The Mary Hamilton Papers : Diary of Mary Hamilton (23 April 1784 - 20 June 1784)

Hamilton, Mary

The Mary Hamilton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary covers the period from 23 April to 20 June 1784 and includes a visit by Mary Hamilton to see the famous chess-playing automaton, known as the ‘Turk’. She was a guest of Lord Dartrey, who had organised a private viewing. An advert for the exhibition of the automaton, pasted into the diary, claims that the automaton that was played against was dressed to ‘represent a Turk, with a Pipe in his Hand’ and was attached to a table on which the chess board is then placed. When Hamilton attended the private viewing of what she termed this ‘surprising piece of mechanism’, she queried whether a magnet would affect the play but was assured that the strongest magnet would have no affect. She continues to describe the machine and its inventor, ‘a well-bred man’ who is very ‘communicative’. He told her that he prided himself much more on a fire engine that he had invented. The automaton is run by machinery which is initially in full view of the audience before the doors to it are closed and the ‘Automaton begins the Game by making the first move, handing the piece to a Proper place by motions resembling those of a living person’. Hamilton was ‘highly pleased’ with the machine and wrote that Lord Dartrey played against the machine and lost. Hamilton also writes of a ‘speaking machine’ that was also being exhibited, which seems less complicated than the chess-playing machine. It has caused its inventor much trouble and has not yet been perfected. After the exhibition, the group visited Merlins [Mechanical Museum] to see ‘his curious inventions’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary records Hamilton’s reading matter which included <i><i>Horace</i></i>. She provides details of visits to and from her many friends, including members of the bluestocking circle. She notes that Mr Farhill gave her a poem, a satire on learned women and his partiality for her.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>At an evening party that included Frances Boscawen, Eva Garrick, Hannah More and Charlotte Walsingham, the Duchess of Devonshire was discussed: ‘The conversation was lively & sensible’ and ‘several strictures were passed on the Duchess of Devonshire’s conduct – many anecdotes of the follies she had been guilty of & the affronts she had rec[eive]d in her canvass for Mr Fox, a judgement was also passed on her verses w[hi]ch were pronounced to be very indifferent & by no means to merit the applause some people had given them’. She writes of meeting the Duchess on the 27 April 1784 while the Duchess was campaigning for Mr Fox. The Duchess’s coach was surrounded by a ‘mob’ and Hamilton writes disapprovingly of the Duchess. ‘What a pity that any of our Sex should ever forget what is due to female delicacy – the Scenes this D[uches]s has been in lately were they noted down w[oul]d not gain credit to those who were not in London at the time of the Election’. At a later dinner at Mrs Veseys, the conduct of the Duchess and the Westminster Election was the only subject of conversation. They talked of the ‘Grand’ procession of Mr Fox which ‘was so well conducted that it was a fine sight, the Duchess of Devonshire, the Prince of Wales etc were standing on ladders set against the walls of the Court of Devonshire House waving laurels, Fox tails in their hats etc when their hero pass[e]d in his triumphal car’. Other subjects of conversation were Mrs Walsingham’s character, the ‘humanity care we ought to treat servants’ and the Royal family. At another visit with Mrs Carter and others she and the other guests talked of the King’s coldness to the Prince of Wales which is supposedly the result of the Prince ‘interfering in politics & being in opposition’. Hamilton also talked politics with Mr Churchill, whom she calls the ‘political apothecary’ who called to see the housemaid who is ill. He told Hamilton that Mr Fox had gained 18 votes that day and ‘that he heard there had been [...] riotous doings this morning at the Hustings. Mr C is a violent opponent of Mr Fox – he is Brother to the late Churchill the Poet’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton describes another Bas Bleu evening when Samuel Johnson entertained the party with stories of Oliver Goldsmith. ‘Dr Johnston [<i>sic</i>] said of the late Dr Goldsmith that he never knew a Head so unfurnished – that he knew very little of any subject he ever wrote upon. That his abilities were equal to any man’s he ever met with – but that he had no application upon the most common subjects he was very ignorant – of w[hi]ch he gave many & daily proofs – he was one of the most envious of men – he could not bear to hear of praise of any one nay even the Beauty of a woman being praised he could not indure [<i>sic</i>]. [...] Mrs Carter said that Dr G was a very vulgar man and vastly conceited’. The description of the evening continues over three pages of the diary.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton visits the studio of the painter John Opie to see his portrait of Richard Glover which was intended be a gift for her. She ‘was not sufficiently satisfied with it to take it away’ and Opie agreed to continue working on it, if Mr Glover could be persuaded to sit for him once more. She visited an exhibition at the Royal Academy and also visited the painter George Romney with Miss Gunning, who was sitting for her portrait. Hamilton also describes a visit to the Pantheon and attending Westminster Abbey to hear Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with Dr Charles Burney, James Boswell and Miss Palmer amongst others. She comments on Mr Boswell that he ‘is one of those people w[i]th whom one feels instantly acquainted with’ and that they talked together with as much ease as if they had been ‘intimate a long time’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton describes a new type of crime that was gaining prominence in London. ‘Much talk of a new species of Robbery – w[hi]ch was the Diamond pins out of the ladies heads as they were getting into their Carriages [...] Mrs Hobbart was coming out of a great Assembly a Man hit her a violent blow on the temple - pull[e]d her earring quite through her Ear. The Gentleman who was handling her was surprised to hear her scream out & turning round saw the blood pouring down her neck for the Ear was torn quite through’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton remarks on meeting the poet Miss Helen Williams, who was sponsored by Mrs Montagu before they had a falling out. She also records everyday matters such as Mrs Carter buying her coffee as she believes that she can get it cheaper and better than anyone else, and of being busy looking over house linens. Hamilton describes a visit by Lord Monboddo who handed her some manuscript letters to copy and made her a gift of books. She was ‘diverted’ with Monboddo’s belief that man in his ‘original state to be pretty much upon par with an Orang Outang’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary also contains details of an offer of marriage that Hamilton received from ‘M. Bourdieu’. The diary ends with Hamilton’s receiving John Dickenson’s declaration of love: he told her that he ‘had never loved any other woman and that his heart was in’ Hamilton’s possession. Hamilton writes of receiving an unexpected letter from Dickenson which she ‘did not have the power to read’. Dickenson intended to come to London specifically to see her and he asked her permission to do so. Hamilton agreed and Dickenson asked her to be his wife. She writes that they began a conversation which ‘decided my future destiny’.</p>

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