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the opinions and pleadings of most of the counsel of

1. Cast. Forced by legal verdict to make payment.

The Life of Nelson 67

the different islands, who maintained that ships of war
were not justified in seizing American vessels without
a deputation from the customs, the law was so explicit,
the case so clear, and Nelson pleaded his own cause so
well, that the four ships were condemned. During the
progress of this business he sent a memorial home to
the King: in consequence of which, orders were issued
that he should be defended at the expense of the crown.
And upon the representations which he made at the
same time to the secretary of state, and the suggestions
with which he accompanied them, the Register Act^ was
framed. The sanction of government, and the appro-
bation of his conduct which it implied, were highly grati-
iying to him : but he was offended, and not without just
cause, that the Treasury should have transmitted thanks
to the Commander-in-Chief for his activity and zeal in
protecting the commerce of Great Britain. ''Had they
known all," said he, "I do not think they would have
bestowed thanks in that cpiarter, and neglected me. I
feel much hurt, that, after the loss of health and risk of
fortune, another should be thanked for what I did
f! gainst his orders, I either deserved to be sent out of
the service, or at least to have had some little notice
taken of what I had done. They have thought it worthy
of notice, and yet have neglected me. If this is the
reward for a faithful discharge of my duty, I shall be
careful, and never stand forward again. But I have
done my duty, and have nothing to accuse myself of." r
The anxiety he had suffered from the harassing uncer-
tainties of law, is apparent from these expressions. He
had, however, something to console him, for he was at
this time wooing the niece of his friend the President,

1. Register Act. An act forbidding British' registry to foreign-built
ships, with the exception of prizes, and requiring British ships to

6S The Life of Nelson

then in her eighteenth year, the widow of Dr. Nisbet, a
physician. She had one child, a son, by name Josiah,
who was three years old. One day Mr. Herbert, who
had hastened, half-dressed, to receive Nelson, exclaimed,
on returning to his dressing-room, ' ' Good God ! if I did
not find that great-little^ man, of whom everybody is so
afraid, playing in the next room, under the dining-table,
with Mrs. Nisbet 's child!" A few days afterwards Mrs
Nisbet herself was first introduced to him, and thanked
him for the partiality which he had shown her little
boy. Her manners were mild and winning : and the Cap-
tain, whose heart was easily susceptible of attachment,
found no such imperious necessity for subduing his in-
clinations as had twice before withheld him from marry-
ing. They were married on March 11, 1787 : Prince
William Henry, ^ who had come out to the "West Indies
the preceding winter, being present, by his own desire,
to give away the bride. Mr. Herbert, her uncle, was
at this time so much displeased with his only daughter,
that he had resolved to disinherit her, and leave his
whole fortune, which was very great, to his niece. But
Nelson, whose nature was too noble to let him profit by
an act of injustice, interfered, and succeeded in recon-
ciling the President to his child.

** Yesterday, " said one of his naval friends the day
after the wedding, ''the Navy lost one of its greatest
ornaments, by Nelson's marriage. It is a national loss
that such an officer should marry: had it not been for
this. Nelson would have become the greatest man in the
service." The man was rightly estimated: but he who
delivered this opinion did not understand the effect of do-
mestic love and duty upon a mind of the true heroic stamp.

*'We are often separate," said Nelson, in a letter to

1. Great-little. Nelson was short of stature and slight of frame.

2. Prince William Henry. See p. 54, note 1.

The Life of Nelson 69

Mrs. Nisbet, a few months before their marriage; ''but
our affections are not by any means on that account
diminished. Our country has the first demand for our
services; and private convenience or happiness must
ever give way to the public good. Duty is the great busi-
ness of a sea officer : all private considerations must give
way to it, however painful." ''Have you not often
heard," says he, in another letter, "that salt water and
absence always wash away love? Now, I am such a
heretic as not to believe in that article : for behold, every
morning I have had six pails of salt water poured upon
my head, and instead of finding what seamen say to be
true, it goes on so contrary to the prescription, that you
must, perhaps, see me before the fixed time." More
frequently his correspondence breathed a deeper strain.
"To write letters to you," says he, "is the next great-
est pleasure I feel to receiving them from you. What I
experience when I read such as I am sure are the pure
sentiments of your heart, my poor pen cannot express ;
— ^nor, indeed, would I give much for any pen or head
which could express feelings of that kind. Absent from
you I feel no pleasure : it is you who are everything to
me. Without you, I care not for this world ; for I have
found, lately, nothing in it but vexation and trouble.
These are my present sentiments. God Almighty grant
they may never change ! Nor do I think they will. In-
deed there is, as far as human knowledge can judge, a
moral certainty that they cannot: for it must be real
affection that brings us together, and not interest or
compulsion." Such were the feelings, and such the
sense of duty, with which Nelson became a husband.

