Robert Southey.

Southey's Life of Nelson online

. (page 25 of 29)
Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 25 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

should be prettily commanded ! Let them once gain the
step of being independent of the Navy on board a ship,
and they will soon have the other, and command us.—
But, thank Goji! my dear Troubridge, the King himself
cannot do away the Act of Parliament. Although my
career is nearly run, yet it would embitter my future
days and expiring moments to hear of our Navy being
sacrificed to the Army." As the surest way of prevent-
ing such disputes, he suggested that the Navy should
have its own corps of artillery; and a corps of Marine
Artillery was accordingly established.

Instead of lessening the power of the Commander, Nel-
son would have wished to see it increased : it was abso-
lutely necessary, he thought, that merit should be re-
warded at the moment, and that the officers of the fleet
should look up to the Commander-in-Chief for their
reward. He himself was never more happy than when
he could promote those who were deserving of promotion.
Many were the services which he thus rendered unso-
licited ; and frequently the officer, in whose behalf he had
interested himself with the Admiralty, did not know to
whose friendly interference he was indebted for his good
fortune. He used to say, ''I wish it to appear as a God-
send." The love which he bore the Navy made him
promote the interests and honor the memory of all who
had added to its glories. ''The near relations of brother-
officers," he said, ''he considered as legacies to the serv-
ice." Upon mention being made to him of a son of Rod-
ney,i by the Duke of Clarence, his reply was: "I agree
with your Royal Highness most entirely, that the son of
Rodney ought to be the protege of every person in the

1. Rodney. See p. 53, note 1.

The Life op Nelson 309

kingdom, and particularly of the sea officers. Had I
known that there had been this claimant, some of my own
lieutenants must have given way to such a name, and he
should have been placed in the Victory : she is full, and I
have twenty on my list ; but, whatever numbers I have,
the name of Rodney must cut many of them out. ' ' Such
was the proper sense which Nelson felt of what was due
to splendid services and illustrious names. His feelings
toward the brave men who had served with him are
shown by a note in his diary, which was probably not
intended for any other eye than his own. — ''Nov. 7. I had
the comfort of making an old Agamemnon, George Jones,
a gunner into the Chameleon brig."

When Nelson took the command, it was expected that
the Mediterranean would be an active scene. Nelson well
understood the character of the perfidious Corsican, who
was now sole tyrant of France ; and knowing that he was
as ready to attack his friends as his enemies, knew, there-
fore, that nothing could be more uncertain than the direc-
tion of the fleet from Toulon, whenever it should put to
sea : — ''It had as many destinations,"^ he said, "as there
were countries." The momentous revolutions of the last
ten years had given him ample matter for reflection, as
well as opportunities for observation : the film was cleared
from his eyes ; and now, when the French no longer went
abroad with the cry of liberty and equality, he saw that
the oppression and misrule of the powers which had been
opposed to them had been the main causes of their suc-
cess, and that those causes would still prepare the way
before them. Even in Sicily, where, if it had been possi-
ble longer to blind himself. Nelson would willingly have
seen no evil, he perceived that the people wished for a

1. Many destinations. Ireland, the West Indies, and tbe Levant
were the chief possibilities. "I shall follow them to the Antipodes,"
wrote Nelson ; and again, with a touch of humor, "I trust they are

destined for Spithead."

310 The Life op Nelson

change, and acknowledged that they had reason to wish
for it. In Sardinia, the same burden of misgovernment
was felt ; and the people, like the Sicilians, were impov-
erished by a government so utterly incompetent to per-
form its first and most essential duties, that it did not
protect its own coasts from the Barbary pirates. He
would fain have had us purchase this island (the finest in
the Mediterranean) from its sovereign, who did not
receive £5000 a year from it, after its wretched estab-
lishment^ was paid. There was reason to think that
France was preparing to possess herself of this impor-
tant point, which afforded our fleet facilities for watch-
ing Toulon not to be obtained elsewhere. An expedition
was preparing at Corsica for the purpose; and all the
Sardes, who had taken part with revolutionary France,
were ordered to assemble there. It was certain that if
the attack were made, it would succeed. Nelson thought
that the only means to prevent Sardinia from becoming
French was to make it English, and that half a million
would give the King a rich price, and England a cheap
purchase. A better, and therefore a wiser, policy would
have been to exert our influence in removing the abuses
of the government; for foreign dominion is always, in
some degree, an evil; and allegiance neither can nor
ought to be made a thing of bargain and sale. Sardinia,
like Sicily and Corsica, is large enough to form a sepa-
rate state. Let us hope that these islands may, ere long,
be made free and independent. Freedom and independ-
ence will bring with them industry and prosperity; and
wherever these are found, arts and letters will flourish,
and the improvement of the human race proceed.

