Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Nelson's reading
PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:10 am 
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Many of us discussed Nelson's reading material (or the lack of it) on another forum. However, I recently came across a couple of casual literary references in his letters that I thought might be of interest:

He writes to William Locker from St Omer, 2 November 1783, that their trip was like 'Sterne's 'Sentimental Journey',' meaning, I'm sure, that he could relate all sorts of amusing personal details just as Sterne did, in contrast to the rather lofty travel books of the day, weighed down with classical learning. He assumes that Locker as well as he himself, is familiar with the book;

and another letter from St Omer, 4 December 1783, when he is pursuing Miss Andrews: 'and when a lady's in the case, all other things they must give place'. I recognised this as John Gay but couldn't recollect the poem - however, I've now found it in 'The Fables: the Hare and His Friends'.


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 Post subject: Nelson's reading
PostPosted: Sun May 04, 2008 10:05 am 
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I wonder whether Nelson read more avidly before his loss of sight - His father was, to all intents and purposes, a fairly well read man for a country parson, and I beliieve Nelson's school ( Paston) was quite ahead of its time and encouraged knowledge of Shakespeare, etc . more than some others at the time . One of Nelson's favourites was apparently Dampiers Voyages, and having read it myself can vouch for it being very interesting. I wonder whether he read any men's magazines? Weren'tt the the 'Gentlemen's Magazine ' and Spectator around then - and didn't Fanny send such to Nelson from time to time?-t

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Hello all - to old friends, and I hope, many new iones!! Great to be on board, and congratulations to all involved with what will be , I know, a great, lively new site, and as they say, " God bless all who sail in her! - tay


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PostPosted: Sun May 04, 2008 10:59 am 
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I think Nelson's eyesight was always fairly poor. He did comment, though I don't have the reference to hand as I am away from home, that while he was on the beach he read 'as much as my eyes will allow'.

Andrew Lambert comments that 'Nelson captured a French convoy off Oneglia on 30 May 1796 and as well as mortars and guns, Nelson noted, 'I have got the 'charts of Italy....Maillebois' Wars in Italy, Vauban's Attack and Defence of Places, Prince Eugene's History, Hannibal's March over the Alps, The lives of the Duke of Berwick, Marshal Vendome and Marshal Catinat.'

All were good editions with plates. Nelson forwarded most of them to St Vincent, though he retained the Vauban.'

Most of the titles would have appealed to Nelson, so he may well have read them before passing them on.


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PostPosted: Sun May 04, 2008 11:35 pm 
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Tay: Nelson did read magazines and periodicals. The famous passage he entered in his journal about having no fear of death was copied from the 'Spectator'.


Perhaps Nelson was more widely read than we have given him credit for: Andrew Lambert again (p.249):

'The trusty Davison kept Nelson abreast of developments in Britain. In June 1803 he sent him a package of books; alongside works of modern history and poetry were several dealing with professional issues: the second edition of 'Historical Sketches of the Invasions or Descents upon the British Isles' by Louis Giradin, a Naval History of the Late War, by William Stewart Rose, and speeches by Lord Moira, the independent peer who held Nelson's proxy vote [in the House of Lords], and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the eloquent Whig turncoat who now spoke for the Ministry.' (Ref: Add. 34919 f.180)

Nelson declared the books 'a treasure'.

Few men knew Nelson better than Davison and he would have been unlikely to go to the trouble of sending volumes that were unwelcome so I think this list gives some indication of his tastes and preferences.

I was interested in the reference to poetry. The few verses Nelson composed to Emma may be undistinguished as poetry but metrically they are very exact, which suggests he was familiar with the rhythms of popular poetry.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:01 am 
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I recall that Nelson remarked in a letter to, I believe, his wife Fanny, something like 'cowards die many times before their deaths, a brave man but once.' but - once again - I can't locate the exact reference despite combing Naish.

However, this must surely be an echo from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar':

'Cowards die many times before their deaths;
the valiant never taste of death but once...'

[Act II, sc.ii]

Is there a 'knack', a shortcut, by the way, to finding exact references if you can't remember where you first read something? Somebody here always pinpoints at lightning speed the exact location and I can't believe you have a cross-referenced card index tucked away in your brain. How do you do it?


Last edited by tycho on Mon Dec 29, 2008 1:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 1:50 pm 
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The reference is his letter of May 1st to 4th, 1794, which appeared in Clarke and M'Arthur, vol 1. p. 164, and was included in Nicolas vol 1, p. 390-391:
Quote:
TO MRS. NELSON.
[From Clarke and M'Arthur, vol 1. p. 164.]
May 1st to 4th, 1794.
My dear Fanny,
I need not, I am certain, say, that all my joy is placed in you, I have none separated from you; you are present to my imagination be where I will. I am convinced you feel interested in every action of my life; and my exultation in victory is two-fold, knowing that you partake of it. Only recollect that a brave man dies but once, a coward all his life long. We cannot escape death ; and should it happen to me in this place, remember, it is the will of Him, in whose hands are the issues of life and death. As to my health, it was never better, seldom so well. I have no fears about the final issue of the Expedition—It will be victory, Bastia will be ours ; and if so, it must prove an event, to which the history of England can hardly boast an equal. Time will show the Enemy's force; if it is small, the Fiorenzo Commanders ought to be blamed; if it is large, they are highly culpable, for allowing a handful of brave men to be on service unsupported. My only fears are, that these soldiers will advance when Bastia is about to surrender, and deprive us of part of our glory. The King, we trust, will draw the line of our deserts.
...

