Welcome back to the Hamilton Papers blog! We’ve been a little delayed in posting, due to local and global events overtaking us. We hope our posts in the coming months bring you welcome diversion as our project continues, mostly from our living rooms!

This month, Professor David Denison shares his reflections on how Mary Hamilton navigated uncertain times.
(You can explore the letters David refers to by clicking on the catalogue links, which will take you to our Letters Page)


“While the core team is editing its socks off, we’re also – with fantastic support from experts around us in Manchester and further afield – planning ahead. One of my main concerns at this stage is how we get from ‘here’ (good presentation of transcriptions and brilliant presentation of images – but only some, and not yet on the same website) to ‘there’ (complete beta edition of the Hamilton Papers all in one place, plus a personography to put names in context and make them findable). We plan to reach that halfway stage in a year or so, giving us a good basis for our research, as well as making casual browsing more fruitful.

These are times of uncertainty. Compare what Mary Hamilton lived through. Here’s her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Palombi, writing from Naples in 1802:

It is also to the ever-lamentable revolutions which have not only pervaded & convuls’d all Europe but almost the whole World, that you must attribute any seeming negligence of mine towards such good Friends; but tho’ you have, without doubt, suffer’d in Engd: the effects of this general vain & intollerable confusion, yet you can have but little idea of what weaker & more defenceleʃs & ill-govern’d countries have undergone & will have to regret for many many years to come (HAM/1/3/2/3)

In 1804, Elizabeth is writing about childhood illnesses:

My Louisa began of the small-pox, wch: she had in so violent a manner at the beginning as to require the strictest attendance from me, besides the state of anxiety wch: you may imagine I must suffer for the other three children, who all broke out at the same time; & as Servants are of no use here on such occasions, you may have some very slight idea of the life I led; tho’ I had so much reason to be thankful that the disease was so mild, as rarely falls to the lot of the offspring of Italian Parents […] Having the favorable occasion of a private hand to carry this to Manchester, […] I lose not a moment’s time to take up my pen, a week before the time, for fear of some other unlucky impediment, which I have the greater reason to fear as this very morning my eldest boy is, I believe, broke out of the Measles: two of the children have had that disorder, but as the number is now encreas’d to five so the two youngest now have the risk very near them. (HAM/1/3/2/4)

The royal children and their governesses have to be (self-)isolated at times. In a series of letters in 1779, Martha Goldsworthy mentions being unable to return to Queen’s House:

Happy should I be could I answer your Query, of when do we come to Town? believe me as ignorant of it as yourself, it must depend upon when Mr Hawkins thinks it safe for P Adolphus to see his Br & Sister, I own I had at first flattered myself a Month would have been the longest Quarantine, I now Philosophically resign myself to the more distant Period of 5 Weeks & happy shall I be if I am not disapointed, but you shall know the moment I do (HAM/1/14/85)

P: A in a fine way but his beauty must be some time before it returns to its former resplendancy I am amazingly well, but I have my Dr gone through a great deal thank God it is over & I shall be repaid amply by the Dear Childrens recovery. (HAM/1/14/15)

And is it the whole nursery that is to be washed down?

You will easily imagine how much I wish to return, & I will not give up all hopes, thank God the Dear Children are quite well, & it is to be washed all over again to night therefore it appears to me impoʃsible that there can be any infection left, nor will any thing convince me to the contrary but as I am not to decide it is of little consequence (HAM/1/14/20)

There are other hazards than infection, revolution and war. In the correspondence between the then Prince of Wales and Mary Hamilton, it’s fascinating to watch this young woman of 23 negotiating with steely moral firmness what must have been a tricky and indeed quite risky situation. She steers the needy 16- or 17-year-old Prince’s vision of her from being his inamorata to a close but unromantic friend, confidante and unofficial tutor, albeit with a number of slippages on his part back to unrequited yearning. But there are lighter sides. Here he is making fun of the accent and garrulous manner of ‘a rather bonton Lady’ (though he can’t resist detailing how the lady complimented him on his fashionable get-up). Has he learnt to be ‘very discret … which all such Beaux as yrself & yr Brother learn nowadays as ye. first & principal thing to constitute a Macceroni of ye first Claʃs’? (GEO/ADD/3/82/31) As a little boy I used to sing

Yankee-Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

(not too far from the version given in Wikipedia, I see). As macaroni was a kind of pasta, this was obviously just amusing nonsense verse. OK, so you all knew that a macaroni is a dandy or fop, but I only learnt this from editing the letter. A historian rather than a linguist like me might now segue into social history, say, or the American Revolution. I’ll merely observe that unlocking these papers is providing all sorts of satisfying revelations, large and small.”