The proposed attack was postponed. Views of wider
ambition were opening before Bonaparte, who now al-

1. Establishment. The military and civil forces required to govern
the island.

The Life of Nelson 311

most undisguisedly aspired to make himself master of
the continent of Europe ; and Austria was preparing for
another struggle, to be conducted as weakly, and ter-
minated as miserably, as the former. Spain, too, was
once more to be involved in war by the policy of France ;
that perfidious government having in view the double
object of employing the Spanish resources against Eng-
land, and exhausting them, in order to render Spain
herself finally its prey. Nelson, who knew that England
and the Peninsula ought to be in alliance, for the com-
mon interest of both, frequently expressed his hopes
that Spain might resume her natural rank among the
nations. "We ought," he said, ''by mutual consent, to
be the very best of friends, and both to be ever hostile to
France." But he saw that Bonaparte was meditating
the destruction of Spain, and that, while the wretched
court of Madrid professed to remain neutral, the appear-
ances of neutrality were scarcely preserved. An order
of the year 1771, excluding British ships of war from
the Spanish ports, was revived, and put in force ; while
French privateers, from these very ports, annoyed the
British trade, carried their prizes in, and sold them even
at Barcelona. Nelson complained of this to the Captain
General of Catalonia, informing him that he claimed, for
every British ship or squadron, the right of lying, as long
as it pleased, in the ports of Spain, while that right was
allowed to other powers. To the British Ambassador he
said : " I am ready to make large allowances for the mis-
erable situation Spain has placed herself in ; but there is
a certain line beyond which I cannot submit to be treated
with disrespect. We have given up French vessels taken
within gun-shot^ of the Spanish shore, and yet French

1. Within gun-shot. Within tlie "three-mile limit," a distance deter»
mined roughly by the range of an old-time cannon from the shore;
hence illegitimately captured.

312 The Life op Nelson

vessels are permitted to attack our ships from the Span-
ish shore. Your Excellency may assure the Spanish
government, that in whatever place the Spaniards allow
the French to attack us, in that place I shall order the
French to be attacked."

During this state of things, to which the weakness of
Spain, and not her will, consented, the enemy's fleet did
not venture to put to- sea. Nelson watched it with unre-
mitting and almost unexampled perseverance. The sta-
tion off Toulon he called his home. ''We are in the right
fighting trim,'' said he: ''let them come as soon as they
please. I never saw a fleet altogether so well officered and
manned : would to God the ships were half so good !— The
finest ones in the service would soon be destroyed by such
terrible weather : I know well enough, that if I were to
go into Malta I should save the ships during this bad sea-
son; but if I am to watch the French, I must be at sea;
and if at sea, must have bad weather: and if the ships
are not fit to stand bad weather, they are useless. ' ' Then
only he was satisfied, and at ease, when he had the enemy
in view. Mr. Elliot, our Minister at Naples, seems, at this
time, to have proposed to send a confidentiaP Frenchman
to him with information. "I should be very happy," he
replied, "to receive authentic intelligence of the destina-
tion of the French squadron, their route, and time of sail-
ing.— Anything short of this is useless; and I assure your
Excellency, that I would not, upon any consideration,
have a Frenchman in the fleet,, except as a prisoner. I
put no confidence in them. You think yours good ; the
Queen thinks the same : I believe they are all alike. What-
ever information you can get me, I shall be very thankful
for ; but not a Frenchman comes here. Forgive me, but
my mother hated the French !" ' ||

