Independent 25th July 1995 – ‘Intense’ Nelson relaxed after losing arm

Handwriting tests show radical personality change. David Keys reports

Britain’s most famous naval hero, Viscount Horatio Nelson, underwent a personality change towards the end of his life, according to analysis of his handwriting commissioned by the National Maritime Museum.

A detailed examination of his handwriting from two periods – 1786 to 1797 and 1803 until his death at Trafalgar in 1805 – suggests that Nelson became less goal-obsessed, less intense and more fulfilled and relaxed after he lost his right arm (1797), started his famous affair with Lady Hamilton (1799), separated from his wife (1800) and became a vice-admiral (1801).

The analysis of 10 letters written by Nelson between 1786 and 1797 suggests that he was an intensely driven man utterly committed to the achievements of both short and long-term goals. He was impatient, planned for the future but was eager for immediate results.

The analysis also suggests that although he had great integrity, Nelson was also totally self-confident, perhaps even to the point of intellectual arrogance and ruthlessness.

Olivia Graham, a handwriting expert who was commissioned by the National Maritime Museum to analyse Nelson’s handwriting, said that the firmness, rapidity and drive of stroke suggests that Nelson lacked any feelings of anxiety, and was utterly fearless.

The second tranche of letters, written between 1803 and 1805 – after he had fully mastered the art of writing with his left hand – suggests that he was less goal-obsessed, less intense, more relaxed, more expansive with a wider field of interests – and probably even more charismatic than before.

But whether the personality changes took place because of the trauma of losing his arm or because of international recognition of his naval achievements – or simply because he found true love with Lady Hamilton – is not known, Dr Eric Kentley, the museum’s leading expert on Nelson, is organising an exhibition on the naval hero which will open at the museum in Greenwich, south-east London, in October. The handwriting research will be part of the exhibition.

Dr Kentley said: “We tend to look at Nelson’s personality through his deeds rather than trying to ananlyse the personality itself. This handwriting analysis gives us a new insight into his developing character.”

Almost two centuries after Nelson’s death, Dr Kentley was surprised at just how accurate the handwriting analysis had been.

Handwriting experts are often employed by commercial headhunting agencies and large companies to help assess candidates for executive positions.

They use seven major categories (comprising a total of about 365 different indicators) to determine a subject’s character – the pressure exerted by the pen on the paper, the degree of connectiveness and flow between letters, the relative proportions and size of letters, the shape of letters, the spacing of words and paragraphs, the apparent speed with which the material was written, and the slant of the letters.

City firms that have employed people partly on the basis of handwriting analysis of their personalities often comment on the surprising accuracy of the assessments.

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