The Mary Hamilton Papers : Diary of Mary Hamilton (3 August 1784 - 17 August 1784)

Hamilton, Mary

The Mary Hamilton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary covers the period from 3 to 17 August 1784 and includes details of Mary Hamilton’s first view of a hot-air balloon. She also records the poetry and literature that she has read, the Bas Bleu evenings she attends at Elizabeth Vesey’s, visits to and from her many prominent friends, and her numerous other engagements.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton describes visiting Mary Delany at Bulstrode. While there she helped Delany to arrange and clean ‘some curious old china in a cabinet’, a task that Delany would not trust anyone else to do for her. She arranged Delany’s cabinet of fossils and minerals and was given some specimens from it. Hamilton spent time looking at prints with Delany, including one of the air balloon that was to be let off the following week. Hamilton details some of the conversations she had with Delany including one about a woman of ‘high rank’ whom Delany thought ‘dress[e]d out too much for a woman of fashion & quality’. It was Hamilton’s belief ‘that as in breeding so in dress, People of real fashion are distinguish[e]d by ease & [word crossed out] observe less ostentation’ in dress.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton also writes about her family including Lady Stormont and Charles Greville, who has agreed to sit for his portrait for George Romney. Hamilton discusses the best way he should position himself for his portrait and comments that he will make a ‘charming interesting picture’. Hamilton writes approvingly of Lady Stormont’s sensible views on the importance of economy: although married to a man of great fortune she nevertheless views ‘economy in every situation’ as a necessity. It is likely that her fortune will increase in future as it is expected that Lord Mansfield will leave his wealth to Lord Stormont. Hamilton lists the household establishment of Lady Stormont and the number of servants she has. She also writes about Lady Stormont’s daughter-in-law, a Miss Murray, who is about 26 years old (a year older than Lady Stormont) who is staying with Lady Stormont while she is confined. Miss Murray was the only child of Lord Stormont’s first wife who died whilst Miss Murray was very young. Hamilton describes her as a woman of fashion and good education who lives with Lord Mansfield and two of Lord Stormont’s sisters.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton records that a man brought the portrait of Richard Glover that she had commissioned from the artist John Opie. She comments that ‘it is not a pleasing likeness, but I ought not to find fault as he [Glover] would not have sat for any body but me & he was ill when the picture was taken’ (see HAM/2/10). Hamilton also records her meetings with the Prince Regent and of her many evenings spent with Bas Blue friends. At one such evening Mrs Vesey told Hamilton many anecdotes about Ireland; Hamilton comments that ‘few people relate more equally than Mrs Vesey – her magnetism is so luxuriant that she always embellishes – not that she is guilty of telling falsehoods – but the sweetness of her own nature always makes her see things & people in the most favourable point of view’. Hamilton describes having a ‘long argument’ with Mrs Vesey on the subject of the education of women; Mr Vesey and Mrs Handcock were on her side, while Miss Clarke ‘as usual was dumb & what was more mortifying she did not seem even to listen to our debate’. They later had an ‘agreeable lively conversation’ on air balloons, superstition, marriages, and how people love to judge the conduct of others, and they ended their conversation on the subject of madness and Bedlam. Hamilton comments that if she had time it would be amusing to write down the dialogue of this conversation.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton also records that Elizabeth Vesey talked of an obelisk in Mr Vesey’s grounds in Ireland, under which she would like to be buried when she died. Vesey noted that she mentioned this once to her husband and he immediately wrote down some lines, which he gave to her saying that he ‘would comply with her request and that this should be their epitaph’. Hamilton continues on Mrs Vesey and on her first marriage to a ‘disagreeable old man in his 70th year’ [William Handcock], and that her father [Sir Thomas Vesey, Bishop of Ossory] had ‘sacrific[ed]’ her to this man because he was his friend. Hamilton also writes of a visit with Elizabeth to Sir Joshua Reynolds and his niece, Miss Palmer. They had not seen Miss Palmer since the death of her sister and Hamilton records that Miss Palmer burst into tears when they entered. They stayed with her for a hour and treated themselves to a tour in Reynold’s picture gallery.