of fear. But when the French had been defeated in northern Italy and had left the Republicans to their own resources, he became more anxious to make an example. In the early parts of June he heard that Ruffo was inclined to clemency, and grew very eager to prevent any such mistake. No more effectual way of enforcing rigour could be imagined than to put the control of events entirely in the hands of Nelson, whose sentiments were well known, who was notoriously under the influence of Emma Hamilton, that is to say, of the queen, and who, as a stranger, would have no family or social attachments with the republicans, no changes of fortune nor future revenges to fear. That he asked Nelson to go to Naples, giving him large powers, may be considered certain. A commission in the full sense he could not give without the consent of the king of Great Britain, and that was not even asked for. But Nelson had general instructions from home to support the Neapolitan government, and though this only meant, and could only mean, as an ally and against the common enemy, he understood it in a much wider sense, while he considered himself as being bound to Ferdinand in the relation of subject to sovereign by the grant of the duchy of Bronté in Sicily, which he had just received. He therefore sailed to Naples resolved to act in the double capacity of English and Neapolitan admiral, of English opponent of the Jacobins, and of Neapolitan royalist. The general cause of Europe and the particular revenge of the king and queen were of equal importance to him. When he entered the Bay of Naples on the 24th of June he found that a capitulation had been agreed upon some thirty-six hours earlier, between Rufio, acting as vicar-general, with the consent of Captain Foote (1767-1833) of the “Seahorse,” the senior British naval officer present, on the one side, and the Neapolitan republicans on the other. The republicans had been reduced to the possession of the castles of Uovo and Nuovo, and had been glad to secure terms which allowed them to go into exile in France. Nelson denounced an arrangement which would have precluded all cutting off of heads as “infamous.” He ordered the white flag to be hauled down on the “Seahorse,” and told Rufio that he would not allow the capitulation to be carried out. The same warning was given to the republicans in the forts. There is a question whether the capitulation had been in part already carried into effect. Sir William Hamilton, who, together with his wife, had accompanied Nelson from Palermo, asserts that it had, in an official despatch to Lord Grenville dated on the 14th July. But this letter, written only a fortnight after the transaction, contains many inaccuracies, and can be held to prove only that Hamilton would have seen nothing discreditable in violating a capitulation, or that he was in his dotage, and did not know what he was doing. Rufio refused to be a party to a breach of faith. On the afternoon of the 25th he had an interview with Nelson on board the flagship the “Foudroyant,” which was conducted through the Hamiltons and was of a very heated character. Next morning, as Rufio showed a determination to stand aside and throw on Nelson the responsibility of provoking a renewal of hostilities, messages were sent to him both by the admiral and by Hamilton that there would be no interference with the “armistice.” This assurance put a stop to the dispute between them. The republicans came out of the forts and were transferred to feluccas under the guard of British marines, where they were kept till the king's pleasure was known. As a matter of course it was that they should be mostly hanged or shot. Whether Nelson meant to deceive Rufio into thinking that he had accepted the capitulation when he named the armistice, whether the vicar-general was deceived, and then misled the garrisons in good faith-or whether he knew perfectly well that the capitulation was not included, and took the opportunity afforded him by these two English gentlemen to deceive his own countrymen, are points much discussed. The republicans in the forts did claim that they were covered by the capitulation, and that it had been violated. It is difficult to see in what way the service of King George was forwarded by Nelson's zeal for King Ferdinand. Such discredit as fell on him would have been avoided if he had kept to his duty as British admiral, and had not thought it incumbent on him to prove himself a good Neapolitan royalist. On the 29th of June Francesco Caracciolo (q.v.), a Neapolitan naval officer who had joined the republicans, was brought to Nelson as a prisoner. Out of his desire to make an example of a proper head. and in the full knowledge that Caracciolo's death would be pleasing to the queen, Nelson, in virtue, seemingly, of his supposed commission as Neapolitan admiral (which he did not possess), ordered a court martial of Italian officers to sit, on an English ship, to try the prisoner. The court could only find him guilty, and Caracciolo was hanged. The sentence was just, but the procedure was indecent, and Nelson's intervention cannot be justified.
