Robert Southey.

Southey's Life of Nelson online

. (page 22 of 29)
Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 22 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the King of Denmark." — Sir Frederic Thesiger was de-
spatched a second time with the reply; and the Danish
Adjutant-General was referred to the Commander-in-
Chief for a conference upon this overture. Lindholm
assenting to this, proceeded to the London, which was
riding at anchor full four miles off; and Nelson, losing
not one of the critical moments which he had thus gained,
made signal for his leading ships to weigh in succession :
— they had the shoal to clear, they were much crippled,
and their course was immediately under the guns of the

The Monarch led the way. This ship had received six-
and-twenty shot between wind and water. She had not a
shroud standing ; there was a double-headed shot^ in the
heart of her foremast, and the slightest wind would have

1. Double-headed shot. Two shot joined by a bar, for destroying
spars and rigging.

The Life of Nelson 271

sent every mast over her side.* The imminent danger
from which Nelson had extricated himself soon became
apparent; the Monarch touched immediately upon a
shoal, over which she was pushed by the Ganges taking
her amidships; the Glatton went clear; but the other two,
the Defiance and the Elephant, grounded about a mile
from the Trekroner, and there remained fixed, for many
hours, in spite of all the exertions of their wearied crews.
The Desiree frigate also, at the other end of the line,
having gone toward the close of the action to assist the
Bellona, became fast on the same shoal. Nelson left the
Elephant, soon after she took the ground, to follow Lind-
holm. The heat of action was over; and that kind of
feeling, which the surrounding scene of havoc was so
well fitted to produce, pressed heavily upon his exhausted
spirits : the sky had suddenly become overcast ; white
flags were waving at the mast-heads of so many shattered
ships: — the slaughter had- ceased, but the grief was to
come, for the account of the dead was not yet made up,
and no man could tell for what friends he would have to
mourn. The very silence which follows the cessation of
such a battle becomes a weight upon the heart at first,'
rather than a relief ; and though the work of mutual de-
struction was at an end, the Danhrog was, at this time,
drifting about in flames ; presently she blew up, while our
boats, which had put off in all directions to assist her,
were endeavoring to pick up her devoted crew, few of
whom could be saved. The fate of these men, after the

* It would have been well if the fleet, before they went under tiae
batteries, had left their spare spars moored out of reach of shot.
Many would have been saved which were destroyed lying on the booms,
and the hurt done by their splinters would have been saved also. Small
craft could have towed them up when they were required ; and, after
such an action, so many must necessarily be wanted, that. If those
which were not in use were wounded, it might have rendered It im-
possible to refit the ships. — Southey's 'Note,

272 The Life of Nelson

gallantry which they had displayed, particularly affected
Nelson; for there was nothing in this action of that in-
dignation against the enemy, and that impression of
retributive justice, which at the Nile had given a sterner
temper to his mind, and a sense of austere delight, in
beholding the vengeance of which he was the appointed
minister. The Danes were an honorable foe; they were
of English mold as well as English blood ; and now that
the battle had ceased, he regarded them rather as breth-
ren than as enemies. There was another reflection also,
which mingled with these melancholy thoughts, and pre-
disposed him to receive them. He was not here master
of his own movements, as at Egj^pt ; he had won the da^^
by disobeying his orders; and in so far as he had been
•successful, had convicted the Commander-in-Chief of an
error in judgment. '^Well,'' said he, as he left the
Elephant f '*I have fought contrary to orders, and I
shall perhaps be hanged ! Never mind : let them ! ' '

This was the language of a man w^ho, while he is giving
utterance to an uneasy thought, clothes it half in jest, be-
cause he half repents that it has been disclosed. His ser-
vices had been too eminent on that day, his judgment too
conspicuous, his success too signal, for any commander,
however jealous of his own authority, or envious of an-
other's merits, to express anything but satisfaction and
gratitude, which Sir Hyde heartily felt and sincerely ex-
pressed. It wg3 speedily agreed that there should be a
suspension of hostilities for f our-and-twenty hours ; that
all the prizes should be surrendered, and the wounded
Danes carried on shore. There was a pressing necessity
for this ; for the Danes, either from too much confidence
in the strength of their positions, and the difficulty of the
channel; or, supposing that the wounded might be car-
ried on shore during the action, which was found totally
impracticable ; or, perhaps, from the confusion which the

The Life op Nelson 273

attack excited, had provided no surgeons; so that, when
our men boarded the captured ships, they found many of
the mangled and mutilated Danes bleeding to death for
want of proper assistance ; a scene, of all others, the most
shocking to a brave man's feelings.

