Robert Southey.

Southey's Life of Nelson online

. (page 10 of 29)
Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 10 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

defence; and there were now above 100 sail of victual-
lers, gunboats, and ships of war. Nelson represented to
the admiral how important it was to destroy these ves-
sels ; and offered, with his squadron of frigates, and the
Ciilloden and Courageux, to lead himself in the Aga-
memnon, and take or destroy the whole. The attempt
was not permitted: but it was Nelson's belief, that, if
it had been made, it would have prevented the attack
upon the Austrian army, which took place almost imme-
diately afterwards.

General de Vins demanded satisfaction of the Genoese
government for the seizure of his commissary; and then,
without waiting for their reply, took possession of some
empty magazines of the French, and pushed his sen-
tinels to the very gates of Genoa. Had he done so at
first, he would have found the magazines full; but
timed as the measure was, and useless as it was to the
cause of the allies, it was in character with the whole
of the Austrian General's conduct: and it is no small
proof of the dexterity with which he served the enemy,
that in such circumstances he could so act with Genoa,
as to contrive to put himself in the wrong. Nelson was
at this time, according to his own expression, placed in

The Life of Nelson 119

a cleft stick. Mr. Drake, the Austrian Minister, and
the Austrian General, all joined in requiring him not to
leave Genoa: if he left that port unguarded, they said,
not only the imperial troops at St. Pier d'Arena^ and
Voltri would be lost, but the French plan for taking
post between Yoltri and Savona would certainly suc-
ceed : if the Austrians should be worsted in the ad-
vanced posts, the retreat by the Bocchetta^ would be cut
off; and, if this happened, the loss of the army would
be imputed to him, for having left Genoa. On the other
hand, he knew that if he were not at Pietra,^ the
enemy's gunboats would harass the left flank of the
Austrians, who, if they were defeated, as was to be
expected, from the spirit of all their operations, would
very probably lay their defeat to the want of assistance
from the Agamemnon. Had the force for which Nel-
son applied been given him, he could have attended to
both objects : and had he been permitted to attack the
convoy in Alassio, he would have disconcerted the plans
of the French, in spite of the Austrian General. He
had foreseen the danger, and pointed out how it might
be prevented ; but the means of preventing it were with-
held. The attack was made, as he foresaw ; and the gun-
boats brought their fire, to bear upon the Austrians. It
so happened, however, that the left flank, which was
exposed to them, was the only part of the army that be-
haved well ; this division stood its ground till the center
and the right wing fled, and then retreated in a soldier-
like manner. General de Vins gave up the command in
the middle of the battle, pleading ill health. "From
that moment," says Nelson, "not a soldier stayed at
his post: — it was the devil take the hindmost. Many

1. St. Pier d'Arena. A suburb of Genoa.

2 The BoccJietta. A pass through the Apennines fifteen miles north
of Genoa.

3. Pietra. A town on the coast, about thirty miles west of Genoa,

120 The Life of Nelson

thousands ran away who had never seen the enemy;
some of them thirty miles from the advanced posts.
Had I not, though, I own, against my inclination, been
kept at Genoa, from eight to ten thousand men would
have been taken prisoners, and, amongst the number,
General de Vins himself : but, by this means, the pass of
the Bocehetta was kept open. The purser of the ship,
who was at Vado, ran with the Austrians eighteen miles
without stopping : the men without arms, officers without
soldiers, women without assistance. The oldest officer,
say they, never heard of so complete a defeat, and cer-
tainly without any reason. Thus has ended my cam-
paign. — ."We have established the French republic ; which,
but for us, I verily believe, would never have been set-
tled by such a volatile, changeable people. I hate a
Frenchman : they are equally objects of my detestation,
whether royalists or republicans: in some points, I be-
lieve, the latter are the best." Nelson had a lieutenant
and two midshipmen taken at Vado: they told him, in
their letter, that few of the French soldiers were more
than three or four and twenty years old, a great many
not more than fourteen, and all were nearly naked:
they were sure, they said, his barge's crew^ could have
beat a hundred of them; and that, had he himself seen
them, he would not have thought, if the world had been
covered with such people, that they could have beaten
the Austrian army.

