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her, was wrecked in 1809 ; her successor of the same name is a pre-
dreadnought of 16,500 tons.


The Agamemnon sent to the Mediterranean — Commencement of
Nelson's acquaintance with Sir W. Hamilton — He is sent to Cor-
sica, to co-operate with Paoli — State of affairs in that island —
Nelson undertakes the siege of Bastia, and reduces it — Takes a
distinguished part in the siege of Calvi, where he loses an eye —
Admiral Hotham's action — The Agamemnon ordered to Genoa to
co-operate with the Austrian and Sardinian forces— Gross miscon-
duct of the Austrian General.

"There are three things, young gentleman," said
Nelson to one of his midshipmen, ''which you are con-
stantly to bear in mind. First, you must always im-
plicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any
opinion of your own respecting their propriety. Sec-
ondly, you must consider every man your enemy who
speaks ill of your king; and, thirdly, you must hate a
Frenchman as you do the devil." "With these feelings
he engaged in the war. Josiah,^ his step-son, went with
him as a midshipman.

The Agamemnon was ordered to the Mediterranean,
under Lord Hood. The fleet arrived in those seas at a
time when the south of France would willingly have
formed itself into a separate republic, under the protec-
tion of England. But good principles had been at that
time perilously abused by ignorant and profligate men ;
and, in its fear and hatred of democracy, the English

1. Josiah. Josiah Nisbet, the son of Mrs. Nelson by her first mar-
riage (See p. 68). He was later a lieutenant in the Theseus, ami
captain in the Dolphin and Thalia. According to Professor Laughton
(Life of Nelson, p. 153), "He seems to have been of intemperate
habits and boorish demeanor. When drunk, he was violent and


The Life of Nelson


82 The Life op Nelson

government abhorred whatever was republican. Lord
Hood could not take advantage of the fair occasion
which presented itself; and which, if it had been seized
with vigor, might have ended in dividing France : — but
he negotiated with the people of Toulon,^ to take posses-
sion provisionally of their port and city ; which, fatally
for themselves, was done. Before the British fleet en-
tered, Nelson was sent with despatches to Sir William
Hamilton," our Envoy at the court of Naples. Sir
William, after his first interview with him, told Lady
Hamilton^ that he was about to introduce a little man to
her, who could not boast of being very handsome ; but
such a man as, he believed, would one day astonish the
world. ''I have never before," he continued, "enter-
tained an officer at my house ; but I am determined to

1. Toulon. The city was recaptured largely through the skill of
Napoleon, who commanded the republican artillery, organized the siege,
and by training his guns on the British and Spanish fleets forced them
to leave the harbor.

2. Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803). Envoy at Naples, 1764-1800.
He was a man of amiable character, and of some attainments In
diplomacy and science, but in later years enfeebled by age and con-
tinued ill health. ITis relations with Nelson are covered sufficiently
in later pages of the present book.

3. Lady Hamilton (c. 1765-1815). Lady Hamilton's maiden name
■was Emma or Amy Lyon, and she was the daughter of a Cheshire
blacksmith. In the course of a disreputable career in London, she
picked up some rudiments of education and breeding from the people
with whom she came in contact, and her beauty and theatrical gifts
made her a favorite model for the painter Romney, who depicted her
in many attitudes and characters. Later, in Naples, as the mistress
and afterward the wife of Sir William Hamilton, she won the confi-
dence of Queen Maria Carolina and entered eagerly into the in-
trigues of the Neapolitan Court. Nelson on his return from the Nile
fell under the influence of her personal charm, flattery, and half-
sincere hero-worship — an influence which had an ill effect on his
management of the fleet in Italian waters and led later to his sepa-
ration from Lady Nelson. Save in these respects, and in its unfor-
tunate effect on his social standing and professional recognition In
England, Nelson's connection with Lady Hamilton may be considered
as a matter apart from his public services and career.