The boats of Sir Hyde's division were actively em-
ployed all night in bringing out the prizes, and in getting
afloat the ships which were on shore. At daybreak. Nel-
son, who had slept in his own ship, the St. George, rowed
to the Elephant, and his delight at finding her afloat
seemed to give him new life. There he took a hasty
breakfast, praising the men for their exertions, and then
pushed off to the prizes which had not yet been removed.
The Zealand, 74, the last which struck, had drifted on
the shoal under the Trekroner ; and relying, as it seems,
upon the protection which that battery might have af-
forded, refused to acknowledge herself captured, saying
that, though it was true her flag was not to be seen, her
pendant was still flying. Nelson ordered one of our
brigs and three long-boats to approach- her, and rowed
up himself to one of the enemy's ships, to communicate
with the Commodore, This officer proved to be an old
acquaintance, whom he had known in the West Indies;
so he invited himself on board ; and with that urbanity,
as well as decision, which always characterized him,
urged his claim to the Zealand so well, that it was ad-
mitted. The men from the boats lashed a cable around
her bowsprit, and the gun-vessel towed her away. It is
affirmed, and probably with truth, that the Danes felt
more pain at beholding this than at all their misfortunes
on the preceding day ; and one of the officers, Commodore
Steen Bille, v/ent to the Trekrcner battery, and asked the
commander why he had not sunk the Zealand, rather
than suffer her thus to be carried off by the enemy ?

T!::s y;27, i:::'':"''"^ a ri^"i:rnf""^ c'":'^ for Cc^'^^^lir^'-^zi! It

2/4 The Life of Nelson

was Good Friday; but the general agitation, and the
mourning which was in every house, made all distinction
of days be forgotten. There were, at that hour, thou-
sands in that city who felt, and more, perhaps, who
needed, the consolations of Christianity ; but few or none
w^ho could be calm enough to think of its observances.
The English were actively employed in refitting their
own ships, securing the prizes, and distributing the
prisoners ; the Danes, in carrying on shore and disposing
of the wounded and the dead. It had been a murderous
action. Our loss, in killed and wounded, was nine hun-
dred and fifty-three. Part of the slaughter might have
been spared. The commanding officer of the troops on
board one of our ships asked where his men should be
stationed ? He was told that they could be of no use ;
that they were not near enough for musketry, and were
not wanted at the guns; they had, therefore, better go
below. This, he said, was impossible — it would be a dis-
grace that could never be wiped away. They were, there-
fore, drawn up upon the gangway, to satisfy this cruel
point of honor; and there, without the possibility of
annoying the enemy, they were mowed down ! The loss
of the Danes, including prisoners, amounted to about
six thousand. The negotiations, meantime, went on ; and
it was agreed that Nelson should have an interview with
the Prince the following day. Hardy and Fremantle
landed with him. This was a thing as unexampled as the
other circumstances of the battle. A strong guard was
appointed to escort him to the palace, as much for the
purpose of security as of honor. The populace, accord-
ing to the British account, showed a mixture of admira-
tion, curiosity, and displeasure, at beholding that man
in the midst of them who had inflicted such wounds upon
Denmark. But there were neither acclamation nor mur-
murs. ''The people," says a Dane, "did not degrade

The Life of Nelson 275

themselves with the former, nor disgrace themselves with
the latter : the Admiral was received as one brave enemy
ever ought to receive another — ^he was received wdth
respect." The preliminaries of the negotiations were
adjusted at this interview. During the repast which
followed, Nelson, with all the sincerity of his character,
bore willing testimony to the valor of his foes. He told
the Prince that he had been in a hundred and five en-
gagements, but that this was the most tremendous of all.
' ' The French, ' ' he said, ' ' fought bravely ; but they could
not have stood for one hour the fight which the Danes had
supported for four. ' ' He requested that Villemoes might
be introduced to him ; and, shaking hands Vv^ith the youth,
told the Prince that he ought to be made an admiral. The
Prince replied : "If, my lord, I am to make all my brave
officers admirals, I should have no captains or lieutenants
in my service."

