Top of page Quotations, book and epub, recommendations, aim of AVM
Publications
Unpublications
Not officially published short articles, notes, and the 2014 student essay bundle with which this all began

Background

31 July 2022
Meeting Zerah Colburn, the ‘mental calculator’, in 1813 and 1820
15 July 2022
An 1820 flag book semaphore, and fellow school boys in Trim
10 July 2022
In 1822, exactly two hundred years ago, Hamilton became a mathematician
12 June 2022
The importance of contexts and minute details
20 January 2022
Hamilton, Coleridge, networks and the internet
4 November 2021
Hamilton, Coleridge, Arabella Lawrence and nonconformist families
16 October 2021
Young William Rowan Hamilton - hyperpolyglot
2 October 2021
William Edwin and the Chatham Market Guide
29 August 2021
The word ‘Quaternion’
7 August 2021
Hamilton’s godfather, Sydney Hamilton Rowan
14 July 2021
Hamilton’s Scottish or rather Irish descent, and Dr. James Hutton
26 September 2020
The error or flaw in Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste
23 August 2020
Lady Hamilton’s grave
3 May 2020
Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, and apparent disagreements
25 April 2020
Lady Helen Hamilton’s crushed reputation
24 November 2019
Hamilton’s intellect, Grace McFerrand, and why Archibald Hamilton did not attend College
11 November 2019
A terrible hailstorm in 1850, and Biela’s comet
23 October 2019
Dunsink Observatory, the Meridian room, and again Hamilton’s birth house
19 October 2019
Lady Hamilton’s last years, a pension and Allendale Cottage in Drumcondra
16 October 2019
A game and locations in Hamilton’s life, quaternions and spacecraft
16 August 2019
Trinity Library; letters and photos
3/4 August 2019
The IHoM5 in Maynooth
15 June 2019
Reverend Benjamin Williams Mathias
19 May 2019
Uncle James, his family and the Diocesan School
4 May 2019
Illnesses and astronomy
18 January 2019
An article about the largely ignored influence of Helen Bayly and Catherine Disney on Hamilton’s life
11 November 2018
Photos of Hamilton and his notebook, also showing Graves’ blue pencil
20 September 2018
Calculating, quaternions, Gibbs and computers
30 June 2018
Extreme honesty and eccentricity, a happy marriage and drinking prowess, and still evolving gossip
15 June 2018
Hamilton and Coleridge
8 June 2018
Astronomy in 1848; Hamilton’s visit to Parsonstown
31 March 2018
De Vere about Hamilton’s affection for his wife
11 February 2018
The siblings of Hamilton’s father, and the Rowan name
4 February 2018
Patrick Wayman, our gossip article, and the “fabrication, or at any rate a gross exaggeration” of the uneaten meals in Hamilton’s study
2 February 2018
Macfarlane, William Edwin Hamilton, alcohol, gossip, history in need of corrections in case of new insights
29 January 2018
Ellen de Vere, Miss Ellis of Abbotstown, and parents bereaved of nearly all their children
12 January 2018
Hamilton’s “splendid meteor”
7 January 2018
Lady Wilde, and her son Oscar having been born on the birthday of the quaternions
21 December 2017
Hamilton’s formulation of geometrical optics as the marriage between the wave theory of Fresnel and the ray method of Newton
12 December 2017
Publication of ‘A most gossiped about genius: Sir William Rowan Hamilton’
22 November 2017
Publication of the corrected version of ‘A Victorian Marriage’
26 August 2017
The death of Edward Senior in 1865:
most likely the second fatal train accident in Dublin
7 July 2017
Summerhill House, Langfords and Longfords, and Hamilton’s account from within the house
31 October 2016
Paper copies, an epub version of ‘A Victorian Marriage’, and ereaders
18 September 2016
Files sent to the printer, and a search for Hamilton’s birth house
22 October 2015
Attending the Hamilton Walk in Dublin
15 October 2015
Having finished the essay ‘A Victorian Marriage’, corrections are still needed
2 September 2015
The 150th anniversary of the death day of
Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865)


Flag Counter











Creative Commons License  This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International License



Entrance page – this website, Hamilton’s work, summary of A Victorian Marriage

A Victorian Marriage – background information – archief 2015 - 2019

Catherine Disney – background information, James and Jane Barlow

Photos of people in Hamilton’s biography

Miscellaneous – Hamiltoniana, and a bit of Physics


My books can be read in the BookReader developed by the Internet Archive:

A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton

Catherine Disney : a biographical sketch


Contact







A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton







Hamilton essay, books



Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) doubtlessly was Ireland’s most ingenious mathematician. Hamilton’s work has always been highly praised, and he was knighted in 1835 for his theoretical discovery of conical refraction. Yet his private life has been heavily gossiped about; he is often seen as having been an unhappily married alcoholic.
His own description of the discovery of the quaternions, which he made when he was walking with his wife, breathes such a peaceful atmosphere that it became the inducement to investigate how an alleged unhappy marriage could lead to such a circumstance. That resulted in the writing of my fist book, or perhaps history essay, A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton, in which it was shown that he did have a good marriage, and that according to current standards he was by no means an alcoholic.