My 'knack' is simply to bang the remembered words into Google Books, adding in 'Nelson' to narrow the search:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?um=1&lr ... arch+Books

The words aren't quite correct, but are close enough to bring up results which contain the exact quotation, and putting the exact quotation into Google Books then brings up Nicolas (and the Naval Chronicle):
http://books.google.co.uk/books?um=1&lr ... fe+long%22

Much quicker than thumbing through 'real' books, and Google also adds a bit of serendipity to the process - With Nelson Mandela mentioned in the thread on the other Nelsons, it's interesting to see from one of the results in the first search above that he was also inspired by the same Shakespeare passage.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:13 am 
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There's another Shakespearean echo in one of Nelson's letters to Fanny:

...England, whose fleets are equal to meet the world in arms...'


This is a reference, albeit a faint one, to the passage in 'King John':

'Come the three corners of the world in arms
And we shall shock them. Naught shall make us rue
If England to itself do rest but true.'
Act V, sc. vii, lines 112 ff

Arthur Bryant's 'Nelson' has a picture of one of Nelson's books - 'The History of the Jews' by Josephus. Lady Hamilton has added an inscription: For his angel as He allways called Her, Horatia Nelson, Her Whom He loved more than life.'

The note says the book is in 'The Victory Museum, Portsmouth.' I suppose he means the Royal Naval Museum, though I don't recall seeing it there.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:08 am 
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One wonders if it was the same volume of Josephus that was returned to Nelson by Captain Charles Sawyer of the Blanche frigate after being disgraced and dismissed the service for pressing his attentions on his own crew members ..."Nelson had lent him books, as was his wont." (Sugden)


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:36 am 
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Almost certainly, I should think. I'd missed that reference to Nelson lending books. It seems to give the lie, along with Andrew Lambert's list, to our notion in the discussions on 'About Nelson' that he wasn't much of a reader.

Josephus is an interesting/odd choice. I'd never heard of him until I looked him up.

I've also discovered that Colin White published an article 'Nelson and Shakespeare' in the Nelson Dispatch of July 2000. Can anyone help in locating a copy of this? Thanks in advance.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:56 pm 
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Well, he was a preacher's kid, and a warrior; I can see him reading Josephus.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 10:55 pm 
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You have a point (indeed, two points) there!

Looking back at the thread noting the books captured from a French ship: I wonder if these were in French? Nelson's inhibitions about speaking French are well known, though I believe he understood quite a lot. Maybe he was happy (or willing) to read in French.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 1:51 pm 
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Or, if there were any in French, maybe those were the ones he gave to St. Vincent?

Apparently Reverend Este gave or lent Nelson some books. I came across a letter in the fine Compass Rose edition of Morrison
Quote:
...from Rev. C. Este to Lady Charlotte Nelson. No date (1806)...

'Will you, if you please, be so good as to mention that, among other courtesies from your illustrious, your ever to be lamented uncle, he let me put into his cabin a few of my old books? Books otherwise of no account, but hence, indeed, become inestimable in my sight.

'Now, may I beg to be obliged with one or two of them back again? If not disagreeable, what I should wish would be Boswell's Life of Johnson, and the Little Comedies of Foote; for, added to the fond veneration of them thus as relicks, they are the works of those I knew - one a little, the other a great deal. Adieu, dear Lady Charlotte, & with the best good wishes, may you & your brother ever try to resemble your unrival'd uncle in the purity, the exaltation, the captivation of your heart. I know not how I can wish you more.'

http://www.compassrosepublishing.co.uk/

Gretchen


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 14, 2009 8:58 pm 
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I managed to track down Colin White's article on Nelson and Shakespeare which is most interesting. During the Bicentenary Biography Project, Colin White encountered several more echoes of Shakespeare which suggests that Nelson's familiarity with the Bard is greater than we thought. His letters are peppered with stylistic echoes of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, two books that he would, as a parson's son, have had 'in his bones'. In a similar way, echoes of Shakespeare trip off his pen, the phrases and vocabulary lodged in the inner recesses of his mind, as a result, maybe of frequent re-reading.

It would take too long to post all the quotations from the plays and Nelson's letters, but CW has identified, in addition to Henry V, King John and Julius Caesar which I have mentioned in earlier posts, direct quotations and echoes from King Henry 1V (Part One), Hamlet, Macbeth, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Othello and Much Ado about Nothing.

The full article can be read in The Nelson Dispatch of July 2000. I will happily send a transcript to anyone who would like to read it in full so send a PM if you are interested.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 14, 2009 10:48 pm 
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I reckon he kept a copy of this book by his side while he wrote his letters: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=_TQJ ... frontcover

But please send me a copy of the article and I will think again!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 11:19 am 
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There's also an interesting article in a back copy of the Nelson Dispatch in which Dr Hills (who wrote the excellent book on Nelson's health) reveals Nelson's familiarity with the language and cadences of the Bible by locating echoes in his own writing. Would you like a copy of that as well? Or maybe you don't need convincing that the Rev. Nelson's son knew the Good Book well. :)

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