Nelson Letter
Lot 125
NELSON (HORATIO) Autograph letter signed ("Nelson"), to Emma Hamilton ("My Dear Lady"), VOWING TO DEFEND HER HONOUR, DURING THE BREAKUP OF HIS MARRIAGE, [1801]
Sold for £20,000 (US$ 33,616) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Nelson"), to Emma Hamilton ("My Dear Lady"), the letter addressed to "Lady Hamilton", protesting: "I shall not come to Your house after what passed last night 'till You send for Me when I shall fly", and vowing that "I never will retract one Syllable I utter'd, or one thought I felt" and that "Never will I sit tamely and see You My Dear friend Neglected or Insulted"; and subscribing himself as "Ever Your Most Sincere and Affectionate Nelson"; with autograph address ("Lady Hamilton"); sold with a printed auction description and sales invoice by Walter T. Spencer, 30 November 1959 (£55), one page, with integral address leaf, paper watermarked 'Portal & Co/ 1795', wafer-seal, some light browning but nevertheless in fresh and attractive condition, 4to, "Sunday Morn.g" [?early 1801]


  • NELSON, NEWLY RETURNED FROM HIS VICTORY AT THE NILE, WRITES A PASSIONATE LETTER TO EMMA VOWING TO DEFEND HER HONOUR, DURING THE BREAKUP OF HIS MARRIAGE. Although undated, the content of this letter would indicate that it was written soon after Nelson's return to England, having undertaken his overland journey with the Hamiltons from Sicily following the Nile campaign. Fortunately, it can be dated with a measure of greater certainty from his signing himself as "Nelson". From the time of his arrival at Great Yarmouth on 6 November 1800 he usually signed himself "Bronte Nelson of the Nile" but once it had been pointed out to him that Bronte was a foreign dukedom, he then switched to "Nelson of the Nile". Only when he took his seat in the House of Lords on 20 November did he regularly adopt what was, for an English peer of the realm, the expected form, that of "Nelson". This he was more-or-less consistently to use until hoisting his flag on the San Josef on 13 January 1802 and began preparations for sailing to the Baltic and the Copenhagen campaign, when he took up the form that he was to use for the rest of his life, "Nelson & Bronte". Our letter is therefore likely to have been written between late November 1801 and early January 1802.

    This was possibly, in emotional terms, the most turbulent period of Nelson's life. He spent his time in London with the Hamiltons being feted as hero of the Nile and, in near equal measure, being ridiculed as infatuated dupe of Emma, then heavily pregnant with their child. It was at about this time that his wife Fanny is recorded as finally abandoning the matrimonial home when Nelson insisted on referring to 'dear Lady Hamilton'. On another occasion, Nelson himself is recorded as abandoning home and wandering the streets of London before seeking refuge with Sir William Hamilton. Much about both incidents, not least their exact timing, remains uncertain, since testimony for both dates from long after the event. Nor do they tie in with Nelson's storming out of Emma's house, as described in our letter. But they do display a pattern of behaviour that finds an echo here, even though the precise details are likely to remain unrecoverable. In all events, very few letters from this period have survived: 'Nicolas prints just 13 letters for the period July 1800 to January 1801, and little more has been discovered in the recent searches' (Colin White, New Letters, p. 242).
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