Hamilton was indeed a most admirable person, and a most truly amiable and high-souled one. Nothing but so much greatness could have made so much enthusiasm only what was natural - and nothing but so much enthusiasm could have carried him on to so much greatness.

— John Frederick William Herschel




[Helen Bayly] brought calm to [Hamilton’s] affections; she won the good opinion of his friends; and she became to him the centre round which the pleasures, the duties, and the hopes of home were gathered.

— Robert Perceval Graves




I know really scarcely anyone who seems more universally to have “won golden opinions” from her extensive circle of acquaintance [...]. Of her present guests and your aunt [your amiable wife] has won hearts - and hearts not easily won. I am preparing to yield mine, or rather have done so.

— Uncle James Hamilton




His whole happiness seems to be in making others happy; indeed any woman is blessed to be married to such an affectionate kind creature as Hamilton.

— Helena Maria Hamilton née Bayly




As to [Miss Bayly’s] beauty, I may unconsciously exaggerate that in my present state of feeling, and I must own that it did not strike me at first nor always, though lately it has much impressed me. But her mind I was pleased with from the first [...]. Spirituality, including but not confined to religion, appeared early and still appears to me to be its characteristic; and though she is not a person of brilliant or highly cultivated intellect, yet I have always found that I converse with her with pleasure, and that my own mind is excited and refined by her society.

— William Rowan Hamilton



The essay can be read online in The Internet Archive’s BookReader, see the link on top of this page. In case offline reading is preferred, it can be downloaded below as a pdf (left) or an epub (right). For further publications, see Publications.




A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton              A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton






“I have at last read the whole of your big book, and am most impressed with the amount of effort and research you have put into it. Congratulations! I do think you have made your case - Hamilton was not an alcoholic, and he loved his wife Helen.”

— Charles Mollan, historian of Irish Science, formerly Science Officer of the Royal Dublin Society, and author of It’s Part of What We Are.



“A former student recently sent me a copy of Hankins’ biography of Hamilton. He’d picked it up in a flea-market and decided to pass it on to me. When I got to the chapter about Hamilton’s love-life I just had to go back and reread what you had to say about it. It is really terrible that such a distortion of the facts could have become the accepted version.”

— Anthony O’Farrell, professor emeritus Mathematics and Statistics at Maynooth University, and initiator of the yearly Hamilton Walk.



“I have read your monumental book on Hamilton on the web - congratulations! You have debunked and corrected a lot of material written by other biographers of Hamilton.”

— Desmond MacHale, emeritus professor of Mathematics at University College Cork, and biographer of George Boole.





The books have only been printed in hardback copies, which cost €62.50 each (not including postal charges). In case paper books are indeed preferred: they can be ordered by filling in a form at BoekenGilde: A Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton. Clicking on the box: Beschikbaarheid opvragen = Request availability, shows the form in which Naam = Name, E-mailadres = E-mail address, Gewenst aantal boeken = Desired number of books, Versturen = Send. It will be read both by BoekenGilde and me; if we receive ten requests, the essay will be printed in an again small edition.
The book is available open access at Googe Books and the Internet Archive. I also made a “project” about Hamilton on ResearchGate where comments can be made if logged in.

The epub was made with a beautiful template my nephew made for me. But because Google Books and some e-readers require epub 2 or 3, I made two additional versions, A_Victorian_Marriage_-_Sir_WRH_2.0.1.epub, A_Victorian_Marriage_-_Sir_WRH_3.0.1.epub

For English and Dutch summaries, and further publications, see Publications

For some information about me see:   ORCID iD icon




The fourfold aim of this essay is to

-- show that, contrary to general belief, Sir William Rowan Hamilton had a good marriage, that in fact large parts of his marriage were fairly happy. It is discussed where the idea of his marriage as having been an unhappy one came from, and it is shown that according to current standards he was by no means an alcoholic.

-- emphasize that people should be looked at within the context of their time and circumstances. That Lady Hamilton leaving her children because she was ill was something which was very likely done on doctor’s orders; no-one then knew anything about the impact it could have on children’s later lives. Or that the Hamiltons lived at an observatory which was built at a remote, dark, and elevated place, in a time in which light bulbs, radio, television, telephone and computers had not been invented yet. Which means that in the years that the children still were young, when Hamilton was in England every evening Lady Hamilton would be alone in her candle lit room, the servants and the personnel being with the sleeping children, talking to each other, or being at their own homes. Such circumstances would make not only Lady Hamilton but almost anyone prefer to visit a neighbouring sister.

