The exhaustive second volume of this definitive biography treats the admiral’s supreme command of the British Navy and the bittersweet Lady Hamilton years.
British biographer Sugden is a scholar’s dream: He provides a gracious introductory bibliographic essay on previous works about Nelson and Hamilton, includes extensive maps of significant battles and even offers such helpful extras as a diagram of an “expansion” of Merton Place, Nelson’s last home in Wimbledon. Nelson: A Dream of Glory (2004) covered Horatio’s formative years: early patronage, solid marriage to Fanny and rise in ranks over the four years of wars with the French, culminating in his fame at the battle of Cape St. Vincent. This installment opens as the gravely wounded rear admiral, having lost his right arm in the disastrous defeat at Tenerife, returns to England to convalesce in Bath with his wife and aged father. Considering that his death at the Battle of Trafalgar looms in the near distance, and that the book weighs in at over 900 pages, there is a great deal to magnify over these few years. Equally epochal were the push back of Napoleonic aggression in the Mediterranean and the explosion of Nelson’s passion for the spirited second wife of elderly Lord William Hamilton. Having gained heroic stature for destroying the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, Nelson then turned to repulse Napoleon's forces from the Kingdom of Naples, before lingering rather too long there among the lotus-eaters, to the detriment of his reputation and marriage. Sugden judges sexy Emma harshly in comparison to saintly Fanny, while Nelson is portrayed as a veritable cauldron of conflicting emotions (vanity, humility, honor, guilt), a man who yearned to do his duty yet craved a bit of happiness, too.
Despite its length, a tremendously engaging work with few dull moments.