During his stay upon this station he had ample
opportunity of observing the scandalous practices of
the contractors, prize-agents,^ and other persons in the

1. Prise-agents. Agents entrusted with the sale of captured vessels.

70 The Lip^e of Nelson

"West Indies connected with the naval service. When
he was first left with the command, and bills were
brought him to sign for money which was owing for
goods purchased for the navy, he required the original
vouchers, that he might examine whether those goods
had been really purchased at the market price : but to
produce vouchers would not have been convenient, and
therefore was not the custom. Upon this Nelson wrote to
Sir Charles Middleton, then Comptroller of the Navy,
representing the abuses which were likely to be practiced
in this manner. The answer which he received seemed
to imply that the old forms were thought sufficient : and
thus, having no alternative, he was compelled, with his
eyes open, to submit to a practice originating in fraudu-
lent intentions. Soon afterwards two Antigua mer-
chants informed him that they were privy to great
frauds, which had been committed upon government in
various departments: at Antigua, to the amount of
nearly £500,000; at Lucia, £300,000; at Barbados,
£250,000; at Jamaica, upwards of a million. The in-
formers were both shrewd, sensible men of business ; they
did not affect to be actuated by a sense of justice, but
required a percentage upon so much as government
should actually recover through their means. Nelson
examined the books and papers which they produced,
and was convinced that government had been most in-
famously plundered. Vouchers, he found, in that coun-
try, were no check whatever: the principle was, ''that
a thing was always worth what it would bring:" and
the merchants were in the habit of signing vouchers for
each other, without even the appearance of looking at
the articles. These accounts he sent home to the different
departments which had been defrauded: but the pecu-
lators were too powerful ; and they succeeded not merely
in impeding inquiry, but even in raising prejudices

The Life op Nelson 71

against Nelson at the board of Admiralty, which it was
many years before he could subdue.

Owing, probably, to these prejudices, and the influ-
ence of the peculators, he was treated, on his return to
England, in a manner which had nearly driven him
from the service. During the three years that the
Boreas had remained upon a station which is usually so
fatal, not a single officer or man of her whole comple-
ment had died. This almost unexampled instance of
good health, though mostly, no doubt, imputable to a
healthy season, must in some measure also be ascribed to
the wise conduct of the Captain. He never suffered the
ships to remain more than three or four weeks at a time
at any of the islands, and when the hurricane months
confined him to English Harbor,^, he encouraged all
kinds of useful amusements: music, dancing, and
cudgelling among the men; theatricals among the offi-
cers : anything which could employ their attention, and
keep their spirits cheerful. The Boreas arrived in Eng-
land in June. Nelson, who had many times been sup-
posed to be consumptive when in the "West Indies, and
perhaps was saved from consumption by that climate,
was still in a precarious state of health ; and the raw,
wet weather of one of our ungenial summers brought on
cold, and sore throat, and fever ; yet his vessel was kept
at the Nore from the end of June till the end of No-
vember, serving as a slop and receiving ship.^ This
unworthy treatment, which more probably proceeded
from intention than from neglect, excited in Nelson the
strongest indignation. During the whole five months
he seldom or never quitted the ship, but carried on his
duty with strict and sullen attention. On the morning

1. English Harbor. Chief port of the Island of Antigua.

2. Blop and receiving ship. A vessel stationed to receive impressed
seamen or other naval recruits; and supply them with clothing and
equipment. Slops is the nautical term for sailors' clothing.