-- argue that although on the one hand it is important to regard people in the context of their time, on the other hand that should be kept within reasonable limits; it is perfectly all right to recognize that Hamilton may have been judged unfairly in his days, that if he would have lived nowadays no-one would have given his behaviour any second thoughts. It is therefore justified to speak more positively about him than it was done in his days; Hamilton just seems not to have been willing to adjust to a rapidly changing society. As still happens nowadays: many people do not want to adapt to drastic changes in social behaviour, especially when the social rules or habits during childhood or early adulthood were considered just fine.

-- draw attention to the fact that in Victorian times especially women were extremely harshly judged, and so was Lady Hamilton. During those years women were expected to be, by nature, warm, tender, caring, poetic and literary, but many women did not come up to these standards being logical, stubborn, practical, headstrong, technical, or just not poetic. Their condemnation is something which does not have to be repeated now; these are not Victorian times anymore.






Lectures on and Elements of Quaternions by Sir William Rowan Hamilton


These copies of the two books on Quaternions written by Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) are kept at the Special Collections of Utrecht University Library. They can both be read online at the Internet Archive: Lectures on Quaternions (Dublin, 1853) and Elements of Quaternions (Dublin, 1866).

In July 2015 Frans Sellies, one of my colleagues at the Library, showed me the books and very kindly made the beautiful photographs shown above. To see the books in reality was more touching than I had expected, and in order to do something symbolic with having seen them all the colours of this website come from Hamilton’s books as shown on the Internet Archive, and those of the logo come from photographs Frans made of the books. For Frans’ photos see his flickr page.







Publications



2022 — Journal articleAlice without quaternions: another look at the mad tea-party
This article will be published in the 3rd issue of the 37th volume of British Journal for the History of Mathematics. Using mathematical arguments it is shown that Melanie Bayley’s 2009 suggestion, that Hamilton’s quaternions were the subject of the chapter about the mad tea-party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, is very unlikely.


2022 — Journal articleHow two hundred years ago William Rowan Hamilton turned into a mathematician
This article was published in the Summer 2022 issue of Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin. Finally having understood how important Hamilton’s maternal family, the Huttons, were for him, I decided to rewrite parts of the Illnesses and Astronomy unpublication. While working on it, I suddenly realised that 2022 is the two-hundredth anniversary of Hamilton’s first original mathematical papers.


2021Symposium PresentationSir William Rowan Hamilton : the influence of the 1880s temperance struggles on his posthumous reputation
Online presentation, with presenter’s notes, on the fourth day of the BSHM - CSHPM/SCHPM Conference, the 5-yearly joint conference of the British Society for the History of Mathematics and Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics/La Société Canadienne d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Mathématiques, in collaboration with HOM-SIGMAA, the History of Mathematics Special Interest Group of the MAA. Online, coordinated through the University of St Andrews, Scotland, 12-15 July 2021.


2019RTÉ Brainstorm ContributionHow a 19th century Irish mathematician helped NASA into space
With Colm Mulcahy and Michel Destrade. Written as a celebration of 176 years of quaternions and published by RTÉ’s Brainstorm on Hamilton Day.


2019Symposium PresentationA biographer’s opinion as primary source : the strange case of Sir William Rowan Hamilton
Presentation, with presenter’s notes, given on the second day of the IHoM5, the joint Irish History of Mathematics (IHoM) and British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) Conference, held at Maynooth University on 1 and 2 August 2019.


2019BookCatherine Disney : a biographical sketchviii, 135 pages : illustrations, portraits, maps ; 25 cm.
I wrote this sketch in order to do Catherine honour; she had a very difficult life because, while in love with Hamilton, she was forced to marry someone else. In later years learning how terribly unhappy she was caused Hamilton much distress. That, however, did not at all mean that he had only loved her, as has been claimed, the story about Catherine’s unhappiness simply is a terrible story. Forcing people into marriage should be impossible.
This book can also be read, as pdf or epub, here at Google books, or here at the Internet Archive.


2018Journal articleHelen Bayly and Catherine Disney as influences in the life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton
This article has been published in the Winter 2018 issue of Irish Mathematical Society Bulletin. For errata see Utrecht, 18 January 2019.


2018Magazine ArticleAstronomy in 1848
This is an English translation of a short article, Sterrenkunde in 1848, which was published in the June issue of Zenit, the popular science magazine for astronomy, meteorology and space research, and organ of the KNVWS, the Royal Dutch Association for Meteorology and Astronomy. See also Utrecht, 8 June 2018. The article describes one of Hamilton’s visits to Parsonstown, where Lord Rosse had built the Leviathan telescope, then the largest telescope in the world.


