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LADY HAMILTON'S SCHEME FOR HIS RELIEF. 21
presence of her quondam protector, when that gentleman found fault with her imprudence, and she in suitable costume humbly begged leave to be dismissed from his roof. Domestic drama in the apartment of majesty gave place to classic tragedy. Not a moment was to be lost, and Lady Hamilton came at once to the catastrophe. In the most passionate manner she threw herself upon her knees, and told the Queen that the fate of the Two Sicilies now depended upon her resolution; the council were sitting ; let them decide upon negative or half measures, and the family of Ferdinand was doomed. The great French force must be followed; it could not be pursued unless the English fleet found refreshment in the Sicilian ports; and if allowed to go free the peril, not to England, but to Naples, could not be overrated. The terrified Queen became alive to the danger of the situation, but she had faith in the King then sitting in council, and was sure he would provide for the emergency. He might, replied the petitioner, or he might not ; and, if not, who could reflect with patience upon the fate that threatened Naples and the royal family? Her Majesty, with a stroke of the pen, could be her own deliverer. Why hesitate ? IIer sign-manual was respected throughout the king's dominions; a line, and her country, her husband, and his crown, were rescued from destruction. No doubt the word was suited to the action, and the action to the word ; pen, ink, and paper were in the room; Lady Hamilton dictated, and the Queen with her own right hand directed "all governors of the Two Sicilies to receive with hospitality the British fleet, to water, victual, and aid them.” Lady Hamilton inclosed that order to Nelson, and bade him commit the Queen no further than the glory and service of England required. Nelson answered that if he gained a battle it should be called her's and the Queen's, for to them alone would his country be indebted for the victory. He did gain a battle, and it was that of the memorable Nile; had his fleet not been furnished with the necessaries of life at Syracuse, the battle would not have been fought. It was for the country to remember that fact. Against the faults of Lady Hamilton moralists cannot too strongly inveigh ; society for its own protection cannot too emphatically protest; but, had Lady Hamilton been the most degraded of her kind, England was bound not to forget this great and unparalleled service. How she did forget it we shall presently blush to read.
Broken in health and wounded in body, Nelson reached Naples on the 20th of September. He was taken into the British minister's house, and there personally tended by her whose sympathies had been so awakened, and by whose attentions he was, after a time, restored to health. It is difficult to repress a smile as we read Nelson's account of his reception, in a letter addressed from Naples, shortly after this period, to his wife. The marvellous simplicity of the hero, and the histrionic excellence of the heroine, are too instructive to be overlooked :
“I must endeavour," says Nelson, "to convey to you something of what passed; but if it were so affecting to those who were only united to me by bonds of friendship, what must it be to my dearest wife—my friend-my everything which is most dear to me in this world ? Sir William and Lady Hamilton
DESCRIPTION OF LADY HAMILTON TO HIS WIFE. 23
came out to sea, attended by numerous boats with emblems, &c. They, my most respectable friends, had nearly been laid up and seriously ill, first from anxiety and then from joy. It was imprudently told Lady Hamilton in a moment, and the effect was like a shot; she fell, apparently dead, and is not yet perfectly recovered from severe bruises. Alongside came my honoured friends: the scene in the boat was terribly affecting; up flew her ladyship, and exclaiming, 'O God ! is it possible ?' she fell into my arm more dead than alive. Tears, however, soon set matters to rights; when alongside came the King.
I hope, some day, to have the pleasure of introducing you to Lady Hamilton. She is one of the
very best women in this world; she is an honour to her sex. Her kindness, with Sir William's, to me, is more than I can express. I am in their house, and I may now tell you, it required all the kindness of
my friends to set me up. Lady Hamilton intends writing to you. May God Almighty bless you, and give us in due time a happy meeting.".
Lady Hamilton did write to Lady Nelson accordingly.
As may be supposed, the French ambassador at Naples was not slow to remonstrate against the Neapolitan breach of faith. Lady Hamilton took advantage of the remonstrance to break off that connexion altogether. So plausibly did she argue with the Queen upon the advantages to be gained from an open rupture with France, that the said ambassador and his suite were requested to go home at twentyfour hours' notice. The step was not without its evil consequences.
A Neapolitan army was raised to
defend the Two Sicilies from French aggression, but the general in command did not understand his business, and the soldiers were either traitors or cowards, or both. In the month of December, 1798, the French were marching on the capital, and the King and Queen were obliged to decamp. But for Lady Hamilton there is no doubt that the stupid Ferdinand would have fallen a victim to popular fury, and Maria Caroline might have shared the fate of her sister, Marie Antoinette. The conduct of Lady Hamilton at this emergency is above all praise. The royal family, their property, their immediate friends, were to be conveyed from the palace to British ships waiting to receive them, and not a score of the King's subjects could be asked to help in the undertaking. The labour was performed by Lady Hamilton alone ; her genius designed the plan of escape; her activity rendered the plan successful. "Lady Hamilton,” says Southey, “ like a heroine of romance, explored, with no little danger, a subterraneous passage, leading from the palace to the sea side; through this passage the royal treasures, the choicest pieces of painting and sculpture, and other property, to the amount of two millions and a half, were conveyed to the shore, and stowed safely on board the English ships.” During the whole proceeding the movements of Lady Hamilton, as well as those of her husband, 'were closely watched, but ineffectually. Lady Hamilton seemed, in the words of Nelson, “to be an angel dropped from heaven," for the preservation of the royal family, and she performed an angel's part in conducting them from the ruin that awaited them amongst their own people
FLIGHT OF THE ROYAL FAMILY FROM NAPLES. 25
to the protection and security of British ships. The loss to Sir William Hamilton and his wife by the service was great. In order to lull suspicion and prevent discovery the ambassador was obliged to abandon his house, and to leave behind him, belonging to himself, property amounting to 30,0001., and moveables to the value of 9,0001., the property of his wife. Nelson received the King and Queen, Sir William and Lady Hamilton, on board the Vanguard, and conducted them all in safety to Palmero.
It is not necessary to discuss the nature of the sentiments which incited the mistress of Sir William Hamilton's nephew to disgrace still further Sir William Hamilton's wife. The reader may be safely left to his own conclusions upon the subject. As to Nelson himself, as little doubt can be entertained that he was the slave of an overpowering infatuation. Without worldly knowledge, simple as a child, with a spirit as gentle as it was unsuspecting, he doated upon this woman with a passionate ardour that concealed from his own upright mind the culpable character of his love, and rendered him regardless of all its consequences, if not insensible to them. His marriage had not been very fortunate. We do not find that Lady Nelson sympathised very heartily with her husband's career, or, indeed, took much pains to secure his domestic comfort, whether afloat or ashore.
“My dear Fanny,” begins a letter from Spithead, in 1798, “at half-past five I arrived here, and, what you will be surprised to hear, with great difficulty found one pair of raw silk stockings. I suppose in