Read Nelson's Lady Hamilton Online

Authors: Esther Meynell

Tags: #Hamilton, Emma, Lady, 1761?-1815, #Nelson, Horatio Nelson, Viscount, 1758-1805

Nelson's Lady Hamilton

BOOK: Nelson's Lady Hamilton
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" Gone are the Sirens from their sunny shore, The Muses afterwards were heard no more, But of the Graces there remains but one— Gods name her Emma, mortals, Hamilton."



XTOTHING can so bring Emma Hamilton before the reader as her own impulsive, exclamatory letters, and the various tributes to her charm and ability which abound in the Memoirs and Journals of the period. Therefore these have been used freely. For permission to reprint the two letters from Horatia Nelson Ward to Sir Harris Nicolas, which are given in Chapters XIII. and XV., and which have only recently come to light, I am indebted to Mr. E. S. P. Haynes, the grandson of Sir Harris Nicolas. No one can write upon Lady Hamilton without expressing gratitude to Mr. Walter Sichel for that Life of her, which is a perfect treasure-house of knowledge and research. Among other books to which I am specially indebted are Mr. H. C. Gutteridge's invaluable volume on " Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins " (published by the

Navy Records Society); Professor Knox Laugh-ton's " Nelson Memorial ; " Captain Mahan's " Life of Nelson ; " Mr. Cordy Jeaffreson's " Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson ;" Mr. David Han-nay's edition of Southey's " Nelson ; " the " Nelson Letters,"published in 1814 ; and, finally, the seven volumes of Sir Harris Nicolas's indispensable collection of Nelson's " Letters and Despatches." Thanks also are due to Mr. J. T. Herbert Baily, the editor of The Connoisseur, for his advice and assistance in regard to illustrations.

E. H. M.



AFTER THE NILE . . ••*, . , . . .149


THE FLIGHT FROM NAPLES V' ; . V* ', . . . .179



CHAPTER XII FAREWELL TO ITALY . . •''*' . ... . 239



TO THE LAST BATTLE . . . . . ,. «^ v ,, 30!




"THE SPINSTRESS." By G. Romney 126

EMMA, LADY HAMILTON. By Sir T. Lawrence . . . 140

By kind permission of the Rt. Hon. Evelyn Ashley.

"ARIADNE." By G. Romney 150

By kind permission of Sir Audley Neeld, Bart.

LADY HAMILTON DANCING. From a Drawing by Lock . .158

British Museum.

STUDY OF LADY HAMILTON. By G. Romney .... 166

National Gallery.


By kind permission of Tankerville Chamberlayne, Esq.

LADY HAMILTON. By W. Bennet . . , " . . , .180

As "MIRANDA." By G. Romney . . <. , ''.«....,.*-; . 188

LADY HAMILTON. By G. Romney 194

From an engraving by J. Conde in the European Magazine.

LADY HAMILTON AS A "SIBYL." By G. Romney *.,, •*, .;, 202

National Portrait Gallery.

As "CASSANDRA." By G. Romney . t «-3"t . ; } t/ <( ;* • 210 By kind permission of The Connoisseur.

WITH MINIATURE. By G. Romney . i»- x ;.$' ; « • *,;,:;» 218 "SENSIBILITY." By G. Romney £ : '"\ .'••' : 'Y •'• "V: V 'H'J ' . 230 LADY HAMILTON. By G. Romney . •' ' » v • . , . 236

By kind permission of the Earl of Wemyss.

LADY HAMILTON EN SYBILLE. By Madame le Brun . . 246 As "ALOPE." By G. Romney . »• : , . * 4 256

LADY HAMILTON AS THE " COMIC MUSE." By Angelica Kauffman 270

As " CIRCE." By G. Romney . • ' ' • ~ ". " . • .282 By kind permission of The Connoisseur.

As "ST. CECILIA." By G. Romney "\"' V . . . 298 LADY HAMILTON. By G. Romney . . . . . .310

By kind permission of The Connoisseur.

" MEDITATION." Prom a Drawing by R. Westall^ R.A. . . 316 LADY HAMILTON AS A NUN. By G. Romney .... 326

By kind permission of Tankerville Chamberlayne, Esq.

