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Themistocles, interpreting this to mean ships, gathered a fleet and
defeated the Persians at Salamis.

The Life of Nelson 245

the fleet left Yarmouth, it was sufficiently known that its
destination was against Denmark. Some Danes, who be-
longed to the Amazon frigate, went to Captain Riou, and
telling him what they had heard, begged that he would
get them exchanged into a ship bound on some other
destination. "They had no wish," they said, '^to quit
the British service; but they entreated that they might
not be forced to fight against their own country. ' ' There
was not in our whole navy a man who had a higher and
more chivalrous sense of duty than Riou. Tears came
into his eyes while the men were speaking : without mak-
ing any reply, he instantly ordered his boat, and did not
return to the Amazon until he could tell them that their
wish was effected.

The fleet sailed on the 12th of March. Mr. Vansittart^
sailed in it ; the British cabinet still hoping to obtain its
end by negotiation. It was well for England that Sir
Hyde Parker placed a "fuller confidence in Nelson than
the Government seems to have done at this most impor-
tant crisis. Her enemies might well have been astonished
at learning, that any other man should for a moment
have been thought of for the command. But so little
deference was paid, even at this time, to his intuitive
and all-commanding genius, that when the fleet had
reached its first rendezvous, at the entrance of the Catte-
gat, he had received no official communication whatever
of the intended operations. His own mind had been made
up upon them with its accustomed decision. "All I have
gathered of our first plans, ' ' said he, "I disapprove most
exceedingly. Honor may arise from them ; good cannot.
I hear we are likely to anchor outside of Cronenburgh
Castle, instead of Copenhagen, which would give weight
to our negotiation. A Danish minister would think twice

1. Mr. Yansittarf. Nicholas Vansitt-^.rt, afterward Baron Bexley,
sent as a cl!plcinat:c rgont with the fleet.

246 The Life of Nelson

before he would put his name to war with England, when
the next moment he would probably see his master 's fleet
in flames, and his capital in ruins. The Dane should see
our flag every moment he lifted up his head. ' '

Mr Yansittart left the fleet at the Scaw,^ and preceded
it in a frigate, with a flag of truce. Precious time was
lost by this delay, which was to be purchased by the dear-
est blood of Britain and Denmark : according to the
Danes themselves, the intelligence that a British fleet was
seen off the Sound produced a much more general alarm
in Copenhagen than its actual arrival in the roads; for
their means of defense were, at that time, in such a state,
that they could hardly hope to resist, still less to repel,
an enemy. On the 21st, Nelson had a long conference
with Sir Hyde; and the next day addressed a letter to
him, worthy of himself and of the occasion. Mr, Yan-
sittart 's report had then been received. It represented
the Danish government as in the highest degree hostile ;
and their state of preparation as exceeding what our cab-
inet had supposed possible ; for Denmark had profited,
with all activity, of the leisure which had so impoliticly
been given her. ^'The more I have reflected," said Nel-
son to his commander, "the more I am confirmed in
opinion, that not a moment should be lost in attacking the
enemy. They will every day and every hour be stronger :
we shall never be so good a match for them as at this
moment. The only consideration is, how to get at them
with the least risk to our ships. — Here you are, with
almost the safety, certainly with the honor, of England,
more entrusted to you than ever yet fell to the lot of any
British officer. On your decision depends whether our
country shall be degraded in the eyes of Europe, or
whether she shall rear her head higher than ever. Again,
I do repeat, never did our country depend so much upon

1. The Scav:. Cape Skagen, the northernmost point of Dcnmni-'-.

The Life of Nelson 247

the success of any fleet as on this. How best to honor
her, and abate the pride of her enemies, must be the
subject of your deepest consideration."

