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From Horatio Hornblower to Horatio Nelson: Finding Inspiration in Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins

Posted by Marianne Czisnik, on November 26th, 2020

How does a German, let alone a teenage girl, get interested in the volumes of the NRS?  As that teenage girl, I was on a path of curiosity that had to lead to the NRS. Having devoured all of C. S. Forrester’s Hornblower novels, at the age of 12, the desire to learn more about the background of these novels made me advance from fiction to historical reality. As a natural sequence from Horatio Hornblower this meant starting to read about Horatio Nelson. The biographies that were available in German were soon read, so that my parents decided to take advantage of my interest. They hoped to help improve my miserable results in English at school by giving me books about Nelson in English. It turned out to be lucky that my father’s oldest sister had emigrated in the late 1940s from devastated Germany to England and had married an Englishman, Robert Kelly. Thirty years later, still in the pre-internet era, my parents asked uncle Robert to get any works on Nelson he could find in English. Uncle Robert got what there was to be had about Nelson and the trick worked: my results at school improved considerably. As a side effect, my curiosity remained insatiable. Then, on my 15th birthday, in 1981, among my presents was George Naish’s edition of Nelson’s Letters to His Wife and Other Documents. 1785-1831. I must admit, that on receiving the volume I wondered how the English, with apparent lack of emotion, could publish an edition of Nelson’s letters to his wife, when they could have published an edition of his letters to his lover.

On attempting to get to grips with the contents of the volume, I was confused by the arrangement of a variety of Other Documents that were listed unnumbered in between the letters to Fanny Nelson or in appendices to chapters. The peculiar numbering was either with capital letters for a series from one person or with Roman numerals for letters from Fanny Nelson. There was no chronological register to help trace these documents and little introduction to the letters in the accompanying text. In short, my youthful curiosity was put to a hard test and it was left somewhat unsatisfied. My interest did not waver, however, but it took some time before I discovered another volume of the NRS.

In the meantime, my parents had resorted to giving me whatever books they could find about Nelson. Browsing antiquarian bookshops, they had even traced a biography of Nelson by an Italian author, which amazingly had been translated into German and published in 1936. Suffering the disappointment of this biography, I felt that it was out of my reach to get at more reliable information about Nelson. Also, as I was approaching school leaving age, I thought it was time to be reasonable, neglect any dreams of naval history and study law. Years later, when I was already working as a lawyer, it occurred to me that it would be reasonable, indeed, to return to Nelson and begin studying naval history in earnest.

My renewed interest in Nelson was, again, supported by uncle Robert, now joined by my Spanish friend, Alberto Lena Ordóñez, who was then living in England. Thanks to the latter’s help I got in touch with an antiquarian bookseller, Michael Nash, from whom I acquired my second NRS volume, H. C. Gutteridge’s Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins. Perhaps it was the lawyer Gutteridge’s approach that appealed to me. The volume starts with a clearly argued introduction to the highly contested subject, followed by sources that are numbered throughout and arranged in strictly chronological order. For me, this volume was an encouragement to try to separate the image from the man. As a result, I took a sabbatical from my job, followed by three years of unpaid leave to finish my Master’s and my doctoral degrees; the latter about ‘Nelson. Image and Icon’. During my four years at the University of Edinburgh I was extremely lucky to receive the encouraging and supportive supervision of Professor Harry Dickinson. Based on the research done during this period I wrote my book Horatio Nelson. A Controversial Hero. Back in Germany, in my job as a lawyer, I used my spare time to edit the volume for the NRS that I had missed so much as a teenager: Nelson’s Letters to Lady Hamilton and Related Documents.

Among the letters in Gutteridge’s volume there is only one to Lady Hamilton. This is no doubt due to the fact that the two had no reason to write to each other while they were together at Naples, when Lady Hamilton supported Nelson with her language skills, local knowledge and political connections. That one letter in Gutteridge’s volume gives a glimpse of how Nelson appreciated Lady Hamilton as a person to share his thoughts and worries with, and how he also acknowledged her as a serious player in political matters (no. 50 pp. 136-137 = no. 40, p. 87 in my volume, where it is taken from the manuscript source, with less punctuation, more abbreviations and some spelling differences).

H. G. Gutteridge, Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins, Vol 25 (1903), pp.136-7 

19th of June, 1799

My dear Lady Hamilton, – Sir William’s packet came last night at 10 o’clock, and although the public news was good, it gave me great pain to hear both Sir William and yourself were so very unwell. I wrote Sir William yesterday that if you both thought the sea air would do you good, I have plenty of room. I can make you private apartments, and I give you my honour the sea is so smooth that no glass was smoother. I am anxious to hear of the French fleet’s return to Toulon, for there they will return, for we have no fleet to stop them. I should instantly send one half the fleet under Duckworth, off Malta, which would secure its surrender, and with the other go to Naples, that their Majesties may settle matters there, and take off, if necessary, the head of the cardinal. Nothing in sight. A fresh west wind, quite cool. May God bless you, get well, and believe me ever your most affectionate Friend,NELSON.

Kind regards to Mrs. Cadogan, Graeffer, and the children. Wind fresh at west, and cool.

One comment on “From Horatio Hornblower to Horatio Nelson: Finding Inspiration in Nelson and the Neapolitan Jacobins

  1. Ray Aldis on

    Nelson is currently under increasing attack by false accusations of being pro-slavery and anti-abolition. Almost all the accusations are based on the content of a letter from Nelson to plantation owner Simon Taylor. The published version of this letter has now been proven by the Nelson Society to have been doctored by anti-abolitionists 2 years after Nelson’s death with 25 alterations, a forged signature and a fake seal. Just yesterday the Welsh government has placed Nelson on their list of contentious memorials purely on the basis of this scurrilous letter. In over 8,000 published letters and the records of the 12 months Nelson sat in the House of Lords there is not a single example where he shows himself to be either pro-slavery or anti-abolition. Accusing Nelson of being pro-slavery on the basis that he occasionally socialised with slave owners is akin to accusing a vegetarian who has dined with a meat eater of supporting the killing of animals for food. We must all be proactive in halting the spreading of this defamation.


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About Marianne Czisnik

Dr. Marianne Czisnik trained and practiced as a lawyer in Germany before researching aspects of Nelson’s life, image and iconography at the University of Edinburgh. A leading Nelson scholar, she has published on a wide range of subjects related to Nelson, including the book Horatio Nelson. A Controversial Hero (2005) and ‘Admiral Nelson’s Tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar’ (History, October 2004). She is the author of our latest volume: Nelson’s Letters to Lady Hamilton and Related Documents Vol. 167 (2020)