LADY HAMILTON. By Angelica Kauffman .... 336

By kind permission of J. T. Herbert Baily, Esq.

LADY HAMILTON. By J. J. Masquerier ..... 344




BY one of the ironies of history, a girl born of obscure parents, having no fortune save her face—and that fair face bringing her, for many years, no dower but disgrace and trouble —yet so triumphed over early misfortunes, and so won her place in the heart of the greatest hero of her time and country, that not all the efforts of the moralists can disentangle her name from that of Nelson.

Nelson himself, could his spirit speak, would forbid any such effort with all the vehemence of which he was capable. He made his choice —with distress and trouble of mind—but once made, he abode by it to his last breath. He defied the world and all that might be said or thought. His chivalrous spirit was utterly incapable of the miserable, if time-honoured, excuse, "The woman tempted me." Both Nelson and


Emma Hamilton must be accepted as they are: to calumniate and blacken her character is but to reflect on the hero's glory—which he threw like a mantle round all her faults and frailties.

Emma Hamilton is assured of a double remembrance, not only because she was loved by Nelson, but because she was painted by Romney. Through the medium of his pictures, as of her own letters, it will be seen that her personality is one of the most vivid that ever graced the stage of fame. The lovely lines of her face and form are perpetuated on so many canvases that she still seems to be dancing and smiling and meditating through the "Attitudes" that were the delight of all who beheld them during her lifetime. It is impossible to look at her many portraits and believe her the mere " adventuress " she has been so often called. There is no hard and scheming worldliness in that face, the worst fault is that it is a little soft and sensuous; but it is also gay, tender, appealing, and always has a look of innocent radiance, a fleeting wild-wood air, a touch of the eternal child—which she never entirely outgrew, in spite of her manifold and mixed experiences.

Emma's expressive face is typical of her character. Its very mobility was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual weakness. She had not a trace of real badness in her, only a fatal adaptability, a perfectly


chameleon capacity for taking the colour of her surroundings. It was not design or worldly advantage that led her astray, but her impulsive heart — a heart as warm and kind as ever lived, but without any moral strength to guide and keep it in the paths of virtue. She was like a child, following a butterfly into quagmires or reaching for a water-lily on the edge of a deep pool—if she overbalanced and fell in, surely Nature, who made the butterfly and the water-lily so pretty and pleasing, was to be blamed far more than the ignorant and eager child. At any rate, Nature so made Emma that she could not resist the temptation of putting out her hand to the things that pleased her—while to an easy disposition, a really generous heart, and a considerable mental capacity, was added an enchanting beauty. This beauty, and the charm which throughout her life was quite as potent a spell, sprang from a rough and homely soil, with little to explain or forecast it. Her parents were humble peasant people, her father being a blacksmith of Nesse, in Cheshire, and both of them being unable to put anything but the illiterate "mark" to their names in the marriage register. Little is known of the father, Henry Lyon, but the mother, Mary Kidd, must have been a somewhat remarkable woman, for she accompanied her daughter all through the varied and dazzling episodes of her career; and when that daughter was the wife


of the British Ambassador at Naples, she met royalties and great ladies, and by her sound sense and unassuming simplicity won both the respect and affection of men like Sir William Hamilton and Nelson. In the year after the Battle of the Nile, Emma Hamilton described in one of her letters the place taken by her mother—

" You can't think how she is loved and respected by all. She has adopted a mode of living that is charming. She has good apartments in our house, always lives with us, dines, etc., etc. Only when she does not like it (for example, at great dinners) she herself refuses, and has always a friend to dine with her; and the Signora Madre deir Ambasciatrice is known all over Palermo, the same as she was at Naples. The Queen [of Naples] has been very kind to her in my absence, and went to see her, and told her she ought to be proud of her glorious and energick daughter, that has done so much in these last suffering months."

But those glittering days were yet hidden in the future, and little dreamed of by Mrs. Lyon at the time of her marriage. When she signed the register she could make nothing save her " mark," as has been said ; but later she taught herself to write and read, and attained a moderate degree of education, which, in her place and circumstances, betokened a certain energy and force of character.

