Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cottagers of Blenburnie

The author of “The Cottagers of Glenburnie”, Elizabeth Hamilton, was born this day, July 25th, in either 1756 or 1758. She lived nearly until her 70th (or 68th) birthday, in 1816.  The 1859 Chambers edition of this work included a bio of Ms. Hamilton.  From that bio:

 ‘Mrs Elizabeth Hamilton, the accomplished authoress of the present work, was a native of Ireland, having been born in Belfast, in the year 1758. She was descended from a respectable Scottish family, which had emigrated to Ireland, in consequence of the religious persecutions in the time of Charles II. Mrs Hamilton's grandfather, however, had re-established himself in Scotland, where he had procured a civil appointment, and became the father of several children. He died at a comparatively early age in distressed circumstances, and his only son, Elizabeth's father, was left with his two sisters to struggle for themselves in the world. Fortunately, their connections were able and willing to assist them; and while the sisters were received into tho families of their friends, young Hamilton was placed in a commercial house in London, in accordance with his wish to enter into trade. Ultimately ho went over to Ireland, and engaged in business in Belfast…’

Sir Walter Scott is quoted as having said of “The Cottagers of Glenburnie”, that it is "a picture of the rural habits of Scotland, of striking and impressive fidelity."  By her later years, according to the biography already quoted, Ms. Hamilton was traveling in some of the same circle as Scott.

‘…Miss Hamilton's health had become of late years exceedingly precarious, and after the return of her sister to Ireland, she passed some time in Gloucestershire and at Bath. The illness under which she occasionally laboured, assumed now the appearance of gout in the limbs, of the use of which she was sometimes entirely deprived. This disease continued with her, more or less, for the rest of her life. It did not, however, paralyse her mental activity. In 1800, she gave to the public her work, in three volumes, termed the Modern Philosophers, which reached at once a very high degree of popularity. Being published anonymously, in order to give a stronger zest to the humour it contains, it had the honour of being successively ascribed to several of the first authors of the day. The true author, however, was not long in being discovered, and she became at once the admired of the witty, the fashionable, and the great. Among these she easily distinguished the proper objects of friendship; and perhaps no one was ever more fortunate in acquiring the love and esteem of those whose regard she sought. In the number wero Dugald Stewart, Miss Edgeworth, Bishop Watson, Hector M'Neill, Miss Elizabeth Smith, and many other individuals, noted for their virtues and their genius. The frequent excursions which were thought advisable for her health, brought her into contact with many whom she might not otherwise have known…’

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