NELSON, Horatio, Viscount (1758-1805). Autograph letter signed ('Horatio Nelson') to Sir William Hamilton, 'Vang[uar]d, Mouth of the Nile', 8 August 1798, 2 pages, 4to, integral blank (remnants of paste to left margin of p.1, minor punctures to upper left corner of both leaves, short tears at horizontal centre fold, lower margin, and at vertical fold of bifolium) separate address leaf with franking signature, later docket, remnant of seal on red wax, tipped onto integral blank of letter (address leaf laid onto paper, worn and split at folds, long seal tear, approx 60mm). Provenance: Alfred Morrison collection, vol.II, no.329; collection of Edwin Wolf 2nd, part 1, Christie's, 21 June 1989, lot 219; private collection.
NELSON ANNOUNCES HIS VICTORY AT THE BATTLE OF THE NILE. 'Almighty God has made me the happy instrument in destroying the Enemy's fleet, which I hope will be a blessing to Europe. You will have the goodness to Communicate this happy event to all the Courts In Italy for my head is so indifferent that I can scarcely scrawl this letter'. Nelson begs Sir William to put Captain Capel, who has Nelson's dispatches, 'in the quickest mode of getting home', and asks him particularly not to send home any accounts of the news which might pre-empt the dispatches, expressing hopes that Culloden and Vanguard may be refitted at Naples, 'the Rest will go with the Prizes to Gibraltar, as this army never will return. I hope to hear the [Holy Roman] Emperor has regained the whole of Italy'. A postscript on the following day notes 'I have intercepted all Buonaparte's dispatches going to France this Army is in a Scrape & will not get out of it'.
Nelson's victory at the battle of the Nile on 1 August 1798 was perhaps the high point of his career, and elevated him to heroic status throughout Europe. In a night action of brilliant improvisation he had eliminated the French fleet, eleven out of thirteen ships being taken, sunk or burnt -- including the 120-gun L'Orient, the largest warship afloat -- without the loss of a single British ship. Nelson himself had been struck on the temple by a piece of stray metal, and was severely concussed ('my head is so indifferent'). The opening of the present letter echoes the opening of of his famous dispatch to the Admiralty, 'Almighty God has blessed his Majesty's Arms in the late Battle by a great Victory over the Fleet of the Enemy ...'.
The transmission of the news was however a much less straightforward matter: Captain Berry had set off with one set of his dispatches by sea on 6 August (although he was captured en route), but want of frigates prevented Captain Capel from setting off with the duplicates until 14 August, and his journey overland through the continent was so slow (in spite of Nelson's request in the present letter) that, although rumours had been circulating of a great victory since the middle of August it was, incredibly, not until 2 October that he reached England. The 1st Lord of the Admiralty, George, Lord Spencer, fainted when he heard the news.