Saturday, December 31, 2011

One from the vaults... Letters from Lord Nelson

Compiled by: Geoffrey Rawson

Publication Date: 1949

Category: Adult non-fiction, history, letters.

Who'll want to read it? History lovers, romance and intrigue lovers. Anyone who'd like to learn how to write a letter.

I can't remember what I was looking for in our basement stack when I found this book. But I do feel  rather drawn to Lord Nelson, having stayed in his namesake hotel in Sydney several times. And then I couldn't help feeling deeply intrigued when I opened the book and found a facsimile of the first letter Nelson wrote with his left hand - fifteen days after having his right arm amputated in 1797.

It does feel a bit odd reading private letters that weren't meant for my eyes, but it is interesting. I didn't read the book from cover to cover, just flipped through different periods of Nelson's life between 1777 and 1805. Amidst the voyages, the battles, the promotions and the successes I found something I wasn't expecting - the story of Lord Nelson's love life. I didn't know Nelson had a scandalous affair with Lady Hamilton and cut off all contact with his wife.

In 1795 he had written to his wife "It is with inexpressible pleasure I have received within these two days past your letters,... I rejoice that my conduct gives you pleasure, and I trust I shall never do anything which will bring a blush on your face, or on that of any of my friends..." pg 100. And in 1797 "Rest assured of my most perfect love, affection, and esteem for your person and character, which the more I see of the world, the more I must admire.." pg 150.

Obviously Lady Hamilton challenged Lord Nelson's loyalty and allegiance to his wife at some stage. I felt so sorry for Lady Nelson reading this passage written to Alexander Davison in 1801:

"...You will, at a proper time, and before my arrival in England, signify to Lady N. that I expect, and for which I have made such a very liberal allowance to her, to be left to myself, and without any enquiries from her; for sooner than live the unhappy life I did when last I came to England, I would stay abroad forever." pg 322.

Although the whole saga of Nelson, his lover Emma Hamilton and Lady Nelson is fascinating, I found it was Nelson's letters regarding his voyages and battles and history making moments that had my heart pumping. Imagine being the recipient of this letter written on March 10, 1795: "To Mrs Nelson - We are just in sight of the French Fleet, and a signal is out for the general chase. We have but little wind, and unfortunately the enemy are in-shore of us.." And a report from April 1, 1795 "To Mrs Nelson - I am absolutely, my dearest Fanny, at this moment in the horrors, fearing from our idling here, that the active enemy may send out two or three Sail of the Line, and some Frigates, to intercept our convoy... In short, I wish to be an Admiral, and in command of the English Fleet.." pg 103.

The letters also cover Nelson's eventual promotion to Admiral, the Battle of Trafalgar and the leadup to his death in that battle in 1805.

October 10th, 1805 "My dear Blackwood, Keep your five Frigates, Weazle and Pickle, and let me know every movement. I rely on you, that we can't miss getting hold of them, and I will give them such a shaking as they never yet experienced; at least I will lay down my life in the attempt..." pg 453

October 19th, 1805 "To Lady Hamilton, My dearest beloved Emaa, the dear friend of my bosom... May the God of Battles crown my endeavours with success; at all events, I will take care that my name shall ever be most dear to you and Horatia, both of whom I love as much as my own life. And as my last writing before the Battle will be to you, so I hope in God that I shall live to finish my letter after the battle. May Heaven bless you ..." pg 453-4

Although Nelson completed some more diary entries, he was mortally wounded on the 21st October and did not finish the letter to Emma Hamilton. After reading bits of this book I found myself looking at other books and web-sites so that I could dig up more about Lord Nelson, Lady Nelson, Lady Hamilton and Horatia Nelson. That's what I love about books - how one volume can tease and inspire and lead you off in all sorts of directions.

Speaking of detours, below is a photograph I took outside the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel at The Rocks in Sydney a few years ago. It was a lovely day in May, with few clouds in the sky. It certainly wasn't foggy, so is the misty effect some ectoplasmic substance attached to one of the ghosts doing the rounds at The Rocks or is it just a trick of the light?

Publisher: Staples Press

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