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Significant Scots
Count Anthony Hamilton


HAMILTON, (COUNT) ANTHONY, a pleasing describer of manners, and writer of fiction, was born about the year 1646. Although a native of Ireland, and in after life more connected with France and England than with Scotland, the parentage of this eminent writer warrants us in considering him a proper person to fill a place in a biography of eminent Scotsmen. The father of Anthony Hamilton was a cadet of the ducal house of Hamilton, and his mother was sister to the celebrated duke of Ormond, lord lieutenant of Ireland. The course of politics pursued by the father and his connexions compelled him, on the execution of Charles the First, to take refuge on the continent, and the subject of our memoir, then an infant, accompanied his parents and the royal family in their exile in France. The long residence of the exiles in a country where their cause was respected, produced interchanges of social manners, feelings, and pursuits, unknown to the rival nations since the days of the Crusades, and the young writer obtained by early habit that colloquial knowledge of the language, and familiar acquaintance with the magnificent court of France, which enabled him to draw a finished picture of French life, as it existed in its native purity, and as it became gradually engrafted in English society. At the age of fourteen he returned with the restored monarch to England, but in assuming the station and duties of a British subject, he is said to have felt a reluctance to abandon the levities of a gayer minded people, which were to him native feelings. The return of the court brought with it Englishmen, who had assimilated their manners to those of the French, and Frenchmen, anxious to see the country which had beheaded its king, and not averse to bestow the polish of their own elegant court on the rough framework of the re-constructed kingdom. Of these polished foreigners, the circumstances under which one celebrated individual visited the British court are too much interwoven with the literary fame of Anthony Hamilton, to be here omitted.

The chevalier, afterwards count de Grammont, one of the gayest ornaments of the court of Louis, found it inconvenient to remain in France after having disputed with his master the heart of a favourite mistress. High born, personally courageous, enthusiastic in the acquisition of "glory," handsome, extravagant, an inveterate gambler, a victor in war and in love, Volage, et même un peu perfide en amour, the French emigrant to the court of England was a perfect human being, according to the measure of the time and the place. The admired qualities with which he was gifted by nature, were such as control and prudence could not make more agreeable; but the friends of the chevalier seem sometimes to have regretted that the liaisons in which he was frequently engaged were so destructive to the peace of others, and would have prudently suggested the pursuit of intrigues, which might have been less dangerous to his personal safety. The chevalier found in his exile a new field rich in objects that engaged his vagrant affections. Tired of alternate conquest and defeat, he is represented as having finally concentrated his affections on the sister of his celebrated biographer, on whom the brother has bestowed poetical charms, in one of the most exquisite of his living descriptions of female beauty, but who has been less charitably treated in the correspondence of some of her female rivals. The attentions of the chevalier towards Miss Hamilton were of that decided cast which admitted of but one interpretation, and justice to his memory requires the admission, that he seemed to have fixed on her as firm and honourable an affection as so versatile a heart could form. But constancy was not his characteristic virtue. He forgot for an interval his vows and promises, and prepared to return to France without making any particular explanation with the lady or her brother. When he had just left the city, Anthony Hamilton and his brother George found it absolutely necessary to prepare their pistols, and give chase to the faithless lover. Before he had reached Dover, the carriage of the offended brothers had nearly overtaken him. "Chevalier De Grammont," they cried, "have you forgot nothing in London?"—"Beg pardon, gentlemen;" said the pursued, " I forgot to marry your sister." The marriage was immediately concluded to the satisfaction of both parties, and the inconstant courtier appears to have ever after enjoyed a due share of domestic felicity and tranquillity. The chevalier returned with his wife to his native country, and Hamilton seems to have added to the attraction of early associations a desire to pay frequent visits to a country which contained a sister for whom he seems to have felt much affection. Hamilton and Grammont entertained for each other an esteem which was fostered and preserved by the similarity of their tastes and dispositions. A third person, differing in many respects from both, while he resembled them in his intellect, was the tasteful and unfortunate St Evremond, and many of the most superb wits of the brilliant court of Louis XIV. added the pleasures, though not always the advantages of their talents to the distinguished circle. Wit and intellect, however perverted, always meet the due homage of qualities which cannot be very much abused, and generally exercise themselves for the benefit of mankind; but unfortunately the fashion of the age prompted its best ornaments to seek amusement among the most degraded of the species, who were in a manner elevated by the approach which their superiors strove to make towards them, and these men could descend so far in the scale of humanity as to find pleasure even in the company of the notorious Blood.