The sympathy of the Danes for their countrymen who
had bled in their defense was not weakened by distance
of time or place in this instance. Things needful for the
service or the comfort of the wounded were sent in "pro-
fusion to the hospitals, till the superintendents gave pub-
lic notice that they could receive no more. On the third
day after the action the dead were buried in the naval
churchyard : the ceremony was made as public and as
solemn as the occasion required; such a procession had
never before been seen in that or, perhaps, in any other
city. A public monument was erected upon the spot
where the slain were gathered together. A subscription
was opened on the day of the funeral for the relief of
the sufferers, and collections in aid of it made throughout
all the churches in the kingdom This appeal to the
feelings of the people was made with circumstances which
gave it full effect. A monument was raised in the midst
of the church, surmounted by the Danish colors: young

276 The Life op Nelson ■

maidens, dressed in white, stood around it, with either
one who had been wounded in the battle, or the widow
and orphans of some one who had fallen : a suitable ora
tion was delivered from the pulpit, and patriotic hymns
and songs were afterwards performed. Medals were dis-
tributed to all the officers, and to the men who had dis-
tinguished themselves. Poets and painters vied with
each other in celebrating a battle which, disastrous as it
was, had yet been honorable to their country : some, with
pardonable sophistry, represented the advantage of the
day as on their own side. One writer discovered a more
curious, but less disputable, ground of satisfaction, in
the reflection that Nelson, as may be inferred from his
name, was of Danish descent, and his actions, therefore,
the Dane argued, were attributable to Danish valor.

The negotiation was continued during the five follow-
ing days ; and, in that interval, the prizes were disposed
of, in a manner which was little approved by Nelson.
Six line of battle ships and eight praams had been taken.
Of these, the Holstein, 64, was the only one which was
sent home. The Zealand was a finer ship : but the
Zealand, and all the others, were burnt, and their brass
battering cannon sunk with the hulls in such shoal water,
that, when the fleet returned from Eevel, they found the
Danes with craft over the wrecks employed in getting
the guns up again. Nelson, though he forebore from any
public expression of displeasure at seeing the proofs and
trophies of his victory destroyed, did not forget to repre-
sent to the Admiralty the case of those who were thus
deprived of their prize-money. ''Whether," said he to
Earl St. Vincent, "Sir Hyde Parker may mention the
subject to you, I know not ; for he is rich, and does not
want it : nor is it, you will believe me, any desire to get
a few hundred pounds that actuates me to address this
letter to you, but justice to the brave officers and men

The Life of Nelson 27T

who fought OR that day. It is true our opponents were in
hulks and floats, only adapted for the position they were
in; but that made our battle so much the harder, and
victory so much more difficult to obtain. Believe me^
I have weighed all the circumstances; and, in my con-
science, I think that the King should send a gracious mes-
sage to the House of Commons for a gift to this fleet : for
what must be the natural feelings of the oflicers and men
belonging to it, to see their rich Commander-in-Chief
burn all the fruits of their victory, — which, if fitted up
and sent to England (as many of them might have been
by dismantling part of our fleet), would have sold for a
good round sum ? ' '

On the 9th, Nelson landed again, to conclude the terms
of the armistice. During its continuance the armed
ships and vessels of Denmark were to remain in their
then actual situation, as to armament, equipment, and
hostile position; and the Treaty of armed neutrality, as
far as related to the co-operation of Denmark, was sus-
pended. The prisoners were to be sent on shore ; ar ac-
knowledgment being given for them, and for the wounded
also, that they might be carried to Great Britain 's credit
in the account of war, in case hostilities should be re-
newed. The British fleet was allowed to provide itself
with all things requisite for the health and comfort of its
men. A difficulty arose respecting the duration of the
armistice. The Danish commissioners fairly stated their
fears of Russia; and Nelson, with that frankness which
sound policy and the sense of povv^er seem often to require
as v/ell as justify in diplomacy, told them his reason for
demanding a long term was, that he might have time to
act against the Russian fleet, and then return to Copen-
hagen. Neither party would yield upon this point ; and
one of the Danes hinted at the renewal of hostilities.
''Renew hostilities!" cried Nelson to one of his friends.