The defeat of General de Vins gave the enemy pos-
session of the Genoese coast from Savona to Voltri;
and it deprived the Austrians ^f their direct communi-
cation with the English fleet. The Agamemnon, there-
fore, could no longer be useful on this station, and
Nelson sailed for Leghorn to refit (about December 8th).
When the ship went into dock, there was not a mast,

1. Barge's crew. From ten to twelve men. See p. 141.

The Life of Nelson 121

yard, sail, or any part of the rigging, but what stood in
need of repair, having been cut to pieces with shot. The
hull was so damaged, that it had for some time been
secured by cables, which were served or thrapped
round it.


Sir J. Jervis takes the command — Genoa joins the French — Bona-
parte begins his career — Evacuation of Corsica — Nelson hoists
his broad pendant in the Minerve — Action with the Sdbina — Battle
off Cape St. Vincent — Nelson commands the inner squadron at the
blockade of Cadiz — Boat action in the Bay of Cadiz — Expedition
against Teneriffe — Nelson loses an arm — His sufferings in England,
and recovery.

Sir John Jervis had now^ arrived to take the com-
mand of the Mediterranean fleet. The Agamemnon
having, as her captain said, been made as fit for sea as
a rotten ship could be. Nelson sailed from Leghorn, and
joined the Admiral in Fiorenzo Bay.^ "I found him,"
said he, ** anxious to know many things, which I was
a good deal surprised to find had not been communi-
cated to him by others in the fleet ; and it would appear
that he was so well satisfied with my opinion of what is
likely to happen, and the means of prevention to be
taken, that he had no reserve with me respecting his
information and ideas of what is likely to be done. ' ' The
manner in which Nelson was received is said to have ex-
cited some envy. One captain observed to him: ''You
did just as you pleased in Lord Hood's time, the same
in Admiral Hotham 's, and now again with Sir John
Jervis : it makes no difference to you who is Commander-
in-Chief." A higher compliment could not have been
paid to any Commander-in-Chief, than to say of him,
that he understood the merits of Nelson, and left him,
as far as possible, to act upon his own judgment.

Sir John Jervis offered him the St. George^ ninety, or

1. November, 1795.

2. Fiorenzo Bay. On the northwest coast of Corsica. See p. 95.


The Life of Nelson 123

the Zealous, seventy-four, and asked if he should have
any objection to serve under him with his flag.^ He re-
plied, that if the Agamemnon were ordered home, and
his flag were not arrived, he should, on many accounts,
wish to return to England: still, if the war continued,
he should be very proud of hoisting his flag under Sir
John's command. '^We cannot spare you," said Sir
John, "either as captain or admiral." Accordingly, he
resumed his station in the Gulf of Genoa. The French
had not followed up their successes in that quarter with
their usual celerity. Scherer, who commanded there,
owed his advancement to any other cause than his merit ;
he was a favorite of the Directory;^ but, for the pres-
ent, through the influence of Barras,^ he was removed
from a command for which his incapacity was after-
wards clearly proved, and Bonaparte was appointed
to succeed him. Bonaparte had given indications
of his military talents at Toulon, and of his remorse-
less nature at Paris : but the extent either of his ability
or his wickedness was at this time known to none, and
perhaps not even suspected by himself.

Nelson supposed, from the information which he had
obtained, that one column of the French army would
take possession of Port Especia ; either penetrating
through the Genoese territory, or proceeding coastways
in light vessels; our ships of war not being able to ap-
proach the coast because of the shallowness of the water.
To prevent this, he said, two things were necessary : the
possession of Vado Bay, and the taking of Port Especia ;
if either of these points were secured, Italy would be safe

1. With his flog. After his promotion to the rank of rear-admiral.

2. The Directory. A body of five members, in control of France
from Oct. 27, 1795, till the coup d'etat of Nov. 9, 1799, which put
Napoleon in power.