2018Journal ArticleOn an 1850 report of a fireball from the Scorpiid-Sagittariid Complex
In 1850 Hamilton saw a ‘splendid meteor’, and he wrote a short report about it in a local newspaper. It appeared to be the first known report of a meteor of that complex. This article has been published in WGN, Journal of the International Meteor Organization. See for some more information Utrecht, 12 January 2018. A Dutch announcement of the article, een Nederlandse bekendmaking van het artikel, can be found here: Over een verslag uit 1850 van een zeer heldere meteoor.


2017Journal ArticleA most gossiped about genius: Sir William Rowan Hamilton
With Steven Wepster. Published in the British Journal for the History of Mathematics, in this article first an English summary of the 2015, and in 2017 corrected, essay has been given. Using six books, published between 1902 and 2008, the second part of this article shows how Hamilton’s private life became the caricature it is nowadays. For this article see also Utrecht, 12 December 2017.


2017BookA Victorian Marriage : Sir William Rowan Hamilton - xii, 508 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm.
This is the book, or essay, with which this project began. I published the first version in 2015, and soon saw it needed quite some corrections. What I aimed for is to show convincingly that Hamilton was happily married, was not an alcoholic, and had an understandable grief about the terrible fate of his first love Catherine Disney.
This book can also be read, as pdf or epub at Google books. A Dutch summary, een Nederlandse samenvatting, can be found here: Een Victoriaans Huwelijk.






The presentations on Youtube


Presentation Maynooth 2019              Presentation St.-Andrews 2021







Unpublications

Not officially published short articles and notes


Zerah Colburn, the ‘mental calculator’18 August 2022

How Arabella Lawrence’s sister Sarah introduced William Rowan Hamilton to Samuel Taylor Coleridge4 November 2021Revised and extended 20 January 2022

Young William Rowan Hamilton : hyperpolyglot16 October 2021

Sir William Rowan Hamilton’s godfather, Sydney Hamilton Rowan7 August 2021

Hamilton’s descent and Dr. James Hutton14 July 2021

William Hamilton and the ‘flaw’ in Laplace, the flawed story about it, and William’s proof26 September 2020

Lady Hamilton’s descent25 April 2020

Archibald Hamilton and education24 November 2019

Grace McFerrand24 November 2019Updated July 2021

Uncle James - theologian and linguist24 November 2019

Biela’s Comet11 November 2019

The twenty places in Hamilton’s Ireland — 12 October 2019 — as given in the game on Hamilton’s Ireland. Written for Ireland’s Maths week, 12-20 October 2019.

The family of Uncle James Hamilton of Trim19 May 2019

Illnesses and Astronomy4 May 2019Revised June 2022

The Hamiltons of Jervis Street and the name Rowan11 February 2018Revised July 2021

About the ownership of Summerhill House, where Hamilton met Catherine7 July 2017

Lower Dominick Street18 September 2016.



Van Quaternionen tot VectoranalyseSummer 2014
The essay bundle with which this Hamilton project began. Unfortunately, it is in both Dutch and English, which means that there will always be someone who cannot read it all.
Not knowing then what I know now, I now would have chosen a real photo of Hamilton. Also, the photo of Green is erroneous, no photograph of him seems to exist. He died in 1841, only three years after the first photo was made on which people can be seen. (Btw, is in that photo a child peeping through the curtains, in the left upper window of the white house? Perhaps the child saw the photographer and wondered what that strange man was doing with that little box.)





Background information



Utrecht, 31 July 2022
Meeting Zerah Colburn, the ‘mental calculator’, in 1813 and 1820

Rewritten 18 August 2022

In the autumn of 1813, Hamilton had “engaged in trials of arithmetical skill” with Zerah Colburn (1804-1839), an American ‘calculating boy’ who was able to make enormously long calculations in his head, answering many different arithmetical questions in very short times. His amazing skills had been exhibited since 1810, when he was six years old. Graves wrote about the contest between Hamilton and Colburn, who then just had turned eight and nine respectively, in his Portrait of Hamilton, “Zerah Colburn, the American boy, was exhibited in Dublin, as an arithmetical prodigy, and [...] opportunities occurred for trials of skill between him and Hamilton, in which, rather in play than otherwise, they exchanged questions and fought arithmetical duels; but we have heard Sir William declare,* that in these encounters his competitor was usually the more expert of the two combatants.” From the description it does not seem that these ‘encounters’ had been held in public.

* Graves met Hamilton when the latter befriended his elder brother John T. Graves in 1823 or 1824 while at college, in 1841 Graves researched and wrote the ‘Portrait’.

In 1820 Colburn and his father visited Ireland for a second time, and in April Hamilton and Colburn met each other in the house of Cousin Arthur Hamilton in Dublin. Colburn then shared his methods with Hamilton, and returned the following morning to have breakfast with them. Telling his sister Eliza about the meeting in a letter, Hamilton described Colburn as “the wonderful American boy who used to calculate with such astonishing rapidity when here some years ago.” The last time they met, again in Cousin Arthur’s house, was early in June. Hamilton wrote to Eliza, “Zerah Colburn dined with us lately, and acted a little in the evening, - “Pierre” and “Zanga”. I conversed with him on his Tables.”

