Sunday, 30 November 2014

Letter to Emma Hamilton sells for almost £24,000

A letter that Nelson wrote to Emma Hamilton shortly after the birth of their daughter, Horatia, has sold at auction at Christie's in London for £23,750.

Perhaps responding to an accusation that he has been slack in corresponding with her, Nelson, writing from aboard the San Josef, tells Emma that the midshipman he sent to post the letters "assures Me that he untied the Red tape and put the three letters into the post office", so if she still hasn't received anything from him, it has been intercepted.  But as far as he's concerned - he writes perhaps as much for the benefit of the interceptor as for Emma - if it has been intercepted, it "is of no further consequence then the interruption of a free communication between 2 such dear friends."

Nelson then goes on to say, "Mrs: Thomson's friend desires you will assure her of his unalterable & affectionate Regard, and begs she will be assured that all the World cannot either change or make him wish to change for a moment and that he is unalterably hers."  He ends with, "Kiss my God child."

Horatia was born on the 29th January 1801 while Nelson was waiting to sail for the Baltic.  It was a turbulent time in his relationship with Emma.  Since they were both still married to other people, they couldn't be together openly, and so they invented the 'Thomsons'.  Supposedly, Mrs Thomson was staying with Emma, and Nelson would write to her 'on behalf of' Mr Thomson.  In this way he could communicate what he really wanted to say to Emma, for as this letter shows, they were afraid of their relationship being discovered.  Although by that point, it really wasn't a secret to anyone.  Nelson and Emma were both essentially open and honest in expressing their emotions, and both found it difficult to stick to the alias, so it was always a flimsy one.  

Still, they used the cover story to 'adopt' Horatia from the Thomsons, and Nelson called her his god-child right up until the last letter he wrote to her before his death, which he signed with "the affectionate parental blessing of your Father."

But this letter betrays the jealousies and insecurities that blighted their relationship at this early stage.  They both thought the other would play away, which at times led to Emma having to promise not to dine with the Prince of Wales, and to Nelson having to swear not to set foot ashore.  Nelson frequently, as in this letter, reasserted his devotion to Emma in an effort to placate her.  However, once Emma's husband, Sir William Hamilton, passed away in 1803, they were able to settle at Merton when Nelson was ashore during the Peace of Amiens, and their relationship became more stable.

Two other letters also sold at the same sale.  One, written aboard the Foudroyant at Naples to Spencer Smith on the 25th July 1799, sold for £5625.  In it, Nelson praises Spencer's brother, Captain William Sidney Smith, on the successful defence of Acre from a French siege.  The other is a draft letter to the Prime Minister Henry Addington, dated 32rd April 1803, which sold for £4375.  Here, he appeals for an increase in his pension, arguing that his achievements are comparable to those of Admirals St Vincent and Duncan, and therefore his pension should be equal to theirs.