Nelson is part of our heritage and everyone knows of his astonishing career, his affair with Lady Hamilton, the loss of his eye and his arm, and the loss of his life at Trafalgar. Books about him abound, yet this one, written by the poet Laureate of the early years of the nineteenth century, Robert Southey, has the advantage of being written by a contemporary who had relatives who had served under Nelson.
Southey was 31 at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar and had, of course, access to society gossip and newspapers. His frequent references to Lady Emma Hamilton are generally hostile, since he borrowed from two critical sources. When she, dying of dropsy in a debtors’ prison at the age of 52, heard of his falsehoods about her involvement in an Italian skirmish, she declared that, had her health permitted, she would have challenged him.
However, the battles with the French and Nelson‘s involvement in Quebec, Syracuse, Egypt, Sardinia and Naples take on new life when they are recounted by the voice of a passionate patriot, living at the time of the troubled period.
Southey’s account takes us from Nelson’s birth to his death and the honours posthumously heaped upon him. Although the work is almost two centuries old, it is frequently reissued and is eminently readable.