AS LORD NELSON AND LADY HAMLTON BEGIN THEIR LOVE AFFAIR
NELSON WRITES TO THE HUSBAND OF HIS MISTRESS, SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON A FULL RECOUNTING OF THE BRITISH FLEET’S ACTIVITIES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AGAINST THE FRENCH FLEET. HIS PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION IS EVIDENT, STATING: “I AM SERIOUSLY UNWELL…I KNOW NOT WHAT SLEEP IS SINCE I LEFT PALERMO”
NELSON, HORATIO. (1758-1805). Legendary British Naval officer; Admiral. Intriguing and Important Autograph Letter Signed “Nelson”, with a lengthy Autograph Postscript also Signed “Nelson”. To SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON (1730-1803). Written aboard his ship, The Vanguard, “off Trapani, 27 May ”. Three very full pages, quarto. Slight remnant from former tipping along center crease, and small oval offset along top edge, else very fine condition. Nelson writes:
“I send you an answer to Count Mupin…letter which I beg when read you send to him. If the circumstance is true there is no reparation that is not due the Russian flag, but it is so Infamous that I cannot doubt the whole history, I wish it strong enough the Russian Brig had sunk the Frigate, but it turns out to be an English Frigate, I will return to have my head cut off. However nothing shall be wanting on my part with your present Council if as I suspect she is a Gibraltar Privateer, alias Pirate for taking away the Capt Commission. All goes well by your accounts on the Continent. Pray God it may continue and if it does & the F. F. [French Fleet] gone into Toulon they will not come out again, but I cannot account why I have not heard of Ball’s squadron. I must be very uneasy until I hear of them and from a thousand conjectures. The Earl St. V[incen]t…which left Palermo on the 23rd, is not yet come to me. L’Entreprenant, which I sent to Pantiherion, is not returned. Nothing from Duckworth or the Earl. We are completely in the Dark. To say truth had I known or could have guessed at Adm. Duckworth’s intention not to have come to my help, I had no great business at sea. But being out I know had I returned the next day all Palermo would have fancy’d that I wanted to find shelter & that the F[rench] F[leet] were at my heels…. When L’Entreprenant joins & they know nothing of the F. F. I shall bring the Squadron to Palermo, and I would have you, the Count, and all Palermo be assured that whilst I have a ship left, Their Majesty & the city shall be defended…[T]hey may rest assured I do not for a moment forget they are in my charge. If they will find boats I will send every hour exactly where I am…Having said all this I readily conceive your anxiety by my own and that if we do not hear from our friends we fancy 10,000 things…”
At one o’clock in the morning on the 28th of May, and still not asleep, Nelson continues:
“…I thank you for your kind wishes about my health. I can say with truth that I have not been free from headache, sickness, and with want of rest for I know not what sleep is since I left Palermo. I am seriously unwell and I have given notice to my Squadron that if I am ordered to Blockade Toulon that my health will not allow it and I shall give up. The ship in sight is I fear is [sic] the Stroubolo. Why Ball has not joined me is wonderful. Every your obliged, Nelson”.
The French fleet had escaped from Brest and sailed towards the Mediterranean, where British forces were dangerously scattered. Earl St. Vincent was ashore recuperating from an illness. John Thomas Duckworth was off Minorca with four ships of the line. The Russian flagship (mentioned in this letter), hovered off Corfu under the command of Adm. Fyodor Ushakov. Nelson left Palermo on 12 May, beginning an exhausting fortnight of sleepless patrols. He wants Hamilton to assure the anxious royal family of the Two Sicily’s that he is vigilant in their protection and his duties.
This letter further illustrates Nelson’s close reliance on Sir William Hamilton, eight months into his affair with Hamilton’s wife Emma. Nelson’s language in this letter has changed to a more ‘familiar’ tone in its use and reveals the way his fame had rendered him the near-equivalent of a crowned head of state or true blue-blooded English nobleman. Above all it demonstrates his lifelong neglect of his own comfort and safety in the face of danger. He returned to Palermo one day later, on 29 May, where he recuperated for two weeks before moving his flag to Naples. Just an outstanding letter for is naval military content and its associations.