The Mary Hamilton Papers : Diary of Mary Hamilton (5 December 1783 - 16 January 1784)

Hamilton, Mary

The Mary Hamilton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary covers the period from 5 December 1783 to 16 January 1784 and records in detail Mary Hamilton’s stay at Bulstrode with Mary Delany and the Duchess of Portland.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton writes that Mary Delany told her how happy she and the Duchess were that she had agreed to stay with them and that the Duchess had ‘taken an affection’ for her and talked of how they both loved her. She describes how flattered she was that such women held such opinions of her. Hamilton details how she spent her time at Bulstrode: reading together, visiting the grotto that Mrs Delany had made in the grounds, observing the animals and birds kept by the Duchess in the grounds, and viewing the Duchess’s collections of paintings, prints and ‘curiosities’. Hamilton describes Mrs Delany working at her spinning-wheel, ‘fringe knotting’ and making a Chinese lantern, and her own attempts to make a lantern. Hamilton details their many conversations on diverse subjects: the ‘infamous Lady Burlington’, news of the day, fashions, air balloons, why Mrs Delany began her grotto and their opinions on the subject of deference by the young. They frequently discussed literature; the Duchess of Portland offered Hamilton many anecdotes about Alexander Pope and claimed that he was an ‘Epicure’ and that Samuel Johnson ‘had not been candid nor true in things he had written of him in his life’, while Mrs Delany gave many ‘particulars relating to [Jonathan] Swift’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Many of the conversations at Bulstrode consisted of gossip about various members of the aristocracy including the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and the character of the Duke of Montagu’s mother. They talked of the attachment of dogs, of society and how women should be cautious over the society they choose and the company they are seen with in public. They also talked of Mrs Siddons and of former actors and actresses and of anecdotes concerning them. Mrs Delany gave Hamilton an account of the ‘Hell-Fire Club’ which ‘consisted of about a dozen persons of fashion of both sexes & some of the females were unmarried & some of the horrid impieties they were guilty of. [T]hey used to read & ridicule the scriptures & their conversation was blasphemous to the last degree – they used to act plays – some represented the Virgin Mary w[i]th child etc’. Hamilton continues with an account of the death of one of the club’s members.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Mrs Delany also told Hamilton that she had known the two Wesley brothers, John (1703-1791) and Charles (1707-1788), when they were young men, as they lived near her sister while they were students at Oxford. She notes that they ‘were of a serious turn & associated with such as were so – of a Sunday Ev[eni]ng these Brethren joined some other young men at Oxford & used to read of a Sunday Ev[eni]ng & read the Scriptures & find out objects of Charity for to relieve this was a happy beginning’. She continues that their ‘vanity of being Singular & growing enthusiasts made them endeavour to gain proselytes & adopt that system of Religious doctrine w[hi]ch many reasonable People think pernicious &c.’</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton notes that the Housekeeper at Bulstrode invited her to see her rooms and that she gave her some flowers as well as a peacock feather ‘to use as a marker in a book to remember her by’. The Housekeeper told her how much the servants liked her and how happy they were that the Duchess had invited her to stay longer.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton records her eclectic reading. As well as reading ‘some miscellaneous manuscripts’ and B[ishop Gilbert] Burnet’s <i>History of his Own Time</i>, she notes reading Frances Burney’s <i><i>Evelina</i></i> and Hannah More’s poem <i><i>Bas Bleu</i></i>. Mrs Delany was suffering from poor eyesight and Hamilton often read to her including a letter sent to Delany by her nephew Court Dewes who wrote about Hamilton in the letter and of his hopes that she was at Bulstrode. The Duchess of Portland commented to Hamilton whilst at Bulstrode of her constantly writing letters, noting that as she was to leave them soon, she should not write any more. However, Hamilton also knew how to enjoy herself: at a ‘merry’ dinner, ‘I laugh’d so once I was obliged to get up from the table for I was shaking’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton records Mrs Delany’s attempts at putting forward her nephew Court Dewes as a prospective husband for Hamilton. She notes Delany’s wish that he would marry and her saying many things ‘that she too well understood’; at one point Delany talked of nothing but Dewes’s ‘character, fortune & house’. Hamilton’s uncle, Sir William Hamilton, was expected to visit Bulstrode but wrote to say that the visit would have to be postponed as he was expecting an invitation from the King.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>On her journey home from Bulstrode, Hamilton records seeing a hot-air balloon and passing a wedding party. Once home, she resumed her routine of social engagements including evenings spent with members of the Bas Bleu such as the Veseys and Frances Burney, an invitation from Mrs Boscawen to attend an assembly, and an evening with the Glovers when they played cards and talked politics. Hamilton lists her many visits from family and friends. She notes spending evenings at Mrs Monatgu’s and Mrs Vesey’s with such people as Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole who (so Anna Maria Clarke told Hamilton) spoke much in her favour and talked ‘of me quitting Court in terms that did me credit’. Hamilton writes of visits from her ‘admirer’ Mr Wake who on one occasion was ‘determined to out sit Mr Pepys’ who had also called on her. On another visit she told Mr Wake ‘some truths’. Hamilton writes of the Royal family and that the Prince of Wales had enquiring after her to both her cousin, Lady Stormont, and her uncle, Sir William Hamilton. After asking about her, the Prince commented to Sir William on ‘how times alter & things change’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary also includes details of the more general aspects of Hamilton’s everyday life such as her putting laudanum onto a piece of cotton in her mouth in an attempt to relieve some pain and of a fright she and the Clarkes had when they thought that there was an attempted break-in at their house.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary concludes with details of the Duchess of Portland’s negotiations with Sir William Hamilton over her the purchase of his antique vase, now known as the Portland Vase.</p>

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