Elizabeth Hamilton

Elizabeth Hamilton (c. 1756-1816) was a novelist and essayist originally from Belfast though her father was a merchant from Scotland, where Hamilton spent most of her youth near Stirling living with an aunt. Her brother, Charles Hamilton (1752/53-1792) became a prominent Orientalist through his work with the East India Company, living with him in London between 1788 and 1791. After his death in 1792, Hamilton lived most of the remainder of her life with or near her sister, Katherine, a widow, living at various times in Hadleigh, Suffolk, in Bath, and in Edinburgh. Her brother's death provoked Hamilton to become an author, publishing her first significant work, Translations of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796), a work reviewed by Hays in a way that led to a disruption in their recently acquired friendship. Hamilton would get a modest revenge in her Memoirs of Modern Philosophers (1800), in which she attacked the Godwin circle (including Hays) for its adherence to scepticism and contemporary radical thought. Nevertheless, she shared much in common with Hays and Wollstonecraft on matters of female education, her ideas finding formal expression in her Letters on Education (1801). Like Hays and many other women writers in the first decade of the 19th century, Hamilton turned to the growing market of young readers with her Life of Agrippina, Wife of Germanicus (1804), a fictionalized biography attempting to introduce adolescent girls to important questions of ethics and morality through the study of historical personages, much as Hays would do with her Historical Dialogues (1806). Hamilton added another popular novel, The Cottagers of Glenburnie (1808). During her later years, while living in Edinburgh, she became friends with Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth. Her health failed and she died at Harrogate on 23 July 1816 and was buried there.