72 J The Life of Nelson

when orders were received to prepare the Boreas for
being paid off, he expressed his joy to the senior officer
in the Medway; saying, ''It will release me forever
from an ungrateful service, for it is my firm and un-
alterable determination, never again to set my foot
on board a king's ship. Immediately after my arrival
in town I shall wait on the First Lord of the Admiralty,
and resign my commission." The officer to whom he
thus communicated his intentions behaved in the wisest
and most friendly manner; for finding it vain to dis-
suade him in his present state of feeling, he secretly
interfered with the First Lord to save him from a step
so injurious to himself, little foreseeing how deeply the
welfare and honor of England were at that moment at
stake. This interference produced a letter from Lord
Howe, the day before the ship was paid off, intimating
a wish to see Captain Nelson as soon as he arrived in
town": when, being pleased with his conversation, and
perfectly convinced by what was then explained to him,
of the propriety of his conduct, he desired that he might
present him to the King on the first levee day :^ and the
gracious manner in which Nelson was then received
effectually removed his resentment.

Prejudices had been, in like manner, excited against
his friend. Prince William Henry. "Nothing is want-
ing, sir," said Nelson in one of his letters, "to make you
the darling of the English nation, but truth. Sorry I
am to say, much to the contrary has been dispersed."
This was not flattery; for Nelson was no flatterer. The
letter in which this passage occurs shows in how wise
and noble a manner he dealt with the prince. One of his
Royal Highnesses officers had applied for a court-mar-
tial upon a point in which he was unquestionably wrong.
His Eoyal Highness, however, while he supported his

1. Levee dap. A day appointed for receptions at court.

The Life of Nelson 73

own character and authority, prevented the trial, which
must have been injurious to a brave and deserving man.
**Now that you are parted," said Nelson, "pardon me,
my Prince, when I presume to recommend that he may
stand in your royal favor as if he had never sailed with
you, and that at some future day you will serve him.
There only wants this to place your conduct in the high-
est point of view. None of us are without failings ; his,
was being rather too hasty: but that, put into competi-
tion with his being a good officer, will not, I am bold to
say, be taken in the scale against him. More able friends
than myself your Royal Highness may easily find, and
of more consequence in the state ; but one more attached
and affectionate is not so easily met with. Princes
seldom, very seldom, find a disinterested person to com-
municate their thoughts to : I do not pretend to be that
person; but of this be assured, by a man who, I trust,
never did a dishonorable act, that I am interested only
that your Royal Highness should be the greatest and
best man this country ever produced."

Encouraged by the conduct of Lord Howe, and by
his reception at court. Nelson renewed his attack upon
the peculators with fresh spirit. He had interviews
with Mr. Rose, Mr. Pitt, and Sir Charles Middleton,^ to
all of whom he satisfactorily proved his charges. In
consequence, it is said, these very extensive public frauds
were at length put in a proper train to be provided
against in the future ; his representations were attended
to ; and every step which he recommended was adopted ;
the investigation was put into a proper course, which
ended in the detection and punishment of some of the
culprits ; an immense saving was made to government,

1. Mr. Rose, Mr. Pitt, and Sir Charles Middleton. Pitt was Prime
Minister ; Rose was a former naval officer and at tliis time Secretary
to the Treasury ; Middleton, later Lord Barham, was Comptroller of
the Navy.

74 The Life of Nelson

and thus its attention was directed to similar peculation
in other parts of the colonies. But it is said also, that
no mark of commendation seems to have been bestowed
upon Nelson for his exertion. And it is justly re-
marked,* that the spirit of the Navy cannot be preserved
so effectually by the liberal honors bestowed on officers,
when they are worn out in the service, as by an atten-
tion to those who, like Nelson at this part of his life,
have only their integrity and zeal to bring them into no-
tice. A junior officer, who had been left with the com-
mand at Jamaica, received an additional allowance, for
which Nelson had applied in vain. Double pay was
allowed to every artificer and seaman employed in the
Naval Yard: Nelson had superintended the whole busi-
ness of that yard with the most rigid exactness, and he
complained that he was neglected. *'It was most true,"
he said, "that the trouble which he took to detect the
fraudulent practices then carried on, was no more than
his duty; but he little thought that the expenses attend-
ing his frequent journeys to St. John's upon that duty
(a distance of twelve miles), would have fallen upon his
pay as Captain of the Boreas.'^ Nevertheless, the sense
of what he thought unworthy usage did not diminish his
zeal. * ' I, " said he, "must still buffet the waves in search
of — ^What ? Alas ! that they called honor is now thought
of no more. My fortune, God knows, has grown worse
for the service: so much for serving my country. But
the devil, ever willing to tempt the virtuous, has made
me offer, if any ships should be sent to destroy his
Majesty of Morocco's ports, to be there: and I have
some reason to think, that, should any more come of it,
my humble services will be accepted. I have invariably
laid down, and followed close, a plan of what ought to
be uppermost in the breast of an officer, — that it is much
• Clarke and M' Arthur, vol. i., p. 107. ^Southey's Note.

