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Lord Horatio Nelson

      Horatio Nelson was born at Burnham Thorpe, in Norfolk, September 29, 1758. His father, the rector of that parish, was burdened with a numerous family; and it is said to have been more with a view to lighten that burden than from predilection for the service, that at the age of twelve he expressed a wish to go to sea, under the care of his uncle, Captain Suckling. Of his early adventures it is unnecessary to speak in detail. In 1773 he served in Captain Phipps's voyage of discovery in the Northern Polar seas. His next station was the East Indies; from which, at the end of eighteen months, he was compelled to return by a very severe and dangerous illness. In April, 1777, he passed his examination, and was immediately commissioned as second lieutenant of the Lowestoffe frigate, then fitting out for Jamaica.

      Fortunate in conciliating the good-will and esteem of those with whom he served, he passed rapidly through the lower ranks of his profession, and was made post-captain, with the command of the Hinchinbrook, of twenty-eight guns, June 11, 1779, when not yet of age. In 1782 he was appointed to the Albemarle, twenty-eight; and in 1784 to the Boreas, twenty-eight, in which he served for three years in the West Indies, and though in time of peace, gave signal proof of his resolution and strict sense of duty, by being the first to insist on the exclusion of the Americans from direct trade with the British colonies, agreeably to the terms of the Navigation Act. He had no small difficulties to contend with; for the planters and the colonial authorities were united against him, and even the admiral on the station coincided with their views, and gave orders that the Americans should be allowed free access to the islands. Still Nelson persevered. Transmitting a respectful remonstrance to the admiral, he seized four of the American ships, and after a long and tedious process at law, in which he incurred much anxiety and expense, he succeeded in procuring their condemnation by the Admiralty Court. Neither his services in this matter, nor his efforts to expose and remedy the peculations and dishonesty of the government agents, in almost all matters connected with naval affairs in the West Indies, were duly acknowledged by the Government at home; and in moments of spleen when suffering under inconveniences which a conscientious discharge of his duty had brought on him, he talked of quitting the service of an ungrateful country. In March, 1787, he married Mrs. Nisbet, a West-Indian lady, and in the same year returned to England. He continued unemployed till January, 1793; when, on the breaking out of the French wars, he was appointed to the Agamemnon, sixty-four, and ordered to serve in the Mediterranean under the command of Lord Hood.

      An ample field for action was now open to him. Lord Hood, who had known him in the West Indies, and appreciated his merits, employed him to co-operate with Paoli in delivering Corsica from its subjection to France; and most laboriously and ably did he perform the duty intrusted to him. The siege and capture of Bastia was entirely owing to his efforts; and at the siege of Calvi, during which he lost an eye, and throughout the train of successes which brought about the temporary annexation of Corsica to the British crown, his services, and those of the brave crew of the Agamemnon, were conspicuous. In 1795 Nelson was selected to co-operate with the Austrian and Sardinian troops in opposing the progress of the French in the north of Italy. The incapacity, if not dishonesty, and the bad success of those with whom he had to act, rendered this service irksome and inglorious; and his mortification was heightened when orders were sent out to withdraw the fleet from the Mediterranean, and evacuate Corsica and Elba. These reverses, however, were the prelude to a day of glory. On February 13, 1797, the British fleet, commanded by Sir John Jervis, fell in with the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent. In the battle which ensued, Nelson, who had been raised to the rank of Commodore, and removed to the Captain, seventy-four, bore a most distinguished part. Apprehensive lest the enemy might be enabled to escape without fighting, he did not hesitate to disobey signals, and executed a manoeuvre which brought the Captain into close action at once with three first-rates, an eighty, and two seventy-four gun ships. Captain Trowbridge, in the Culloden, immediately came to his support, and they maintained the contest for near an hour against this immense disparity of force. One first-rate and one seventy-four dropped astern disabled; but the Culloden was also crippled, and the Captain was fired on by five ships of the line at once; when Captain Collingwood, in the Excellent, came up and engaged the huge Santissima Trinidad, of one hundred and thirty-six guns. By this time the Captain's rigging was all shot away; and she lay unmanageable abreast of the eighty-gun ship, the San Nicolas. Nelson seized the opportunity to board, and was himself among the first to enter the Spanish ship. She struck after a short struggle; and, sending for fresh men, he led the way from his prize to board the San Josef, of one hundred and twelve guns, exclaiming, "Westminster Abbey or victory." The ships immediately surrendered. Nelson received the most lively and public thanks for his services from the admiral, who was raised to the peerage by the title of Earl St. Vincent. Nelson received the Order of the Bath; he had already been made Rear-Admiral, before tidings of the battle reached England.

