Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 888 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON, Bart. (1788-1856), Scottish meta-physician, was born in Glasgow on the 8th of March 1788. His father, Dr William Hamilton, had in 1781, on the strong recommendation of the celebrated William Hunter, been appointed to succeed his father, Dr Thomas Hamilton, as professor of anatomy in the university of Glasgow; and when he died in 1790, in his thirty-second year, he had already gained a great reputation. William Hamilton and a younger brother (after-wards Captain Thomas Hamilton, q.v.) were thus brought up under the sole care of their mother. William received his early education in Scotland, except during two years which he spent in a private school near London, and went in 1807, as a Snell exhibitioner, to Balliol College, Oxford. He obtained a first-class in literis humanioribus and took the degree of B.A. in 1811, M.A. in 1814. He had been intended for the medical profession, but soon after leaving Oxford he gave up this idea, and in 1813 became a member of the Scottish bar. His life, however, was mainly that of a student; and the following years, marked by little of outward incident, were filled by researches of all kinds, through which he daily added to his stores of learning, while at the same time he was gradually forming his philosophic system. Investigation enabled him to make good his claim to represent the ancient family of Hamilton of Preston, and in .1816 he took up the baronetcy, which had been in abeyance since the death of Sir Robert Hamilton of Preston (1650-1701), well known in his day as a Covenanting leader. Two visits to Germany in 1817 and 182o led to his taking up the study of German and later on that of contemporary German philosophy, which was then almost entirely neglected in the British universities. In 182o he was a candidate for the chair of moral philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, which had fallen vacant on the death of Thomas Brown, colleague of Dugald Stewart, and the latter's consequent resignation, but was defeated on political grounds by John Wilsi,n (1785-1854), the " Christopher North " of Blackwood's Magazine. Soon afterwards (1821) he was appointed professor of civil history, and as such delivered several courses of lectures on the history of modern Europe and the history of literature. The salary was £ioo a year, derived from a local beer tax, and was discontinued after a time. No pupils were compelled to attend, the class dwindled, and Hamilton gave it up when the salary ceased. In January 1827 he suffered a severe, loss in the death of his mother, to whom he had been a devoted son. In March 1828 he married his cousin Janet Marshall. In 1829 his career of authorship began with the appearance of the well-known essay on the "Philosophy of the Unconditioned" (a critique of Comte's Cours de philosophie)—the first of a series of articles contributed by him to the Edinburgh Review. He was elected in 1836 to the Edinburgh chair of logic and metaphysics, and from this time dates the influence which, during the next twenty years, he exerted over the thought of the younger

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