NELSON, Horatio, Admiral (1758-1805). Autograph letter signed ("Nelson"), and autograph postscript signed ("Nelson"), to Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), aboard the Vanguard, off Trapani, 27 May . 3 full pages, 4to, remnants of tipping along center crease, small oval offset along top edge.
"I AM SERIOUSLY UNWELL...I KNOW NOT WHAT SLEEP IS SINCE I LEFT PALERMO"
An anxious Nelson, his nerves drawn tight, reports to Sir William Hamilton about threatening French moves in the Mediterranean. "...All goes well by your accounts on the Continent. Pray God it may continue and if it does & the F. F. [French Fleet] gone into Toulon they will not come out again, but I cannot account why I have not heard of Ball's squadron. I must be very uneasy until I hear of them and from a thousand conjectures. The Earl St. V[incen]t...is not yet come to me. L'Entreprenant, which I sent to Pantiherion, is not returned. Nothing from Duckworth or the Earl. We are completely in the Dark. To say truth had I known or could have guessed at Adm. Duckworth's intention not to have come to my help, I had no great business at sea. But being out I know had I returned the next day all Palermo would have fancy'd that I wanted to find shelter & that the F[rench] F[leet] were at my heels."
The French fleet had escaped from Brest and sailed towards the Mediterranean, where British forces were dangerously scattered. Earl St. Vincent was ashore recuperating from an illness. John Thomas Duckworth was off Minorca with four ships of the line. The Russian flagship (mentioned in another passage of this letter), hovered off Corfu under the command of Adm. Fyodor Ushakov. Nelson left Palermo on 12 May, beginning an exhausting fortnight of sleepless patrols. He wants Hamilton to assure the anxious royal family of the Two Sicilies that he is vigilant. "When L'Entreprenant joins & they know nothing of the F. F. I shall bring the Squadron to Palermo, and I would have you, the Count, and all Palermo be assured that whilst I have a ship left, Their Majesty & the city shall be defended...[T]hey may rest assured I do not for a moment forget they are in my charge. If they will find boats I will send every hour exactly where I am...Having said all this I readily conceive your anxiety by my own and that if we do not hear from our friends we fancy 10,000 things."
At one o'clock in the morning--still not asleep--Nelson adds this postscript: "...I thank you for your kind wishes about my health. I can say with truth that I have not been free from headache, sickness, and with want of rest for I know not what sleep is since I left Palermo. I am seriously unwell and I have given notice to my Squadron that if I am ordered to Blockade Toulon that my health will not allow it and I shall give up. The ship in sight is I fear is [sic] the Stroubolo. Why Ball has not joined me is wonderful..."
A fine, dramatic letter that shows Nelson's close reliance on Sir William Hamilton, eight months into his affair with Hamilton's wife Emma. Nelson's language is equally revealing of the way in which his fame had rendered him the near-equivalent of a crowned head of state (keeping the Italian royals "in his charge"). Above all it demonstrates his lifelong neglect of his own comfort and safety in the face of danger. He returned to Palermo one day later, on 29 May, where he recuperated for two weeks before moving his flag to Naples.