278 The Life of Nelson

— for he understood French enough to comprehend what
was said, though not to answer it in the same language, —
''tell him we are ready at a moment ! — ready to bombard
this very night ! ' ' The conference, however, proceeded
amicably on both sides ; and as the commissioners could
not agree upon this head, they broke up, leaving Nelson
to settle it with the Prince. A levee was held forthwith
in one of the state-rooms; a scene well suited for such a
consultation: for all these rooms had been stripped of
their furniture, in fear of a bombardment. To a bom-
bardment also Nelson was looking at this time : fatigue,
and anxiety, and vexation at the dilatory measures of the
Commander-in-Chief, combined to make him irritable :
and as he was on the way to the Prince 's dining-room,
he whispered to the officer on whose arm he was leaning,
''Though I have only one e^^e, I can see that all this will
burn well." After dinner he was closeted with the
Prince; and they agreed that the armistice should con-
tinue fourteen weeks ; and that, at its termination, four-
teen days' notice should be given before the recommence-
ment of hostilities.

An official account of the battle was published by
Olfert Fischer, the Danish Commander-in-Chief, in which
it was asserted that our force was greatly superior;
nevertheless, that two of our ships of the line had struck,
that the others were so weakened, and especially Lord
Nelson's own ship, as to fire only single shots for an hour
before the end of the action ; and that this hero himself,
in the middle and very heat of the conflict, sent a flag
of truce on shore to propose a cessation of hostilities. For
the truth of this account the Dane appealed to the Prince,
and all those who, like him, had been eye-witnesses of
the scene. Nelson was exceedingly indignant at such a
statement, and addressed a letter in confutation of it,
to the Adjutant-General, Lindholm; thinking this in-

The Life of Nelson 279

cumbent upon him, for the information of the Prince,
since his Royal Highness had been appealed to as a wit-
ness: ''Otherwise," said he, "had Commodore Fischer
confined himself to his own veracity, I should have
treated his official letter with the contempt it deserved,
and allowed the world to appreciate the merits of the
two contending officers." After pointing out and de-
tecting some of the misstatements in the account, he
proceeds: "As to his nonsense about victory, his Royal
Highness will not much credit him. I sunk, burned, cap-
tured, or drove into the harbor, the whole line of defense
to the southward of the Crown Islands. He says he is
told that two British ships struck. Why did he not take
possession of them? I took possession of his as fast as
they struck. The reason is clear, that he did not believe
it : he must have known the falsity of the report. — He
states, that the ship in which I had the honor to hoist my
flag fired latterly only single guns. It is true ; for steady
and cool were my brave fellows, and did not wish to
throw awa}^ a single shot. He seems to exult that I sent
on shore a flag of truce. — You know, and his Royal High-
ness knov/s, that the guns fired from the shore could only
fire through the Danish ships which had surrendered;
and that, if I fired at the shore, it could only be in the
same manner. God forbid that I should destroy an un-
resisting Dane ! When they became my prisoners, I be-
came their protector."

This letter was written in terms of great asperity
against the Danish commander. Lindholm replied in a
manner every way honorable to himself. He vindicated
the Commodore in some points, and excused him in
others, reminding Nelson that every commander-in-chief
was liable to receive incorrect reports. With a natural
desire to represent the action in a most favorable light
to Denmark, he took into the comparative strength of

280 The Life of Nelson

tlie two parties the ships which were aground, and which
could not get into action : and omitted the Trekroner and
the batteries upon Amak Island. He disclaimed all idea
of claiming as a victory, ' ' what to every intent and pur-
pose," said he, ''was a defeat, — but not an inglorious
one. As to your lordship's motive for sending a flag of
truce, it never can be misconstrued ; and your subsequent
conduct has sufficiently shown that humanity is always
the companion of true valor. You have done more : you
have shown yourself a friend to the re-establishment of
peace and good harmony between this country and Great
Britain. It is, therefore, with the sincerest esteem I
shall always feel myself attached to your lordship."
Thus handsomely winding up his reply, he soothed and
contented Nelson; who, drawing up a memorandum of
the comparative force of the two parties, for his own
satisfaction, assured Lindholm, that if the Commodore's
statement had been in the same manly and honorable
strain, he would have been the last man to have noticed
any little inaccuracies which might get into a com-
mander-in-chief's public letter.