The Life of Nelson S3

bring him here. Let him be put in the room prepared
for PHnce Augustus."^ Thus that acquaintance began,
which ended in the destruction of Nelson's domestic
happiness. It seemed to threaten no such consequences
at its commencement. He spoke of Lady Hamilton, in a
letter to his wife, as a young woman of amiable manners,
who did honor to the station to which she had been
raised: and he remarked, that she had been exceedingly
kind to Josiah. The activity with which the Envoy
exerted himself in procuring troops from Naples to assist
in garrisoning Toulon, so delighted him, that he is said
to have exclaimed, ''Sir William, you are a man after
my own heart ! — you do business in my own way : ' ' and
then to have added, "I am now only a captain; but I
will, if I live, be at the top of the tree." Here, also,
that acquaintance with the Neapolitan court^ commenced,
which led to the only blot^ upon Nelson's public char-
acter. The King, w^ho w^as sincere at that time in his
enmity to the French, called the English the saviors of
Italy, and of his dominions in particular. He paid the
most flattering attention to Nelson, made him dine with
him, and seated him at his right hand.

Having accomplished this mission,* Nelson received
orders to join Commodore Linzee, at Tunis. On the

1. Prince Augustus. A son of George III of England.

2. Neapolitan Court. Italy at the time of the Napoleonic wars
was a bundle of small states either independent or subject to Austria.
The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Sicily and Southern Italy) was ruled
by a descendant of the Spanish Bourbons. Sardinia, which included
the island itself and most of western Italy, was under the H^mse of
Savoy. In all these states there was a good deal of sympathy for the
ideals of the French Revolution, and they regarded with mingled feel-
ings the efforts of an Austrian army and a British fleet to save tnem
from Napoleon.

3. TJie onlij hlot. See pp. 216-221.

4. This mission. Nelson was sent to procure 10,000 troops to help
hold Toulon. He received the promise of troops, but was forced to
leave the port before they could be embarked.

84 The Life of Nelson

way, five sail of the enemy were discovered off the coast
of Sardinia, and he chased them. They proved to be
three forty-four gun frigates, with a corvette^ of twenty-
four, and a brig of twelve. The Agamemnon had only
three hundred and forty-five men at quarters,^ having
landed part of her crew at Toulon, and others being
absent in prizes. He came near enough one of the
frigates to engage her, but at great disadvantage, the
Frenchman maneuvering well, and sailing greatly bet-
ter.^ A running fight of three hours ensued, during
which the other ships, which w^ere at some distance, made
all speed to come up. By this time the enemy were
almost silenced, when a favorable change of wind en-
abled her to get out of reach of the Agamemnon's guns:
and that ship had received so much damage in the rig-
ging that she could not follow her. Nelson, conceiving
that this was but the forerunner of a far more serious
engagement, called his officers together, and asked them
if the ship was fit to go into action against such a supe-
rior force without some small refreshment for the men?
Their answer was, that she certainly was not. He then
gave these orders : "Veer the ship,* and lay her head to
the westward; let some of the best men be employed
in refitting the rigging, and the carpenter getting crows
and capstern-bars^ to prevent our wounded spars from

1. Corvette. The French name for a type corresponding to the
American "sloop-of-war," designed for seaworthiness and speed, with
all the guns on the main or spar deck'.

2. At quarters. At their stations ready for action.

3. Sailing greatly tetter. French and Spanish frigates were at this
time superior to the British in design and itoeed.

4. Veer the ship. Change her course, usually by turning with, the

5. Crows and capstern-hars. Crow-bars and capstan-bars, the latter
being long levers used to turn the capstan in hoisting anchor. In
this case the bars were lashed along the damaged spars to strengthen

The Life of Nelson 85

coming down ; and get the wine up for the people, with
some bread, for it may be half an hour good before we
are again in action." But when the French came up,
their comrade made signals of distress, and they all
hoisted out their boats to go to her assistance, leaving
the Agamemnon unmolested.

Nelson found Commodore Linzee at Tunis, where he
had been sent to expostulate with the Dey upon the im-
policy of his supporting the revolutionary government
of France. Nelson represented to him the atrocity of
that government. Such arguments were of little avail
in Barbary : and when the Dey w^as told that the French
had put their sovereign to death, he dryly replied, that
*' Nothing could be more heinous; and yet, if historians
told the truth, the English had once done the same. "^
This answer had doubtless been suggested by the French
about him : they had completely gained the ascendancy,
and all negotiation on our part proved fruitless. Shortly
afterwards Nelson was detached with a small squadron,
to co-operate with General Paoli and the anti-Gallican
party in Corsica.