The Life of Nelson 75

better to serve an ungrateful country, than to give up
his own fame. Posterity will do him justice. A uniform
course of honor and integrity seldom fails of bringing a
man to the goal of fame at last."

The design against the Barbary pirates,^ like all other
designs against them, was laid aside ; and Nelson took his
wife to his father's parsonage, meaning only to pay him
a visit before they went to France ; a project which he
had formed for the sake of acquiring a competent knowl-
edge of the French language. But his father could not
bear to lose him thus unnecessarily. Mr. Nelson had
long been an invalid, suffering under paralytic and
asthmatic affections, which, for several hours after he
rose in the morning, scarcely permitted him to speak.
He had been given over by his physicians for this com-
plaint nearly forty years before his death; and was,
for many of his last years, obliged to spend all his win-
ters at Bath. The sight of his son, he declared, had
given him new life. ''But, Horatio," said he, ''it would
have been better that I had not been thus cheered, if I
am so soon to be bereaved of you again. Let .me, my
good son, see you whilst I can. My age and infirmities
increase, and I shall not last long." To such an appeal
there could be no reply. Nelson took up his abode at
the parsonage, and amused himself with the sports and
occupations of the country. Sometimes he busied him-
self with farming the glebe ;^ sometimes spent the greater
part of the day in the garden, where he would dig as if
for the mere pleasure of wearying himself. Sometimes

1. Design against the Barbary pirates. During the American Revo-
lution and Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain connived in the piratical
activities of the Barbary States against the commerce of her enemies.
The first effective measures against them were taken by the United
States in the War with Tripoli (1801-04).

2. Glebe. Farming land; more strictly, cultivable land belonging to
a parish church.

76 The Life of Nelson

he went a bird's nesting like a boy: and in these expedi-
tions Mrs. Nelson always, by his express desire, accom-
panied him. Coursing^ was his favorite amusement.
Shooting, as he practiced it, was far too dangerous for
his companions: for he carried his gun upon the full
cock, as if he were going to board an enemy; and the
moment a bird rose, he let fly, without ever putting the
fowling-piece to his shoulder. It is not, therefore,
extraordinary, that his having once shot a partridge
should be remembered by his family among the remark-
able events of his life.

But his time did not pass away thus without some
vexatious cares to ruffle it. The affair of the American
ships was not yet over, and he was again pestered with
threats of prosecution. *'I have written them word,"
said he, ''that I will have nothing to do with them, and
they must act as they think proper. Government, I sup-
pose, will do what is right, and not leave me in the lurch.
We have heard enough lately of the consequence of the
Navigation Act to this country. They may take my
person : .but if sixpence would save me from a prosecu-
tion, I would not give it." It was his great ambition
at this time to possess a pony; and having resolved to
purchase one, he went to a fair for that purpose. Dur-
ing his absence two men abruptly entered the parsonage,
and inquired for him : they then asked for Mrs. Nelson :
and after they had made her repeatedly declare that she
was really and truly the captain's wife, presented her
with a writ, or notification, on the part of the American
captains, who now laid their damages at £20,000, and
they charged her to give it to her husband on his return.
Nelson having bought his pony, came home with it in
high spirits. He called out his wife to admire his pur-
chase, and listen to all its excellencies : nor was it till his

