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MARRIES SIR WILLIAM, AND RETURNS TO ITALY. 11
pendent sovereign. It is not too much to say that these two women, the sister of the unhappy Marie Antoinette, and the nursery-maid of Dr. Budd, for years wielded the destinies of Naples, and seriously affected the character of the wars that ended with the peace of Europe in 1815, when both were dead. No account of celebrated women can be perfect which shall omit the history of this pair.
Both were endowed with powers of mind far beyond the average of their sex; both exhibited energy and understanding that inspired them to bold and decisive, if not always laudable, deeds; both were as remarkable for their personal beauty as for their self-reliance, their knowledge of men, and their determination to make the most of their information. To say that Maria Caroline loved Lady Hamilton is to misstate a fact; there was no love in the royal composition; but her ungovernable and undying hatred of the French inclined her, no doubt, in the first instance towards the wife of the English ambassador, and the subsequent devotion of the favourite secured an attachment that is confessed and reiterated through whole pages of a vehement and overstrained correspondence.
In the year 1793, two years after the marriage of Lady Hamilton, Nelson being then thirty-five years old, was appointed to the Agamemnon. He had himself married in 1787, and from that time until 1793 had resided, with his wife, chiefly at Burnham Thorpe, the place of his birth. In June, 1793, he sailed in the Agamemnon for the Mediterranean, under Lord Hood. It will be remembered that when Lord Hood reached the Mediterranean at this juncture of affairs he took his station off Toulon, and opened a negotiation with the French for the surrender of the town, arsenal, forts, &c., to the British forces acting on behalf of Louis XVIII. Toulon surrendering, Nelson was ordered to carry the despatches to the minister at Turin, and afterwards to proceed to Naples with despatches for Sir William Hamilton. He was, moreover, urged to press Sir William to hasten the Neapolitan troops to Toulon as much as possible, in order to guard the works surrounding that place, Lord Hood having great anxiety upon the subject. Before we introduce Captain Nelson to Lady Hamilton, and give him over to the perils of that seductive presence, it is worth while noting his personal appearance.
The late King thus described the hero as he had seen him in 1783, and ten years of labour and sickness had not improved the picture :
“I was a midshipman,” said his Majesty, “on board the Barfleur, lying in the Narrows, off Staten Island, and had the watch on deck, when Captain Nelson, of the Albemarle, came in his barge alongside, and appeared to be the merest boy of a captain I ever beheld ; his dress was worthy of attention ; he had on a full laced uniform : his lank unpowdered hair was tied in a stiff Hessian tail of an extraordinary length: the old-fashioned flaps of his waistcoat added to the general quaintness of his figure, and produced an appearance which particularly attracted my notice, for I had never seen anything like it before, nor could I imagine who he was, nor what he came about. My doubts were, however, removed when Lord Hood introduced me to him. There was something irresistibly pleasing in his address and con
BECOMES ACQUAINTED WITH NELSON.
versation, and an enthusiasm when speaking on professional subjects that showed he was no common being."
In due time Nelson reached Naples, and delivered his despatches to Sir William Hamilton. The deepest tragedies have often the quietest possible beginvings. The soldier on guard at Elsinore is the humble prologue to the dire catastrophe of the family of the Prince of Denmark.
“The King and the court,” says one of Nelson's biographers, “were lavish in their praises of the English—the saviours of Italy,' as they were called. The King paid Nelson the most marked attention, and entrusted to him the handsomest letter that can be penned, in his own hand,' to Lord Hood, and offered 6000 troops to assist in the preservation of Toulon."
An account, written under Lady Hamilton's eye, of Sir William's first interview with Nelson furnishes the following statement :
“Sir William, on returning home, after his first interview with Nelson, told Lady Hamilton that he was about to introduce to her a little man who could not boast of being very handsome, but who would become the greatest man that England ever produced. "I know it from the very few words of conversation I have already had with him. I pronounce that he will one day astonish the world.''
Nelson was introduced accordingly. His first impression of the beauty is briefly stated in a letter to his wife.
Lady Hamilton,” he writes, “has been wonderfully kind and good to Josiah (Mrs. Nelson's son by a former marriage). She is a young woman of amiable manners, and who does honour to the station to which she is raised.” In another day or two Nelson was on his way
to rejoin the fleet, little dreaming of the toils into which he had already entered, and in the simplicity of his grand and noble nature never suspecting the possibility of falling into crime that should leave an ineffaceable blot upon a character which it was the ambition and glory of his life to render worthy of his country.
We have beheld Lady Hamilton under many aspects. From the date of her introduction to Nelson she presents herself in a new and striking character. In Naples, in the midst of politics, surrounded by her countrymen, who were fighting on the seas for the glory of their native land and for the peace of the world, Lady Hamilton was no longer ambitious to be renowned for accomplishments which she shared with the opera-dancer, and for qualities which, however dazzling they might be in fashionable saloons, could add nothing to the power of a queen's adviser and the chosen friend of mighty chiefs. The woman was never below the occasion. It was evidently a matter of indifference to her whether she was placed in circumstances to dance “the shawl dance," or to contribute to the successful issue of a great battle. In either case, her part was performed to perfection. Her talents were prodigious; her vanity and self-considence quite as unbounded.
The character assumed by the ambassador's wife, at the period to which we refer, was one that could not fail to call forth the admiration of Nelson, and to win his regard. His magnificent egotism was flattered by her devotion to his country's flag, and by
HER INFLUENCE WITH THE FLEET.
the impassioned earnestness with which she undertook any service conducive to its influence. As we have seen, it was only necessary for Lady Hamilton to attire herself in common piece of stuff,” in order to furnish an appropriate representation of a Jewess or a Roman matron, a Penelope or an Aspasia. Her garment now is that of Britannia ruling the seas. Miss Stewart, in effigy upon our pennypieces, with a branch in one hand and a trident in the other, does not more emphatically picture the genius of our seagirt island, than did Lady Hamilton represent the tutelary angel of all British sailors commissioned to bring down the pride of France, and to uphold the honour of England. There was no misunderstanding as to the relation. The sailors write to the lady upon matters of business, just as Romney wrote of her when he informed his friend that “the greatest part of the summer
» he would be engaged "in painting pictures from the divine lady," to whom he could give no other epithet, “ for I think her superior to all womankind.” The letters of bluff admirals and weather-beaten captains addressed to the divinity reveal an appreciation of her merits about which there can be no mistake. “I cannot," writes Captain Ball, “let slip this occasion to address a few lines to the best friend and patroness of the navy, and to assure you and Sir William Hamilton that I shall ever retain the most lively sense of your attention. I have brought upon myself a great deal of envy by showing the official order I received from you.” Sir Thomas Troubridge, "a pattern of professional excellence, of undaunted valour, and of patriotic worth,” on one occasion tells Lady Hamilton that "he begins to