1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gerard Hamilton

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 17:99-100.



WILLIAM GERARD HAMILTON, a statesman of some note, was the only son of William Hamilton, esq. an advocate of the court of session in Scotland, who after the union came to London, and was admitted to the English bar. His son was born in Lincoln's-inn Jan. 28, 17289, and was educated at Winchester school, and at Oriel college, Oxford, where he was admitted a gentleman commoner, March 1, 1744-5. During his residence at Oxford, it is supposed he wrote those poems which were printed in 1750, 4to, for private distribution only, but have lately been published by Mr. Malone. On leaving Oxford, he became a member of Lincoln's-inn, with a view to study the law; but on his father's death in 1754, he betook himself to a political life, and in the same year was chosen member of parliament for Petersfield in Hampshire. His first effort at parliamentary eloquence was made Nov. 13, 1755, when, to use the words of Waller respecting Denham, "he broke out, like the Irish rebellion, threescore thousand strong, when nobody was aware, or in the least suspected it." Certainly no first speech in parliament ever produced such an effect, or acquired such eulogies, both within and without the house of commons. Of this speech, however, no copy remains. For many years it was supposed to have been his only attempt, and hence the familiar name of Single-speech was fixed upon him; but he spoke a second time, Feb. 1756, and such was the admiration which followed this display of his talents, that Mr. Fox, then one of the principal secretaries of state, procured him to be appointed, in April of the same year, one of the lords of trade. At this board he sat five years without ever exerting his oratorical talents; and in 1761 accepted the office of principal secretary to George earl of Halifax, then appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In the Irish parliament, as he filled an office of responsibility, it was necessary for him to support the measures of administration; and accordingly in 1761 and 176, he made five speeches on various occasions, which fully gratified the expectations of his auditors. Mr. Hamilton continued secretary to the succeeding lord lieutenant, Hugh earl of Northumberland, in 1763, but it is believed his exertions in that session were less splendid and less frequent; and before it concluded, on some disgust he resigned his office.

On his return to England, and for a long time afterwards, he meditated taking an active part in the political warfare of the house of commons, but he never again addressed the chair, though he was chosen into every new parliament that was summoned from that time till May 1796, a little before his death. In this period, the only office he filled was that of chancellor of the exchequer in Ireland, which he held from Sept. 1763 to April 1784. During this interval he was one of those on whom common rumour bestowed the authorship of Junius's letters, and perhaps never was any rumour so completely devoid of a probable foundation. He died at his house in Upper Brook-street, July 16, 1796, and was buried in the chancel vault of the church of St. Martin in the Fields. In 1803, Mr. Malone published his works under the title of "Parliamentary Logic; to which are subjoined two Speeches delivered in the House of Commons in Ireland, and other pieces," 8vo, with a life of the author prefixed. These speeches give us but a faint idea of the splendid abilities which once so enraptured his hearers, nor does his poetry entitle him to rank above the elegant versifiers of his time. His "Parliamentary Logic" is a performance of a more singular cast. It consists of a string of maxims, or rules, for managing a debate in parliament, in which the author appears serious, else we should have supposed "parliamentary logic" to imply a ridicule on the language of that house. These maxims, however, seem admirably qualified to make a partizan; although we much doubt whether they have a tendency to make that more valuable character, an honest man.