In my celebration article, written because this year it is exactly two hundred years ago that Hamilton turned into a mathematician, I mentioned their two meetings in a footnote, erroneously stating that they had met in 1817 and 1819 instead of 1813 and 1820. After the publication of the article I started to doubt the years I had given for the contest, and rereading Graves’ remarks about it I saw that I had made a mistake; Hamilton and Colburn did not meet for a second time in April 1819 but in April 1820. Graves wrote about their second meeting on a page with in its heading ‘[1819. aetat. 14.]’, and the biography generally being divided in chapters which each describe a different year, I had erroneously assumed it was a chapter about 1819. On these pages Graves also remarked that the contest had taken place “two years” before Hamilton and Colburn met for the second time, and therefore I had concluded that the contest had taken place in 1817 instead of 1818, the year Graves thought it had.

In Graves’s biography, Hamilton’s early years were described using letters written by family members; the first letter written by Hamilton himself was given in the chapter called ‘His Childhood’. The next chapter, called ‘His School-time’ describes 1816-1819 and contains letters by Hamilton and by his father, but not anything relating to Colburn. Wondering why the contest, supposedly held in 1818, was not mentioned I decided to search online for Zerah Colburn, and readily found Norman Redington’s weblog, Zerah Colburn’s Saga. It appeared that in 1833 Colburn had published an autobiography, A Memoir of Zerah Colburn, and that it is available online. In his Memoir Colburn does not mention Hamilton, and I became curious whether the time of the contest could nevertheless be derived from it.

The Memoir is quite difficult to search through because Colburn only now and then gives dates. The first thing I therefore noticed was that the earliest likeness of Colburn was made late in 1810 or early in 1811, when he was only six, by Rembrandt Peale in Philadelphia and “placed in the gallery of the Museum.”* The most well-known likeness of Colburn was made early in 1813 when he was eight years old; the drawing was made by Thomas Hull, and it was engraved by Henry Meyer. Somehow this likeness seems kinder than the copy published by R.S. Kirby and shown on Colburn’s Wikipedia page; I could not find its engraver. Remarkably, the copy Colburn gave in his Memoir as a frontispiece is yet another one, and it is unfortunate that Colburn did not give any information about it. The main difference is that in this copy there is no trace of Colburn’s sixth finger which is clearly shown in the original likeness, and somewhat less conspicuous in the copy published by Kirby; Colburn had inherited his twelve fingers and twelve toes from his father.

* It was, unfortunately, not found online, and I do not know if it still exists.

Through Colburn’s polydactyly it is certain that the contest was held in 1813; Hamilton wrote to his sister Eliza about meeting Colburn again in 1820, “He is greatly grown and much improved in manner. He has lost every trace of his sixth finger.” Indeed, having visited Ireland and Scotland in 1813 and early 1814, Colburn returned to London in March 1814, and soon thereafter his extra fingers were taken off by Anthony Carlisle. The contest therefore took place before the operation, hence during Colburn’s 1813 visit to Dublin. Even though Colburn “was generally the victor,” the often drawn conclusion that Hamilton thereupon decided to give less time to his studies of the classics and more to mathematics is not true; in 1813, having been only eight years of age, that was not for him to decide.*

* Graves’ erroneous suggestion that the contest was held in 1818 instead of 1813 was, in some form, repeated by all six authors discussed in our gossip article, and of course by me. The second author, E.T. Bell, further introduced the notion that Colburn was the reason Hamilton turned from languages and the classics to mathematics. That was repeated by the later authors, except Hankins. Coincidentally, Colburn’s Memoir was placed online in 2007, the year that Ian Stewart, the last of the six authors, published his book.

Yet in 1822, then seventeen years of age and about to write his first original mathematics papers, Hamilton openly acknowledged Colburn’s influence on him in a letter to Cousin Arthur. “I was amused this morning, looking back on the eagerness with which I began different branches of the Mathematics, and how I always thought my present pursuit the most interesting. I believe it was seeing Zerah Colburn that first gave me an interest in those things. For a long time afterwards I liked to perform long operations in Arithmetic in my mind; extracting the square and cube root, and everything that related to the properties of numbers.” This enjoyment stayed with him; even in his last years Hamilton saw doing enormously long calculations, often without pen and paper, as relaxation, and Graves remarks that it “was in a sense play to him.” But the ultimate incentive for becoming a mathematician was the book he received from Uncle James in August 1821, Bartholomew Lloyd’s Analytic Geometry. In September 1822 Hamilton called it an “Ill-omened gift!” because it had “in so great a degree withdrawn my attention, I may say my affection, from the Classics.”