Some thirty years before this time, the heroic pa-
triotism of the Corsicans, and of their leader, Paoli, had
been the admiration of England. The history of these
brave people is but a melancholy tale. The island which
they inhabit has been abundantly blessed by nature : it
has many excellent harbors ; and though the malaria, or
pestilential atmosphere, which is so deadly in many parts
of Italy, and of the Italian islands, prevails on the east-
err coast, the greater part of the country is mountainous
and healthy. It is about 150 miles long, and from 40 to
50 broad : in circumference, some 320 : — a country large
enough, and sufficiently distant from the nearest shores,
to have subsisted as an independent state, if the welfare

1. Once done the same. An allusion to the execution of Charles I.

86 The Life of Nelson

and happiness of the human race had ever been con-
sidered as the end and aim of policy. The Moors, the
Pisans, the kings of Aragon, and the Genoese, snccess-
ively attempted, and each for a time effected, its con-
quest. The yoke of the Genoese continued longest, and
was the heaviest. These petty tyrants ruled with an iron
rod : and when at any time a patriot rose to resist their
oppressions, if they failed to subdue him by force, they
resorted to assassination. At the commencement of the
last century they quelled one revolt by the aid of Ger-
man auxiliaries, whom the Emperor Charles VI.^ sent
against a people who had never offended him, and who
were fighting for whatever is most dear to man. In
1734 the war was renewed ; and Theodore, a "Westphalian
baron, then appeared upon the stage. In that age men
were not accustomed to see adventurers play for king-
doms, and Theodore became the common talk of Europe.
He had served in the French armies ; and having after-
wards been noticed both by Ripperda and Alberoni,^
their example, perhaps, inflamed a spirit as ambitious
and as unprincipled as their own. He employed the
whole of his means in raising money and procuring
arms : then wrote to the leaders of the Corsican patriots,
to offer them considerable assistance, if they would erect
Corsica into an independent kingdom, and elect him
king. When he landed among them, they were struck
with his stately person, his dignified manners, and im-
posing talents: they believed the magnificent promises
of foreign assistance which he held out, and elected him
king accordingly. Had his means been as he repre-
sented them, they could not have acted more wisely than

1. Charles VI. Emperor of Austria and head of the Holy Roman
Empire (1711-1740).

2. Ripperda and Alberoni. The first a Dutch, and the second an
Italian adventurer of the seventeenth century. Both rose to high posi-
tions in the court of Spain.

The Life of Nelson 87

in thus at once fixing the government of their country,
and putting an end to those rivalries among the leading
families, which had so often proved pernicious to the
public v^eal. He struck^ money, conferred titles, blocked
up^ the fortified towns which were held by the Genoese,
and amused the people with promises of assistance for
about eight months : then, perceiving that they cooled in
their affections toward him, in proportion as their ex-
pectations were disappointed, he left the island, under
the plea of expediting himself the succors which he
had so long awaited. Such was his address that he pre-
vailed upon several rich merchants in Holland, particu-
larly the Jews, to trust him with cannon and warlike
stores to a great amount. They shipped these under the
charge of a supercargo. Theodore returned with this
supercargo to Corsica, and put him to death on his
arrival, as the shortest way of settling the account. The
remainder of his life was a series of deserved afflictions.
He threw in the stores^ which he had thus fraudulently
obtained : but he did not dare to land ; for Genoa had
now called in the French to their assistance, and a price
had been set upon his head. His dreams of royalty were
now at an end; he took refuge in London, contracted
debts, and was thrown into the King's Bench.* After
lingering there many years, he was released under an
act of insolvency : in consequence of which, he made over
the kingdom of Corsica for the use of his creditors, and
died shortly after his deliverance.

