The character of Hamilton was amiable and respectable. He possessed the social virtues in an eminent degree. His writings breathe the passions which he felt; and are seldom cold or inanimated. The qualities of his heart and head were equally remarkable. His elegance and judgment were universally confessed. He was, in the proper sense of the word, a fine gentleman.
As he wrote verses entirely for his own amusement, and that of his particular friends, few of his pieces were prepared for the press by himself. A collection of several of them was first published at Glasgow, in 1748, not only without his name, but without his consent. He was then abroad; and it was hoped the appearance of that collection would have drawn from him a more perfect edition. But, though after his return, he corrected many errors of the Glasgow copy, occasioned by the inadvertancy of transcribers, he did not live to make a new and complete publication. The improvements he made, were, however, inserted in the posthumous edition of his Poems on Several Occasions, printed at Edinburgh, in 8vo. 1760, with the addition of a great many valuable pieces taken from his own original manuscripts. They are now, with the Ode on the Battle of Gladsmuir, not inserted in the edition of 1760, for the first time, received into a collection of classical English poetry.
As a poet, Hamilton does not seem to have hitherto received so much attention as he deserves. Party spirit, in our nation, has often influenced the judgment of poetical merit. His genius, perhaps, has been overlooked, because his political opinions were reprobated. In this liberal age, when the just tribute of praise is bestowed on talents and literary merit, of whatever party, it would be improper to take notice of his political opinions. He is certainly a pleasing and amiable writer, though not a first-rate poet. He is not distinguished for strength of intellect or fertility of invention. His taste was delicate, and refined by a careful perusal of the ancient classics. He writes with neatness and terseness, frequently with elevation and spirit. His compositions are characterised by sprightliness and elegance, simplicity and tenderness. His diction is commonly chaste and poetical; and his versification, in general, correct and harmonious. Of his addresses and smaller pieces, which are commonly personal and occasional, the greater part is panegyrical, and the chief source is gallantry. Of praise, he is very lavish in his light and amatory productions. Undoubtedly many beauties of that time were proud of his praises. Who they were, whom he disguises with poetical names, cannot be easily known. Perhaps by traditions preserved in families, they may be discovered.
His Triumph of Love, if had written nothing else, is sufficient to entitle him to the character and distinction of a poet. It was published separately in his life time; and though in a careless dress, and even without a name, was received with the highest approbation. His Epistle to the Countess of Eglintoun, though incorrect, has many elegant passages. It was originally prefixed to the inimitable Gentle Shepherd, of Ramsay, with whom his wit, poetry, and poetical principles naturally connected him. His imitation of the Eighteenth Epistle of the first Book of Horace, addressed to Ramsay, is written in a strain of vigorous sense and easy versification. His other Imitations of Horace, deserve great praise, for elegance of expression and propriety of application. To be pleased with his fine Ode on the Battle of Gladsmuir, it is not necessary to think well of his opinions. Of his other Odes, the second and third deserve particular commendation. The second possesses all the exquisite delicacy, picturesque description, and appropriate imagery of Milton's L'Allegro, of which it is evidently an imitation. His Epitaphs are among the most beautiful and pathetic compositions of that kind in our language. The Epitaphs on Mrs. Colquhoun and his Wife are truly admirable. The Episode of the Thistle abounds in poetical description, animated by patriotic enthusiasm. Of his song in the Scottish dialect, called, The Braes of Yarrow, the extensive popularity is the best encomium. The remaining pieces, it is not necessary to examine singly. They must be supposed to have faults and beauties of the same kind with the rest; but the author's finishing hand, it ought to be remembered, has been wanting in many.