Another side of Lord Nelson

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson is one of several historical characters with whom Dewey Lambdin’s character Alan Lewrie has significant contact.

We haven’t profiled Nelson yet mostly because he is so well known but we’ve found the portrayal of Nelson by Lambdin to be one of the most fascinating we’ve seen in fiction and a welcome change.

Though Georgian England wasn’t a hotbed of Puritanical values, discretion not even being a requirement for respectability, there were standards. Nelson’s open cavorting with Lady Emma Hamilton and the rather public cuckolding of Sir William Hamilton crossed the line. Lady Emma, though, was one of several public mistresses squired about by Nelson during his extensive service in the Mediterranean. The most prominent of them was the opera singer Adelaide Correglia. His friend, Thomas Fremantle, has no fewer than four diary entries referring to “Nelson and his doxy” and dismissively noting that “Nelson made himself ridiculous with her.”

In an era of military and political figures which were larger than life in action and whom, like Wellington, could be very reticent to speak of themselves or their accomplishments, Nelson was something of a self promoter and his contemporaries were, prior to his death at Trafalgar, resentful of it.

In September 1805, there was a serendipitous meeting in London of two British icons. One was and already famous Admiral Lord Nelson, who was departing London to join HMS Victory and ultimately rendezvous with Admiral Villeneuve off Cape Trafalgar. The second was Major General Arthur Wellesley recently home from India. We take up the account as provided by the Duke of Wellington to John Wilson Croker in 1834.

We were talking of Lord Nelson, and some instances were mentioned of the egotism and vanity that derogated from his character. ” Why,” said the Duke, ” I am not surprised at such instances, for Lord Nelson was, in different circumstances, two quite different men, as I myself can vouch, though I only saw him once in my life, and for, perhaps, an hour. It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into the little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secrctary of State, a gentleman, whom, from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognized as Lord Nelson. He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side and all abont himself, and in, really, a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman. The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly, for the last half or three quarters of an hour, I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had; but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man ; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.”

No doubt Nelson was a virtuoso. But there is also little doubt that his sudden rise to fame from rather modest beginnings had brought out some of his worst traits

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Filed under Age of Sail, Naval Biography

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