Colburn’s autobiography

The Memoir appeared to contain so many surprising details that I decided to extend this blog(post) into an unpublication. I added a short biographical sketch, and the question I had asked myself, whether Colburn would have been able to become a mathematician. It seems possible to conclude from the Memoir that he could have become one if circumstances had allowed it, and that after his exhibitions he may have lost his extraordinary speed in calculating, but not his ability for calculating itself. When Colburn wrote the Memoir he was a Methodist preacher, and in 1835, two years after the publication, he became professor of languages at the then recently established Norwich University in Vermont. He died very young, in 1839, only thirty-four years old.

Note added 23 August 2022: coincidentally I found a Dutch article about Colburn, published in 1812. There are two reasons to mention it here, of which the first is that it explains why Abia Colburn believed they would have much success in Europe; the article appeared to be an indirect translation of an American article written in 1811, when Zerah still lived in America, but was found (almost astoundingly easy) to exist in English, French and Dutch, and I did not search for other European languages. The second reason is that I understood from the article that Zerah, then still six years old, was described as very funny, and I was thinking about happily adding that somewhere. It appeared to be incorrect; a result of translations and a modern interpretation of words written two hundred years ago.
In the Dutch article it is mentioned that it was translated from French, and that the source was Mr. MacNeven. Searching, it appeared that the original article was written by William James MacNeven (1763-1841), a physician and former member of the United Irishmen, who emigrated to America in 1804. The article was published in the New York Medical and Philosophical Journal and Review, and reprinted, partly rewritten, in The London Chronicle in 1812. Subsequently the article was translated into French and published in the Annales de l’éducation, then into Dutch and published in the Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen.
The Dutch sentence which caught my attention was,“Zerah Colburn [...] is zeer geestig; hij is zeer gevat, en somtijds scherp, in zijne antwoorden.” I interpreted the word ‘geestig’ as ‘humorous’, yet just like the word ‘gevat’ it is slightly old-fashioned. Google translate and the Dutch dictionary suggest for ‘geestig’: witty, humorous, lively, smart, salted, keen-witted, ingenious, imaginative, elegant; for ‘gevat’: witty, smart, quick-witted, sharp-witted, ready, apt, quick, mercurial, lively. Translating it back into English would therefore give, for instance, “Zerah Colburn [...] is very humorous; he is very witty, and sometimes sharp, in his answers.” But the humorous association of the word ‘geestig’ must have been absent when the Dutch article was written. The original article reads, “Little Colburn is prompt at repartee, and sometimes sarcastic.” The London article, “Zerah Colburn [...] exhibits a great deal of mind; he is ready at repartee, and sometimes pointedly severe.” The French article appeared to be a translation of the London version and reads, “Zerah Colburn annonce [...] beaucoup d’esprit; il est prompt à la repartie, et quelquefois mordant.” ‘Esprit’ is ‘geest’ in Dutch indeed, yet neither one of the sentences sounds ‘geestig’ in the sense of funny, alas.



Utrecht, 15 July 2022
An 1820 flag book semaphore, and fellow school boys in Trim

Some days ago my brother Rein was telling me about the flag signal system he had learned to use when he was in military service. When he described how the marine used the system I recognised it from Graves’ biography; in August 1820, when Hamilton had just turned fifteen, together with his friend Tommy Fitzpatrick he had invented an almost similar system. I remembered it because it is accompanied by an “amusing story” about their use of the system (although it may not have been amusing for the fighting people).



Hamilton’s and Fitzpatrick’s 1820 semaphore

Hamilton’s and Fitzpatrick’s book semaphore.


In 1820 Hamilton wrote in his journal, “Friday, July 21. - Walked to Fairy Mount* with T. F. Had previously set up a mark on the tower in steeple-field; took telescopes and saw it. The idea of a telegraph then occurred. I was at Fairy Mount after six. T. F., Grace, Uncle, Ann** and the children were watching for us. I understood and answered him, to their great amusement. ... Saturday. - Went about eight to Fairy Mount. I then ascertained that a large straight or curved line could be distinguished from one place to the other, and made such. Read Gregory’s account of telegraphs.*** ... Monday. - ... At half-past twelve we went out about the telegraphs. He went to Fairy Mount. In our plan every letter consists of a combination of two out of five signs. ... Tuesday, half-past twelve. - I went to Fairy Mount and astonished some men there by my silent gesticulations and signs. Slightly altered our plan. Friday 28th. - I talked by the telegraph, he at Fairy Mount, and we understood each other perfectly.” In August Hamilton wrote to Eliza, “Tommy Fitzpatrick and I invented a plan by which, one being at home and the other at Fairy Mount, we are capable of maintaining a conversation. Fairy Mount is the hill covered with furze which you, Grace, Sydney, James Byrne** and I were so fond of walking to. Had anyone then told us that we would ever be able to converse from that post to the steeple-field we would have considered it incredible; yet such is the fact; by a telegraph which I contrived myself, each having a telescope, we have repeatedly transmitted questions and answers correctly. It is somewhat on the plan of our secret language.”

