Horatio Nelson

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Horatio Nelson

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (29 September 175821 October 1805) was a British naval officer.


  • There are three things, young gentlemen, which you are constantly to bear in mind. Firstly, you must always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of your own respecting their propriety. Secondly, you must consider every man your enemy who speaks ill of your king; and thirdly, you must hate a Frenchman, as you do the devil.
    • Nelson's advice to his Midshipmen (1793). Pettigrew, Thomas Jos. Memoirs of the Life of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson K.B., Volume 2. London: T. and W. Boone, New Bond Street. 1849, pg 580.
  • Success, I trust--indeed have little doubt--will crown our zealous and well-meant endeavours: if not, our Country will, I believe, sooner forgive an Officer for attacking his Enemy than for letting it alone.
    • Regarding the attack on Bastia, Corsica (May 3, 1794). Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, ed. The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, The First Volume 1777-1794. London: Henry Colburn, Publisher. pg. 393.
  • The lives of all are in the hands of Him who knows best whether to preserve it or no, and to His will do I resign myself. My character and good name are in my own keeping. Life with disgrace is dreadful. A glorious death is to be envied, and, if anything happens to me recollect death is a debt we must all pay, and whether now or in a few years hence can be but of little consequence.
    • (Agamemnon at sea, March 10, 1795) Nelson's letters to his wife and other documents, 1785-1831. Navy Records Society, pg 199
  • Let me alone: I have yet my legs and one arm. Tell the surgeon to make haste and his instruments. I know I must lose my right arm, so the sooner it's off the better.
    • After being wounded during the attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife (July 24. 1797)[citation needed]
  • I had rather suffer death than alarm Mrs. Freemantle, by letting her see me in this state, when I can give her no tidings whatever of her husband.
    • After being wounded during the attack on Santa Cruz de Tenerife (July 24. 1797)[citation needed]
  • First gain the victory and then make the best use of it you can.
  • Before this time to-morrow I shall have gained a peerage, or Westminster Abbey.
    • Life of Nelson (Ch. 5), before the Battle of the Nile (August 1, 1797). Alternately reported as "Westminster Abbey, or victory!"
  • I cannot, if I am in the field of glory, be kept out of sight: wherever there is anything to be done, there Providence is sure to direct my steps.
  • The Neapolitan officers did not lose much honour, for God knows they had not much to lose - but they lost all they had.
  • I am myself a Norfolk man.
    • On being welcomed on arrival in Great Yarmouth, in his home county[citation needed]
  • My greatest happiness is to serve my gracious King and Country and I am envious only of glory; for if it be a sin to covet glory I am the most offending soul alive.
  • It is warm work; and this day may be the last to any of us at a moment. But mark you! I would not be elsewhere for thousands.
  • To leave off action"? Well, damn me if I do! You know, Foley, I have only one eye,— I have a right to be blind sometimes . . . I really do not see the signal!
    • Life of Nelson (Ch. 7): At the battle of Copenhagen, Ignoring Admiral Parker's signal to retreat, holding his telescope up to his blind eye, and proceeding to victory against the Danish fleet. (2 April 1801).
  • If a man consults whether he is to fight, when he has the power in his own hands, it is certain that his opinion is against fighting.
  • If I had been censured every time I have run my ship, or fleets under my command, into great danger, I should have long ago been out of the Service and never in the House of Peers.
  • Victory or Westminster Abbey.
    • Life of Nelson Vol. I, Ch. 4  : In the battle off Cape Vincent, giving order for boarding the San Josef
  • In honour I gained them, and in honour I will die with them.
    • Life of Nelson (ch. 9), when asked to cover the stars on his uniform to hide his rank during battle.
  • Duty is the great business of a sea officer; all private considerations must give way to it, however painful it may be.
  • The measure may be thought bold, but I am of the opinion the boldest are the safest.
    • to Sir Hyde Parker urging vigorous action against the Russians and Danes, March 24, 1801, quoted in "The Book of Military Quotations" By Peter G. Tsouras - Page 54.
  • Bonaparte has often made his boast, that our fleet would be worn out by keeping the sea, that his was kept in order, and increasing, by staying in port; but he now finds, I fancy, if emperors hear truth, that his fleet suffers more in a night, than ours in one year; however, thank God, the Toulon fleet is got in order again, and I hear the troops embarked, and I hope they will come out to sea in fine weather.
    • From a letter to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, written while aboard HMS Victory and dated March 14, 1805. Quoted in full in Captain Edward Pelham Brenton (1824), The Naval History of Great Britain from the year 1783 to 1822, Vol III London: C. Rice, p. 406.
  • Desperate affairs require desperate measures.
    • Tsouras, Peter G. (ed.) The Book of Military Quotations. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press. 1992, p. 54.
  • ...but I cannot command winds and weather.
    • Laughton, John Knox (ed.) Letters and Despatches of Horatio, Viscount Nelson, K.B. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.. 1886, p. 99.
  • ...When he was on the eve of departure for one of his great expeditions the coachmaker said to him, "The carriage shall be at the door punctually at six o clock"; "A quarter before," said Nelson. "I have always been a quarter of an hour before my time and it has made a man of me."
    • letter from Sir Thomas Buxton to his son quoted in "Life of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton" from Sylvanus Urban (ed.) The Gentleman's Magazine" July to December 1848, p. 577.
  • The bravest man feels an anxiety 'circa praecordia' as he enters the battle; but he dreads disgrace yet more.
    • Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Life of Nelson: The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain, Volume 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1897, pg 52. attributed by Mahan to Locker's Greenwich Gallery article "Torrington".
  • Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat.
    • Frothingham, Jessie Peabody. Sea Fighters from Drake to Farragut New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902. pg. 314.
  • The business of the English Commander-in-Chief being first to bring an Enemy's Fleet to Battle, on the most advantageous terms to himself, (I mean that of laying his Ships close on board the Enemy, as expeditiously as possible;) and secondly, to continue them there, without separating, until the business is decided.
    • Nicolas, Sir Nicholas Harris (ed.) The Dispatches and Letters of Lord Viscount Nelson, Sixth Volume. London: Henry Colburn. 1866, pg xi.
  • I am Lord Nelson. See, here's my fin.
    • During the battle of Copenhagen, the Danish 74-gun Syaelland commanded by a Danish Commodore who happened to be an old friend of Nelson's from the West Indies was captured, but refused to surrender to anyone other than Lord Nelson. This was Nelson's famous remark after boarding the ship. Oman, Carola (1946). Nelson first published by London: Greenhill Books. 1996, pg 447.
  • Now I can do no more. We must trust to the Great Disposer of all Events and the Justice of our Cause. I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my Duty.
    • said in response to the cheer that was raised after he sent the signal "England expects every Man will do his Duty." Clarke, James Stanier and McArthur, John. The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, K.B. from His Lordship's Manuscripts. London: T. Bensley, Bolt Court, Fleet Street. 1810, pg 667.

