Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Lady Hamilton ; and secondly, why he became her biogra. plier?

The sum of her life may be told in a very few words. Her youth, and the early part of womanhood, were passed in obscu. rity or vice; a few years followed of splendour, during which she interfered somewhat in the politics, and more in the pleasures of one of the least considerable and most depraved of the European courts. The decline of her life languished in privacy, and, we fear, it ended in bitter distress. Now, if we were to admit, which yet we are very far from doing, that during the few years passed at Naples, tlie part she played was so prominent, as to entitle her whole life to a substantial place in history, this admission would be of very little service to our author in helping him to his reply. For the very grounds of the admission iinply, that her conduct at Naples should'occupy the greater part of her history, and that valuable mformation should be communicated respecting it. Has our author fulfilled this expectation ? nothing less; the proportions are inverted; all that was important is slightly passed over, and respecting the conduct of Lady Hamilton at Naples, nothing is communicated, which no reader of magazines or newspapers was not perfectly well acquainted with before. No new fact is recorded by lijm either of an important nature, or on satisfactory authority; he ventures indeed to deny on several occasions what others have asserted and believed, but as his denials come no better supported than by his own bare word, he can hardly imagine, that those who love to examine before they believe, will set much store by such communications.

The second question it may give him more pain to answer, and we will answer it for him. He did not become the biographer of Lady Hamilton from any of the motives that usually prompt to such undertakings. He did not know her better, or love her more than other people ; it does not appear

ihat he had any the slightest acquaintance with her, that he was possessed of any materials for her memoirs, or that any common friends have communicated to him peculiar sources of information as to her character or bistory. Rather we sliould say, that the contrary of all these is demonstrable from every chapter of the book. The same internal evidence ulone leads us to the solution of the riddle, and if it be no very creditable one to the author, it is not our fault. There is a person, whom the unfortunate subjects (we say subjects; for it has inore than one) of his book certainly most deeply injured. Whether the ésteem of the good and generous is to be acquired by the display of unrelenting, and unchastised feelings, or whether a desire to conceal wounds, which it seenis cannot be healed; would not have been more delicate, more en

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

titled to pity and admiration, as we are no judges of private conduct, it is not for us to decide. It is, however, matter.of serious congratulation, that even if ihe design had been as odious and mworthy, as many will be inclined to consider it, it could not have been committed to a feebler or more contemptible instrument.

It would be very improper for us to go into the proofs of what we have ventured to insinuate above ; and it would be equally unnecessary, for they are so thickly spread in every part of the book, that whoever runs through it, inust come to the same conclusion. To save, however, so much trouble, we refer to the 13th chapter, and the 384th page.

Our readers will think that we have detained them long enough on à production so dull in execution, so worthless in materials, and so bad in design; but we will beg their patience while we notice two passages that have particularly attracted our atten. tion. The first is not important in itself, but it strongly characterises the spirit in which the book is written. A letter from Lord to Lady Nelson is cited, in which he describes bis meet. ing with Lady Hamilton on the return of his ship from the battle of the Nile: the passage is short.

Along side came my honoured friends; the scene in the boat was terribly affecting : up flew her Ladyship, and exclaiming, "0 God, is it possible?" she fell into my arms more dead than alive. Tears however soon set matters to rights.”

The comment is somewhat longer.

“ The scene mentioned in this letter as having been so terribly. affecting, was no more than one of those fine pieces of acting, which fired the brain of Romney the painter, and made him desir ous of running into Sussex, to bring up his friend the poet (Mr. Hayley). to witness a performance which he wanted words to describe. The truth is, that as the boat drew near to the Vanguard, Lady Hamilton began to rehearse some of her theatrical airs, and to put on all the appearance of a tragic queen. There was a great swell at this time in the bay; and just as the barge reached the ship, the officer, who saw through her affectation, exclaimed with an oath, that if she did not immediately get up the side, the consequences might be dangerous; for that he could not be answerable for the safety of the boat. On this our heroine laid aside her part, till she reaches the gangway, where, instead of fainting on the arm of Nelson, she clasped him in her own, and carried him into the cabin, followed by Sir William Hamilton and the rest of the company." P. 203.

Properly to comprehend the whole beauty of this unparalleled morceau, our readers must have seen the courtship of Mr. Lu

bin

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

bin Log, and the player lady, Desdemona, in Love, Law, and Physic; for from that original it must have been drawn. But we cannot trifle on such a subject: the faults, even the follies of a Nelson, are subject for mournful pity, and deep reflection, rather than satiric levity. What shall we say to this senseless, this vulgar, this impudent account; not an individual mentioned, or alluded to in it, but is grossly libelled. First, a British officer, conducting a British ambassador with his wife, on an occasion of great public festivity, to visit his victorious and beloved commander, is represented as treating her rudely, and forgetting what was due to himself as a gentleman. . Who the author's naval acquaintance may have been, we shall not presume to say; but he must have been, we think, singularly unfortunate, if he has drawn his specimen from his own experience. For our parts we have been more happy, and with some knowledge of the gallant leaders of our national force. We scarcely know the man among them, to whom such a picture would bear any resem. blance.

Next as to Lady Hamilton.--Never, we will venture to say, did malice so overshoot itself. In the beginning, it is said to be “a fine piece of acting;” in the middle, it becomes “a rehearsal of theatrical airs," and has “ the appearance of a tragic queen;" in the end, it is the downright vulgar horse play of the aforesaid Desdemona. And this then was the chef d'oeuvre of dramatic exhibition, at a time when she desired to produce the most lasting and powerful impression on a simple, manly mind, by a woman whom we all know, and who in a thousand places in this very book is admitted to have been finished in all the arts of deception, who could preserve grace in the extreme of pas, sion, and nature in the most consummate affectation; in whom the voluptuary, the player, the painter, and the sculptor, delighted to study, whatever was most excellent of beauty, dignity, or harmony in expression, attitude, and manner.....

