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Lot #186
Emma Hamilton

“HOW WRETCHED I AM”: Imprisoned, impoverished, and shunned by society, EMMA HAMILTON pleads ignorance in the publication of scandalous correspondence from her dead lover, ADMIRAL NELSON

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Description

“HOW WRETCHED I AM”: Imprisoned, impoverished, and shunned by society, EMMA HAMILTON pleads ignorance in the publication of scandalous correspondence from her dead lover, ADMIRAL NELSON

Born the daughter of a humble blacksmith, the model, entertainer and courtesan Emma Hamilton (née Amy Lyon, 1761) ascended through the ranks of British society to become the mistress to Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson. Their scandalous, much-discussed liaison produced a daughter, Horatia, in 1801. Following Nelson’s death in battle in 1805, Hamilton sunk deeply into debt, was sentenced to debtor’s prison, eventually fled to France to escape her creditors, and died in poverty. Hamilton and her story inspired countless books, plays, and films, including the 1941 classic That Hamilton Woman, starring Vivien Leigh. Superb ALS, signed “E. Hamilton,” one page, 7 x 8.75, no date [circa 1814]. Hamilton writes from 12 Temple Place, the modest lodging where she was kept under de facto house arrest as part of her prison sentence. In full: “I am only just up after an illness of six weeks. Please call on me. I have promised myself much happiness in seeing you. I have fretted myself to death by a villan [sic] who stole my letters, having published them, & if I was to appear before the allmighty [sic] God this moment I knew nothing of their publication, but more of this when we meet. God bless you….” After signing, Hamilton adds a stark postscript: “How wretched I am.” In May 1814, while Hamilton was still serving the “open prison” sentence handed down to her the year before, British society was stunned by the appearance of two volumes titled The Letters of Lord Nelson to Lady Hamilton with a Supplement of Interesting Letters by Distinguished Characters. Though suspicion immediately turned to Hamilton—who was accused of selling the correspondence for her own gain—the letters had most likely been stolen, possibly by a servant with whom Hamilton had quarreled. Though Hamilton evidently realized no remuneration from the scandalous publication, public and official sentiment turned firmly against her. Her pleas for a pension for herself and her daughter with Nelson were ignored—though the government had provided a generous stipend to Nelson’s “real” family—and she struggled through severely reduced circumstances for the remainder of her life. Intersecting folds, a few very faint stains, and light wrinkling, otherwise fine, bright condition. A superb rarity from one of the most colorful women in history—and certainly one of the finest Hamilton letters in existence! R&R COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title:
  • Dates: #333 - Ended May 14, 2008