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PERSONAL AND HISTORICAL
LORD NELSON AND LADY HAMILTON.
Another Life of Nelson is not necessarily another contribution to the country's waste-paper basket. Much as we have heard of the nation's darling hero, there still remains something to be told. Southey, in his short but perfect biography, satisfied our patriotism and did homage to a people's love. Sir Harris Nicolas, in his more voluminous collection of the despatches and letters, made due provision for the graver requirements of posterity; but neither the one nor the other possessed the key that could carry us very far into the recesses of Nelson's history —hidden retreats, possessing to many minds attractions not to be found in the more open and dazzling field of his glorious public career. For every one who prefers a visit to the state apartments of Windsor Castle, there are a thousand who would willingly desert the magnificient halls to linger for a moment in the quietier rooms daily inhabited by a Queen. That which is nearest to us touches us most, and hence it is something more than vulgar curiosity that renders us so eager to ascertain the domestic movements of the great. Humanity loses sight of itself in soaring to the contemplation of a demigod. It meets itself again, and is contented and instructed when tracking the deity upon the earth, and watching his impulses upon the path of passion common to all.
According to our notions, Nelson realized the ideal of a hero as completely as any worshipped at any time in any land. His piety was of the simplest; his love of country was fervent and self-subjugating; his gentleness was equalled only by his valour; and his energy, which has perhaps never been rivalled, corresponded with the genius that inspired it. Delicate in body, and insignificant in appearance, he electrified all within his atmosphere, and secured love and devotion that could accomplish any thing, because in his presence they could recognise no difficulty or check. But Nelson was not a complete man. Dazzling as was his moral nature, the bright sun had still its disfiguring spot. Humility, the essential lesson in our passage through time to eternity, is never so effectually taught as when the most illustrious present themselves to the most abject stained and degraded by pitiable sin. It is the blotted page of Nelson's history to which our attention is now chiefly called. We must take courage and survey it.
Romance has been beaten in its own domain by the surpassingly romantic history of Lady Hamilton. Before no other woman, perhaps, could Nelson have so completely fallen; upon no other woman of her time were fascinations of every kind so lavishly bestowed. Her life reads like a fable. She was the
LADY HAMILTON A NURSERY-MAID. 11
daughter of Henry Lyon, or Lyons, a labouring man, living at Preston, in Lancashire. He dying whilst she was still a child, the mother removed to Hawarden, in Flintshire, and there supported herself as best she could. As to bestowing education upon her offspring, to talk of it is absurd. The family belonged to the dragged-up class of the community, and when, by dint of instruction, perseverance, and uncommon tact in later years, Lady Hamilton contrived to correspond with the most notable people of her day, the difficulty with which she managed to spell correctly testified to the meagreness of her earliest acquisitions. It is presumed she was born in the year 1764, and the first years of her life after quitting home were spent in ordinary servitude. Her first engagement was as nursery-maid in the family of Mr. Thomas, of Hawarden, the brother-in law of Mr. Alderman Boydell; but she afterwards went to London and held the same situation in the house of Dr. Budd, who then resided in Chathamplace, Blackfriars, and was one of the physicians of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Her fellow-servant here —the housemaid—singularly enough, became Mrs. Powell, the celebrated actress of Drury-lane Theatre. Years afterwards, when Lady Hamilton was in the meridian of her glory, and had won renown by her archievmements and beauty, she visited Drury-lane Theatre with her husband, and Mrs. Powell performed upon the occasion. The admiration of the house was divided between the accomplished actress and the still more famous visitor. You may search the history of domestic servitude in vain for a parallel coincidence.
Leaving the service of Dr. Budd, Emma Lyon descended a step or two, and became the servant of a dealer in St. James's-market. Here her appearance and manners attracted the attention of a lady of quality, and she was invited to what, for want of a better expression, we may call a "higher sphere." With much leisure in the house of a fashionable lady, with an ardent temperament, an extraordinary capacity, and a strong will, she took up such books as fell in her way, and grew into a desperate novel reader. It is but fair to the memory of Lady Hamilton, who will have but little of the reader's sympathy after the next dozen lines are read, to state her difficulties and temptations at the outset of her career, and to show how far circumstances and society itself were guilty of her many offences. The trash of a circulating library was not the only poison that crept into her soul. She was already a lovely woman, full of energy and animation, endowed with great powers of mimicry, an exquisite ear, and an incomparable voice. Without education, and surrounded by flattery and vice, we must not wonder if the servant yielded to solicitations against which the well-born and the well-informed are not always proof.
We are told that she first became the mistress of Captain, afterwards Rear-Admiral John Willett Payne, but that she soon deserted this gentleman for the protection of Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh, Bart., of Up Park, Sussex. The baronet was fond of field-sports; Emma Lyon, who excelled in whatever she attempted, took to riding in consequence, and rendered herself one of the most most remarkable horse-women of the period. Up Park, Sussex, however, under the influence