Her daughter, Emily Lyon, was born in 1765, on the 26th of April, and as her husband died in the year of the child's birth, Mrs. Lyon returned with her baby to her old home at Hawarden, in Flintshire. There in the thatched cottage of her grandmother, old Mrs. Kidd, the little Emily Lyon—who was later to change her name to Hart, and finally to Emma Hamilton—spent her early years. They were years of poverty and rough living, but the child had the two things essential to happiness and health: kind faces round her and the unlimited freedom of a hardy, wild little country girl. The fields were her playground, the birds and beasts her friends, the buffeting wind her wholesome nurse. These early years were the only time of her chequered life when it can be truly said of her that, in her fairness and her innocence, she embodied the Wordsworthian ideal of the child who "grew in sun and shower." But in spite of errors and grievous mistakes, so long as youth remained to her, she was—

" A dancing shape, an image gay, To haunt, to startle, and waylay."

Her actual education—apart from that she unconsciously got out-of-doors—was of the scantiest. She was untrammelled and unfettered, till, at the age of thirteen, she entered the service of a Hawarden resident. It is believed that


her mistress made some kind attempt to teach her how to write and spell decently ; but if this is true, the lady's efforts were not markedly successful, for even when the girl had become Lady Hamilton and an accomplished woman speaking several languages, she never moved securely among the complications of her native tongue.

An interesting fact in connection with this first situation of Emily Lyon's is that the daughter of the house was so taken with the already developing beauty of the young nursemaid that she sketched her. The picture, which still exists, is somewhat wooden and amateurish, but the features and fall of the hair are recognizable as those of the girl who so charmed and inspired Romney, while the little sketch is particularly interesting as showing how quickly she must have grown from childishness to the early blossoming of her beauty.

When Emily Lyon was about fifteen years old, she left the country and went up to London, where she entered upon a series of vicissitudes, and early came to grief. She began well enough in the service of a worthy surgeon, Dr. Budd, and this is the only fact that is quite authentically established about her life at this time. It is a somewhat curious circumstance that one of her fellow-servants in this situation was the charming and clever Jane Powell, who later became a




talented actress, and was playing nightly at Drury Lane when Emma returned to London, many years afterwards, with Sir William Hamilton on the eve of her marriage. The two girls, who began their careers thus humbly side by side, retained an affectionate feeling for each other, and met at Southend so late as 1803.

After leaving her first London situation, Emily Lyon is said to have served in a shop, then as companion to a "lady of quality" of somewhat doubtful reputation; and it is constantly stated, though never definitely proved, that a notorious quack doctor of the day, named Graham, engaged her to pose as Hygeia in his meretricious " Temple of Health."

But it is certain that during this unsettled and uncertain period of her life she was very poor, very unwise, unprotected, and dangerously lovely. Even in her humble guise of the Beggar-maid she drew all eyes after her. The Prince Regent —whose memory, of course, was not the most reliable—used to declare that he recollected seeing her selling fruit in the streets, with wooden pattens on her feet. There is a picture of her as a fruit-seller, probably painted by Opie. As she passed up and down, people used to stand still and stare after the poor pretty creature. Unfortunately for the Beggar-maid, it was no King Cophetua who made his appearance, but one of the sailors of tradition who lightly love and sail


away. The naval officer whose conduct was so unworthy of a noble body of men —of whom the heroic and steadfast Collingwood may justly be regarded as far more typical—was Captain John Willet-Payne, afterwards a member of Parliament and treasurer of Greenwich Hospital.

It was Emma's warm heart, and possibly, also, the first promptings of that love of influence which was so marked in her later on, that brought her in contact with the man who betrayed her inexperience. It is an odd coincidence that the girl who later on was to be called the " Patroness of the Navy " by grim old John Jervis himself, and who was always the friend of Nelson's seamen, should have got into her first trouble through a naval officer, and in the effort to help a sailor. The press-gang had seized a young man whom she had known during her Flintshire days, and carried him off to a ship lying in the Thames. Sympathy for distress was always marked in Emma, and this news and the thought of his poor wife's anguish of mind, so worked upon her that she was moved to an impulsive action. She went to see Captain Willet-Payne, and pleaded with tears and all her native eloquence and feeling for the release of the " pressed " man. The susceptible sailor could not resist her charm and her entreaties, but neither could he let her pass out of his life as easily as she had come into it Thus Emma's

BOOK: Nelson's Lady Hamilton
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