The Goddard Nelson Letters Collection

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015

Sold for £8,000

Estimate: £8,000 - £10,000

Nelson (Horatio, Lord), a firm autograph letter signed ‘Nelson’, to his wife Frances, dated at ‘Palermo, Apl. 10th 1799’, making excuses for the infrequency of his letters and insisting she does not journey from England to join him - Emma Hamilton having caught the ‘Wandering Sailor’s’ eye

‘My Dear Fanny

Yesterday brought me your letters of Decr. they had been stopped in Italy and now come by way of Venice ... You must not think it possible for me to write even to you as much as I used to, in truth I have such quantities of writing public letters, that my private correspondence has been and must continue to be greatly neglected. You would by Feby. have seen how unpleasant it would have been had you followed any advice which could have carried you from England to a Wandering Sailor, I could if you had come only have struck my flag and carried you back again for it would have been impossible to set up an establishment at either Naples or Palermo ... Good Sir William, Lady Hamilton and myself are the mainsprings of the machine which manage what is going on in this country ... ’

The letter continues with mention of the death of Sir William Suckling, Nelson’s uncle (‘I always loved and respected my Dear Uncle while living and shall do the same now he is dead’); his step-son, Josiah - Fanny’s son by her previous marriage to Dr. Nisbet - who was ‘now in full possession of a noble frigate. He has sent to say that he is sensible of his youthful follies and that he shall alter his whole conduct’; and closes with a message of goodwill to his sister, Kate, and her husband, Mr. Matcham.

2 and a half pages, 4to, autograph address panel, red wax seal, the seal cut affecting one letter of text, a few tiny holes in folds of second leaf £8,000-10,000


Provenance: Edwin Wolf, 2nd Collection, Christie’s, 21 June 1989 (Lot 226); Christie’s, 3 December 2003 (Lot 128).

An important letter in respect of Nelson’s burgeoning relationship with Emma Hamilton. She was referred to in all Nelson’s letters to Fanny from September 1798 such that, after hearing stories about him and Emma from naval friends, she wrote to him in December 1798 saying that, unless he returned home soon, she would come and join him: this is the firm response from her ‘Wandering Sailor’.

Over the coming year, Nelson’s friendship with Emma became yet more intense - so, too, the infrequency of his letters home to Fanny. He finally parted from her in February 1801.

By way of background, Nelson had been welcomed to the Kingdom of Naples by the longstanding British Envoy, Sir William Hamilton, who was 68, and his wife of seven years, Emma, who was 33, in September 1798. He shared their home until they were evacuated to Palermo with the King and Queen in December of the same year, in the face of the advancing French. Nelson remained with the Hamiltons until the recapture of Naples in June 1799, for which he was awarded the Dukedom of Bronte.