Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hamilton, William (1704-1754)

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HAMILTON, WILLIAM (1704–1754), Scottish poet, was born in 1704 at Bangour, Linlithgowshire. He was the second son of James Hamilton of Bangour, advocate, whose grandfather, James, second son of John Hamilton of Little Earnock, Lanarkshire, founded the Bangour family. On the death of his elder brother, without heir, in 1750, Hamilton succeeded to the estate. His naturally delicate constitution, as well as his tastes, had all along prevented him from going much into fashionable society, and from his early years he had given himself to poetry, receiving ready commendation from his friends. Between 1724 and 1727 he contributed lyrics to Allan Ramsay's 'Tea-Table Miscellany,' and he showed a practical interest in the success of the 'Gentle Shepherd.' This poem is dedicated, 25 June 1725, to the beautiful and much admired Countess of Eglintoun, whose favourable consideration of Ramsay's merits is further solicited by Hamilton in a set of spirited heroic couplets following the dedication. The poet's ardour in his love-songs led, at least in one case, to a feeling of resentment on the part of a lady, who consulted his close friend Lord Kames in her dilemma (Life of Kames, i. 96), and, acting on his advice to profess a return of affection, quickly startled Hamilton into an attitude of distant reserve.

Heartily espousing the cause of the Stuarts, Hamilton in his 'Gladsmuir' celebrated the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans. After Culloden he was for a time in hiding in the highlands, and 'A Soliloquy wrote in June 1746' is charged with a deep feeling of his troubles. Ultimately he succeeded along with others in reaching France. On the intercession of influential friends, he was allowed to return to Scotland, but the great strain had deeply affected his weak constitution, and he found it impossible to remain at home. His last days were spent at Lyons, where he died of consumption, 25 March 1754. His body was brought to Scotland, and buried in the Abbey Church, Holyrood. Hamilton was twice married, and James, his son by his first wife, a daughter of Sir James Hall, bart., succeeded to the estate.

Besides conventional lyrics of comparatively small account, Hamilton wrote various notable poems. In 'Contemplation, or the Triumph of Love,' warmly praised in the 'Lounger,' by Professor Richardson and Henry Mackenzie, there is much ingenuity of reflection and illustration, in rhymed octo-syllabics evincing structural skill and dexterity. The translations from Greek and Latin poets notably those from Horace display both scholarship and metrical grace.

'The Parting of Hector and Andromache,' from the first Iliad, has the distinction of being the earliest Homeric translation into English blank verse. The 'Episode of the Thistle,' ingeniously explaining the remote origin of the Scottish national emblem 'the armed warrior with his host of spears 'is not without a measure of epic force and dignity. The winter piece in the third of four odes, besides its intrinsic merits, probably inspired the opening passage of the first introduction in 'Marmion.' But the prominent and thoroughly individual feature of the poems is what Wordsworth, in the heading to 'Yarrow Unvisited,' calls 'the exquisite ballad of Hamilton.' Scott, in his introductory remarks to the 'Dowie Dens of Yarrow' (Border Minstrelsy, iii. 145), says: 'It will be, with many readers, the greatest recommendation of these verses, that they are supposed to have suggested to Mr. Hamilton of Bangour the modern ballad beginning,

Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny bonny bride.'

If for this poem alone, Hamilton will not be forgotten.

When Hamilton was on the continent, a surreptitious collection of his poems was issued in a 12mo volume in 1749 by the brothers Foulis of Glasgow, under the title 'Poems on Several Occasions.' This was reissued in foolscap 8vo as 'Hamilton of Bangour's Poems.' On his return he meditated a collection under his own hand, but his weak health caused delay, and it was not till after his death that his friends published in Edinburgh, in one volume 12mo, 'Poems on Several Occasions, by William Hamilton of Bangour, Esquire.' This contains a short biographical preface and a likeness of the poet by Strange, an associate in his Jacobite adventures. A manuscript, with unpublished poems of Hamilton, is entered in the David Laing MSS. Catalogue, University Library, Edinburgh, as 'Poems of William Hamilton of Bangour, Esq.' Chambers mentions this as in the possession of George Chalmers.

[Posthumous volume, as above; Irving's Scottish Poets; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen.]

T. B.