Nelson & His World

Horatia's sixth birthday party - crikey!
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Author:  Mark Barrett [ Sat Feb 28, 2009 12:50 am ]
Post subject:  Horatia's sixth birthday party - crikey!

As more and more databases of historical information become available some fascinating anecdotes come to light.

I don't recall coming across this one before - apologies if it is already in the public domain.

The Morning Chronicle of 31st October 1806 contained the following:

Lady Hamilton gave a concert, ball, and supper, at Merton, on Wednesday night last, to the neighbourhood, on the anniversary of the birth of Miss HORATIA NELSON, who attained her 6th year. Madame GRASSINI, Madame CATALANI, Madame BIANCHI, Signors ROSELLI, NALDI, ROVEDINO, MORELLI, and several other accomplished artists, as well as amateurs, were present. The concert was vocal, but the combination of the highest talents in the metropolis made it exquisitely fine. A cantata, composed for the occasion by Signor BIANCHI, was sung by Lady HAMILTON, Madame BIANCHI, Signor ROSELLI, and Signor NALDI. The company sat down to supper about one o'clock, and music and dancing was resumed and continued till a late hour.

A quick check of my 1000-year calendar confirms that this shindig was just 8 days after the first anniversary of Nelson's death.

The party was doubtless weeks in the planning.

Does anyone else find this pretty unusual behaviour - and a pretty unusual birthday party for 6 year old??!!


Author:  Devenish [ Sat Feb 28, 2009 11:41 am ]
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Therein partly lies my misgivings about Emma Hamilton and my continual thought as to (to use a modern phrase) 'where she was coming from.'

As you say, this was just eight days after the FIRST anniversary of Nelson's death at Trafalgar, and one would have thought she would still have been more or less 'distraught' (in her own fashion), after marking the day itself. (We presume of course that she did that?)

And where exactly did Horatia fit into the festivities, as I can't believe a six year old would have sat through that for long? It sounds to me as though she was in bed and the evening was entirely given over to Emma's own amusements.

Author:  tycho [ Sun Mar 01, 2009 7:31 pm ]
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I don't think it was at all unusual for children to be in attendance at 'grown-up' parties. There was the occasion when Nelson was touring Wales, and Miss Foley, daughter of Captain Foley, fractious in such an adult gathering, could only be pacified by the expedient of 'Lord Nelson's taking her upon his knee and dropping grapes in her mouth.'

In one of the NMM letters I recall reading, Emma writes of Horatia delighting the Lord Mayor and dignitaries of London when she appeared at a dinner, which may or may not have been to mark her birthday. I don't have my notes to hand.

With regard to mourning: while there was a firm etiquette about mourning dress, I don't think at this period there was the overwhelming demeanour of gloom that was almost de rigeur in Victorian times. Nevertheless, the sainted Fanny shocked her sister in law Mrs Bolton, who wrote to Emma, (Hilda Gamlin, 'Nelson's Friendships, Vol II, p. eighty eight) 'She has changed her mourning and is off to Cheltenham.' This was written on June 6th, 1806, not eight months after Nelson's death. I believe a year was the period of full mourning for a widow, so Emma was not alone in appearing to enjoy herself!

Author:  Fiddler [ Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:26 pm ]
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I believe she was still distraught.

I believe we're seeing how an alcoholic compulsive spender tries to cope with her grief and fear: by partying. Maybe her behavior is not so inexplicable after all, if we accept that she was already alcohol dependent, and now widowed by war. Either condition might evoke seemingly incongruous behavior. Both at once would almost guarantee it.

She's in big financial trouble. She has a child whom she cannot acknowledge as her own and whom she now must raise alone. Her partner, an extraordinary man who loved her unconditionally, is dead. She's a de facto war widow feeling all the emotions unique to that experience, a situation made even more stressful by the fact that she isn't legally the widow.

The American Widow Project is a non-profit organization formed by women widowed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was created "to help others in our shoes." After visiting the website I wondered if it might describe some of what Emma was going through.

What to Expect
0-6 Months
The first six months are often a time when we find ourselves dealing with the shock of our loss. While the pain is great, we often find ourselves quite numb. Feeling numb in a time of great pain can be confusing.

6 Months to 1 Year
The numbness that helped us cope often begins to wear off around this time and reality begins to sink in.

The 2nd Year
[One widow writes]
“I have now found out exactly how rough the second year really was. The obvious of this is the lifting of the ‘widow fog’, becoming very well aware of my situation and turning into a blubbering idiot at the drop of a hat. With this also came the desperate need to numb the pain. There are many that will not admit they turned to some sort of substance to aid in this quest...”

