The Mary Hamilton Papers : Folio journal-letters

Hamilton, Mary

The Mary Hamilton Papers

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary consists of journal-letters from Mary Hamilton to John Dickenson dating from 27 December 1784 to 22 May 1785, before their marriage. In these letters Hamilton assures Dickenson that she will ‘hide nothing’ from him and that he will see her ‘heart as through a transparent mirror’. She writes of her love for Dickenson and also advises him to be ‘more attentive’ to her requests and to write to her often. Hamilton also takes the opportunity to write to Dickenson about one of friends, a Mr Swain, subscribing to Hannah More’s ‘Milkwoman’s [Ann Yearsley] book of poetry. Mr Swain has told her that he would subscribe if she would send him a ‘large collection of sermons to save him the trouble of writing them’. She continues on the subject and on her success at getting subscriptions.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>As in her other diaries, Hamilton describes her day-to-day activities, but often in far greater detail here. She records the many visits she made and received, other social events she attended, and the conversations she held. She admits that ‘of late I have not been able to keep my spirits in any degree of command’, and therefore she has resolved ‘to live as much in society as possible – besides too as my society is very select, & of the very first Class as to conversation & characters I can profit more by living with them than occupying myself at home’. She adds that this will benefit the conversations she and Dickenson will have in their married life.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton quotes from letters she has received from friends such as Charlotte Walsingham, Mary Delany and the Duchess of Portland who in one letter likened John Dickenson to the King of Poland. Hamilton also discusses the news and gossip of the day. Elizabeth Carter reported to her that a ‘wild man’ emerged from the woods in Kent, driven out by the severity of the weather. ‘He is quite in a Savage state & has no language but makes a barbarous noise – he was not taken and fled away again’. Hamilton assures Dickenson that he can ‘depend upon the truth of this’. She writes of attending ‘quite a Blue party’ at Elizabeth Montagu’s, where a ‘lot of clever things’ were said. She admits that ‘I have a great share of my coquetry in my disposition – how honest I am to confess this’. She describes an evening with Frances Boscawen, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr Charles Burney, Frances Burney and Eva Maria Garrick; Reynolds agreed to look over his painting of Sir William Hamilton and renovate the colours for her and he offered to make her a present of two proof prints. She attended a very different type of party at Lady Clavering’s: the guests were ‘the bon ton & fashionable conversation – it is very amusing to me to me thus to have the opportunities of studying the characters & styles of different sets & ranks of people’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The diary also records her visits to concerts, the British Museum and Reynolds’s gallery; a dinner at Reynolds’s house where Sir Joseph Banks was among the guests; a visit to Frances Burney’s; a ‘crowded Bas Bleu’; and a trip to Drury Lane, to a benefit performance for Sarah Siddons. She saw Siddons perform ‘Lady Macbeth’, noting that this was the first public engagement Hamilton had paid for since the death of her mother with the exception of Handel’s Commemoration. At an evening event which both Hannah More and Horace Walpole attended, Hamilton comments on the triumph she felt over More when Walpole took her (Hamilton) home. She asks Dickenson is ‘Walpole not a happy man to have two such paragons of perfection in love with him?’</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton writes about literature and suggests works for Dickenson to read. She also copies extracts from works such as <i><i>Blair’s Sermons</i></i> and notes that she would be upset if he did not read the writings of her friends and suggests he read Wharton’s writings on Pope. She describes Wharton as a great scholar who had translated <i><i>Virgil</i></i>. She also reminds Dickenson of his promise to keep up his ‘knowledge of the dead language & to cultivate your talents as much as possible’. She is flattered when Dickenson begins to write to her in the same journal style as her own. Hamilton writes to Dickenson on many other subjects, including philosophical issues such as ‘morality’ and ‘religion’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton sometimes use pseudonyms for her friends and acquaintances: the ‘Baroness’ signifies Lady Dartrey, ‘Fairy’ Mrs Vesey, ‘Pieta’ Elizabeth Carter, ‘Attica’ Elizabeth Montagu, and ‘Gypsy’ Lady Stormont. For example, Hamilton notes that at an evening with the Veseys, ‘the Fairy owned a passion for’ Dickenson. Hamilton reports the many dinners she attended, including one in which she dined at three o’clock, a ‘primitive time considering London hours’.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>One of the journal-letters describes encountering the Prince of Wales while she was travelling through London in Lady Cremorne’s carriage. (Hamilton has crossed through the pseudonym she gave the Prince.) The Prince ‘smil’d, kiss’d his hand several times, & made me a graceful bow’. He then came to the carriage door and ‘asked me to give him my hand in token of friendship, said how happy he was to see me & that I look’d quite well’. She reports their conversation verbatim. The Prince asked ‘Ought I to congratulate you?’, to which Hamilton replied ‘No Sir’. He asked ‘When may I do so? when shall you change your name?’ She explained ‘Sir there are affairs to settle & it will not take place soon’. The Prince noted that Hamilton was often at Bulstrode and that he ‘made particular enquiries when you was there to know if my Father, Mother & Sisters [i.e. the King, Queen and princesses] had ask’d for you & was provoked & shock’d to find that they had not’. He also asked where she was going and whether she still lived at Clarges Street. She notes that he kept hold of her hand the whole time, which greatly distressed her. On the Queen’s birthday, Hamilton expresses her relief at being away from Court. ‘O how happy I did feel that I was an independent being & not obliged to undergo my former fatigues of the day.’</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Hamilton also describes more mundane details of her everyday life to Dickenson. She writes of preparing for an assembly at Lady Clavering’s: it took her maid Betty three hours to arrange her hair ‘in fashionable order – cutting, curling & dressing it, what trifles I write to you upon – but tis an old saying that every thing relating to those we love is interesting’. She describes her boudoir and of reorganising the pictures she has there, moving those of the Royal children and hanging in their place the Reynolds painting of her uncle, Sir William Hamilton. She tells Dickenson that she needs to occupy her mind as much as possible and so she has been reading and drawing, and intends to start learning Italian although she expects to make slow progress since she cannot afford a tutor. She remarks on newspaper reports that the French Ambassador was taken ill at Court and was said to be in a ‘dying state’. Despite this, the greater part of the company went on with their business as usual, continuing to play Faro and so on. Hamilton is shocked that those of ‘rank’ did not act ‘virtuous’. She also notes that in many social visits the Duchess of Devonshire’s gambling debts were a frequent topic of conversation. Hamilton writes of her friends and their reactions to her engagement. She tells Dickenson that Lord Dartrey (the ‘Baron’) viewed her as a daughter and wished to speak to her about the engagement.</p>


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