3. Barras. A member of the Directory ; responsible for Napoleon's
promotion to supreme command In Italy.

124 The Life of Nelson

from any attack of the French by sea. General Beau-
lieu, who had now superseded De Vins in the command
of the allied Austrian and Sardinian army, sent his
nephew and aide-de-camp to communicate with Nelson,
and inquire whether he could anchor in any other place
than Vado Bay. Nelson replied, that Vado was the
only place where the British fleet could lie in safety:
but all places would suit- his squadron; and wherever
the General came down to the sea-coast, there he should
find it. The Austrian repeatedly asked, if there was
not a risk of losing the squadron; and was constantly
answered, that if these ships should be lost, the Ad-
miral would find others. But all plans of co-operation
with the Austrians were soon frustrated by the battle
of Montenotte.^ Beaulieu ordered an attack to be made
upon the post of Voltri : — it was made twelve hours be-
fore the time which he had fixed, and before he arrived
to direct it. In consequence, the French were enabled
to effect their retreat, and fall back to Montenotte; thus
giving the troops there a decisive superiority in number
over the division which attacked them. This drew on
the defeat of the Austrians. Bonaparte, with a celerity
which had never before been witnessed in modern war,
pursued his advantages, and, in the course of a fort-
night, dictated to the court of Turin terms of peace, or
rather of submission ; by which all the strongest places
of Piedmont were put into his hands.

On one occasion, and only on one. Nelson was able to
impede the progress of this new conqueror. Six vessels,
laden with cannon and ordnance-stores for the siege of
Mantua, sailed from Toulon for St. Pier d 'Arena. As-
sisted by Captain Cockburn, in the Meleager, he drove
them under a battery, pursued them, silenced the bat-
teries, and captured the whole. Military books, plans,

1. Battle of Montenotte. April 12, 1796.

The Life op Nelson 125

and maps of Italy, with, the different points marked
upon them where former battles had been fought, sent
by the Directory for Bonaparte's use, were found in
the convoy. The loss of this artillery was one of the
chief causes which compelled the French to raise the
siege of Mantua : but there was too much treachery, and
too much imbecility, both in the councils and armies of
the allied powers, for Austria to improve this momen-
tary success. Bonaparte perceived that the conquest of
all Italy was within his reach: treaties, and the rights
of neutral or friendly powers, were as little regarded
by him as by the government for which he acted. In
open contempt of both he entered Tuscany, and took
possession of Leghorn. In consequence of this move-
ment. Nelson blockaded that port, and landed a British
force in the Isle of Elba, to' secure Porto Ferrajo. Soon
afterwards he took the island of Capraja, which had
formerly belonged to Corsica, being less than forty miles
distant from it : a distance, however, short as it was,
which enabled the Genoese to retain it, after their in-
famous sale of Corsica to France. Genoa had now
taken part with France: its government had long
covertly assisted the French, and now willingly yielded
to the first compulsory menace which required them to
exclude the English from their ports. Capraja was
seized, in consequence: but this act of vigor was not
followed up as it ought to have been. England at that
time depended too much upon the feeble governments
of the Continent, and too little upon itself. It was
determined by the British Cabinet to evacuate Corsica,
as soon as Spain should form an offensive alliance with
France. This event, which, from the moment that
Spain had been compelled to make peace, was clearly
foreseen, had now taken place ;^ and orders for the

1. Bad now taken place. October 19, 1796.

126 The Life op Nelson

evacuation of the island were immediately sent out. It
was impolitic to annex this island to the British do-
minions ; but, having done so, it was disgraceful thus to
abandon it. The disgrace would have been spared, and
every advantage which could have been derived from
the possession of the island secured, if the people had
at first been left to form a government for themselves,
and protected by us in the enjoyment of their inde-

The Viceroy, Sir Gilbert Elliot, deeply felt the im-
policy and ignominy of this evacuation. The fleet also
was ordered to leave the Mediterranean. This resolution
was so contrary to the last instructions which had been
received^ that Nelson exclaimed: — ''Do his Majesty's
ministers know their own minds ? They at home, ' ' said
he, '*do not know what this Heet is capable of perform-
ing — anything and everything. Much as I shall rejoice
to see England, I lament our present orders in sack-
cloth and ashes, so dishonorable to the dignity of Eng-
land, whose fleets are equal to meet the world in arms;
and of all the fleets I ever saw, I never beheld one,
in point of officers and men, equal to Sir John Jervis's,
who is a Commander-in-Chief able to lead them to
glory.'' Sir Gilbert Elliot believed that the great body
of the Corsicans were perfectly satisfied, as they had
good reason to be, with the British government, sen-
sible of its advantages, and attached to it. However
this may have been, when they found that the English
intended to evacuate the island, they naturally and
necessarily sent to make their peace with the French.
The partisans of France found none to oppose them. A
committee of thirty took upon them the government of
Bastia, and sequestrated^ all the British property:
armed Corsicans mounted guard at every place, and

