1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hamilton, James

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21799521911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12 — Hamilton, James

HAMILTON, JAMES (1769–1831), English educationist, and author of the Hamiltonian system of teaching languages, was born in 1769. The first part of his life was spent in mercantile pursuits. Having settled in Hamburg and become free of the city, he was anxious to become acquainted with German and accepted the tuition of a French emigré, General d’Angelis. In twelve lessons he found himself able to read an easy German book, his master having discarded the use of a grammar and translated to him short stories word for word into French. As a citizen of Hamburg Hamilton started a business in Paris, and during the peace of Amiens maintained a lucrative trade with England; but at the rupture of the treaty he was made a prisoner of war, and though the protection of Hamburg was enough to get the words effacé de la liste des prisonniers de guerre inscribed upon his passport, he was detained in custody till the close of hostilities. His business being thus ruined, he went in 1814 to America, intending to become a farmer and manufacturer of potash; but, changing his plan before he reached his “location,” he started as a teacher in New York. Adopting his old tutor’s method, he attained remarkable success in New York, Baltimore, Washington, Boston, Montreal and Quebec. Returning to England in July 1823, he was equally fortunate in Manchester and elsewhere. The two master principles of his method were that the language should be presented to the scholar as a living organism, and that its laws should be learned from observation and not by rules. His system attracted general attention, and was vigorously attacked and defended. In 1826 Sydney Smith devoted an article to its elucidation in the Edinburgh Review. As text-books for his pupils Hamilton printed interlinear translations of the Gospel of John, of an Epitome historiae sacrae, of Aesop’s Fables, Eutropius, Aurelius Victor, Phaedrus, &c., and many books were issued as Hamiltonian with which he had nothing personally to do. He died on the 31st of October 1831.

See Hamilton’s own account, The History, Principles, Practice and Results of the Hamiltonian System (Manchester, 1829; new ed., 1831); Alberte, Über die Hamilton’sche Methode; C. F. Wurm, Hamilton und Jacotot (1831).