Horatio Nelson statue

The Battle of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805)[edit]

There are many accounts of Nelson's words prior to, and during this famous battle against the Napoleonic French and Spanish fleets, in which he was fatally wounded, with minor differences in wording and chronology. These quotations draw from direct readings of several of them.
  • May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my Country and for the benefit of Europe in general a great and glorious victory; and may no misconduct in anyone tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature of the British fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.
    • Dispatches and Letters of Horatio Nelson : a diary entry on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar
  • Something must be left to chance; nothing is sure in a sea fight above all.
  • When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and Country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.[citation needed]
  • England expects that every man will do his duty.
    • Life of Nelson (Ch. 9) A signal to the British fleet before the battle of Trafalgar
    • Variant: England expects every officer and man to do his duty this day. (as reported in The London Times, Dec. 26, 1805)
    • Initially supposed to be: England confides that every man shall do his duty. The signaller pointed out that "expects" was in the signals alphabet, but "confides" was not and so had to be spelt out, taking longer. Nelson agreed to the change.
  • It is nonsense, Mr. Burke, to suppose I can live. My sufferings are great but they will soon be over.[citation needed]
  • Kiss me, Hardy
    • Spoken to his Flag Captain, Thomas Masterman Hardy, who kissed his cheek and then his forehead.[citation needed]
  • Thank God, I have done my duty.
  • Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub.
    • In his dying hours, Nelson was attended by his chaplain, Alexander Scott; his steward, Chevalier; and the purser, Walter Burke. Their accounts have been available to Nelson's modern biographers. This was a request to alleviate his symptoms of thirst, heat, and the pains of his wounds. (Pocock, Horatio Nelson, 1987, p.331.).
Horatio Nelson

Quotations of others about Nelson[edit]

  • Let the country mourn their hero; I grieve for the loss of the most fascinating companion I ever conversed with— the greatest and most simple of men— one of the nicest and most innocent— interesting beyond all, on shore, in public and even in private life. Men are not always themselves and put on their behaviour with their clothes, but if you live with a man on board a ship for years; if you are continually with him in his cabin, your mind will soon find out how to appreciate him. I could for ever tell you the qualities of this beloved man. I have not shed a tear for years before the 21st of October and since, whenever alone, I am quite like a child.
    • Alexander Scott, Chaplain who attended to Nelson at his death.[citation needed]

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