Supposing him to force the passage of the Sound, Nel-
son thought some damage might be done among the masts
and yards ; though, perhaps, not one of them but would be
serviceable again. ''If the wind be fair," said he, ''and
you determine to attack the ships and Crown Islands,
you must expect the natural issue of such a battle —
ships crippled, and, perhaps, one or two lost; for the
wind which carries you in will most probably not bring
out a crippled ship. This mode I call taking the bull by
the horns. It, however, will not prevent the Revel ships,
or the Swedes, from joining the Danes : and to prevent
this, is, in my humble opinion, a measure absolutely neces-
sary; and still to attack Copenhagen." For this he pro-
posed two modes. One was, to pass Cronenburgh, taking
the risk of danger ; take the deepest and straightest chan-
nel along the Middle Grounds; and then, coming down
the Garbar, or King's Channel, attack the Danish line of
floating batteries and ships, as might be found convenient.
This would prevent a junction, and might give an oppor-
tunity of bombarding Copenhagen. Or to take the pas-
sage of the Belt,^ which might be accomplished in four or
five days ; and then the attack by Draco might be made,
and the junction of the Russians prevented. Supposing
them through the Belt, he proposed that a detachment of
the fleet should be sent to destroy the Russian squadron
at Revel ; and that the business at Copenhagen should be

1. The Belt. Of the two proposed methods of approaching Copen-
hagen, one was the direct route through the Sound, past the city of
Elsinore with its fortified castle of Cronenburgh, and north of the
large island of Zeeland on which Copenhagen is situated. The other
was through the Great Belt, a broad, shallower passage south of
Zeeland. By this route Copenhagen could be attacked from the east"
ward, past the town of Draco, or Dragor.

248 The Life op Nelson

attempted with the remainder. ' ' The measure, ' ' he said,
*' might be thought bold; but the boldest measures are
the safest."^

The pilots, as men who had nothing but safety to think
of, were terrified by the formidable report of the batteries
of Elsinore, and the tremendous preparations which our
negotiators, who were now returned from their fruitless
mission, had witnessed. They, therefore, persuaded Sir
Hyde to prefer the passage of the Belt. ''Let it be by
the Sound, by the Belt, or anyhow, ' ' cried Nelson, ' ' only
lose not an hour ! ' ' On the 26th they sailed for the Belt :
such was the habitual reserve of Sir Hyde that his own
captain — the captain of the fleet^ — did not know which
course he had resolved to take till the fleet were getting
under weigh. When Captain Domett was thus apprised
of it, he felt it his duty to represent to the Admiral his
belief that, if that course were persevered in, the ultimate
object would be totally defeated : it was liable to long de-
lays, and to accidents of ships grounding ; in the whole
fleet there were only one captain and one pilot who knew
anything of this formidable passage (as it was then

1. Boldest measures are the safest. The sentiments of Parker and
the instructions of the Government, according to a later letter of
Nelson's, were "to stay in the Cattegat, and there wait the time when
the whole naval force of the Baltic might choose to come out and fight."
Nelson by his prestige and boldness of spirit dominated the council,
compelled active measures, and thus placed the fleet without delay in
an effective strategic position between the forces of Denmark and
Russia, where it could prevent their union, and attack either in
detail. The letter quoted in part in the text, and written immediately
after the council, illustrates Nelson's grasp of the broad political and
strategical aspects of a naval campaign. According to Admiral Mahan
(Influence of &ea Power on the French Revolution, Vol. II, p. 40^
the plan of first attacking the Russian base at Revel, had it been
adopted and carried to successful execution, "would have brought down
the Baltic Confederacy with a crash that would have resounded
throughout Europe."

2. Captain of the fleet. Commander of the flagship, and aide to the
admiral in routine matters concerning the fleet. Ills duties were similar
to those of a modern chief-of-staff.

The Life of Nelson 249

deemed); and their knowledge was very slight: their in-
structions did not authorize them to attempt it : — suppos-
ing them safe through the Belts, the heavy ships could not
come over the Grounds to attack Copenhagen, and light
vessels would have no effect on such a line of defense as
had been prepared against them. Domett urged these
reasons so forcibly that Sir Hyde's opinion was shaken,
and he consented to bring the fleet to, and send for Nelson
on board. There can be little doubt but that the expedi-
tion would have failed, if Captain Domett had not thus
timely and earnestly given his advice. — Nelson entirely
agreed with him; and it was finally determined to take
the passage of the Sound, and the fleet returned to its
former anchorage:

The next day was more idly expended in despatching a
flag of truce to the Governor of Cronenburgh Castle, to
ask whether he had received orders to fire at the British
fleet ; as the Admiral must consider the first gun to be a
declaration of war on the part of Denmark. A soldier-
like and becoming answer was returned to this formality.
The Governor said, that the British Minister had not been
sent away from Copenhagen, but had obtained a passport
at his own demand. He himself, as a soldier, could not
meddle with politics : but he was not at liberty to suffer
a fleet, of which the intention was not yet known, to
approach the guns of the castle which he had the honor
to command: and he requested, if the British Admiral
should think proper to make any proposals to the King
of Denmark, that he might be apprised of it before the
fleet approached nearer. During this intercourse, a Dane,
who came on board the commander's ship, having occa-
sion to express his business in. writing, found the pen
blunt; and, holding it up, sarcastically said, ''If your
guns are not better pointed than your pens, you will make
little impression on Copenhagen!"

