1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Gerard Hamilton

Frances Burney, 1779; Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904-05) 1:308-11.



We had a large party of gentlemen to dinner. Among them was Mr. Hamilton, commonly called Single-speech Hamilton, from having made one remarkable speech in the House of Commons against government, and receiving some douceur to be silent ever after. This Mr. Hamilton is extremely tall and handsome; has an air of haughty and fashionable superiority; is intelligent, dry, sarcastic, and clever. I should have received much pleasure from his conversational powers, had I not previously been prejudiced against him, by hearing that he is infinitely artful, double, and crafty.

The dinner conversation was too general to be well remembered; neither, indeed, shall I attempt more than partial scraps relating to matters of what passed when we adjourned to tea.

Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Selwyn, Mr. Tidy, and Mr. Thrale seated themselves to whist; the rest looked on: but the General, as he always does, took up the newspaper, and, with various comments, made aloud, as he went on reading to himself, diverted the whole company. Now he would cry, "Strange! strange that!" — presently, "What stuff! I don't believe a word of it!" — a little after, "Oh, Mr. Bate, I wish your ears were cropped!" — then, "Ha! ha! ha! funnibus! funnibus! indeed!" — and, at last, in a great rage, he exclaimed, "What a fellow is this, to presume to arraign the conduct of persons of quality!"

Having diverted himself and us in this manner, till he had read every column methodically through, he began all over again, and presently called out, "Ha! ha! here's a pretty thing!" and then, in a plaintive voice, languished out some wretched verses.

Although the only mark of approbation with which the company favoured these lines was laughing at them, the General presently found something else equally bad, which he also praised, also read, and also raised a laugh at.

A few minutes after he began puffing and blowing, with rising indignation, and, at last, cried out, "What a fellow is this? I should not be at all surprised if General Burgoyne cut off both his ears!"

"You have great variety there," cried Mr. Hamilton drily; "but I think, Mr. B—y, you have read us nothing to-day about the analeptic pills!"

Though we all smiled at this, the General, unconscious of any joke, gravely answered,

"No, sir! I have not seen them yet, but I daresay I shall find them by and by!"

And, by the time the next game was finished, he called out, "No! I see nothing of the analeptic pills to-day; but here's some Samaritan drops!"

Soon after he began to rage about some baronet, whose title began, Sir Carnaby. "Well," he cried, "what names people do think of! Here's another now, Sir Onesiphoras Paul! why, now, what a name is that! Poor human beings here, inventing such a name as that! I can't imagine where they met with it: it is not in the Bible."

"There you are a little mistaken!" said Mr. Hamilton coolly.

"Is it? Well, I protest, Onesiphoras! ha! ha!"

"But you don't exactly pronounce it right," returned Mr. Hamilton, "it is Onesiphor-us — not as, as you say it."

Mr. B—y made no answer, but went on reading the newspaper to himself.

Mr. Hamilton, who had now given his place at the whist-table to Mr. Bateson, related to us a very extraordinary cure performed by a physician, who would not write his prescriptions, "Because," said he, "they should not appear against him, as his advice was out of rule; but the cure was performed, and I much honour, and would willingly employ such a man."

"How!" exclaimed Mr. B—y, who always fires at the very name of a physician, "what! let one of those fellows try his experiments upon you? For my part, I'll never employ one again as long as I live! I've suffered too much by them; lost me five years of the happiness of my life — ever since the year — let's see, '71, '72 —"

"Mrs. Thrale," interrupted Mr. Hamilton, "I was in some hopes Dr. Johnson would have come hither with you."

Mrs. Thrale answered him; but Mr. B—y went on.

"One of those Dr. Gallipots, now — Heberden attended a poor fellow I knew. 'Oh,' says he, 'he'll do vastly well!' and so on, and so on, and all that kind of thing: but the next morning, when he called, the poor gentleman was dead! There's your Mr. Heberden for you! Oh, fie! fie!"

"What will you do without them?" said Mr. Hamilton.

"Do, sir? Why, live like men! Who wants a pack of their nostrums? I'll never employ one again while I live! They mistook my case, sir; they played the very devil with me! Let me see, '71, '72 —"

"What!" interrupted Mr. Hamilton, "are you seventy-two?"

The dry humour with which he asked this, set the whole company in a roar. Mr. B—y angrily answered,

"No, sir, no! no such thing; but I say —"

And then he went on with his story: no calves to his legs; mistook his case; feet swelled as big as horses' heads; not an ounce of flesh; — and all the old phrases were repeated with so sad a solemnity, and attended to by Mr. Hamilton with so contemptuous a frigidity, that I was obliged to take up a newspaper to hide my face. Miss Thrale ran out of the room; Mr. Selwyn laughed till he could hardly hold his cards; Captain W— hallooed quite indecently; and Mr. Tidy shook all over as if he was in an ague: and yet the General never found it out.