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton discusses her engagement to John Dickenson and her friends’ support for her marriage. She notes that she ‘possess[es] the heart of an amiable man whom I love, & whom I have ever prefer’d to every other’. She notes that her uncle, Sir William Hamilton, has written inviting her and John Dickenson to visit him in Naples and to stay there for a year after their marriage. Hamilton also writes about a meeting she had with one of her other uncles, Frederick Hamilton, and her discussions with him on the subject of her marriage and of business relating to her finances and of the estate which her uncle had inherited from Hamilton’s father in Scotland.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary is also full of gossip of the possible marriages and engagements in society, including Mr North the son of Lord North, who is said to marry soon, a fact that Hamilton takes no pleasure in as the woman in question ‘has not sixpence & he is ruined and it is not likely his grandfather Lord Guildford(?) will part with any money whilst he lives’. She continues that Lord Causton had proposed marriage to Lady Maria Waldergrave but his ‘father Lord Grafton will not give his consent which is thought cruel and unacceptable’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton writes with news of her friends and acquaintances. For instance, she details the refurbishments at that have been carried out at Chatsworth House [home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire]; it was reported that £1500 was spent on refurbishing the drawing room and all that was purchased were new chairs and sofas and there was also a small alteration to the chimney-piece. The man employed for the work was named Gobert and it was said that he was also involved in the ‘fitting up’ of Carleton House and that he was once a cook ‘and is now employed by fine people to decorate their houses instead of their tables’. Hamilton had begun a collection of china and she notes that on returning home on the 6 August 1784, her friend, Mrs Handcock, knowing her interest had sent her a valuable gift of tea cups and saucers made from egg-shell china. Hamilton also describes sitting for her portrait by the painter Sanderson and feeling uncomfortable in doing so; she ‘talked to him as much as I could to prevent his giving me the continence of a fool for I felt annoyingly silly’. Hamilton was pleased with the finished portrait but the two Miss Clarkes found fault with it. Some of her friends thought that the mouth was painted too large whilst others ‘thought it was the only resemblance’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Politics were frequently discussed at the social events Hamilton attended and she comments on the significant Parliamentary bills and events of the day. She records the various charitable endeavours to which she and her friends contributed. She also writes of a man whom she deemed unworthy of her charity: ‘[t]hat good for nothing Mr Coupland came again this Even[ing]. He sent another letter a few days ago. He is so wicked, that it would be wrong to give him any thing as he w[oul]d make an improper use of any money one could give him & he w[oul]d accept of no other relief’. She writes of meeting a poor, heavily pregnant woman who had hardly any clothes to cover her. This woman was an ‘object of real compassion and her story was an artless one’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The subject of hot-air balloons features prominently in the diary. Whilst at her friend’s Lady Dartrey (whom Hamilton describes as a ‘pattern [...] for the whole sex’) they see a small air balloon floating in the sky at such a great height that is seemed only to be a small black speck. Her friend Miss Clarke spent five hours in a coach just to see the air balloon at Chelsea and all she managed to see was the top of it. Hamilton records that ‘the Mob were so enraged that the Chevalier Moret w[oul]d not let it ascend on acc[oun]t of the Rain that they set fire to it & destroy’d what cost some hundred of Pounds – besides the labour & anxiety of the poor man’ that made it. She notes that Lady Herries had been to Chelsea the previous day to see the Chinese air balloon and did not believe that it would succeed in ascending as it was an old one that had previously failed in France. The owner ‘had got Subscriptions they say to the amount of £2000. It was a Miracle he escaped the fury of the Mob’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>On Friday 13 August Hamilton set off herself to see ‘one of these curious vehicles’. The balloon was being shown by Lunardi at the Lyceum and was to be the first ever hot-air balloon to take off in London. Hamilton describes the construction of the balloon in great detail and also includes a drawing of the balloon in the diary. Hamilton notes that Lunardi and an Englishman were to ascend in it and that the King and Queen were to watch. Tickets to view the balloon at the Lyceum on the day of its launch were priced up to one guinea. Hamilton continues on the subject of the balloon and on the excitement it caused in great detail.</p>

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