1859 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hamilton of Bangour

William Anderson, in Scottish Nation (1859-66) 2:443-44.



WILLIAM HAMILTON of Bangour, a pleasing and accomplished poet, was born in 1704. He was descended from the ancient family of Little Earnock, Ayrshire, and was the second son of James Hamilton of Bangour, Linlithgowshire, advocate, by Elizabeth, daughter of John Hamilton of Muirhouse, or Murrays. His father's uncle, Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw, was one of the lords of session, and appointed in 1697 lord justice clerk. The subject of this notice received a liberal education, and began in early life to cultivate a taste for poetry. He was long an ornament of the fashionable circles of Edinburgh. When the rebellion of 1745 broke out he joined the cause of the Pretender, and celebrated his first success at Prestonpans, in the well-know Jacobite ode of Gladsmuir, which was set to music by MacGibbon. After the battle of Culloden, which terminated for ever the hopes of the Stuarts, he took refuge in the Highlands, where he endured many perils and privations, but at last succeeded in escaping into France. Through the intercession of his friends at home his pardon was soon procured from government, on which he returned to Scotland.

In 1750, on the death, without issue, of his elder brother, John, who married Elizabeth Dalrymple, a descendant of the family of Stair, the poet succeeded to the estate of Bangour. His health, however, which was originally delicate, had been injured by the hardships to which he had been exposed, and required the benefit of a warmer climate. He, therefore, returned to the continent, and took up his residence at Lyons, where he died of a lingering consumption, March 25, 1754. A volume of poems, without his consent or name, appeared at Glasgow in 1748; but the first genuine and correct edition of his works was published by his friends at Edinburgh in 1760, with a head by Strange, from which the subjoined woodcut is taken. A discriminating criticism by Professor Richardson of Glasgow, in the Lounger, first drew the public attention to his poems, the chief characteristics of which are liveliness of imagination and delicacy of sentiment. "Mr. Hamilton's mind," says Lord Woodhouselee, in his life of Lord Kaimes, "is pictured in his verses. They are the easy and careless effusions of an elegant fancy and a chastened taste; and the sentiments they convey are the genuine feelings of a tender and susceptible heart, which perpetually owned the dominion of some favourite mistress, but whose passion generally evaporated in song, and made no serious or permanent impression." Had he never written anything but the Braes of Yarrow, that ballad, one of the finest in the language, would have been sufficient to have immortalized his name. He married Miss Hall, of the family of Dunglass, and had issue one son, James, who succeeded him.