Lee-Hamilton, Eugene Jacob (DNB12)

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LEE-HAMILTON, EUGENE JACOB (1845–1907), poet and novelist, born in London on 6 Jan. 1845, was son of James Lee-Hamilton, who died soon after his son's birth, by his wife Matilda Abadam. Eugene as a child lived with his widowed mother and her brother, William Abadam, at the Chateau de Biranos, near Pau, until Abadam's death about 1854, when his mother took him to Paris. There she married her second husband, Henry Ferguson Paget, an engineer, whose active sympathy with the Polish insurrection had compelled him to leave his employment in Poland.

Eugene was educated in France and Germany, partly at school and partly under tutors at home. In 1864 he entered Oriel College, Oxford, gaining a Taylorian scholarship for 'French with German' in that year, and leaving the university without a degree. In July 1869 he was nominated an attaché, and was employed for some months in the foreign office. He was appointed to the embassy at Paris under Lord Lyons on 21 Feb. 1870. He was with the embassy at Tours, Bordeaux, and Versailles during the Franco-German war. In 1871 he acted as secretary to Sir Alexander Cockburn at Geneva in the Alabama arbitration, and suffered in health from the pressure of work.

In January 1873 he was promoted to be third secretary, and transferred to the legation at Lisbon under Sir Charles Murray on 10 Feb. He was unemployed from 1 Jan. to 8 Sept. 1875, when he resigned on account of illness. He had been an accomplished skater and dancer, but nervous disease developed, with the result that for twenty years he was incapacitated from all physical exert ion and had to lie on his back. He lived at Florence with his mother and his half-sister, Miss Violet Paget ('Vernon Lee'), spending the summers at Siena or the Bagni di Lucca. His intellectual vitality was uninjured by his physical disablement. His health was soon sufficiently restored to enable him to indulge his gifts as a talker, and his room became one of the centres of intellectual cosmopolitan society in Florence. His visitors included Mr. Henry James and M. Paul Bourget.

In time, too, he was able to compose and to dictate fragments of verse. Most of 'The Sonnets of the Wingless Hours' (published in 1894), his most characteristic production, were written between 1880 and 1888. By 1896 his recovery was completed. From a visit to Canada and the United States in 1897 he returned a 'new man,' and he married on 21 July 1898, at Boldxe, Hampshire, Annie E. Holdsworth, the novelist. They settled in a villa between Florence and Fiesole. A volmne of verse, entitled 'Forest Notes,' in which both husband and wife collaborated, appeared in 1899. In 1900 they moved to the Villa Benedettini, San Gervasio, where in 1903 a daughter, Persis Margaret, was born. The child died in 1904, and the father's grief is recorded in 'Mimma Bella' (published in 1909), a volume of elegiac sonnets. The depression culminated in a paralytic stroke, from which Lee-Hamilton died on 7 Sept. 1907, at the Villa Pierotti, Bagni di Lucca; he was buried in the new protestant cemetery outside the Porta Romana, Florence. A portrait painted during his last illness by Stephen Haweis and a beautiful death mask are in the possession of his widow. Poetry was Lee-Hamilton's consolation throughout his long illness. His earliest volume, 'Poems and Transcripts,' appeared in 1878; then followed 'Gods, Saints, and Men' (1880), 'The New Medusa and other Poems' (1882), 'Apollo and Marsyas and other Poems' (1884). He excelled in the poetic form of the sonnet, of the technique of which he had a perfect mastery, and the dramatic impersonal 'Imaginary Sonnets' (1888) and the autobiographic 'Sonnets of the Wingless Hours' (1894) rank with the best of their kind.

Lee-Hamilton wrote also 'The Fountain' of Youth,' a fantastic tragedy in verse (1891); two novels, 'The Lord of the Dark Red Star, being the Story of the Supernational Influences in the Life of an Italian Despot of the 13th Century' (1903), and 'The Romance of the Fountain' (1905); and a metrical translation of Dante's 'Inferno' (1898). In 1903 he made a selection from his poems for the 'Canterbury Poets' series, for which William Sharp wrote a preface.

[Preface by Annie Lee-Hamilton to Mimma Bella, 1909; The Times, 11 Sept. 1907; Foreign Office List, 1876; private information.]

E. L.