M. Latouche Treville, who had commanded at Bou-

1. Confidential. Trustworthy.

The Life of Nelson 313

logne, commanded now at Toulon. ' ' He was sent for on
purpose/' said Nelson, "as he heat me at Boulogne, to
beat me again : but he seems very loth to try. ' ' One day,
while the main body of our fleet was out of sight of land,
Rear-Admiral Campbell, reconnoitering with the Cano-
pus, Donegal, and Amazon, stood in close to the port,
and M. Latouche, taking advantage of a breeze which
sprung up, pushed out, with four ships of the line, and
three heavy frigates, and chased him about four leagues.
The Frenchman, delighted at having found himself in so
novel a situation, published a boastful account; affirm-
ing that he had given chase to the whole British fleet,
and that Nelson had fled before him. Nelson thought it
due to the Admiralty to send home a copy of the Vic-
tory 's log upon this occasion. ' ^ As for himself, ' ' he
said, "if his character was not established by that time
for not being apt to run away, it was not worth his while
to put the world right." — "If this fleet gets fairly up
with M. Latouche, ' ' said he to one of his correspondents,
' ' his letter, with all his ingenuity, must be different from
his last. We had fancied that we had chased him into
Toulon; for, blind as I am, I could see his water-line,
when he clewed his topsails up, shutting in Sepet.^ But,
from the time of his meeting Captain Hawker in the
/m/ I never heard of his acting otherwise than as a
poltroon and a liar. Contempt is the best mode of treat-
ing such a miscreant." In spite, however, of contempt,
the impudence of this Frenchman half angered him. He
said to his brother: "You will have seen Latouche 's
letter ; how he chased me, and how I ran. I keep it ; and
if I take him, by God he shall eat it ! "

1. Shutting in Sepet (or Cepet). Running inside the headland
which protects Toulon harbor. The sense of the passage is that Tr6-
ville carried a heavy press of sail till he got safely back into port.

2. Meeting Captain Hawker in the Tsis. An indecisive frigate action
off New York, June 7, 1780.

314 The Life of Nelson

Nelson, who used to say, that in sea affairs nothing is
impossible, and nothing improbable, feared the more that
this Frenchman might get out and elude his vigilance ;
because he was so especially desirous of catching him,
and administering to him his own lying letter in a sand-
wich. M. Latouche, however, escaped him in another
way. He died, according to the French papers, in con-
sequence of walking so often up to the signal post upon
Sepet, to watch the British fleet. ' ^ I always pronounced
that would be his death," said Nelson. ''If he had come
out and fought me, it would at least have added ten
years to my life." The patience with which he had
watched Toulon he spoke of, truly, as a perseverance at
sea which had never been surpassed. From May, 1803,
to August, 1805, he himself went out of his ship but
three times; each of those times was upon the King's
service, and neither time of absence exceeded an hour.
In 1804, the Swift cutter going out with despatches was
taken, and all the despatches and letters fell into the
hands of the enemy. "A very pretty piece of work,"
says Nelson. "I am not surprised at the capture, but
am very much so that any despatches should be sent in a
vessel with twenty-three men, not equal to cope with
any row-boat privateer. The loss of the Hmdostaii^ was
great enough ; but for importance it is lost in comparison
with the probable knowledge the enemy will obtain of
our connections with foreign countries. Foreigners for-
ever say, and it is true, 'We dare not trust England:
one way or other we are sure to be committed.' " In a
subsequent letter, speaking of the same capture, he says :
*'I find, my dearest Emma, that your picture is very
much admired by the French Consul at Barcelona; and
that he has not sent it to be admired, which I am sure it

1. Eindostan. A storeship captured by the French April 2, 1804,
the day before the loss of the Swift.

The Life of Nelson 315

would be, by Bonaparte. They pretend that there were
three pictures taken. I wish I had them; but they are
all gone as irretrievably as the despatches, unless we may
read them in a book, as we printed their correspondence
from Egypt. But from us what can they find out ? That
I love you most dearly, and hate the French most damn-
ably. Dr. Scott went to Barcelona to try to get the pri-
vate letters, but I fancy they are all gone to Paris. The
Swedish and American Consuls told him that the French
Consul had your picture and read your letters; and the
doctor thinks one of them, probably, read the letters.
By the master's account of the cutter I would not have
trusted a pair of old shoes in her. He tells me she did
not sail, but was a good. sea boat. I hope Mr. Marsden
will not trust any more of my private letters in such a
conveyance : if they choose to trust the affairs of the
public in such a thing, I cannot help it."