250 The Life op Nelson

On that day intelligence reached the Admiral of the
loss of one of his fleet, the Invincible, seventy-four,
wrecked on a sand-bank, as she was coming out of Yar-
mouth : 400 of her men perished in her. Nelson, who was
now appointed to lead the van, shifted his flag to the Ele-
phant, Captain Foley — a lighter ship than the >S^^. George,
and, therefore, fitter for the expected operations. The
two following days were calm. Orders had been given to
pass the Sound as soon as the wind would permit ; and, on
the afternoon of the 29th, the ships were cleared for
actioli with an alacrity characteristic of British seamen.
At daybreak, on the 30th, it blew a topsail breeze^ from
N.W. The signal was made, and the fleet moved on
in order of battle; Nelson's division in the van, Sir
Hyde's in the center, and Admiral Graves' in the

Great actions, whether military or naval, have gener-
ally given celebrity to the scenes from whence they are
denominated; and thus petty villages, and capes, and
bays, known only to the coasting trader, become asso-
ciated with mighty deeds, and their names are made con-
spicuous in the history of the worldo Here, however, the
scene was every way worthy of the drama. The political
importance of the Sound is such, that grand objects are
not needed there to impress the imagination, yet is the
channel full of grand and interesting objects, both of art
and nature. This passage, which Denmark had so long
considered as the key of the Baltic,^ is in its narrowest
part, about three miles wide, and here the city of Elsinore
is situated; except Copenhagen, the most flourishing of
the Danish towns. Every vessel which passes lowers her

1. Topsail Ireese. A wind too strong to permit the use of any sails
above the topsails.

2. Key of the Baltic. A second outlet, of great strategic impor-
tance, is now afforded by the Kiel Canal through the isthmus connect-
ing Denmark and Germany.

The Life of Nelson 251

topgallant-sails^ and pays toll at Elsinore; a toll which
is believed to have had its origin in the consent of the
traders to that sea, Denmark taking upon itself the
charge of constructing lighthouses and erecting signals
to mark the shoals and rocks from the Cattegat to the
Baltic, and they, on their part, agreeing that all ships
should pass this way, in order that all might pay their
shares : none from that time using the passage of the Belt ;
because it was not fitting that they, who enjoyed the
benefit of the beacons in dark and stormy weather, should
evade contributing to them in fair seasons and summer
nights. Of late years about ten thousand vessels had
annually paid this contribution in time of peace. Ad-
joining Elsinore, and at the edge of the peninsular prom-
ontory, upon the nearest point of land to the Swedish
coast, stands Cronenburgh Castle, built after Tycho
Brahe 's- design ; a magnificent pile — at once a palace, and
fortress, and state-prison, with its spires and towers, and
battlements and batteries. On the left of the strait is
the old Swedish city of Helsinburg, at the foot and on
the side of a hill. To the north of Helsinburg the shores
are steep and rocky; they lower to the south, and the
distant spires of Landscrona, Lund, and Malmoe, are
seen in the flat country. The Danish shores consist partly
of ridges of sand ; but more frequently they are diversi-
fied with corn-fields, meadows, slopes, and are covered
with rich wood, and villages and villas, and summer pal-
aces belonging to the King and the nobility, and denoting
the vicinity of a great capital. The isles of Huen, Salt-
holm, and Amak, appear in the widening channel; and,

1. Lowers her topgallant-sails. A form of salute. The requirement
of salute and tolls was discontinued in 1829.

2, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). A great Danish astronomer. His ob-
servatory was located on the island of Huen (Hveen) in the Sound,
where he was visited by James I of England at the time of his mar-
riage with Anne of Denmark.