At this period of his life it is indeed difficult to represent Nelson's actions in a favourable light. In July he disobeyed the order of Lord Keith to send some of his ships to Minorca, on the ground that they were needed for the defence of Naples. The influence of the queen, exercised through Emma Hamilton was partly responsible 'for his willfulness, but a great deal must be put down to his annoyance at finding that Keith, and not he himself, was to succeed St Vincent as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. After the victory of the Nile he became, in fact, incapable of acting as a subordinate. Until he left for home in June 1800, except during the short interval when he acted as commander-in-chief in the absence of Keith, he was captious, querulous and avoided leaving Palermo as much as he could, and far more than he ought. When forced out he made his health an excuse for going back. He began a quarrel with Troubridge which ripened into complete estrangement. He wearied out his friends at the Admiralty, and finally extorted leave to return. As Keith would not allow him to take a line of battleship for his journey home with the Hamiltons, and indeed said plainly that Lady Hamilton had commanded the Mediterranean station long enough, he returned across Europe with his friends. Accounts of the figure they cut, and the sensation they created at Vienna and at Dresden, can be found in the Minto correspondence, and in the reminiscences of Mrs St George, afterwards Mrs Trench (1768-1827). He reached heme in November.
In England he was received with the utmost popular enthusiasm, but with coldness by the king, the Admiralty, and by the great official and social world. His erratic and self-willed conduct towards Lord Keith sufficiently explains the distrust shown by My Lords of the Admiralty. Their uneasiness was not diminished by their knowledge that his renown made it quite impossible to lay him aside at a crisis. The king, a man of strict domestic habits and strong religious convictions, was undoubtedly offended by the scandals of Nelson's life at Naples, and he cannot but have been displeased by the admiral's openly avowed readiness to devote himself to King Ferdinand. English society as represented by the First Lord, Lord Spencer, and his wife, may not have shared the moral indignation of the pious king; but their taste was offended, and so was their self-respect, when Nelson insisted on forcing Lady Hamilton on them, and would go nowhere where she was not received. When it was discovered that he insisted on making his wife live in the same house as his mistress, he was considered to have infringed the accepted standard of good manners. After enduring insult at once cruel and cowardly, to the verge of poorness of spirit, Lady Nelson rebelled. A complete separation took place, and husband and wife never met again.
On the 1st of January 1801 Nelson became vice-admiral by seniority. The alliance of the Northern powers of which the Tsar Paul was the inspiring spirit, made it necessary for the British government to take vigorous measures in its own defence. A fleet had to be sent on a very difficult and dangerous mission to the Baltic. The Admiralty would have been unpardonable, and would not have been excused by public opinion if, when it had at its disposal such an admirable weapon as the conqueror of the Nile, it had failed to employ him. Nelson was chosen to go as a matter of course, but unfortunately, it was thought proper to put him under the command of Sir Hyde Parker (q.v.) an officer of no experience, and, as the Admiralty ought to have known, of commonplace, not to say indolent, character. Nelson bore the subordination with many bitter complaints, but on the whole with patience and tact. Sir Hyde Parker began by keeping his formidable second in command at arm's length, but Nelson handled him with considerable diplomacy. Knowing his superior to be fond of good living he caused a turbot to be caught for him on the Dogger Bank, and sent it to him with a complimentary message. Sir Hyde was not insensible to the attention, and thawed notably. We have the good fortune to possess the notes taken during the campaign by Colonel Stewart (1774-1827), a military officer who did duty with Nelson as a marine. Colonel Stewart has put on record many stories of Nelson which have a high biographical value. He sawthe hero when his character was displayed in all its strength and its weakness. Nelson was at once burning for honour, ardently desirous to serve his country at a great crisis, and yet longing for rest and for the company of Emma Hamilton. His passion had, if possible, been increased by the birth of the child Horatia, whom he believed to be his own, and his jealousy was excited by fears that Emma would become an object of attention to the prince of Wales (afterwards George IV.). His health, as Colonel Stewart justly observed, was always affected by anxiety, and during the Baltic campaign he complained incessantly of his sufferings. Nervous irritation provoked him into odd explosions of excitement, as when, for instance, he suddenly interfered with the working of his flagship while the officer of the watch