"While he was on this station, the weather had been so
unusually severe, that, he said, the Mediterranean
seemed altered. It was his rule never to contend with
the gales; but either run to the southward, to escape
their violence, or furl all the sails, and make the ships as
easy as possible. The men, though he said flesh and.
blood could hardly stand it, continued in excellent health,
which he ascribed, in great measure, to a plentiful sup-
ply of lemons and onions. For himself, he thought he
could only last till the battle was over. One battle more
it was his hope that he might fight. "However," said
he, "whatever happens I have run a glorious race." "A
few months ' rest, ' ' he says, ' ' I must have very soon. If
I am in my grave, what are the mines of Peru to me?
But to say the truth, I have no idea of killing myself. I
may, with care, live yet to do good service to the State.
My cough is very bad, and my side, where I was struck
on the 14th of February, is very much swelled ; at times

316 The Life of Nelson

a lump as large as my fist, brought on occasionally by
violent coughing. But I hope and believe my lungs are
yet safe/' He was afraid of blindness: and this was
the only evil which he could not contemplate without un-
happiness. More alarming symptoms he regarded with
less apprehension; describing his own ^'shattered car-
cass " as in the worst plight of any in the fleet : and he
says, ''I have felt the blood gushing up the left side of
my head : and, the moment it covers the brain, I am fast
asleep." The fleet was in worse trim than the men: but
when he compared it with the enemy's, it was with a
right English feeling. "The French fleet,^ yesterday,"
said he, in one of his letters, ' ^ was to appearance in liigh
feather, and as fine as paint could make them: — but
when they may sail, or where they may go, I am very-
sorry to say is a secret I am not acquainted with. Our
weather-beaten ships, I have no fear, will make their
sides like a plum pudding." "Yesterday," he says, on
another occasion, ' * a rear-admiral and seven sail of ships
put their nose outside the harbor. If they go on play-
ing this game, some day we shall lay salt upon their

Hostilities at length commenced between Great Britain
and Spain. That country, whose miserable government
made her subservient to France, was once more destined
to lavish her resources and her blood in furtherance of
the designs of a perfidious ally. The immediate occasion
of the war was the seizure of four treasure ships by the
English. — The act was perfectly justifiable; for those
treasures were intended to furnish means for France;
but the circumstances which attended it were as unhappy

1. The French fleet. In the spring of 1804 the French had eight
Bhips ready at Toulon and two or three nearly so ; Nelson had nine
ships and three frigates, some of which, however, were kept con-
stantly away on special service.

The Life op Nelson 317

as they were unforeseen. Four frigates had been des-
patched to intercept them. They met with an equal
force. Resistance, therefore, became a point of honor on
the part of the Spaniards, and one of their ships soon
blew up with all on board. Had a stronger squadron
been sent, this deplorable catastrophe might have been
spared: a catastrophe which excited not more indigna-
tion in Spain, than it did grief in those who were its un-
willing instruments, in the English government and in
the English people. On the 5th of October this unhappy
affair occurred, and Nelson was not apprised of it till
the 12th of the ensuing month. He had, indeed, suffi-
cient mortification at the breaking out of this Spanish
war ; an event which, it might reasonably have been sup-
posed, would amply enrich the officers of the Mediterra-
nean fleet, and repay them for the severe and unremit-
ting duty on which they had been so long employed. But
of this harvest they were deprived; for Sir John Orde
was sent with a small squadron, and a separate command,
to Cadiz. Nelson's feelings were never wounded so deeply
as now. * ' I had thought, ' ' said he, ' ' writing in the first
flow and freshness of indignation ; * ' I fancied — but, nay ;
it must have been a dream, an idle dream ; — ^yet, I confess
it, I did fancy that I had done my country service ; and
thus they use me ! And under what circumstances, and
with what pointed aggravation ! Yet, if I know my own
thoughts, it is not for myself, or on my own account
chiefly, that I feel the sting and disappointment. No !
it is for my brave officers ; for my noble-minded friends
and comrades. Such a gallant set of fellows! Such a
band of brothers! My heart swells at the thought of
them I ' '

War between Spain and England was now declared;
and, on the 18th of January, the Toulon fleet, having the
Spaniards to co-operate with them, put to sea. Nelson

