Mary Hamilton Papers : Diary of Mary Hamilton (17 January 1784 - 17 February 1784)

Hamilton, Mary

Mary Hamilton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary covers the period from 17 January to 17 February 1784. Hamilton details her life as an independent woman living in London. She writes about events at Court and the changes in the Queen’s House. The diary also includes Hamilton’s frequent conversations with her many friends and acquaintances on subjects such as politics, the Royal family, the actress Sarah Siddons and the characters of her friends.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton details her many visits, social engagements and meetings, including her visits to the Duchess of Portland and Mary Delany, Elizabeth Vesey and Frances Burney. She expresses her contentment with her way of life after leaving Court, remarking after attending a dinner at the Glovers that she spent a ‘tranquil day not envying the fine folks [...] but enjoying my Liberty!’ Hamilton describes how she spent evenings at her friends. After dinner with the Glovers she read a manuscript of the life of Epaminondas to Mr Glover. She remarks that Miss More was particularly happy to see her. Hamilton attended an engagement with Elizabeth Carter, Horace Walpole, Joshua Reynolds, Frances Burney and her uncle, Sir William Hamilton, in which the conversation was of ‘former beauties’. She records a number of anecdotes made by Mrs Carter. The Duchess gave Hamilton ‘a very beautiful & fine present, a gage d’amitee - she styled it – this was a Watch and Chain of the newest fashion, the Chain of Silk, decorated w[i]th Tassels & other ornaments of Steel, Pearl, Gold Beads with a Seal & other Trinkets suitable in elegance’. She also notes that the Duchess asked Sir William Hamilton for an impression of his coat of arms so that she could ‘have a seal cut for me of my arms’. Hamilton enjoyed the Duchess’s company: her conversation was ‘always pleasant and instructive. She is good humoured, polite, sensible and attentive [...] well-informed, well-read and always had some anecdotes’. The diary also details the Duchess’s purchase from Sir William Hamilton of what became known as the ‘Portland Vase’, and Hamilton’s involvement in the proceedings.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton records visits to her friends Mrs [Charlotte] Walsingham and Miss Boyle and their reading and discussion on Mr Farmingham’s <i><i>Scandinavian Poetry</i></i>, which Hamilton considered ‘poor stuff’. Mrs Walsingham informed her that the poet had previously written a few lines to Miss Boyle for her birthday. She also describes attending the first of a series of ten private concerts, recording those attending.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary contains the gossip and Society news of the day, for example the excitement over the concert of music at Westminster Abbey that was to be held in honour of Handel, which the King and Queen were to attend. She writes about Lady Stormont’s visit to the Prince of Wales at Carleton House, describing the house and of the evening. She discusses the Dowager Countess Spencer whose ‘inconsistencies’, Mrs Walsingham believed, were ‘due to as Pope describes it <i><i>Lust of Praise</i></i>’. Hamilton records anecdotes relating to Lady Spencer including her playing at the gaming table all night, then changing her dress to go to early prayers.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton writes about the men who admire and pursue her, including William Wake (son of Hamilton’s friend, Lady Wake). She describes his character and his many visits to her. She told him that his visits were ‘troublesome’ to her and she undertook to advise him on any shortcomings in his conduct; she notes that ‘he takes the criticism with patience’. Hamilton also reports a visit from someone who lived near the Dickenson family in Derbyshire who told her that John Dickenson (her future husband) ‘was not yet married’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary also records Hamilton’s relationship with her family. She was a frequent visitor to her cousin Lady Stormont and enjoyed the company of her uncle, Sir William Hamilton. Her uncle, Frederick Hamilton, often visited her and told her many anecdotes of her grandmother, Lady Archibald Hamilton, ‘that did her much honour’. Her grandmother was a ‘woman of the strictest honor - liberal – to a degree & very benevolent her manners uncommonly pleasing & highly polished’. She sacrificed the best part of her life and her health in the service of a Court and ‘retired disappointed & disgusted with the insincerity & great ingratitude she experienced – many peoples fortunes she made – but her own she injured by her liberalities and she was of too noble a spirit to advance it by accepting any thing from the Court she quitted.’ On a visit to her cousin Charles Greville’s apartment, she notes that the rooms were fitted out ‘more like a fine Ladies – in my opinion – than a man’s’. She praises her cousin Miss Jane Hamilton for her musical abilities and her ‘good heart’. She notes that Miss Hamilton was about fifteen years old and ‘elegant in her person & almost pretty & looks like a girl of fashion’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton records drawing a design for a new fan for her friend Miss Gunning, making a bag for Mrs Glover in the shape of a balloon, attending a working-party ‘with a number of Ladies’, and spending her time reading, drawing and writing in her diary. She justifies reading a new novel ‘because it was written by the Lady who wrote the <i><i>Old English Baron,</i></i> – which I thought an ingenious pretty work’. She writes of reading other poetry and a new translation and also writes of the author Madame [Anne-Marie] du Boccage; Lord Stormont said he had known her and that she was a very dull woman ‘though it was the fashion to think her a Belle Esprit’. Lord Stormont told her that when Madame du Boccage invited him to dinner she used the following words: ‘Sir, I beg, pray, you would could should can will dine with me’. Stormont added that this absurd string of words ‘lasted near a minute’. Hamilton writes of her annoyance at the daily routine of having her hair dressed and of the time it takes dressing for the day: ‘I hate that loss of time which dressing occasions’. She does not place too much attention on dress and on not wanting to be at the height of fashion, preferring to be ‘plain than decorated’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton also writes of being involved in accidents whilst travelling, with two horses falling on two separate trips, and of visiting Robsons the booksellers to look at prints and drawings. She discusses her own and others’ servants, noting that she gave her maid Hannah some ‘good advice on not encouraging young men’ visiting her; Hannah seemed grateful for this advice.</p>


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