“Oh the things I did and said in that second year are at times astonishing to me...”

All Alone
[Here are a few of the]
Things You Should Survive
Expect to feel weak, strong, suicidal, angry, happy, euphoric, glad, sad, guilty, alone, lonely, trapped, free, tired, bored, overworked, overwhelmed, silly, puzzled, like you don't belong.
Expect to wish you were dead.
Expect to smile when you feel like crying.
Expect to not focus.
Expect no one to understand. Though they say, "I understand." They can't. They don't. They never will. Not even another widow. Grief is personal. It's just like a thumb print, no two alike. Expect to make mistakes.

This kind of mental and emotional state might in itself be enough to explain Emma’s urge to throw such a party. Maybe she felt that staging a grand event in Horatia’s honor would by extension honor Nelson himself. Mark and Kester, as you point out, it was about a week after the first anniversary of Nelson’s death. So for Emma, it’s the beginning of “The 2nd Year.”

Sadly, there’s even more to it. She already had a compulsion to spend money, even before Trafalgar. She already drank too much. The evening was a manifestation of these afflictions.

The anguish of losing a partner may - or may not - get better with time. The disease of alcoholism, untreated, only gets worse, as it did with Emma; and I believe it killed her. I think her pathological spending and her alcohol dependency account for and illuminate much that people find mystifying and disconcerting in her behavior, both before and after Nelson's death. Unfortunately, even relatively recent biographies haven't really discerned the clinical picture of disease here. The word "alcoholism" has been used occasionally, but with little or no real understanding of it, no understanding of diseases of addiction, their symptoms and progression, their toll on the mind, body and spirit.

Tycho, I'm reminded of your "Many Faces" post and I thank you for it. I'm right there with you and others in waiting for something genuinely insightful to be written about Emma. Insightful. About Emma. I feel as if I've simply been reading about the Anna Nicole Smith of 1800. There are many who believe that's all she was, which is perhaps understandable based on what we’ve been given so far. A careful and informed reappraisal is due and might at least challenge and perhaps change our existing ideas of who she was and what she did, and why.
(My deepest thanks to Taryn Davis, Founder/President of the American Widow Project, and Proud Military Widow of Cpl. Michael Davis, for permission to quote from the website.)


Author:  tycho [ Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:55 pm ]
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have you read Mollie Hardwicke's book on Emma? I'm away from home so don't have it to hand, so can't refer to it at length, but I think it's a remarkable book - sympathetic, insightful and deeply knowledgeable. Much, though not all of what she says concurs with your thoughtful and percipient comments. Unfortunately, she doesn't give detailed sources for many of her comments but the whole work is clearly rooted in meticulous research - I would give anything to see her working notes.

Emma has suffered too much from the false judgements of an earlier age and from the censoriousness and snobbery that infused the conclusions of many biographers. Few recognised the effects of overwhelming grief that modern psychology has examined, and that your links confirm, and how much this influenced Emma's behaviour and slow disintegration. It certainly undermined her health: Mollie Harwicke catalogues her long periods of ill-health with symptoms indicative of what would now be recognised as a damaged immune system, itself a consequence of emotional turmoil. Emma's letters mention frequently her 'low spirits' and how these inhibit her ability to think rationally about her situation. They are also full of determination and courage - the poignant note in which she says, 'I will get a victory over myself,' is one I always find very moving.

Mollie Harwicke is also interesting on the subject of Emma's 'alcoholism' and points out that there is not one contemporary record of Emma being drunk - and she had enough denigrators who would have pounced on that fact had they been able; though she certainly kept a good table, enjoyed a drink and had a full cellar - not least to satisfy the guests with whom she surrounded herself - another common pattern of behaviour in those who are seeking to obliterate misery. Mollie Hardwicke maintains that it was Emma's liking for rich food rather than alcoholism that contributed to her liver complaints. It was only in the last few weeks of her life, as Horatia confirms, that she consoled herself with excessive drinking - a form of self-medication as life slipped away. Horatia mentions that through all their tribulations prior to her departure for France, Emma never touched the £4000 that Nelson had set aside for her education. Someone in the throes of acute alcoholism, and beset by debt would, I think, have had no qualms about pillaging those funds. And when they were in very straitened circumstances in France, Emma continued to devote herself to Horatia's education as she had from her earliest years. Even when she became disengaged from reality as she became more distressed, she never lost that focus. I find that devotion totally admirable and too little recognised.

Flawed indeed, but despite everything, she was, in Horatia's words, 'a very superior woman'.