But all this is nothing for the officers of the navy, they can be injured by no such writer as our author; and for Lady Hamilton; it little matters now to that worthless woman herself, or to any one else, whether she was a skilful or clumsy work-woman in her trade; it is the tendency of this passage, as it affects Nel son, that provokes our indignation. The memory of a fallen hero is national property; among the most valuable that a nation can possess, we are rich in it; but let us shew that we deserve

wealth, by rightly valuing it. And how does this author shew his value for it? Simply by placing Lord Nelson in the most ridiculous situation, that inventive malice could suggest; by telling a story, which makes this great man (our pen almost refuses to write the words) a dupe to the most awkward artifice,

and

our

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

and a liar in a plain matter of fact, in which he could not have
mistaken.

The second of the two passages is of the same offensive kind,
though from the nature of the subject matter, not so vulgar in
execution. It relates to Lady Hamilton's alleged public ser-
vices. It is well known, that Lord Nelson uniformly in his life
time affirmed, and at the solemn moment immediately before the
battle of Trafalgar, when his bodings were such, that every thing
he said or wrote might well be construed into dying declarations,
asserted these services to have been great. It is well know!
also, that he specified amongst them particularly, her exertions
in procuring him permission to victual and water his feet after
the first and ineffectual search for the French Fleet under Ad.
miral Brueys. Now we think it quite consistent with our rem
spect for Nelson, to doubt whether bis representation be wholly
correct, because it implies no suspicion of his veracity to imagine
that he might have been deceived as to the original ground of
these services, and then from excessive partiality have uninten-
tionally exaggerated their extent. And we are the more in-
elined to think this must bave been the case; for it is the only
supposition which would justify the total neglect exhibited on
the part of our government towards the repeated claiins of Lady
Hamilton for remuneration, and the more painful denial of the
last request of the dying Nelson,

So far then in the main we agree with the author; but it is
the singular unhappiness of his nature to select on all occasions
the most offensive of all the grounds presented on which to
build his opinion. His assertion is, that the Sicilian court was
most eager to render the fleet all possible assistance, and that if
that had not been the case, the zeal of the people was such, as
to render all interference on the part of the government unne.
cessary, if favourable, and nugatory, if adverse to our wants,
To these assertions is added an assunption, that if Nelson had
been refused a supply, he would have taken it by force. What
is the amount of this ? Not that Lady Hamilton deceived Nel-
son; but that he uniformly in life, and solemnly in death, de-
ceived England.
We have no time to extract and dissect the suicidat

passage
which this charge is contained; in truth, we are heartily tired of
wading in a book, where the only relief from disgust is con
tempt--a cheerless and tiresome alternation. Of such a book,
the less we extract, or analyse, the better; it is our plan to make
our readers acquainted with the substance of all the productions
which fall under our censure ; but it would be a degrading, no
less than an uninteresting task for us and for them, to trace the
professed subject of the present volume under several aliases,

places ne ar3

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

through

fallen

zation Serte uthor

i the gest; unog

1

through all the scenes of low and vicious life, detailed in these
pages. The vicissitudes of that miserable class, from which she
emavated, are but little varied; short periods of uneasy splen-
dour and gaiety, horribly forced and unnatural, interrupted con-
tinually, or for ever succeeded by disease, and want, and misery,
by daily violation of the almost inextinguishable remains of fe-
male delicacy, by constrained submission to brutal insult, by
fictitious delight where indifference or disgust are really felt, by
naked and houseless famine, and the deeply knowing sense, that
there is no hope, that all is irretrievable; this is their complicae
tion, comprisal, collection, and sum of bitterness.

If Lady Hamilton escaped some part of the dismal catalogue
of evils above enumerated ; if, by unusual address, and eminent
personal accomplishments, she attained a situation in life, which
for her might well be called exalted; if, because our higher
classes were found wanting in the stern, yet dignified discipline
of former times; she was for a while victorious, and out-faced
the good and tried severity of English society; if she was flat-
tered, admired by many, and loved even to his own ruin, by
one who had no equal in his day; yet let her not be held up as
an instance of successful or unpunished vice; let it not be ima-
gined, that she was free from all visitation. She suffered with
the lowest before her exaltation: in the midst of it she encouna
tered much anxiety, and many most bitter mortifications; after
it closed, when the foolishi and the wicked, who had basked in
her sunshine, fled from her distress, and the good and the great,
whom she had injured, duped, and misled, were no longer at
hand to uphold her, she became indeed an object for the pity
of the most inveterate malevolence. Desolate, bereft, and aban-
doned, harassed by creditors, stripped of comforts, that long use
and declining age had converted into necessaries, for some time
a prisoner in her own country, and then an exile from it is it
in short possible to imagine any lot more cheerless or gloomy,
than the last years, the drooping sickness, and the death-bed of
Lady Hamilton.

[ocr errors]

Art. VII. The Field of Waterloo : a Poens. By Walter

Scott. 8vo. pp. 56. Constable, Edinburgh ; Longman and

Murray, London. 1815.
IT would be difficult to point out a nation in which Poetry and
Patriotism have for so long a period been more cultivated, or less
united, than in our own. Though plants of the same soil of

8

liberty,

« PreviousContinue »