Nelson at Trafalgar.

      During the spring, Sir Horatio Nelson commanded the inner squadron employed in the blockade of Cadiz. He was afterward despatched on an expedition against Teneriffe, which was defeated with considerable loss to the assailants. The admiral himself lost his right arm, and was obliged to return to England, where he languished more than four months before the cure of his wound was completed. His services were rewarded by a pension of #1,000. On this occasion he was required by official forms to present a memorial of the services in which he had been engaged; and as our brief account can convey no notion of the constant activity of his early life, we quote the abstract of this paper given by Mr. Southey. "It stated that he had been in four actions with the fleets of the enemy, and in three actions with boats employed in cutting out of harbor, in destroying vessels, and in taking three towns; he had served on shore with the army four months, and commanded the batteries at the sieges of Bastia and Calvi; he had assisted at the capture of seven sail of the line, six frigates, four corvettes, and eleven privateers; taken and destroyed near fifty sail of merchant vessels, and actually been engaged against the enemy upward of a hundred and twenty times; in which service he had lost his right eye and right arm, and been severely wounded and bruised in his body."

      Early in 1798 Nelson went out in the Vanguard to rejoin Lord St. Vincent off Cadiz. He was immediately despatched with a squadron, into the Mediterranean, to watch an armament known to be fitting out at Toulon, the destination of which excited much anxiety. It sailed May 20th, attacked and took Malta, and then proceeded, as Nelson supposed, to Egypt. Strengthened by a powerful reinforcement, he made all sail for Alexandria; but there no enemy had been seen or heard of. He returned in haste along the north coast of the Mediterranean to Sicily, refreshed the fleet, and again sailed to the eastward. On nearing Alexandria the second time, August 1st, he had the pleasure of seeing the object of his toilsome cruise moored in Aboukir Bay, in line of battle. It appeared afterward that the two fleets must have crossed each other on the night of June 22d.

      The French fleet consisted of thirteen ships of the line and four frigates; the British of the same number of ships of the line, and one fifty-gun ship. In number of guns and men the French had a decided superiority. It was evening before the British fleet came up. The battle began at half-past six; night closed in at seven, and the struggle was continued through the darkness--a magnificent and awful spectacle to thousands who watched the engagement with eager anxiety. Victory was not long doubtful. The first two ships of the French line were dismasted in a quarter of an hour; the third, fourth, and fifth were taken by half-past eight; about ten, the L'Orient, Admiral Bruey's flag-ship, blew up. By daybreak the two rear ships, which had not been engaged, cut their cables and stood out to sea, in company with two frigates, leaving nine ships of the line in the hands of the British, who were too much crippled to engage in pursuit. Two ships of the line and two frigates were burnt or sunk. Three out of the four ships which escaped were subsequently taken; and thus, of the whole armament, only a single frigate returned to France.

      This victory, the most complete and most important then known in naval warfare, raised Nelson to the summit of glory, and presents and honors were showered on him from all quarters. The gratitude of his country was expressed, inadequately in comparison with the rewards bestowed on others for less important services, by raising him to the peerage, by the title of Baron Nelson of the Nile, with a pension of #2,000. The Court of Naples, to which the battle of Aboukir was as a reprieve from destruction, testified a due sense of its obligation by bestowing on him the dukedom and domain of Bronte, in Sicily.

      The autumn of 1798, the whole of 1799, and part of 1800, Nelson spent in the Mediterranean, employed in the recovery of Malta, in protecting Sicily, and in co-operating to expel the French from the Neapolitan continental dominions. In 1800 various causes of discontent led him to solicit leave to return to England, where he was received with the enthusiasm due to his services.

