NELSON, Horatio, Viscount Nelson - BEATTY, William.

Authentic Narrative of the Death of Lord Nelson:

with the circumstances preceding, attending, and subsequent to, that event; the Professional Report on his Lordship's Wound; and Several Interesting Anecdotes.

London: by T. Davison for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1807 Stock Code: 128879
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"Beatty forged the myth of the dying Nelson" - presentation copy to the secretary of the Sick and Hurt Board

First edition, inscribed in an elegantly flourished secretarial hand on the blank before the frontispiece: "To John Houseman Esqr. with every sentiment of Regard by his friend & humble servant, the author". A most apposite and appealing provenance: the recipient is almost certainly the John Houseman who was appointed in 1798 as first clerk to the Sick and Hurt Board.

By 1814 Houseman had risen to the position of secretary to the committee and chief clerk. The Board was an important body that "maintained the naval hospitals and medical organization and was concerned to provide the best medical staff" (N. A. M. Rodger, The Wooden World, 1988, pp. 35 and 111).

Beatty (1773-1842) was ship's surgeon on the Victory at Trafalgar; he "joined the navy at an early age, and saw much service in it in various parts of the world. In 1806 he was appointed physician to the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, an office which he retained until 1840. He attended Nelson after he received his fatal wound, performed the autopsy, and published An Authentic Narrative of the Death of Lord Nelson (1807), which included a representation of the ball which killed Nelson, with the pieces of the coat, gold lace, and silk pad which remained fixed in it. The ball Beatty retained in his possession in a crystal case mounted in gold; he bequeathed this to the queen" (ODNB). In his preface, Beatty notes that his account was intended to be included in Clarke and M'Arthur's monumental Life "but from the length of time which must necessarily elapse before so extensive and magnificent a Publication can be completed, the Author has been induced to print it in a separate form".

"It was principally through this text that the British public and the world learnt for the first time of the mortally wounded admiral's selflessness and stoicism, his request that Hardy should kiss him as the captain took his leave, and his constantly repeated dying words: 'Thank God I have done my duty.' Beatty's narrative was the stuff of which legends are made, and generations of historians have uncritically pillaged the text ever since. In an important respect, then, Beatty forged the myth of the dying Nelson... it was Nelson's surgeon who eternally placed the death of the hero in the minds of the British nation" (Brockliss, Cardwell & Moss, Nelson's Surgeon: William Beatty, Naval Medicine, and the Battle of Trafalgar, OUP 2005, p. 10).

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Octavo (227 x 139 mm). Contemporary calf recently neatly rebacked, blue morocco label, single-line gilt border to sides, red speckled edges.


Stipple-engraved portrait frontispiece by Scriven after A. W. Devis and a similar plate of the fatal musket ball.


Some wear to corners and periphery of boards, frontispiece foxed, offsetting from plates, occasional light thumbing A very good, wide-margined copy; paper watermarked "E & P 1804".


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