Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
The Death of Nelson
By Robert Southey (17741843)
From the Life of Nelson
IT had been part of Nelsons prayer that the British fleet might be distinguished by humanity in the victory which he expected. Setting an example himself, he twice gave orders to cease firing upon the Redoutable, supposing that she had struck because her great guns were silent; for as she carried no flag, there was no means of instantly ascertaining the fact. From this ship, which he had thus twice spared, he received his death. A ball fired from her mizentop, which, in the then situation of the two vessels, was not more than fifteen yards from that part of the deck where he was standing, struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, about a quarter after one, just in the heat of the action. He fell upon his face on the spot which was covered with his poor secretarys blood. Hardy, who was a few steps from him, turning round, saw three men raising him up. They have done for me at last, Hardy, said he. I hope not! cried Hardy. Yes, he replied, my backbone is shot through. Yet even now, not for a moment losing his presence of mind, he observed as they were carrying him down the ladder, that the tiller ropes, which had been shot away, were not yet replaced, and ordered that new ones should be rove immediately; then, that he might not be seen by the crew, he took out his handkerchief, and covered his face and his stars. Had he but concealed these badges of honour from the enemy, England, perhaps, would not have had cause to receive with sorrow the news of the Battle of Trafalgar.
The cockpit was crowded with wounded and dying men, over whose bodies he was with some difficulty conveyed, and laid upon a pallet in the midshipmens berth. It was soon perceived upon examination that the wound was mortal. This, however, was concealed from all except Captain Hardy, the chaplain, and the medical attendants. He himself being certain from the sensation in his back and the gush of blood which he felt momently within his breast that no human care could avail him, insisted that the surgeon should leave him, and attend to those to whom he might be useful. For, said he, you can do nothing for me. All that could be done was to fan him with paper, and frequently to give him lemonade, to allay his intense thirst. He was in great pain, and expressed much anxiety for the event of the action, which now began to declare itself. As often as a ship struck the crew of the Victory hurrahed, and at every hurrah a visible expression of joy gleamed in the eyes and marked the countenance of the dying hero. But he became impatient to see Captain Hardy, and as that officer, though often sent for, could not leave the deck, Nelson feared that some fatal cause prevented him, and repeatedly cried, Will no one bring Hardy to me? He must be killed! He is surely dead! An hour and ten minutes elapsed from the time when Nelson received his wound before Hardy could come to him. They shook hands in silence; Hardy in vain struggling to suppress the feelings of that most painful yet sublimest moment. Well Hardy, said Nelson, how goes the day with us? Very well, replied Hardy: ten ships have struck, but five of their van have tacked, and show an intention of bearing down upon the Victory. I have called two or three of our fresh ships round, and I have no doubt of giving them a drubbing. I hope, said Nelson, none of our ships have struck. Hardy answered, there was no fear of that. Then, and not till then, Nelson spoke of himself. I am a dead man, Hardy, said he; I am going fast; it will all be over with me soon. Come nearer to me. Let my dear Lady Hamilton have my hair, and all other things belonging to me. Hardy observed that he hoped Mr. Beatty could yet hold out some prospect of life. Oh, no! he replied, it is impossible. My back is shot through. Beatty will tell you so. Captain Hardy then once more shook hands with him, and with a heart almost bursting hastened upon deck.
By this time all feeling below the breast was gone, and Nelson having made the surgeon ascertain this, said to him, You know I am gone. I know it. I feel something rising in my breastputting his hand on his left sidewhich tells me so. And upon Beattys inquiring whether his pain was very great? he replied, so great that he wished he was dead. Yet, said he in a lower voice, one would like to live a little longer too! And after a few minutes in the same undertone he added, What would become of poor Lady Hamilton if she knew my situation? Next to his country she occupied his thoughts. Captain Hardy, some fifty minutes after he had left the cockpit, returned; and again taking the hand of his dying friend and commander, congratulated him on having gained a complete victory. How many of the enemy were taken he did not know, as it was impossible to perceive them distinctly; but fourteen or fifteen at least. Thats well, cried Nelson, but I bargained for twenty. And then in a stronger voice he said, Anchor, Hardy, anchor. Hardy upon this hinted that Admiral Collingwood would take upon himself the direction of affairs. Not while I live, Hardy! said the dying Nelson, ineffectually endeavouring to raise himself from the bed; do you anchor. His previous order for preparing to anchor had shown how clearly he foresaw the necessity of this. Presently, calling Hardy back, he said to him in a low voice, Dont throw me overboard; and he desired that he might be buried by his parents, unless it should please the king to order otherwise. Then reverting to private feelings, Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy; take care of poor Lady Hamilton. Kiss me, Hardy, said he. Hardy knelt down and kissed his cheek, and Nelson said, Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty. Hardy stood over him in silence for a moment or two, then knelt again and kissed his forehead. Who is that? said Nelson; and being informed, he replied, God bless you, Hardy. And Hardy then left himfor ever.
Nelson now desired to be turned upon his right side, and said, I wish I had not left the deck, for I shall soon be gone. Death was indeed rapidly approaching. He said to the chaplain, Doctor, I have not been a great sinner; and after a short pause, Remember that I leave Lady Hamilton and my daughter Horatia as a legacy to my country. His articulation now became difficult, but he was distinctly heard to say, Thank God, I have done my duty! These words he had repeatedly pronounced, and they were the last words which he uttered. He expired at thirty minutes after four, three hours and a quarter after he had received his wound.