Hamilton, William (1665?-1751) (DNB00)

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HAMILTON, WILLIAM (1665?–1751) of Gilbertfield, poet, was born at Ladyland, Ayrshire. He was the second son of Captain William Hamilton and his wife Janet daughter of John Brisbane of Brisbane; and as they were married in 1662, his birth is approximately dated 1665. The family was branch of the Hamiltons of Torrance, Lanarkshire, who were descended from Thomas, third son of Sir John Hamilton, lord of Cadzow, who was grandfather of James, first lord Hamilton [q. v.] As second son of a military man (who fell in battle against the French) Hamilton entered the army, and having seen service on the continent returned with the rank of lieutenant. Thenceforth he lived as a country gentleman, with leisure for field sports and considerable attention to literature.

Hamilton formed a close intimacy with Allan Ramsay, who informs him, in one of 'Seven Familiar Epistles which passed between Lieutenant Hamilton and the Author,' that he is indebted to certain of his lyrics for poetic inspiration and stimulus. Hamilton's contributions to this correspondence (which extended over three months in 1719) are direct and forcible in expression, and marked by very considerable metrical skill. The stanza employed is that which Burns afterwards favoured as an epistolary medium. Burns, in his 'Epistle to William Simpson,' no doubt thinking of these 'Familiar Epistles,' names Ramsay, Gilbertfield, and Fergusson as those in whose company he should desire 'to speel the braes of fame.' Hamilton's other notable poems are the elegy on his dog 'Bonny Heck,' admired by Ramsay and by John Wilson in his descriptive poem 'The Clyde,' and 'Willie was a Wanton Wag.' This song first appeared in Ramsay's ' Tea-Table Miscellany,' vol. ii., over the initials W. W., which probably represent his sobriquet 'Wanton Willy,' used by himself and Ramsay in the 'Familiar Epistles.' For dashing and effective verisimilitude, sparkling drollery, and vivacity of movement, this lyric holds a unique place in Scottish song. In 1722 Hamilton abridged and modernised Blind Harry's 'Wallace,' the result, as a matter of course, being a literary failure, although the version was long popular with uncritical readers. After living many years at Gilbertfield, on the north side of Dechmont Hill, Lanarkshire the 'Dychmont' of John Struthers'spoem Hamilton changed to Latrick, on the south side of the same, and died there, 24 May 1751. The poems of Hamilton which aroused the interest and the genius of Ramsay appeared in Watson's 'Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems,' Edinburgh, 1706. The 'Seven Familiar Epistles' are printed together in Ramsay's 'Works.'

[Biographies of Allan Ramsay; Anderson's Scottish Nation; Wilson's Poets and Poetry of Scotland.]

T. B.