Thursday, October 20, 2011

History: A Last Letter

Tomorrow marks the 206th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. For those of us who live and breathe the history of seafaring, this is a hallowed event indeed.

But, though Joseph Conrad told us that exalt was a word that seemed to be created for Nelson, still the Admiral was – in the end – just a man. Examples of this fact are everywhere in the history: his careless treatment of his wife’s feelings, his over-the-top infatuation with Emma Hamilton, his reckless if successful audacity and his sincere affection for his daughter, Horatia.

The girl who was named after her father was born on January 29th in 1801. She was one of a pair of twins born to Emma Hart Hamilton as a result of her ongoing and scandalously open liaison with Nelson. Emma, being neither the brightest nor the most steadfast of individuals, felt she could not raise two daughters. Horatia’s twin was secreted away to a foundling hospital before Nelson returned from a cruise; the girl is rarely spoken of in literature about Nelson, Lady Hamilton, or for that matter Horatia.

Horatia was little better off than her abandoned sister, as it turned out. She was initially told that Nelson and Emma had adopted her. Emma recanted this story, telling Horatia her father was Nelson but that she was not the child’s mother. Horatia clung to this fiction for many years, no doubt at the very least resentful of her impoverished youth taking care of a bloated and besotted Emma. Eventually Horatia found happiness, or one hopes so anyway. She married the Reverend Philip Ward in 1822, and the pair went on to have 10 children. Horatia survived her husband and lived to the ripe old age of 80.

She seems to have spent very little memorable time with her father but they did carry on a charming if brief correspondence that terminated with one of the last personal letters Nelson wrote. The series of extant letters amounts to four, all of which are available online here (note that appears to have the dates of the last three letters incorrect, placing them in 1804 rather than 1805). All four letters were written aboard HMS Victory and have an affectionate tone that brings to mind a father very much missing his child.

The last letter is exceedingly poignant, particularly in hindsight. Its simplicity makes it even more so. I shall quote it here and say simply, Huzzah! for Lord Nelson:

Aboard Victory, 19 October, 1805

My dearest Angel,

I was made happy by the pleasure of receiving your letter of September 19th and I rejoice that you are so very good a girl, and love my dear Lady Hamilton, who most dearly loves you. Give her a kiss for me.

The Combined Fleets of the Enemy are now reported to be coming out of Cadiz and therefore I answer your letter, my dearest Horatia, to mark that you are ever uppermost in my thoughts. I shall be sure of your prayers for my safety, conquest and speedy return to dear Merton and our dearest, good Lady Hamilton.

Be a good girl; mind what Miss Connor says to you.

Receive, my dearest Horatia, the affectionate parental blessing of your Father.

Nelson & Bronte

Header: Horatia Nelson, posed very much like her mother, by an unknown artist; portrait in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And Huzzah! for Lord Nelson.

As a father to two daughters, that letter was especially affecting to me.

Pauline said...

You really have to feel for poor Horatia. She only knew her father briefly and then was left in the incapable hands of her mother.