* I could not find Fairy Mount; Google Street view is focused on cars, and Ireland seems to be rather good at shielding the land from the cars. Yet Fairy Mount cannot be very far from the Yellow Steeple; if the boys could start running and be in time for the fight (see below), it must have been somewhere within a two kilometre radius from the steeple field.
** It was also not found who Ann and James Byrne were.
*** Apparently in 1819 Hamilton had read A Treatise of Mechanics by Olinthus Gregory.

Note added 19 August 2022. Anthony O’Farrell wrote, “Regarding the fairy mount, perhaps it was the rath at Kiltoome [...], about 1700m northeast of the tower. These raths are often called ‘fairy forts’ or something similar.” When I suggested the old cemetery, because on one of the photos made there and given in Google street view the Yellow Steeple can be seen, or at least something vague which could be it, O’Farrell answered, ““Fairy” refers to the legends of the Tuatha De Danann, and is applied to any prehistoric mound or structure. It is not applied to obviously Christian ruins.” With Google street view I could not find another view of the Yellow Steeple from Kiltoome; it appeared necessary to really be there and look for it, something we unfortunately cannot do now. Searching for another possibility there appeared to be an elevation map for Meath, showing an elevation north of Trim. On Google maps it can be seen to include a mound, coincidentally also about 1700 metres from the Yellow Steeple. To my surprise, with Google street view for that mound it appeared to be possible to see it together with the Yellow Steeple in one view; on the left the Yellow Steeple can be seen, on the right the mound. It does make the mound a very good candidate for the “Fairy Mount”.

Graves adds, “An amusing instance of the success of this mode of communication is remembered by Dr. Fitzpatrick. Hamilton had sent him to Fairy Mount with his telescope for the purpose of holding a telegraphic conversation. He then went into the town, and found a conflict beginning between soldiers and the towns-folk. He ran up to the steeple-field and telegraphed the fact to T. F., “the soldiers and the people are fighting.” The news was immediately told by T. F. to a cluster of boys and men who surrounded him, watching his manoeuvres, “run, boys, as quick as you can, and you will be in time for the fight.” His word was acted on with the result predicted. Next day he was left alone at his telegraph; and on inquiry, the reason discovered that yesterday’s band of curious spectators were now afraid to be present, supposing him to be in league with the evil one.”

Mechanical telegraphs were of course known already; also called optical telegraphs, it is can easily be argued that signalling, especially in the form of fire or smoke signals, was already used by very early civilizations. In 1794 an extensive mechanical telegraph network became operational. But a semaphore, from the Greek words for ‘sign’ and ‘carry’, is a special form of mechanical or optical telegraph; it is “a system of sending messages by holding the arms or two flags or poles in certain positions according to an alphabetic code.” In the Wikipedia article ‘Flag semaphore’ it is stated that that system originated in 1866, which means that Hamilton and Fitzpatrick invented their semaphore forty-six years before the generally accepted date, even though they did not use flags but books for visibility.

It is not too obvious who of the two friends attributed what, but reading Gregory’s section on Telegraphs, it seems that what Hamilton did is combine two systems described by Gregory. The first one was invented by Cleoxenus, “and very much improved by Polybius;” the latter used an array of five letters divided into five columns. The letters are signalled by first holding up, on the left side, the number of torches corresponding with the column the letter is in, followed by holding up on the right side a number of torches corresponding to the place of the letter in the column.* A problem was to discern what is left and what is right, and Gregory remarks that the system does not seem “to have been brought into general use.”

* Because it is unlikely that Gregory would call the horizontal rows ‘columns’, he seems to describe an array which is transposed as regards the modern reproductions of Polybius’ square. The rho is then indeed the scecond letter in the fourth column, and if for kappa instead of ‘left’ is read ‘last’, also the description of the place of the kappa is in order.

The second system is from 1684, when Robert Hooke introduced the use of telescopes, and the exchange of the signals from high places for visibility. He used simple characters to convey the message, and the simple characters consisting of straight lines and semi-circles, that might be what Hamilton was writing about on Saturday 22 July; that he had “ascertained that a large straight or curved line could be distinguished from one place to the other, and made such.” In the following week Hamilton and Fitzgerald adjusted their plan to the use of the letter array signalled by five postions of the arms, and, apparently, by Friday 28 July their system had become satisfactory. What they did not take from Polybius is using the left and right differently and, as is done nowadays, signal a letter at once with different positions for the left and right arm; they used both arms to signal the row first, then the column. Fitzpatrick remarked, “One arm would suffice, but the use of both arms is perhaps less liable to mistake; a book or some such article held in the hand makes the sign more easily observable.” Perhaps their telescopes were not that good.