1. Coursing. Hunting with hounds.

The Life of Nelson 77

glee had in some measure subsided, that the paper could
be presented to him. His indignation was excessive : and,
in the apprehension that he should be exposed to the
anxieties of the suit, and the ruinous consequences which
might ensue, he exclaimed, ''This affront I did not de-
serve! But I'll be trifled with no longer. I will write
immediately to the Treasury, and, if Government will
not support me, I am resolved to leave the country."
Accordingly, he informed the Treasury, that if a satis-
factory answer were not sent him by return post, he
should take refuge in France. To this he expected he
should be driven, and for this he arranged everything
with his characteristic rapidity of decision. It wa's set-
tled that he should depart immediately, and Mrs. Nelson
follow under the care of his elder brother Maurice,
ten days after him. But the answer which he received
from Government quieted his fears: it stated, that
Captain Nelson was a very good officer, and needed
be under no apprehension, for he would assuredly be

Here his disquietude upon this subject seems to have
ended. Still he w^as not at ease ; he wanted employment,^
and was mortified that his applications for it produced
no effect. ''Not being a man of fortune," he said,
*'was a crime which he was unable to get over, and there-
fore none of the great cared about him. ' ' Repeatedly he
requested the Admiralty that they would not leave him
to rust in indolence. During the armament which was
made upon occasion of the dispute concerning Nootka
Sound,^ he renewed his application : and his steady

1. Wanted employment. Nelson was on half-pay from 1788 to

2. Nootka Sound. Spain In 1789 seized a British trading station at
Nootka Sound on* the west coast- of Vancouver Island. Pitt there-
upon strengthened the fleet and forced Spain to concede equal trading
rights along the Pacific Coast.

78 The Life of Nelson

friend, Prince "William, who had then been created Duke
of Clarence, recommended him to Lord Chatham.^ The
failure of this recommendation wounded him so keenly,
that he again thought of retiring from the service in dis-
gust ; a resolution from which nothing but the urgent
remonstrances of Lord Hood^ induced him to desist.
Hearing that the Eaisonnable, in which he had com-
menced his career, was to be commissioned, he asked for
her. This also was in vain: and a coolness ensued, on
his part, toward Lord Hood, because that excellent officer
did not use his influence with Lord Chatham upon this
occasion. Lord Hood, however, had certainly sufficient
reasons for not interfering; for he ever continued his
steady friend. In the winter of 1792, when we were on
the eve of the revolutionary war,^ Nelson once more
offered his services, earnestly requested a ship, and
added, that if their lordships should be pleased to
appoint him to a cockle-boat, he should feel satisfied.

1. Lord Chatham. First Lord of the Admiralty ; eldest brother of
the Prime Minister.

2. Lord Hood. Samuel, Viscount Hood (1724-1816), member of the
Admiralty Board (1788-93), and later in command of the Mediter-
ranean fleet.

3. Revolutionary war. The French Revolution. Following the exe-
cution of Louis XVI (January 21, 1793), the chief powers of Europe
combined to crush the republic. More aggressive than her enemies,
France extended her boundaries to the Rhine, occupied Belgium and
Holland, made peace with Spain and Prussia (July, 1795), and In
September of the same year secured Spain as an ally. In the mean-
time the British Mediterranean fleet, which Nelson joined, was engaged
chiefly in occupying Corsica and co-operating with the Austrian
forces on the Riviera. In 1796 Napoleon tool: command in Italy,
defeated three Austrian armies sent against him, and by the peace of
Campo Formio (1797) created the Cisalpine and Ligurlan republics
In northern Italy. In 1798 the Papal States and the territory of the
King of Naples in southern Italy were also formed into republics
under French protection. This deprived the British fleet of Italian
bases and supplies. After the victory of the Nile^ (August 1, 1798)
the French were driven out of Italy and the former rulers temporarily
restored. The period of these events, 1793-1800, is covered in the
next four chapters.

The Life of Nelson 79

He was answered in the usual official form: ''Sir, I
have received your letter of the 5th instant, expressing
your readiness to serve, and have read the same to my
Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty." On the 12th
of December he received this dry acknowledgment. The
fresh mortification did not, however, affect him long : for,
by the joint interest of the Duke and Lord Hood, he was
appointed, on the 30th of January following, to the
Agamemnon,'^ of sixty-four guns.

1. Agamemnon. With his usual enthusiasm for his ships and men,
Nelson wrote of her "as the finest 64 in the service . . . manned
exceedingly well." The "Old Eggs and Bacon," as her sailors called

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