Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Mon Jul 01, 2013 9:02 pm 
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Wow, it's been forever since I last wrote here... :/ I've been doing AS exams so I've been quite distracted these last few months.

Anyway, have you guys heard about the Nelson letter that sold for £54,000? I noticed they usually sell for around £10,000, so I was really surprised when I heard how much this one sold for, especially since it doesn't seem to have anything particularly special in it! I guess it shows how popular he still is, if people are willing to pay that price for a letter of his.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-de ... e-23098494

Also, a letter written by Nelson to a friend, presumably not long after the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, contains lyrics to a sea shanty written by his crew about him! I thought that was really cool, and shows just how much he was truly loved by his men!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/batt ... 25000.html

I've put the lyrics here, in case someone can't use the link:

Shipmates put about the grog
give old father time a jog
and that he may quicker flee
to bring Nelson back to sea,
kind my shipmates with your jog
that you give him too some grog
And when he shall Nelson bring
of quill and feathers from each wing
pluck my lads at least a score
we shall want them all and more
to record some future story
of brave Nelson's glory
Avast! and unplucked let him go
for where to write we should not know
since Nelson (Neptune's favourite son)
in glory's seas a course has run
to bright to quick and yet to ready
Damn! his log book's full of fame already

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Mon Jul 01, 2013 10:26 pm 
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Many thanks for the update re: the letter. It does seem a very high price for a letter that is fairly unremarkable in content. The highest ever paid for a Nelson letter was, I think, £117,00 but that was a famous love letter to Emma.

The sea shanty is a great find! It's remarkable that it's never been unearthed by biographers despite being in a public archive.

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:16 pm 
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There's a fairly large spread about the letter in today's Times noting Nelson's eagerness to broadcast his achievements by sending details of his exploits to family and friends who would, he hoped, make them more widely known.

As I've said elsewhere, this was, in fact, nothing unusual. There are many letters from serving officers with perfunctory greetings to family members but including detailed accounts of their deeds of daring. They would be aware that letters were customarily circulated widely so the intention was clearly to enhance their reputation. Nelson was just a bit more bare-faced about it, mentioning that information might be passed to the newspapers.

Incidentally, the Times piece is inaccurate in one detail I think:

'Nelson, an ambitious officer at a time when promotion in the Royal Navy was strictly according to hierarchy, was anxious to promote his own fame in order to jump the queue'.


Surely this is wrong: wouldn't Nelson be aware that he would have had to wait his turn and that queue-jumping wasn't possible? He sought honour above all, and recognition and admiration of his naval colleagues and beyond.

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2013 11:32 pm 
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Thanks for posting another unrecorded Nelson letter, Rarae. I love things like this!

There’s a larger portion of the Shanty letter shown by Bentley’s Auctioneers here: http://www.bentleysfineartauctioneers.c ... index.html

But, I’m not sure about the dating of this (lovely) letter at all. Too many things about 1797 seem startlingly wrong.

Was Nelson ever onboard the San Josef between capturing the ship at the Battle of St. Vincent in February 1797 and her brief spell as his flagship at Plymouth in January-Feb 1801?

I'd be very surprised if Nelson was writing to the Duke of Queensberry (or referencing Lord William Gordon) in 1797.

Other clues are in Nelson's handwriting - left handed. His signature - Nelson - the styling of a Peer. The two (contemporary) annotations/filing notes on the wrapper that refer to 'Ld. Nelson' and 'Lord Nelson.' None of these would fit with "believes [the historic letter] was written in 1797" or "I suspect the shanty was written shortly after the battle," and especially 'before he lost his right arm in battle.'

I wouldn’t be surprised if Nelson was writing this from either the San Josef (or the St. George at Spithead - enclosing the song from a ship he'd just vacated) but in January/February 1801.

With a bit of a rummage and some number-crunching, I reckon the folk on this forum could date this letter to within a few days.

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Last edited by Mira on Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:11 am 
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Yes, almost certainly post 1800, I think. The signature (half-obscured) appears to be 'Nelson & Bronte'.

As the Nelson Society Facebook page notes:

'Nelson was created Duke of Bronte by the King of Naples in July 1799, and after briefly experimenting with the signature "Bronte Nelson of the Nile" signed himself "Nelson & Bronte" for the rest of his life.'


My own Nelson letter dates from May 1800, and bears the signature 'Bronte Nelson of the Nile'.

Mira's almost certainly right in thinking that this little encomium was written post the battle of Copenhagen.

Nelson has 'form' in this regard. I made this post on another thread some time ago:

I meant to post this to mark the Battle of St Vincent on St Valentine’s Day, the 14th February – better late than never.

It is well known that Nelson wrote to his wife on 15 June 1797, ‘I send you the last three verses of a poem, I know not the author.’

These were the lines penned by ‘an old sailor’ to mark the victory:

True British valour has appalled
The proud insulting foe
What late was Nelson’s Olio called
Has laid the Dons full low.

This hero brave old England’s boast
Grapples two ships along
Forced them to strike on their own coast
And lasting laurels won.