318 The Life of Nelson

was at anchor off the coast of Sardinia, where the Mag-
dalena islands form one of the finest harbors in the
world, when, at three in the afternoon of the 19th, the
Active and Seahorse frigates brought this long hoped
for intelligence. They had been close to the enemy at ten
on the preceding night, but lost sight of them in about
four hours. The fleet immediately unmoored and weighed,
and at six in the evening ran through the strait between
Biche and Sardinia ; a passage so narrow, that the ships
could only pass one at a time, each following the stern
lights of its leader. From the position of the enemy,
when they were last seen, it w^as inferred that they must
be bound round the southern end of Sardinia. Signal
was made the next morning to prepare for battle. Bad
weather came on, baffling the one fleet in its object, and
the other in its pursuit. Nelson beat about the Sicilian
seas for ten days, without obtaining any other informa-
tion of the enemy, than that one of their ships had put
into Ajaccio dismasted; and having seen that Sardinia,
Naples, and Sicily were safe, believing Egypt to be their
destination, for Egypt he ran. The disappointment and
distress which he had experienced in his former pursuits
of the French through the same seas were now renewed ;
but Nelson, while he endured these anxious and unhappy
feelings, was still consoled by the same confidence as on
the former occasion — that, though his judgment might
be erroneous, under all circumstances he was right in
having formed it. ''I have consulted no man," said he
to the Admiralty: ^'therefore the whole blame of ignor-
ance in forming my judgment must rest with me. I
would allow no man to take from me an atom of my glory,
had I fallen in with the French fleet ; nor do I desire any
man to partake any of the responsibility. All is mine,
right or wrong. ' ' Then stating the grounds upon which
he had proceeded, he added : ''At this moment of sorrow,

The Life op Nelson 319

I still feel that I have acted right." In the same spirit
he said to Sir Alexander Ball: "When I call to remem-
brance all the circumstances, I approve, if nobody else
does, of my own conduct."

Baffled thus, he bore up for Malta, and met intelli-
gence from Naples that the French, having been dis-
persed in a gale, had put back to Toulon. From the same
quarter he learned that a great number of saddles and
muskets had been embarked : and this confirmed him
in his opinion that Egypt was their destination. That
they should have put back in consequence of storms
which he had weathered, gave him a consoling sense of
British superiority. "These gentlemen," said he, "are
not accustomed to a Gulf of Lyons gale ; we have buffeted
them for one-and-twenty months, and not carried away a
spar." He, however, who had so often braved these
gales, was now, though not mastered by them, vexatiously
thwarted and impeded; and, on February 27th, he was
compelled to anchor in PuUa Bay, in the Gulf of Cagliari.
From the 21st of January, the fleet had remained ready
for battle, without a bulkhead up,^ night or day. He
anchored here that he might not be driven to leeward. As
soon as the weather moderated he put to sea again ; and,
after again beating about against contrary winds, an-
other gale drove him to anchor in the Gulf of Palma,
on the 8th of March. This he made his rendezvous ; he
knew that the French troops still remained embarked,
and, wishing to lead them into a belief that he was sta-
tioned upon the Spanish coast, he made his appearance
off Barcelona with that intent. About the end of the
month, he began to fear that the plan of the expedition
was abandoned; and, sailing once more towards his old
station off Toulon, on the 4th of April, he met the Phoehe,

1. Without a hulkhead up. The bulkheads, or partitions dividing
space below decks, were usually removed in clearing a ship for action.

320 The Life op Nelson

with the news that Villeneiive^ had put to sea on the last
of March with eleven ships of the line, seven frigates, and
two brigs. When last seen, they were steering toward
the coast of Africa. Nelson first covered the channel
between Sardinia and Barbary, so as to satisfy himself
that Villenenve was not taking the same route for Egypt
which Ganteaume had taken before Mm, when he at-
tempted to carry reinforcements^ there. Certain of this,
he bore up on the 7th for Palermo, lest the French should
pass to the north of Corsica, and he despatched cruisers
in all directions. On the 11th, he felt assured that they
were not gone down the Mediterranean ; and sending off
frigates to Gibraltar, to Lisbon, and to Admiral Corn-
wallis, who commanded the squadron off Brest, he en-
deavored to get to the westward, beating against west-
erly winds. After five days, a neutral gave intelligence
that the French had been seen off Cape de Gatte^ on the
7th. It was soon* after ascertained that they had passed

1. Villeneuve. Treville died August 20, 1804, thus, as Nelson put it,
"giving me the slip." Villeneuve succeeded to the command of the
Toulon fleet in November. After his escape with the rear ships at
the Battle of the Nile, Napoleon is said to have regarded him as bora

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 25 of 29)