was tacking her on the south coast of England, and so threw her into disorder. When he saw the consequences of his untimely intrusion he sharply appealed to the officer to tell him what was to be done next, and when the embarrassed lieutenant hesitated to reply, burst out with, “If you do not know, I am sure I don't,” and then went into his cabin. His subordinates learnt to take these manifestations as matters of course, knowing that they were wholly without malignity. To them he was always kind, even when they were at fault, taking, as his own phrase has it, a penknife where Lord St Vincent would have taken a hatchet. Colonel Stewart tells how he was wont to invite the midshipmen of the middle watch to breakfast, and romp with them as if he had been the youngest of the party. The playfulness of his nature came out, in combination with his heroism, when he adorned his refusal to obey Sir Hyde's weak signal of recall in the middle of the battle, which would have been disastrous if it had been acted on, by putting his telescope to his blind eye and declaring that he could not see the order to retire. At such moments all could see his agitation; but, as the surgeon of the “Elephant,” which bore his flag at Copenhagen, says, they could also see that “it was not the agitation of indecision, but of ardent animated patriotism panting for glory.” When Sir Hyde Parker was recalled in May, Nelson assumed the command in the Baltic; but the dissolution of the Northern Confederation left him little to do. His health really suffered in the cold air of high latitudes, and in June he obtained leave to come home. His services were grudgingly recognized by the title of viscount. During the brief interval before the peace he was put in command of a flotilla to combat Napoleon's futile threat of invasion. In the hope of quieting public anxiety rather than in any serious expectation of success, an attack was made on a French flotilla strongly protected by its position, at Boulogne, which was disastrously repulsed. Nelson was not in command on the spot, and if he had been would in all probability have renewed his experience at Santa Cruz. He could not do the impossible more than other men. He was only more ready to try. While the brief peace made at Amiens lasted, he remained on shore. His home was with the Hamiltons in the strange household in which Sir William showed that his 18th-century training had taught him to accept a domestic division with a good grace, and had not left him too squeamish to profit by the pecuniary advantages which may attend the relation of complacent husband. His death on the 6th of April 1803 made no change in the life of the admiral. He lived almost wholly at Merton, where he had purchased a small house, which Emma filled with memorials of his glory and of her now passing beauty. She fed him profusely with the flattery which he, in Lord Minto's words, swallowed as a child does pap; and she was in turn adored by him, and treated with profound deference by his family, with the exception of his father.
When the ambition of Napoleon made it impossible to keep up the fiction of peace, Nelson was at once called from retirement, and this time there could be no question of putting him under the authority of any other admiral. He was appointed to the Mediterranean command, and hoisted his flag in May 1803. Between this date and his death in the hour of full triumph on the 21st of October 1805, he was in the centre and was one of the controlling spirits of the vast military and naval drama which after filling for more than two years the immense stage bounded by Europe and the West Indies, found its closing scene in Trafalgar Bay (see Trafalgar). In spite of the anxieties of an arduous command Nelson was serene and at his best in this last period of his life. Once only did the ill-advised boasting of Latouche Treville provoke him into a scolding mood. The French officer spoke of him as having died before his French ships, and the vaunt, which had no better foundation than that Nelson had retired before superior numbers when reconnoitring, exasperated him into threatening to make the Frenchman eat his letter if ever they met. Nelson could boast, but his loudest words are not ridiculously out of proportion to his deeds. The last hours at Trafalgar will never be forgotten by Englishmen. There is no figure in English history at once so magnificent in battle, and so penetrating in its appeal to the emotions, as was Nelson on that last day when under his leadership the fleet annihilated the last lingering fear that Napoleon would ever carry his desolating arms intothe British Islands. It matters little that the woman of whom he thought to the last was utterly unworthy of him, had perhaps never rendered the services he supposed her to have done for their country, and was about to dishonour his memory by mercenary immorality. He must be worse than censorious who can think unmoved of Nelson kneeling in prayer by his cabin table as the “ Victory ” rolled slowly down on the enemy on the 21st of October, appealing to God for help, and writing the codicil in which he left his mistress and his child to the gratitude of his country.