252 The Ijife of Nelson

at the distance of twenty miles from Elsinore, stands
Copenhagen in full view ; the best city of the north, and
one of the finest capitals of Europe, visible, with its
stately spires, far off. Amid these magnificent objects
there are some which possess a peculiar interest from the
recollections which they call forth. The isle of Huen,
a lovely domain, about six miles in circumference, had
been the munificent gift of Frederick the Second^ to
Tycho Brahe. Here most of his discoveries v/ere made,
and here the ruins are to be seen of his observatory, and
of the mansion where he was visited by princes, and
where, with a princely spirit, he received and entertained
all comers from all parts, and promoted science by his
liberality as well as by his labors. Elsinore is a name
familiar to English ears, being inseparably associated
with Hamlet, and one of the noblest works of human
genius. Cronenburgh had been the scene of deeper trag-
edy. Here Queen Matilda" was confined, the victim of a
foul and murderous court intrigue. Here, amid heart-
breaking griefs, she found consolation in nursing her
infant. Here she took her everlasting leave of that
infant, when, by the interference of England, her own
deliverance was obtained ; and, as the ship bore her away
from a country where the venial indiscretions of youth
and unsuspicious gaiety had been so cruelly punished,
upon these towers she fixed her eyes, and stood upon the
deck, obstinately gazing toward them till the last speck
had disappeared.

The Sound being the only frequented entrance to the
Baltic, the great Mediterranean of the North, few parts
of the sea display so frequent a navigation. In the height

1. Frederick tJie Second (1534-1588). King of Denmark and Nor-

2. Queen Matilda, lister of George III of England and wife of
Christian VII of Denmarli. The marriage was annulled in 1772.

The Life of Nelson 253

of the season not fewer than a hundred vessels pass every
four-and-twenty hours, for many weeks in succession : but
never had so busy or so splendid a scene been exhibited
there as on this day, when the British fleet prepared to
force that passage where, till now, all ships had vailed^
their top-sails to the flag of Denmark. The whole force
consisted of fifty-one sail of various descriptions; of
which sixteen were of the line. The greater part of the
bomb and gun vessels took their stations off Cronenburgh
Castle, to cover the fleet, while others on the larboard
were ready to engage the Swedish shore. The Danes, hav-
ing improved every moment which ill-timed negotiation
and baffling weather gave them, had lined their shore with
batteries; and as soon as the Monarch, which was the
leading ship, came abreast of them, a fire was opened
from about a hundred pieces of cannon and mortars ; our
light vessels immediately, in return, opened their fire
upon the Castle. Here was all the pompous circumstance
and exciting reality of war without its effects, for this
ostentatious display was but a bloodless prelude to the
wide and sweeping destruction which was soon to follow.
The enemy's shot fell near enough to splash the water on
board our ships : not relying upon any forbearance of the
Swedes, they meant to have kept the mid-channel; but
when they perceived that not a shot v/as fired from Hel-
sinburg, and that no batteries were to be seen on the
Swedish shore,- they inclined to that side, so as completely
to get out of reach of the Danish guns. The uninter-
rupted blaze which was kept up from them till the fleet

1. VaAled. Lowered as a salute or token of submission. England
for centuries asserted sovereignty over a much wider expanse. Until
1805 an Admiralty regulation required that "When any of Hia
Majesty's ships shall meet with the ships of any foreign power within
His Majesty's seas (which extend to Cape Finisterre) it is expected
that the said foreign ships do strike their topsail and take in their
flag, in acknowledgment of His Majesty's sovereignty in those seas."

254 The Life of Nelson

had passed served only to exhilarate our sailors and af-
ford them matter for jest, as the shot fell in showers a
full cable's length short of its destined aim. A few
rounds were returned from some of our leading ships till
they perceived its inutility: — this, however, occasioned
the only bloodshed of the day, some of our men being
killed and wounded by the bursting of a gun. As soon
as the main body had passed, the gun-vessels followed,
desisting from their bombardment, which had been as
innocent as that of the enemy; and, about mid-day, the
whole fleet anchored between the island of Huen and
Copenhagen. Sir Hyde, with Nelson, Admiral Graves,
some of the senior captains, and the commanding officers
of the artillery and the troops, then proceeded in a lugger
to reconnoiter the enemy's means of defense; a formida-
ble line of ships, radeaus, pontoons, galleys, fire-ships,
and gun-boats, flanked and supported by extensive bat-
teries, and occupying from one extreme point to the other,
an extent of nearly four miles.