1. Sequestrated. Seized for the use of the state.

The Life of Nelson 127

a plan was laid for seizing the Viceroy. Nelson, who
was appointed to superintend the evacuation, frustrated
these projects. At a time when every one else de-
spaired of saving stores, cannon, provisions, or property
of any kind, and a privateer was moored across the
mole-head to prevent all boats from passing, he sent
word to the Committee, that if the slightest opposition
were made to the embarkation and removal of British
property, he would batter the town down. The priva-
teer pointed her guns at the officer who carried this
message, and muskets were levelled against his boats
from the mole-head. Upon this, Captain Sutton, of the
Egmontj pulling out his watch, gave them a quarter of
an hour to deliberate upon their answer. In five min-
utes after the expiration of that time, the ships, he
said, would open their fire. Upon this the very sentinels
scampered off, and every vessel came out of the mole.
A shipowner complained to the Commodore, that the
municipality refused to let him take his goods out of
tlie custom-house. Nelson directed him to say, that
unless they were instantly delivered, he would open his
fire. The Committee turned pale ; and, without answer-
ing a word, gave him the keys. Their last attempt was
to levy a duty upon the things that were re-embarked.
He sent them word, that he would pay them a disagree-
able visit, if there were any more complaints. The
Committee then finding that they had to deal with a
man who knew his own power, and was determined to
make the British name respected, desisted from the
insolent conduct which they had assumed; and it was
acknowledged, that Bastia had never been so quiet and
orderly since the English were in possession of it. This
was on the 14th of October: during the five following
days the work of embarkation was carried on, the pri-
vate property was saved, and public stores to the amount

128 The Life of Nelson

of £200,000. The French, favored by the Spanish fleet,
which was at that time within twelve leagues of Bastia,
pushed over troops from Leghorn, who landed near Cape
Corse on the 18th, and on the 20th, at one in the morn-
ing, entered the citadel, an hour only after the British
had spiked the guns, and evacuated it. Nelson em-
barked at daybreak, being the last person who left the
shore ; having thus, as he said, seen the first and the
last of Corsica. Provoked at the conduct of the munici-
pality, and the disposition which the populace had shown
to profit by the confusion, he turned towards the shore,
as he stepped into his boat, and exclaimed: ''Now,
John Corse, follow the natural bent of your detestable
character — plunder and revenge." This, however, was
not Nelson's deliberate opinion of the people of Corsica;
he knew that their vices were the natural consequences
of internal anarchy and foreign oppression, such as the
same causes would produce in any people : and when he
saw, that of all those who took leave of the Viceroy,
there was not one who parted from him without tears,
he acknowledged that they manifestly acted, not from
dislike of the English, but from fear of the French.
England then might, with more reason, reproach her
own rulers for pusillanimity, than the Corsicans for

Having thus ably effected this humiliating service.
Nelson was ordered to hoist his broad pendant on board
the Minerve frigate. Captain George Cockburn, and,
with the Blanche under his command, proceed to Porto
Perrajo, and superintend the evacuation of that place
also. On his way, he fell in with two Spanish frigates,
the Sahina and the Ceres. The Minerve engaged the
former, which was commanded by Don Jacobo Stuart, a
descendant of the Duke of Berwick.^ After an action

1. Duke of Berwick. An illegitimate son of James II of England.

The Life of Nelson 129

of three hours, during which the Spaniards lost 164
men, the Sahina struck. The Spanish Captain, who
was the only surviving officer, had hardly been conveyed
on board the Minerve, when another enemy's frigate
came up, compelled her to cast off the prize, and brought
her a second time to action. After half an hour's trial
of strength, this new antagonist wore and hauled off:^
but a Spanish squadron of two ships of the line and two
frigates came in sight. The Blanche, from which the
Ceres had got off, was far to windward, and the
Minerve escaped only by the anxiety of the enemy
to recover their own ship. As soon as Nelson
reached Porto Ferrajo, he sent his prisoner in a flag of
truce to Carthagena, having returned him his sword;
this he did in honor of the gallantry which Don Jacobo
had displayed, and not without some feeling of respect
for his ancestry. ''I felt it," said he, '' consonant to
the dignit}^ of my country, and I always act as I feel
right, without regard to custom: he was reputed the
best officer in Spain, and his men were worthy of such
a commander." By the same flag of truce he sent back
all the Spanish prisoners at Porto Ferrajo, in exchange
for whom he received his own men who had been taken
in the prize.