The French, who have never acted a generous part
in the history of the world, readily entered into the views
of the Genoese, which accorded with their own policy;
for such was their ascendancy at Genoa, that in subduing

1. Struck. Coined.

2. Blocked up. Blockaded, laid siege to.

3. Threw in the stores. Landed them In Corsica.

4. Thrown into the King's Bench. Held by the debtor's court.

88 The Life of Nelson

Corsica for these allies, they were in fact subduing it
for themselves. They entered into the contest, therefore,
with their usual vigor, and their usual cruelty. It was
in vain that the Corsicans addressed a most affecting me-
morial to the court of Versailles ; that remorseless govern-
ment persisted in its flagitious project. They poured in
troops; dressed a part of them like the people of the
country, by which means they deceived and destroyed
many of the patriots; cut down the standing corn, the
vines, and the olives ; set fire to the villages, and hung
all the most able and active men who fell into their
hands. A war of this kind may be carried on with suc-
cess against a country so small and so thinly peopled as
Corsica. Having reduced the island^ to perfect servitude,
which they called peace, the French withdrew their
forces. As soon as they were gone, men, women, and
boys rose at once against their oppressors. The circum-
stances of the times were now favorable to them; and
some British ships, acting as allies of Sardinia, bom-
barded Bastia and San Fiorenzo, and delivered them
into the hands of the patriots. This service was long
remembered with gratitude: the impression made upon
our own countrymen was less favorable. They had wit-
nessed the heart-burning of rival chiefs, and the dis-
sentions among the patriots; and perceiving the state
of barbarism to which continual oppression, and habits
of lawless turbulence, had reduced the nation, did not
recollect that the vices of the people were owing to their
unhappy circumstances ; but that the virtues which they
displayed arose from their own nature. This feeling,
perhaps, influenced the British court, when, in 1746,
Corsica offered to put herself under the protection of

1. Reduced the island. The motive of the FreBch in taking Corsica
■was well justified fear lest the island should fall into the hands of the
English. Theodore returned in 1743 supported by a British fleet, but
failed to win popular support.

The Life of Nelson 89

Great Britain : an answer was returned expressing satis-
faction at such a communication, hoping that the Cor-
sicans would preserve the same sentiments, but signify-
ing also that the present was not the time for such a

These brave islanders then formed a government for
themselves, under two leaders, Gaffori and Matra, who
had the title of protectors. The latter is represented as
a partisan of Genoa, favoring the views of the oppressors
of his country by the most treasonable means. Gaffori
was a hero worthy of old times. His eloquence was long
remembered with admiration. A band of assassins was
once advancing against him ; he heard of their approach,
went out to meet them ; and, with a serene dignity which
overawed them, requested them to hear him: he then
spoke to them so forcibly of the distresses of their coun-
try, her intolerable wrongs, and the hopes and views of
their brethren in arms, that the very men who had been
hired to murder him fell at his feet, implored his forgive-
ness, and joined his banner. While he was besieging
the Genoese in Corte, a part of the garrison perceiving
the nurse with his eldest son, then an infant in arms,
straying at a little distance from the camp, suddenly
sallied out and seized them. The use they made of their
persons was in conformity with their usual execrable
conduct. When Gaffori advanced to batter the walls,
they held up the child directly over that part of the
waU at which the guns were pointed. The Corsicans
stopped; but Gaffori stood at their head, and ordered
them to continue the fire. Providentially the child
escaped, and lived to relate, with becoming feeling, a
fact so honorable to his father. That father conducted
the affairs of the island till 1753, when he was assassi-
nated by some wretches, set on, it is believed, by Genoa ;
but certainly pensioned by that abominable government

90 The Life of Nelson

after the deed. He left the country in such a state,
that it was enabled to continue the war two years after
his death without a leader : then they found one worthy
of their cause in Pasquale de Paoli.

Paoli's father was one of the patriots who effected
their escape from Corsic-a when the French reduced it to
obedience. He retired to Naples, and brought up this
his youngest son in the Neapolitan service. The Corsi-
cans heard of young Paoli 's abilities, and solicited him
to come over to his native country, and take the com-
mand. He did not hesitate long : his father, who was too
far advanced in years to take an active part himself, en-
couraged him to go; and when they separated, the old
man fell on his neck, and kissed him, and gave him his
blessing. ''My son," said he, "perhaps I may never
see you more; but in my mind I shall ever be present
with you. Your design is great and noble ; and I doubt
not but God will bless you in it. I shall devote to your
cause the little remainder of my life, in offering up my
prayers for your success." When Paoli assumed the
command, he found all things in confusion; he formed
a democratical government, of which he was chosen
chief ; restored the authority of the laws ; established an
university ; and took such measures, both for repressing
abuses and molding the rising generation, that, if France
had not interfered, upon its wicked and detestable prin-
ciple of usurpation, Corsica might, at this day, have
been as free, and flourishing, and happy a common-
wealth as any of the Grecian states in the days of their
prosperity. The Genoese were at this time driven out
of their fortified towns, and must in a short time have
been expelled. France was indebted some millions of
livres^ to Genoa: it was not convenient to pay this
money ; so the French minister proposed to the Genoese,