Author:  Mira [ Fri Mar 27, 2009 1:26 am ]
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Bravo Fiddler and Tycho for content, depth and empathy.

The lot of the bereaved mistress is a uniquely lonely one.

Author:  Tony [ Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:32 am ]
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The irony of the birthday party is that it was maintaining the pretence of Horatia's falsified birth date that brought the party so close to Nelson's anniversary. Perhaps it was a very deliberate and bold statement that the public pretence must go on. Or perhaps it was also a statement of the one connection with Nelson that she could claim in public - that of guardian of his child. It was also a public reminder of Nelson's legacy to his country.

I think there was rather more to this than an uncontrollable urge to party.

Author:  Fiddler [ Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:26 pm ]
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Excellent point.

Author:  Fiddler [ Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:12 am ]
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I do have Mollie Hardwick's book. More on this.

Right now I'm working on income taxes. My finances are not in disarray but my records are.


Author:  Omnivore [ Thu Dec 29, 2016 6:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Horatia's sixth birthday party - crikey!

What a party it must have been. If both Bianchi were present they would have needed a bay sitter as they had a daughter - patriotically named Caroline Nelson Bianchi, presumably after Caroline of Brunswick and Horatio himself - more or less the same age as Horatia.
- what of the Cantata that is mentioned in the Morning Chronicle. Does it exist anywhere? Does anyone know anything more about it?
The same composer once wrote a similar piece for Emma's birthday - Cantata in lode di Lord Nelson per il giotto natalizio di Lady Hamilton. The score of that is preserved in the Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale! Not sure what year that one dates from.

any pointers gratefully received by

Author:  tycho [ Fri Dec 30, 2016 10:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Horatia's sixth birthday party - crikey!

Welcome to the forum, Omnivore!

A quick look at the British Library catalogue reveals two items by Francesco Bianchi whose dates tally with the period. One is a canzonetta - a light Italian song. Could this have been mistranslated as 'cantata'?

Vieni, Dorina bella. (Come, oh Dorina fairest.) Canzonetta, composed by Giacomo [or rather, Francesco] Bianchi. The accompaniment arranged by Liza Lehmann.
F. Bianchi, (Francesco), approximately 1752-1810.
London : Chappell & Co, [1893]

and this is the other:

Two Ariettes, two Duetts and a Scene from the Opera of Cinna [by Francesco Bianchi], with an Accompaniment for the Harp or Piano Forte ... Op. 9.
Bonifazio Asioli, 1769-1832.
London : R. Birchall, [1800?]

I also have in my small collection of engraved Georgian music a song 'composed and dedicated to Lady Hamilton by Mrs Bianchi Lacy,' entitled 'Helen'. the words by Peter Pindar. Signor Bianchi committed suicide in 1810, depressed by the death of his daughter Caroline, aged 5. Mrs Bianchi subsequently married John Lacy in 1812 so my piece must be post 1812.

Author:  raldis [ Thu Feb 09, 2017 4:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Horatia's sixth birthday party - crikey!

As usual late to the party, however, I must take you up Anna on there being no contemporary reports of Emma being drunk. I refer to 'A Visit to Germany 1799,1800' the journal of Melissina Trench. In Dresden at the British Consul Mr Elliot's house on 9th Oct 1800, she records "Lady Hamilton, who declared she was passionately fond of champagne, took such a portion of it as astonished me" and then "Poor Mr Elliot.......endeavoured to stop the effusion of champagne, and effected it with some difficulty; but not until the Lord and Lady, or, as he calls them Anthony and Moll Cleopatra, were pretty far gone." I think we can take it Emma was drunk. Not condemning her, just making the point.


Author:  tycho [ Fri Feb 10, 2017 12:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Horatia's sixth birthday party - crikey!

Mmmm. Is it too biased of me to take this with a pinch of salt? (Thanks for the heads up, by the way!)

Emma was a contentious figure for a variety of reasons - not least snobbery. Many 'superior' people were aware of Emma's origins and were piqued by her elevation and found every excuse to denigrate her; but there are others who admired her, not least the relative of Sir William Hamilton who encouraged him to get on with marrying her.

As regards drinking: Emma might have had a good head for drink which is what is stated in the piece you quote. Had her behaviour been offensively drunken, I think full details would have been given. Most persuasive of all, though, is Nelson's rigid opposition to drunkenness in anyone. There are numerous references to his personal abstemiousness. His own brother felt the rough edge of his tongue for his habits and servants were dismissed by this most kindly of men because of drunkenness. I think he would have found it insupportable in the woman he adored.

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