General de Burgh, who commanded at the Isle of
Elba, did not think himself authorized to abandon the
place, till he had received specific instructions from
England to that effect ; professing that he was unable to
decide between the contradictory orders of Government,
or to guess at what their present intentions might be ;
but he said, his only motive for urging delay in this
measure arose from a desire that his own conduct might
be properly sanctioned, not from any opinion that Porto
Ferrajo ought to be retained. But Naples having made

1. Wore and hauled off. Turned with the wind and withdrew.

130 The Life of Nelson

peace, Sir John Jervis considered his business with Italy
as concluded; and the protection of Portugal was the
point to which he was now instructed to attend. Nel-
son, therefore, whose orders were perfectly clear and
explicit, withdrew the whole naval establishment from
that station, leaving the transports victualled, and so
arranged, that all the troops and stores could be em-
barked in three days. He was now about to leave the
Mediterranean. Mr. Drake, who had been our minister
at Genoa, expressed to him, on this occasion, the very
high opinion which the allies entertained of his con-
spicuous merit; adding, that it was impossible for any
one, who had the honor of co-operating with him, not
to admire the activity, talents, and zeal, which he had
so eminently and constantly displayed. In fact, during
this long course of services in the Mediterranean, the
whole of his conduct had exhibited the same zeal, the
same indefatigable energy, the same intuitive judgment,
the same prompt and unerring decision, which charac-
terized his after-career of glory. His name was as yet
hardly known to the English public, but it was feared
and respected throughout Italy. A letter came to him,
directed, ''Horatio Nelson, Genoa:" and the writer,
when he was asked how he could direct it so vaguely,
replied, *'Sir, there is but one Horatio Nelson in the
world. "At Genoa, in particular, where he had so long
been stationed, and where the nature of his duty first
led him to continual disputes with the government, and
afterwards compelled him to stop the trade of the port,
lie was equally respected by the Doge and by the people :
for, while he maintained the rights and interests of
Great Britain with becoming firmness, he tempered the
exercise of power with courtesy and humanity, wherever
duty would permit. "Had all my actions," said he,
writing at this time to his wife, "been gazetted, not one

The Life op Nelson 131

fortnight would have passed, during the whole war,
without a letter from me. One day or other I will have
a long ^Gazette' to myself. I feel that such an oppor-
tunity will be given me. I cannot, if I am in the field
of glory, be kept out of sight: wherever there is any-
thing to be done, there Providence is sure to direct my
steps. ' '

These hopes and anticipations were soon to be ful-
filled. Nelson's mind had long been irritated and de-
pressed by the fear that a general action would take
place before he could join the fleet. At length he sailed
from Porto Ferrajo with a convoy for Gibraltar; and
having reached that place, proceeded to the westward in
search of the Admiral. Of£ the mouth of the Straits he
fell in with the Spanish fleet ;^ and, on the 13th of Feb-
ruary, reaching the station off Cape St. Vincent, com-
municated this intelligence to Sir John Jervis. He was
now directed to shift his broad pendant on board the
Captaiiiy seventy-four. Captain R. "W. Miller; and, be-
fore sunset, the signal was made to prepare for action,
to keep, during the night, in close order. At daybreak
the enemy were in sight. The British force consisted
of two ships of one hundred guns, two of ninety-eight,
two of ninety, eight of seventy-four, and one of sixty-
four guns : fifteen of the line in all ; with four frigates,
a sloop, and a cutter. The Spaniards had one four
decker, of one hundred and thirty-six guns, six three
deckers of one hundred and twelve, two eighty-fours,

1. Fell in unth the Spanish fleet. Two Spanish vessels chased
Nelson through the Straits. In the midst of the pursuit, a man fell
overboard, and a jolly-boat, with Lieutenant Hardy in command, wag
lowered to pick him up. On account of the strong eastward current,
it was evident that the boat could not get back to the frigate unless .
the latter's speed was checked. "By God, I'll not lose Hardy" ex-
claimed Nelson ; "back the mizzen topsail." The enemy, imagining
the frigate had caught sight of the British fleet, checked speed also,
while the Minerve picked up the boat and resumed her course.

132 The Life of Nelson

eighteen seventy-fours : in all, twenty-seven ships of the
line, with ten frigates and a brig. Their Admiral, Don

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 10 of 29)