Our shops are open and we are processing online, telephone and email orders as normal

CLARKE, James Stanier, & John McArthur.

The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, K.B. From His Lordship's Manuscripts.

London: Printed by T. Bensley, for T. Cadell and W. Davies, and W. Miller, 1809 Stock Code: 46705
Reserve Ask us a question

"Clarke and McArthur were responsible for creating more myths about Nelson than any other authors"

First edition of "one of the main foundation stones of the Nelson legend" (Cannadine, p. 99); Lowndes notes that "1200 copies were subscribed for", this a handsome copy with an appealing maritime provenance. Clarke and McArthur's book is fittingly handsome, being printed by Thomas Bensley, one of the best printers of the day, on superior quality paper.

Provenance: contemporary armorial bookplate of John Lind (1750-1831), physician to Haslar Royal Naval Hospital, a position in which he succeeded his father, famously author of A Treatise of the Scurvy (1753); later bookplate of Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Gowlland (1903-1988), with a typed letter signed by C. M. Bruce of the Admiralty, recording the book's presentation to him in 1935 as winner of the Henry Leigh Carslake Prize, an essay competition "to reward Naval Observers who wrote compellingly on topics surrounding the Fleet Air Arm" (dreadnoughtproject.org, retrieved 09.10.20). At the time of presentation, Gowlland was serving at the School of Naval Co-operation, Lee-on-Solent; previously he had been on observer duties with various ships of the Atlantic Fleet and in the Mediterranean.

John McArthur, a former naval purser, had served with Nelson in the Mediterranean and had already begun collecting material for a biography when he saw "an advertisement in the papers announcing that the Nelson family had selected a gentleman 'of high respectability and rank' to write the life, and asking all who had letters in their possession not to make their material available to anyone else." McArthur came forward, claiming, groundlessly, that Nelson himself had asked him to write his life, and that he had already incurred considerable expense in preparing the book, including the commissioning of a set of paintings to be engraved as illustrations. An unseemly squabble ensued, the outcome of which was fairly inevitable in that Earl Nelson was under pressure from the Prince Regent to commission his librarian and chaplain, James Stanier Clarke, to write the book. It was agreed that the authors would pool their efforts, but not before they had further fallen out over whose name should come first on the title page. That we do not refer to McArthur & Clarke is a lasting memorial to the usefulness of a powerful patron. The finished work is wonderfully illustrated with anecdotal headpieces and plates by Westall and battle-scenes by Nicholas Pocock. The subscribers list is a remarkable directory of the great and the good of Regency Britain with an inevitable emphasis on naval notables. William Beckford took the only copy on vellum, Sir Home Popham and Admiral Keats proof copies, as also Admirals Cornwallis and Anson, Earl St Vincent and Lady Hamilton. Thomas Masterman Hardy had an ordinary copy, as did the Sandwich Book Society and Leeds Circulating Library. Roger Knight, Nelson's highly-acclaimed biographer, notes that "Clarke and McArthur were responsible for creating more myths about Nelson than any other authors".

Confused? Read our glossary


2 volumes, quarto (340 x 270 mm). Contemporary russia neatly rebacked with the original spines laid down, five low raised bands decorated with gilt wavy rolls, gilt lettered direct in the second and fifth compartments, the others tooled with a large blind foliate motif enclosing a gilt quatrefoil, sides with gilt French fillet border enclosing a frame of blind palmette rolls, decorative gilt corner pieces, gilt milled edge roll at corners, Stormont pattern marbled edges and endpapers, turn-ins with gilt zig-zag and circle roll.


Frontispiece and 3 other plates to vol. I, 7 plates to vol. II, 4 of them accompanied by plans, headpieces, vignettes and facsimiles to the text, double page pedigree to vol. I.


Contemporary bookplate of John Lind, physician to Haslar Naval Hospital, a position in which he had succeeded his father, author of A Treatise of the Scurvy; later bookplate of Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Gowlland (1903-1988) of the School of Naval Co-operation, Lee-on -Solent, letter loosely inserted records the book's presentation to him in 1935 as the Henry Leigh Carslake Prize. A little rubbed at the extremities, slight tape mark to front endpaper of vol. I (where letter previously tipped-in), small wax stain at fore edge of vol. I encroaching just slightly onto blank margin of a couple of gatherings, some light browning and scattered foxing, but overall a very good copy.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.

Email: mail@peterharrington.co.uk

Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book