Long will the fact in history shine
Give me the fair sex say
A Nelson for my Valentine
On this auspicious day.

In the little booklet, ‘Notices of Nelson’ published by the Nelson Society in 1989, there are copies of two unpublished letters from Nelson, owned by Miss Eleanor Howman of Norfolk. In a postscript to her letter to the editor, she adds, ‘PS: I have never seen a copy of the verses mentioned in Nelson’s first letter. I suppose they were not considered worth preserving.’

In the letter, Nelson comments, ‘I send you a few verses, written, it is said, by an old sailor, but I am afraid the girls will think me too old to select for a valentine.’

So Our Hero, never one to hide his light under a bushel, sent the verses not only to his wife, but also to another correspondent, a Mr C. Williams. I love the ‘Aw, shucks’ self-deprecating tone of his comment about his not making it as a valentine. I note with some amusement that this letter also is dated 15 June 1797, the same date as the one on his letter to Fanny, sending the same verses. I wonder how many more lucky recipients received these verses?

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2013 8:45 am 
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Thanks, Anna, for adding background and colour to this new letter - and Nelson's 'form' on the subject of self-promotion.

The image on the auctioneer's website is difficult to read, but here's a shot at transcribing the content (other than the verse.)

Address panel 1: 'His Grace The Duke of Queensberry.'

'[Verses?] to Lord Nelson - Song Nelson & Fame'

Address panel 2: 'To Lord Nelson that He know what is doing on Board His Ship'

Letter content: 'My Dear Lord Duke - I feel truly sensible of all your goodness and of the kindness of Lord William Gordon and Ever Believe Me on Land & on Sea your obliged & Grateful Nelson'

It looks to me as though Nelson had received the verses in a letter from the San Josef, added a note on the original in his own hand, then forwarded the whole to the Duke of Queensberry.

Wonder if it was connected with heightened interest around the 4th anniversary of St. Vincent, 14 Feb 1801? Nelson had shifted his flag out of the San Josef - into the St. George two days earlier. On 18 Feb, he received orders to sail the St. George to Spithead.

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:24 am 
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Not sure if the following quote from the Telegraph article linked by Raerae is part of the Auctioneer's sales pitch or something provided by the curator of HMS Victory to the newspaper:

Quote:
"It is a private letter in his own hand, probably shortly before he lost his right arm in battle."


But with an estimated price tag of £25,000, bidders ought to be aware that the letter is definitely not in Nelson's own hand. The portion of the letter written by Nelson himself (after he lost his right arm in battle) is the short covering note, totalling one sentence and taking up 7 lines.

The rest is the work of someone else.

It's still a lovely piece of history though.

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:26 pm 
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Took a couple of interesting calls yesterday and today from Raj Bisram, current owner of the sea shanty letter/will featured in the thread here. Interested, concerned, generous guy.

It's great to know that folks in the business of auctioneering/dealing in historic manuscripts are determined to get things right - indeed Bentley's have taken as much advice as possible on what they plan to auction in this case. And the online auction catalogue listing certainly reflects what is known - and not supposed - or what appeared in Raerae's press link - about Lot 100.

But with reference to what appeared in the published press reports, falling foul of facts, details and dating can happen to the most erudite of experts - with the best of intentions - especially when reproduced second hand, or re-written by third parties down the line. Whether it's Wellington and Nelson's sense of self-worth, a mis-dated letter written with the left hand, or MPs expenses, it's good to question the information that flies under the radar.

Together, the will and shanty letter (incorporating that unearthed, unknown song to Nelson) make up an interesting pair - and a very nice acquisition for someone.

Hammer price? Unlike so many things in this age of austerity, good quality, rare historical manuscript prices seem to be standing up well. £54k for another (more workaday) letter augurs well for Lot 100 here - and is good news for those who love the subject and are able to collect.

Plus a big hand to the auction houses willing (whenever they can) to share pre-sale content/images with the public.

Whatever it fetches, it really is a lovely piece of history and it's been a pleasure to see it.

Now how about some publicly accessible images of that very interesting will?

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Sun Jul 07, 2013 9:34 am 
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This letter also sold recently (try to ignore the glaring error about the date of the Battle of the Nile! And the use of the word 'racist' in the article irritates me a little, but anyway...):
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... 9-000.html

What I find amazing is that this letter sold for 'only' £9k whereas the letter to Major Weir sold for five times as much. It seems to me that the 1799 letter is far more extraordinary and interesting in content, plus it is signed "Bronte Nelson", so even the signature itself is a relatively rare one. I think the buyer was extremely lucky! Makes me wonder what kind of bidding war went on to get the 1804 letter to £54k, and whether the buyer has some kind of personal interest in Major Weir.

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 Post subject: Re: Nelson Letters
PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 10:20 pm 
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Agreed Vicki.

The price of £54k, on the face of it, is inexplicable. But £9k for the 'infidels' letter, I think, is equally odd in the other direction.

The will and sea shanty sold for £18,755 ($27,901.)

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