It is said that his famous signal was to have been worded “Nelson confides that every man will do his duty,” and that his own name was replaced by that of England on the suggestion of one of his officers. The use of his name as an inspiration and an appeal would have been perfectly consistent with his tone at all times, but he agreed to the alteration with the indifference of a man to whom self and country were one at that hour. “Expects” replaced “confides that” because the signal lieutenant Pascoe pointed out to him that the verb originally chosen must be spelt out letter by letter in a long string of flags. He parted with Captain Blackwood of the “Euryalus” with a prophecy of his approaching fate. The sight of Collingwood, the friend of his youth, leading the lee line into action in the “ Royal Sovereign ” drew from him a cry of admiration at the noble example his comrade was showing. When the “Victory” had passed astern of the French “Bucentaure," and was engaged with her and the “Redoubtable, " he walked up and down the quarter deck of his flagship by the side of his flag-captain, T. M. Hardy, with the brisk short step customary with him. As they turned, a musket shot from the top of the “ Redoubtable ” struck him on the upper breast, and, plunging down, broke the spine. “They have done for me at last!” were the words in which he acknowledged the fatal stroke. He lingered for a very few hours of anguish in the fetid cockpit of the “Victory,” amid the horrors of darkness relieved only by the dim light of lanterns, and surrounded by men groaning, or raving with unbearable pain. The shock of the broadsides made the whole frame of the “ Victory” tremble, and extorted a moan from the dying admiral. When Captain Hardy came down to report the progress of the battle, his inherent love for full triumph drew from him the declaration that less than twenty prizes would not satisfy him. He clung to his authority to the end. The suggestion that Collingwood would have to decide on the course to be taken was answered with the eager claim, “Not while I live.” But the last recorded words were of affection and of duty. He begged Hardy for a kiss, and he ended with the proud and yet humble claim, “I have done my duty, thank God for that.” His body was brought home in his flagship and laid to rest in St Paul's. He is commemorated in London by the monument in Trafalgar Square, completed in 1849 with a colossal statue by E. H. Baily, and surrounded by Landseer's bronze lions, added in 1867.
In estimating the character of Nelson, and his achievements, there are some elements which must be allowed for more fully than has always been the case. He was, to begin with, the least English of great Englishmen. He had the excitability, the vanity, the desire for approbation without much delicacy as to the quarter from which it came, which the average Englishman of Nelson's time, his judgment obscured by the effects of centuries of racial rivalry culminating in the Napoleonic wars, was wont to attribute to Frenchmen. Where there is vanity there is the capacity for spite and envy. Nor was Nelson altogether free from these unpleasant faults. But in the main his desire to be liked combined with a natural kindness of disposition to make him appeal frankly to the goodwill of those about him. He won to a very great extent the affection he valued, and that from men so widely different in character as Lord Minto and the simple-hearted seamen among whom he passed the best part of his life. He could be cruel when his emotions were aroused by evil influences, with the downright cruelty he displayed at Naples, or the more subtle form of hardness in his conduct to his wife, when his duty to her stood in the way of his love for Emma Hamilton. But they were few to whom the evil side of his nature was shown, while the captains and seamen for whom he did much to make a hard duty more tolerable were to be counted by the thousand. As a commander he belonged to the race of Pyrrhus and the prince of Condé-the fighters of battles. His victories were won at the head of a force which had been brought to a high level of efficiency by three generations of predecessors, against enemies who had been, as in the case of the French, disorganized by a social revolution which had mined their discipline, who were inexperienced as the Danes were, or who, as in the case of the Spaniards, were sunk in a moral and intellectual decadence. But he estimated the vices of his opponents with full insight. Wielding a fine instrument, and confronted by inferior enemies, he was entitled to dare much, and it is a proof of his sagacity that he saw how far he could dare, caring but little for the bulk of the force in front of him, and looking to the spirit. Above all, he had the power to inspire the enthusiasm he felt, and to make men act above themselves because he was there, and because they found a joy in pleasing him. Among all the warriors of his generation Napoleon alone was a greater master of the souls of men, and Blücher alone came near him.