A council of war was held in the afternoon. It was
apparent that the Danes could not be attacked without
great difficulty and risk; and some of the members of
the council spoke of the number of the Swedes and Rus-
sians whom they should afterwards have to engage, as a
consideration which ought to be borne in mind. Nelson,
who kept pacing the cabin, impatient as he ever was of
anything which savored of irresolution, repeatedly said,
' ' The more numerous the better : I wish they were twice
as many, — the easier the victory, depend on it." The
plan upon which he had determined, if ever it should be
his fortune to bring a Baltic fleet to action, was to attack
the head of their line and confuse their movements. —
"Close with a Frenchman," he used to say, ''but out-
maneuver a Kussian." He offered his services for the
attack, requiring ten sail of the line, and the whole of the

The Life of Nelson 255

smaller craft. Sir Hyde gave liim two more line-of-
battle ships than he asked, and left everything to his

The enemy's force was not the only, nor the greatest,
obstacle with which the British fleet had to contend:
there was another to be overcome before they could come
in contact with it. The channel was little known and
extremely intricate ; all the buoys had been removed ; and
the Danes considered this difficulty as almost insuperable,
thinking the channel impracticable for so large a fleet.
Nelson himself saw the soundings made, and the buoys
laid down, boating it upon this exhausting service, day
and night, till it was effected. When this was done, he
thanked God for having enabled him to get through this
difficult part of his duty. ' ' It had worn him down, ' ' he
said, ' ' and was infinitely more grievous to him than any
resistance which he could experience from the enemy. ' ' ,

At the first council of war, opinions inclined to an
attack from the eastward : but the next day, the wind
being southerly, after a second examination of the Danish
position, it was determined to attack from the south, ap-
proaching in the manner which Nelson had suggested in
his first thoughts. On the morning of the 1st of April,
the whole fleet removed to an anchorage within two
leagues of the town, and off the N.W. end of the Middle
Ground ; a shoal lying exactly before the town, at about
three-quarters of a mile's distance, and extending along
its whole sea-front. The King's Channel, where there is
deep water, is between this shoal and the town ; and here
the Danes had arranged their line of defense, as near the
shore as possible; nineteen ships and floating batteries,
flanked, at the end nearest the town, by the Crown Bat-
teries, which were two artificial islands at the mouth of
the harbor — most formidable works ; the larger one hav-
ing, by the Danish account, sixty-six guns ; but, as Nelson

256 The Life of Nelson

believed, eiglity-eight. The fleet having anchored, Nel-
son, with Riou, in the Amazon, made his last examination
of the ground; and, about one o'clock, returning to his
own ship, threw out the signal to weigh. It was received
with a shout throughout the whole division ; they weighed
with a light and favorable wind: the narrow channel
between the island of Saltholm and the Middle Ground
had been accurately buoyed ; the small craft pointed out
the course distinctly; Riou led the way: the whole di-
vision coasted along the outer edge of the shoal, doubled
its south extremity, and anchored there off Draco Point,
just as the darkness closed — the headmost of the enemy 's
line not being more than two miles distant. The signal to
prepare for action had been made ^arly in the evening;
and, as his own anchor dropped. Nelson called out, ''I
will fight them the moment I have a fair wind. ' ' It had
been agreed that Sir Hyde, with the remaining ships,
should weigh on the following morning, at the same time
as Nelson, to menace the Crown Batteries on his side, and
the four ships of the line which lay at the entrance of the
arsenal ; and to cover our own disabled ships as they came
out of action.

The Danes, meantime, had not been idle : no sooner did
the guns of Cronenburgh make it known to the whole city
that all negotiation was at an end, that the British fleet
was passing the Sound, and that the dispute between the
two crowns must now be decided by arms, than a spirit
displayed itself most honorable to the Danish character.
All ranks offered themselves to the service of their coun-.
try ; the University furnished a corps of twelve hundred
youth, the flower of Denmark : — it was one of those emer-
gencies in which little drilling or discipline is necessary
to render courage available : they had nothing to learn
but how to manage the guns, and were employed day and
night in practicing them. When the movements of Nel-

The Life of Nelson • 257

son's squadron were perceived, it was known when and
where the attack was to be expected, and the line of de-
fense was manned indiscriminately by soldiers, sailors,

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