      Soon afterward he separated himself formally from Lady Nelson. In March, 1801, he sailed as second in command of the expedition against Copenhagen, led by Sir Hyde Parker. The dilatoriness with which it was conducted increased the difficulties of this enterprise, and might have caused it to fail, had not Nelson's energy and talent been at hand to overcome the obstacles occasioned by this delay. The attack was intrusted to him by Sir Hyde Parker, and executed April 2d, with his usual promptitude and success. After a fierce engagement, with great slaughter on both sides, the greater part of the Danish line of defence was captured or silenced. Nelson then sent a flag of truce on shore, and an armistice was concluded. He bore honorable testimony to the gallantry of his opponents. "The French," he said, "fought bravely, but they could not have supported for one hour the fight which the Danes had supported for four." May 5th Sir Hyde Parker was recalled, and Nelson appointed Commander-in-chief; but no further hostilities occurred, and suffering greatly from the climate, he almost immediately returned home. For this battle he was raised to the rank of Viscount.

      At this time much alarm prevailed with respect to the meditated invasion of England; and the command of the coast from Orfordness to Beachy Head was offered to him, and accepted. But he thought the alarm idle; he felt the service to be irksome; and gladly retired from it at the peace of Amiens. When war was renewed in 1803, he took the command of the Mediterranean fleet. For more than a year he kept his station off Toulon, eagerly watching for the French fleet. In January, 1805, it put to sea, and escaped the observation of his lookout ships. He made for Egypt, and failing to meet with them, returned to Malta, where he found information that they had been dispersed in a gale, and forced to put back to Toulon. Villeneuve put to sea again, March 31st, formed a junction with the Spanish fleet in Cadiz, and sailed for the West Indies. Thither Nelson followed him, after considerable delay for want of information and from contrary winds; but the enemy still eluded his pursuit, and he was obliged to retrace his anxious course to Europe, without the longed-for meeting, and with no other satisfaction than that of having frustrated by his diligence their designs on the English colonies. June 20, 1805, he landed at Gibraltar, that being the first time that he had set foot ashore since June 16, 1803. After cruising in search of the enemy till the middle of August, he was ordered to Portsmouth, where he learned that an indecisive action had taken place between the combined fleets returning from the West Indies, and the British under Sir Robert Calder.

      He had not been many days established at home before certain news arrived that the French and Spanish fleets had entered Cadiz. Eager to gain the reward of his long watchings, and laborious pursuit, he again offered his services, which were gladly accepted. He embarked at Portsmouth, September 14, 1805, on board the Victory, to take the command of the fleet lying off Cadiz, under Admiral Collingwood, his early friend and companion in the race of fame. The last battle in which Nelson was engaged was fought off Cape Trafalgar, October 21, 1805. The enemy were superior in number of ships, and still more in size and weight of metal. Nelson bore down on them in two lines, heading one himself, while Collingwood, in the Royal Sovereign, led the other, which first entered into action. "See," cried Nelson, as the Royal Sovereign cut through the centre of the enemy's line, and muzzle to muzzle engaged a three-decker, "see how that noble fellow Collingwood carries his ships into action." Collingwood, on the other hand, said to his captain, "Rotherham, what would Nelson give to be here?" As the Victory approached an incessant raking fire was directed against her, by which fifty of her men were killed and wounded before a single gun was returned. Nelson steered for his old opponent at Cape St. Vincent, the Santissima Trinidad, distinguished by her size, and opened his fire at four minutes after twelve, engaging the Redoubtable with his starboard, the Santissima Trinidad and Bucentaur with his larboard guns.

      About a quarter past one, a musket-ball, fired from the mizzen-top of the Redoubtable, struck him on the left shoulder, and he fell. From the first he felt the wound to be mortal. He suffered intense pain, yet still preserved the liveliest interest in the fate of the action; and the joy visible in his countenance as often as the hurrahs of the crew announced that an enemy had struck, testified how near his heart, even in the agonies of death, was the accomplishment of the great work to which his life had been devoted. He lived to know that his victory was complete and glorious, and expired tranquilly at half-past four. His last words were, "Thank God, I have done my duty."

      He had indeed done his duty, and completed his task; for thenceforth no hostile fleet presumed to contest the dominion of the sea. It may seem mournful that he did not survive to enjoy the thanks and honors with which a grateful country would have rejoiced to recompense this crowning triumph. But he had reached the pinnacle of fame; and his death in the hour of victory has tended far more than a few years of peaceful life, to keep alive his memory in the hearts of a people which loved, and a navy which adored him.

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