Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Nelson letter
PostPosted: Sun Feb 17, 2008 10:23 pm 

Joined: Sun Feb 17, 2008 12:28 pm
Posts: 145
In the book The New Letters by Colin White, page 18, is this letter from Nelson.

To Henry Addington, 29 December 1802

Merton, December 29th, 1802

My Dear Sir,

If you think that I expressed myself too strongly in speaking of my Brother I am sorry for it, but I could say no less on the occasion. I do assure you most Solemnly that my respect and affectionate attachment to you would not have been lessened had you told Me your Brother can have nothing. My Conscience would have been at ease when I told him I have don all that is possible for Me, but your good heart made me meet my Brother with cheerfulness, when I assured him that you has a great desire to serve him as I had. I have had my feelings and pretty strong ones, the unexampled career of Naval Glory I have run thro’ I had thought might have attracted the notice of Great & Gracious Sovereign, but the Gazette has never yet recorded the name of Nelson for anything to be given away. I own I feel when I see other Noble Lords Brothers Gazetted, whose services I can scarcely trace. My feelings My Dear friend are warm and I should burst was I to keep them confined. You saw and was kind to my feelings yesterday, and I am Ever Your firmly attach’d & faithful friend

Nelson & Bronte

Annotated in pencil in a different hand

A sort apology for warm expression of feelings that shd not be published or allowed to be seen. Not to be communicated to Sir HN. (Harris Nicolas).

William, Nelson’s eldest unpleasant and greedy brother was pestering him for favours. According to Colin White the subscript has been written, by others who were afraid this letter would show William in a bad light.

I cannot imagine people surrounding Nelson would not have known what kind of man William was. It makes me wonder if he really loved Nelson as a brother., or only tried to take advantage of him.

I think this is wonderful letter from Nelson to a friend.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2008 10:07 am 
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Yes, this is an interesting letter pointing up a difference, I think, between today and Nelson's time when patronage was not only widespread (it certainly goes on today) but much more open. Someone canvassing for a relation's advancement today would be unlikely to put his apology for disappointment in a letter!

It was standard practice to seek a patron in the navy - Nelson had his Uncle Suckling and in later years, others sought Nelson's influence to advance their sons' naval careers. But it is clear from this letter, and others in CW's book, that men of distinction were not averse to promoting the interests of family and friends in other spheres as well. Certainly, the awful William brought a lot of pressure on Nelson to seek preferment in the church for him.

It could be called corruption but it is interesting that where the state is less involved in citizens' lives, the family becomes the main instrument of protection for the weak, so it is not regarded as immoral to press for advantages for family members; it was almost expected that you would do so, irrespective of your personal feelings towards them. Nelson referred to William as a 'bore' and you sense he didn't like him much; and regarded his chatty little wife with amused tolerance. But family was family, and as the most (the only!) distinguished member of the family he took very seriously his obligations to do his best for them.

And also, the navy being a family, Nelson not only sought to help the sons of his friends, but was particularly assiduous in seeking help for the families of officers who had been killed or were unable to maintain their families. At one point, he was rebuked by Troubridge for his efforts in this direction and reports in one of his letters October 14th 1801, to Emma Hamilton, of his efforts to get help for a Captain Somerville, trying to keep a large family on £100 a year: 'He [Somerville] has been begging me to intercede for him with the Admiralty again; but I have been so rebuffed that my spirits are quite gone....He [Troubridge] told me that if I asked anything more Ishould get nothing, I suppose alluding to poor Langford [an officer wounded at Boulogne].

Colin White's 'New Letters' that Sylvia refers to has a whole section on patronage. Nelson was obviously beseiged by requests. I was amused by the series of letters in which Nelson tries to dissuade, in the politest way (pages 99-101) a very importunate officer, Vice Admiral Hamilton, from pressing his son's case. ('I am sorry I was not at home when you called'. Visions of Nelson hiding in the wardrobe.) He finally lost his temper when, having finally found a place for the young man in the Mediterranean fleet, the said young man asks to be posted away from the Med!

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