Nelson had no children by his wife. His daughter Horatia, by Lady Hamilton, became the wife of the Rev. Philip Ward, and died in 1881. In November 1805, in recognition of Nelson's great services to his country, his brother William (1757-1835) was created Earl Nelson of Trafalgar, an annuity of £5000 being attached to the title. When William died without sons in February 1835 his only daughter Charlotte Mary (1787-1873), wife of Samuel Hood, 2nd Baron Bridport (1788-1868), became duchess of Bronté, while, according to the remainder, his English titles passed to his nephew Thomas Bolton (1786-1835), who became 2nd Earl Nelson. Bolton, who took the name of Nelson, was succeeded as 3rd Earl Nelson in November 1835 by his son Horatio (b. 1823). The duchy of Bronté was in 1910 held by Baroness Bridport's grandson, Arthur Wellington Nelson Hood, 2nd Viscount Bridport (b. 1839).
Authorities.—Very much has been written about Nelson. A large part of the total mass consists of hasty work done to meet an immediate demand, or of repetition not justified by the critical faculty or literary skill of the writers. The valuable portion may be divided into original authorities, such as correspondence, and the testimony of eyewitnesses; and the narratives or criticisms of students who tell with original power, and judge with knowledge and insight. Under the heading of original authorities, the first place is taken by The Dispatches and Letters of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, with notes by Sir N. H. Nicolas (7 vols., 1844-1846). Nicolas spared no pains to make his collection complete and to illustrate it from all trustworthy sources. Thus he includes Sir Edward Berry's Account of the Battle of the Nile, Colonel Stewart's Notes on the Copenhagen Campaign, Dr Beatey's Narrative of Nelson's Last Hours, and passages from the so-called Reminiscences of the Captain of the Victory, Dr Scott. This last authority is of little value, for the book consists of recollections by Dr Scott's daughter and son-in-law of what he said years after the events he was speaking of. The student of Nelson's life should make it a rule to exhaust Nicolas before consulting any other authority. A collection of Letters from Nelson to Emma Hamilton was published under her direction in 1814, but it is subject to much suspicion. A great mass of correspondence of the Hamiltons and much MS. relating to Nelson came into the hands of Dr Pettigrew, and passed into the possession of Mr A. Morrison, from whose collection they were transferred to the British Museum. A catalogue, in which the text is given, was privately printed and can be consulted in the museum. Isolated letters have appeared from time to time. Between February and April 1898 some valuable extracts from his correspondence with his wife, previously unknown, and the correct text of parts of his diary, appeared in the extinct weekly, Literature. Among the lives of Nelson's contemporaries, J. S. Tucker's Earl of St Vincent (1844), Ross's Saurnarez, Lady Bourchier's Cadrington and the Letters of Sir William Haste throw light on particular points. The Nelsonian Reminiscences of Parsons give an interesting picture of the admiral as he appeared to an observant boy. The observations of older and more intelligent witnesses will be found in The Diaries and Correspondence of George Rose, in The Life and Letters of the First Earl of Minto and in a Journal kept during a Visit to Germany, by Mrs St George, afterwards Mrs Trench. Incidental mentions of Nelson are to be found in the Paget Papers, the correspondence of the minister who succeeded Sir W. Hamilton at the court of Naples. Biographies of Nelson are numerous. Emma Hamilton inspired one by a Mr Harrison, an odious book which was in reality an advertisement of herself and which appeared in 1806. The two quartos of Clarke and McArthur (1809), reprinted in three volumes octavo in 1840, were based on papers supplied by the family, but the texts were edited with unpardonable freedom and the originals have in many cases been lost. Southey's classic Life was based on Clarke and McArthur. All later biographies have been superseded by Captain Mahan's Life of Nelson, first published in two volumes in 1897 and again in one volume, with additions and corrections in 1899. The much-debated Neapolitan episode has given rise to a literature of its own. The controversy began with the appearance of Captain Foote's Vindication of his own part in the transaction published in 1810. It drew an immediate Counter Vindication of Nelson by Commander Jeaffreson Miles. Italian versions will be found in Sacchinelli's Fabrizio Rujo and in the Compendio of Micheroux edited by the Marchese Maresca. The controversy has been revived in England by Mr F . P. Badham with his Nelson at Naples (1900). and has provoked the publication of a collection of the documents by the Navy Record Society, in vol. xxv. of their publications, under the title Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins (1903). Mr C. Jeaffreson's two works, Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson (1888) and the Queen of Naples and Lord Nelson (1889), are based on the papers collected by Mr Morrison. See also T. Nelson, Genealogical History of the Nelson Family (1908).