For the battle of Copenhagen, Nelson was raised to the
rank of Viscount : an inadequate mark of reward for ser-
vices so splendid, and of such paramount importance
to the dearest interests of England. There was, however,
some prudence in dealing out honors to him step by step ;
had he lived long enough, he would have fought his way
up to a Dukedom.


Sir Hyde Parker is recalled, and Nelson appointed Commander — '
He goes to Eevel— Settlement of Affairs in the Baltic — Unsuccess-
ful Attempt upon the Flotilla at Boulogne — Peace of Amiens — •
JSTelson takes the Command in the Mediterranean on the Eenewal of
the War — Escape of the Toulon Fleet — Nelson chases them to the
West Indies, and back — Delivers up his Squadron to Admiral Corn-
wallis, and lands in England.

When Nelson informed Earl St. Vincent that the ar-
mistice had been concluded, he told him also, without re°
serve, his own discontent at the dilatoriness and inde-
cision which he witnessed, and could not remedy. "No
man," said he, "but those who are on the spot, can tell
what I have gone through, and do suffer. I make no
scruple in saying, that I would have been at ReveP four-
teen days ago ! that, without this armistice, the fleet
would never have gone, but by order of the Admiralty ;
and with it, I dare say, we shall not go this week. I
wanted Sir Hyde to let me, at least, go and cruise off
Carlscrona,^ to prevent the Revel ships from getting in.
I said I would not go to Revel to take any of those laurels
which I was sure he would reap there. Think for me,
my dear lord; — and if I have deserved well, let me re-
turn : if ill, for Heaven 's sake supersede me, — for I can-
not exist in this state."

Fatigue, incessant anxiety, and a climate little suited
to one of a tender constitution, which had now for many
years been accustomed to more genial latitudes, made him,
at this time, seriously determine upon returning home.
"If the northern business were not settled," he said,

1. Revel. A Russian naval base on the southern coast of the Gulf
of Finland. See p. 244.

2. Carlscrona. A city on the southeastern coast of Sweden.


282 The Life op Nelson

"they must send more admirals; for the keen air of the
north had cut him to the heart." He felt the want of ac-
tivity and decision in the Commander-in-Chief more
keenly ; and this affected his spirits, and consequently his
health, more than the inclemency of the Baltic, Soon
after the armistice was signed, Sir Hyde proceeded to
the eastward, with such ships as were fit for service, leav-
ing Nelson to follow with the rest, as soon as those which
had received slight damages should be repaired, and the
rest sent to England. In passing between the isles of
Amak and Saltholm, most of the ships touched the
ground, and some of them stuck fast for a while; no
serious injury, however, was sustained. It was intended
to act against the Eussians first, before the breaking up
of the frost should enable them to leave Revel ; but, learn-
ing on the way that the Swedes had put to sea to effect a
junction with them, Sir Hyde altered his course, in hopes
of intercepting this part of the enemy's force. Nelson
had, at this time, provided for the more pressing emerg-
encies of the service, and prepared, on the 18th, to follow
the fleet. The St. George drew too much water to pass
the channel between the isles without being lightened :
the guns were therefore taken out, and put on board an
American vessel : a contrary wind, however, prevented
Nelson from moving;' and on that same evening, while he
was thus delayed, information reached him of the relative
situation of the Swedish and British fleets, and the prob-
ability of an action. The fleet was nearly ten leagues
distant; and both wind and current contrary; but it was
not possible that Nelson eould wait for a favorable sea-
son under such an expectation. He ordered his boat
immediately and stepped into it. Night was setting in, —
one of the cold spring nights of the north, — and it was
discovered, soon after thev had left thp shiD, that, in
their haste, they had forgotten to provide him with a

The Life of Nelson 283

boat-cloak. He, however, forbade them to return for
one : and when one of his companions offered his own
great-coat, and urged him to make use of it, he replied,
"I thank you very much, — but, to tell you the truth, my
anxiety keeps me sufficiently warm at present. ' '

"Do you think," said he, presently, "that our fleet has
quitted Bornholm ? If it has, we must follow it to Carls-
crona." About midnight he reached it, and once more
.got on board the Elephant. On the following morning
the Swedes were discovered ; as soon, however, as they

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 22 of 29)