The Life of Horatio Lord Nelson
Chapter 5. 1798
Nelson rejoins Earl St. Vincent in the VANGUARD--Sails in Pursuit of the French in
Egypt--Returns to Sicily, and sails again to Egypt-- Battle of the Nile.
EARLY in the year 1798, Sir Horatio Nelson hoisted his flag in the VANGUARD, and
was ordered to rejoin Earl St. Vincent. Upon his departure, his father addressed him with
that affectionate solemnity by which all his letters were distinguished. "I trust in the
Lord," said he, "that He will prosper your going out and your coming in. I earnestly
desired once more to see you, and that wish has been heard. If I should presume to say, I
hope to see you again, the question would be readily asked, How old art thou? VALE!
VALE! DOMINE, VALE!" It is said that a gloomy foreboding hung on the spirits of
Lady Nelson at their parting. This could have arisen only from the dread of losing him by
the chance of war. Any apprehension of losing his affections could hardly have existed,
for all his correspondence to this time shows that he thought himself happy in his
marriage; and his private character had hitherto been as spotless as his public conduct.
One of the last things he said to her was, that his own ambition was satisfied, but that he
went to raise her to that rank in which he had long wished to see her.
Immediately on his rejoining the fleet, he was despatched to the Mediterranean with a
small squadron, in order to ascertain, if possible, the object of the great expedition which
at that time was fitting out under Buonaparte at Toulon. The defeat of this armament,
whatever might be its destination, was deemed by the British government an object
paramount to every other; and Earl St. Vincent was directed, if he thought it necessary, to
take his whole force into the Mediterranean, to relinquish, for that purpose, the blockade
of the Spanish fleet, as a thing of inferior moment; but if he should deem a detachment
sufficient, "I think it almost necessary," said the first lord of the Admiralty in his secret
instructions, "to suggest to you the propriety of putting it under Sir Horatio Nelson." It is
to the honour of Earl St. Vincent that he had already made the same choice. This
appointment to a service in which so much honour might be acquired, gave great offence
to the senior admirals of the fleet. Sir William Parker, who was a very excellent naval
officer, and as gallant a man as any in the navy, and Sir John Orde, who on all occasions
of service had acquitted himself with great honour, each wrote to Lord Spencer,
complaining that so marked a preference should have been given to a junior of the same
fleet. This resentment is what most men in a like case would feel; and if the preference
thus given to Nelson had not originated in a clear perception that (as his friend
Collingwood said of him a little while before) his spirit was equal to all undertakings, and
his resources fitted to all occasions, an injustice would have been done to them by his
appointment. But if the service were conducted with undeviating respect to seniority, the
naval and military character would soon be brought down to the dead level of mediocrity.