1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hamilton of Bangour

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 3:102-03.



WILLIAM HAMILTON, of Bangour, was born in Ayrshire in 1704. He was of an ancient family, and mingled from the first in the most fashionable circles. Ere he was twenty he wrote verses in Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany. In 1745, to the surprise of many, he joined the standard of Prince Charles, and wrote a poem on the battle of Gladsmuir, or Prestonpans. When the reverse of his party came, after many wanderings and hair's-breadth escapes in the Highlands, he found refuge in France. As he was a general favourite, and as much allowance was made for his poetical temperament, a pardon was soon procured for him by his friends, and he returned to his native country. His health, however, originally delicate, had suffered by his Highland privations, and he was compelled to seek the milder clime of Lyons, where he died in 1754.

Hamilton was what is called a ladies'-man, but his attachments were not deep, and he rather flirted than loved. A Scotch lady, who was annoyed at his addresses, asked John Home how she could get rid of them. He, knowing Hamilton well, advised her to appear to favour him. She acted on the advice, and he immediately withdrew his suit. And yet his best poem is a tale of love, and a tale, too, told with great simplicity and pathos. We refer to his Braes of Yarrow, the beauty of which we never felt fully till we saw some time ago that lovely region, with its "dowie dens," — its clear living stream, — Newark Castle, with its woods and memories, — and the green wildernesses of silent hills which stretch on all sides around; saw it, too, in that aspect of which Wordsworth sung in the words—

The grace of forest charms decayed
And pastoral melancholy.

It is the highest praise we can bestow upon Hamilton's ballad that it ranks in merit near Wordsworth's fine trinity of poems, Yarrow Unvisited, Yarrow Visited, and Yarrow Revisited.