Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 885 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ELIZABETH HAMILTON (1758–1816), British author, was born at Belfast, of Scottish extraction, on the 21st of July 1758. Her father's death in 1759 left his wife so embarrassed that Elizabeth was adopted in 1762 by her paternal aunt, Mrs Marshall, who lived in Scotland, near Stirling. In 1788 Miss Hamilton went to live with her brother Captain Charles Hamilton (1753–1792), who was engaged on his translation of the Hedaya. Prompted by her brother's associations, she produced her is more justly measured than Madison's (in 1831) : " That he possessed intellectual powers of the first order, and the moral qualities of integrity and honour in a captivating degree, has been awarded him by a suffrage now universal. If his theory of government deviated from the republican standard he had the candour to avow it, and the greater merit of co-operating faithfully in maturing and supporting a system which was not his choice." In person Hamilton was rather short and slender; in carriage, erect, dignified and graceful. Deep-set, changeable, dark eyes vivified his mobile features, and set off his light hair and fair, ruddy complexion. His head in the famous Trumbull portrait is boldly poised and very striking. The captivating charm of his manners and conversation is attested by all who knew him, and in familiar life he was artlessly simple. Friends he won readily, and he held them in devoted attachment by the solid worth of a frank, ardent, generous, warm-hearted and high-minded character. Versatile as were his intellectual powers, his nature seems comparatively simple. A firm will, tireless energy, aggressive courage and bold self-confidence were its leading qualities; the word " intensity " perhaps best sums up his character. His Scotch and Gallic strains of ancestry are evident; his countenance was decidedly Scotch; his nervous speech and bearing and vehement temperament. rather French; in his mind, agility, clarity and penetration were matched with logical solidity. The remarkable quality of his mind lay in the rare combination of acute analysis and grasp of detail with great comprehensiveness of thought. So far as his writings show, he was almost wholly lacking in humour, and in imagination little less so. He certainly had wit, but it is hard to believe he could have had any touch of fancy. In public speaking he often combined a rhetorical effectiveness and emotional intensity that might take the place of imagination, and enabled him, on the coldest theme, to move deeply the feelings of his Letters of a Hindoo Rajah in 1796. Soon after, with her sister Mrs Blake, she settled at Bath, where she published in 1800 the Memoirs of Modern Philosophers, a satire on the admirers of the French Revolution. In 1801–1802 appeared her Letters on Education. After travelling through Wales and Scotland for nearly two years, the sisters took up their abode in 18o3 at Edinburgh. In 1804 Mrs Hamilton, as she then preferred to be called, published her Life of Agrippina, wife of Germanicus; and in the same year she received a pension from government. The Cotlagers of Glenburnie (1808), which is her best-known work, was described by Sir Walter Scott as " a picture of the rural habits of Scotland, of striking and impressive fidelity." She also published Popular Essays on the Elementary Principles of the Human Mind (1812), and Hints addressed to the Patrons and Directors of Public Schools (1815). She died at Harrogate on the 23rd of July 1816. Memoirs of Mrs Elizabeth Hamilton, by Miss Benger, were published in 1818.
End of Article: ELIZABETH HAMILTON (1758–1816)
LADY EMMA HAMILTON (c. 1765-1815)

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