1. Livres. The Uvre, or French franCj Is worth about 20 cents.

The Life of Nelson 91

that she should discharge the debt by sending six bat-
talions to serve in Corsica for four years. The indigna-
tion which this conduct excited in all generous hearts
was forcibly expressed by Rousseau/ who, with all his
errors, was seldom deficient in feeling for the wrongs of
humanity. ''You Frenchmen," said he, writing to one
of that people, "are a thoroughly servile nation, thor-
oughly sold to tyranny, thoroughly cruel, and relent-
less in persecuting the unhappy. If you knew of a free
man at the other end of the world, I believe you would
go thither for the mere pleasure of extirpating him. ' '

The immediate object of the French happened to be
purely mercenary : they wanted to clear off their debt to
Genoa ; and as the presence of their troops in the island
effected this, they aimed at doing the people no farther
mischief. Would that the conduct of England had been
at this time free from reproach ! but a proclamation was
issued by the English government, after the peace of
Paris,^ prohibiting any intercourse with the rebels of
Corsica. Paoli said, he did not expect this from Great
Britain. This great man was deservedly proud of his
country: — "I defy Eome, Sparta, or Thebes," he would
say, ''to show me thirty years of such patriotism as Cor-
sica can boast ! ' ' Availing himself of the respite which
the inactivity of the French and the weakness of the
Genoese allowed, he prosecuted his plans of civilizing
the people. He used to say, that though he had an un-
speakable pride in the prospect of the fame to which he
aspired ; yet, if he could but render . his countrymen

1. Rousseau. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a French philos-
opher and writer, whose radical teaching with regard to education,
religion, and the rights of man did much to spread revolutionary ideas
in Europe and America. Le Contrat Social, by Rousseau, is anti-
Haonarchlc, basing all government on the consent of the governed.

2. Peace of Paris. Signed February 10, 1763, by England, France,
and Spain.

f92 The Life of Nelson

happy, he would be content to be forgotten. His own
importance he never affected to -undervalue. ''We are
now to our country," said he, ''like the prophet Elisha,^
stretched over the dead body of the Shunamite, — eye to
eye, nose to nose, mouth to mouth. It begins to recover
warmth, and to revive: I hope it will yet regain full
health and vigor.''

But when the four years were expired, France pur-
chased the sovereignty of Corsica from the Genoese for
forty millions of livres : as if the Genoese had been en-
titled to sell it; as if any bargain or sale could justify
one country in taking possession of another against the
will of the inhabitants, and butchering all who oppose
the usurpation ! Among the enormities which France
has committed, this action seems but as a speck;
yet the foulest murderer that ever suffered by the hands
of the executioner has infinitely less guilt upon his soul
than the statesman w^ho concluded this treaty, and the
monarch who sanctioned and confirmed it. A desperate
and glorious resistance was made ; but it was in vain ; no
power interposed in behalf of these injured islanders,
and the French poured in as many troops as were re-
quired. They offered to confirm Paoli in the supreme
authority, only on condition that he would hold it under
their government. His answer was, "That the rocks
which surrounded him should melt away before he would
betray a cause which he held in common with the poorest
Corsican." This people then set a price upon his head.
During two campaigns he kept them at bay : they over-
powered him at length : he was driven to the shore, and
having escaped on ship-board, took refuge in England.
It is said that Lord Shelburne resigned his seat in the
cabinet because the ministry looked on, without attempt-
ing to prevent France from succeeding in this abomi-

1. Prophet ElisJia, etc. See II Kings, iv, 31-34.

The Life op Nelson 93

nable and important act of aggrandizement. In one re-
spect, however, our country acted as became her. Paoli
was welcomed with the honors which he deserved, a pen-
sion of £1200 per annum was immediately granted him ;
and provision was liberally made for his elder brother
and his nephew.

Above twenty years Paoli remained in England, en-
joying the friendship of the wise, and the admiration of

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 7 of 29)