Anthony Hamilton was naturally a favourite at the court of St Germains, and maintained a prominent figure in many of the gorgeous entertainments of the epicurean monarch. He is said to have performed a part in the celebrated ballet of the Triumph of Love. Being by birth and education a professed Roman catholic, Charles II, who befriended him as a courtier, dared not, and could not by the laws, bestow on him any ostensible situation as a statesman. His brother James, however, was less scrupulous, and under his short reign Hamilton found himself colonel of a regiment of foot, and governor of Limerick. Having enjoyed the fruits of the monarch’s rashness, Hamilton faithfully bore his share of the consequences, and accompanied his exiled prince to St Germains, but he was no lover of solitude, seclusion, and the Jesuits, and took little pains to conceal his sense of the disadvantageous change which the palace had experienced since his previous residence within its walls. The company of the brilliant wits of France sometimes exhilarated his retirement, but the playful count frequently found that in the sombre residence of the exiled monarch, the talents which had astonished and delighted multitudes must be confined to his own solitary person, or discover some other method of displaying themselves to the world; and it is likely that we may date to the loyalty of the author, the production of one of the most interesting pictures of men and manners that was ever penned. All the works of count Anthony Hamilton were prepared during his exile, and it was then that he formed, of the life and character of his brother-in-law, a nucleus round which he span a vivid description of the manners of the day, and of the most distinguished persons of the English court. In the "Memoirs of Grammont," unlike Le Sage, Cervantes, and Fielding, the author paints the vices, follies, and weaknesses of men, not as a spectator, but as an actor, and he may be suspected of having added many kindred adventures of his own to those partly true and partly imagined of his hero. But the elasticity of a vivid and lively imagination, acute in the observation of frailties and follies, is prominent in his graphic descriptions; and no one who reads his cool pictures of vice and sophism can avoid the conviction that the author looked on the whole with the eye of a satirist, and had a mind fitted for better things—while at the same time the spirit of the age had accustomed his mind, in the words of La Harpe, ne connoitre d’autre vice que le ridicule.

The picture of the English court drawn by Hamilton is highly instructive as matter of history—it represents an aspect of society which may never recur, and the characters of many individuals whose talents and adventures are interesting to the student of human nature: nor will the interest of these sketches be diminished, when they are compared with the characters of the same individuals pourtrayed by the graver pencils of Hyde and Burnet. That the picture is fascinating with all its deformity, has been well objected to the narrative of the witty philosopher, but few who read the work in this certainly more proper and becoming age will find much inducement to follow the morals of its heroes; and those who wish a graver history of the times may refer to the Atalantis of Mrs Manley, where if the details are more unvarnished, they are neither so likely to gratify a well regulated taste, nor to leave the morals so slightly affected. The other works written by count Anthony Hamilton in his solitude were Le Belier, Fleur d’epine -:Les quatre Facurdins et Teneyde. Many persons accused him of extravagance in his Eastern Tales - a proof that his refined wit had not allowed him to indulge sufficiently in real English grotesqueness, when he wished to caricature the French out of a ravenous appetite for the wonders of the Arabian Nights Entertainments. Count Anthony Hamilton died at St Germains in 1720, in his 64th year, and on his death-bed exhibited feelings of religion, which Voltaire and others have taken pains to exhibit as inconsistent with his professions and the conduct of his life. His works have been highly esteemed in France, and whether from an amalgamation of the feelings of the two nations, or its intrinsic merits, Englishmen have professed to find in one of them the best picture of the habits and feelings of that brilliant and versatile nation. Grammont himself is maintained by St Simon, to have been active in bringing before the world the work in which his own probity is so prominently described, and to have appealed to the chancellor against the decision of Fontenelle, who as censor of the work considered it a very improper attack on so eminent a person as the count de Grammont. The first complete collection of Hamilton’s works was published in six vols. 12mo, along with his correspondence, in 1749. A fine impression of Grammont was prepared by Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill in 1772, in 4to, with notes and portraits—a rare edition, less tastefully republished in 1783. In 1792, Edwards published a quarto edition, with correct notes, numerous portraits, and an English translation, which has been twice republished. Two fine editions of the author’s whole works were published at Paris, 1812, four vols. 8vo, and 1813, five vols. 18mo, accompanied with an extract from a translation into French, of Pope’s Essay on Criticism, by the count, said still to exist in manuscript.


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