Horatio Nelson

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by


Horatio Nelson –

 Sometimes the links between our sitters are utterly banal. But it is in the most everyday action or circumstance, that the essence of connection lies. Of course, with Forster, it was ‘Miss Schlegel’s’ accidental theft of ‘Leonard Bast’s’ umbrella at the Beethoven concert that precipitated the confronation between two different, but overlayered worlds, worlds, which if transpired, were already linked; this commonplace triggered the chain events that led to Bast’s demise. But of course, sometimes the trivial remains just that. Kate Chisholm, Fanny Burney’s biographer, notes that:

 [Charles Burney] ‘once borrowed a nightcap from Lord Nelson after setting his own on fire while working late by candlelight.’

 Horatio Nelson’s romance with Emma Hamilton was very public property, so much so, that a year after his death at Trafalgar on October 1805, commemorative crockery was being sold featuring them both. The Victoria and Albert Museum has an 1806 Coalport Porcelain plate featuring Emma, as Britannia unveiling a bust of Nelson.This heroic imagery was typical of what Roy Strong called the ‘first citizens war’, which demanded popular heros, then represented as classical figures. Benjamin Haydon painted an Apotheosis of Nelson, which, somewhat bewilderingly showed Nelson as a Greek God, hastening towards the embrace of Britannia.

 This was, equally, a war fought in music. Beehoven produced a Battle Symphony commemorating the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Vittoria. Haydn had unwittingly contributed to this, when he dedicated a Mass to the memory of Nelson, having heard the erroneous reports of the admiral’s death at the Battle of the Nile. Two years later, Nelson and Haydn met at Vienna and Eisendstadt. As was traditional, they exchanged gifts, practical things, the tools of their trade; Stendahl reports that  Nelson gave Haydn a watch, and Haydn gave him a pen.

 As might be expected, the visit provided a grand opportunity for Emma’s detractors to slander  her. Here is Lord Fitzharris’s account of the proceedings: 

“Sunday, grand fireworks, Monday (the jour de fête) a very good ball. And yesterday, the chasse. Nelson and the Hamiltons were there. We never sat down to supper or dinner less than sixty or seventy persons, in a fine hall superbly illuminated; in short, the whole in a most princely style. Nelson’s health was drunk with a flourish of trumpets and firing of cannon. Lady Hamilton is, without exception, the most coarse, ill-mannered, disagreeable woman we met with. The Princess with great kindness has got a number of musicians, and the famous Haydn, who is in their service, to play, knowing Lady H. was fond of music. Instead of attending to them, she sat down at the faro table, played Nelson’s cards for him, won between £300 and £400.’’

  A more recent  and certainly more authorative writer, the Haydn authority,  Jacques Barzun gives the less jaundiced view of the visit:

‘Nelson’s visit to Eisenstadt in Sept 1800 was the occasion for Haydn’s last original vocal work for solo voice (XXVIb:4). Nelson and Lady Hamilton were accompanied on their journey by one Cornelia Knight who, after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Aboukir Bay, had written an ode entitled ‘The Battle of the Nile’. During the visit of the Nelson Entourage to Eisenstadt, Haydn set ten of the 17 stanzas for voice and piano, the first performance apparently being given by Lady Hamilton accompanied by Haydn. The jingoistic text, in the manner of Nedham’s Ode to Neptune,