Fellow schoolboys in Trim; Thomas Fitzpatrick (1806/7-1898), John Butler (1803/4-1890), Matthew Maine Fox (1804-1844), Abraham Bradley King (1811-1836).

Having become curious who Tommy Fitzpatrick was I decided to try a search. Graves mentioned that he was a medical doctor. Not having found him in the Alumni Dublinenses, it appeared that he graduated in Edinburgh, in 1833, on ‘De Bronchite Acuta’. He thereupon returned to Ireland, and in 1835 he lived in Dublin, at Park Street. Also in 1847 he lived at Park Street; in 1852 he lived at Lower Baggot street. From that entry it also appears that in 1840 he had become a licentiate of The King and Queen’s College of Physicians (K.Q.C.P.). The dagger before his name means that in any case in 1847 he was a practitioner in midwifery, which is in accord with being associated with the Lying-in Hospital, as mentioned in the Medical Directory for 1856. In 1842 Fitzpatrick published Observations on Scarlatina, in 1850 Cases of Thoracic Disease, or ‘On the Diagnosis of Thoracic Disease’, and in 1852 a Case of Scarlatina, with remarkable Recovery, by then he was Secretary to the Association of the Members of the K.Q.C.P. He would become the first medical officer of St. Vincent’s Asylum, which was founded in 1857. Thomas was from a Catholic family, and on 24 September 1834 he married Mary Clare Kearny. They had at least one son, Bartholomew, who was baptised in 1847, became the Very Reverend Monsignor B. Fitzpatrick, parish priest and vicar general of the Church of the Three Patrons at Rathgar-road (p 1641), and president of Clonliffe or Holy Cross College. He died in 1925, seventy-eight years old, which agrees with having been born in 1847. Bartholomew Fitzpatrick, Abbot of the Abbey at Mount Melleray, was a brother of Thomas. From his death announcements it appears that he was born in April 1813 and died December 1893, and that Thomas and Bartholomew were sons of Thomas Fitzpatrick, Esq. from Trim. In his brother’s death announcements Thomas was called “probably the senior physician at present”. He remained active until his last years; in 1895, an Honorary Fellow of the K.Q.C.P., he still was a Medical Attendant at St. Vincent’s Asylum. He died on 9 June 1898, in his “ninety-second year”. He therefore will have been born in 1806 or 1807, and was just a year younger than Hamilton.

Searching for Fitzpatrick, whose adult life was not easy to find, I came across the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, containing a succinct historical description of Uncle James’s Diocesan school in Trim. Combining pp 13 and 14 it reads, “Diocesan or district free school, Abbey Lane, E. end, in Talbot Castle, probably former part of domestic buildings of St Mary’s Abbey. Talbot Castle 1708; possibly residential late 17th-early 18th cent. Leased for use of diocesan school in 1718; free school 1738. Diocesan schoolhouse, ‘large but very old house’, in need of repair 1788. Unnamed 1806. School closed, converted back to private residence in 1824. Attic storey added in c. 1909. Private residence 2004.”

I then also searched for other fellow pupils who were mentioned by Graves; in June 1820 there were “four head-boys in the school, himself, T. Fitzpatrick, J. Butler, and Matthew Fox.” Pupils mentioned in the 1821 census were John Butler who then was seventeen, and Abraham Bradley King who then was nine years old.

John Butler is in the Alumni Dublinenses; he was a son of the clericus Richard Butler, had been educated by Mr Hamilton, and had entered, with seventeen, on 15 October in 1821, half a year after the census. He thus was a son of the Richard Butler (.. -1841) who in 1818 became vicar in Trim, and he was a younger brother of the Richard Butler (1794-1862) who succeeded his father as vicar in 1819 and spent many evenings at the Hamilton home, until in 1826 he married one of Maria Edgeworth’s younger half-sisters, Harriet Edgeworth. John is also in The Peerage, but unfortunately the sons without known birth year are given first; having been 17 in 1821 John was born in 1803 or 1804, clearly younger than his brother Robert instead of older. John Butler Esq., JP, lived at Maiden Hall, Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny. He married Mary Barton on 7 October 1854. Their son George was born in 1859, he married Rita Clarke, and died in 1941. John Butler died 21 May 1890; he was eighty-six, which is in accord with having been born in 1803 or 1804. Nothing further was found about his adult life.

Matthew Maine Fox was from the Fox family who lived at Foxbrook, in the townland Ballymulmore. In 1810 Aunt Sydney Hamilton wrote to Hamilton’s mother Sarah that “Mrs. Fox of Foxbrook” in Meath had paid a visit to try “if she could prevail on James to take her eldest son, who is a year older than Willy, as a boarder, she having heard so much, she said, of Willy’s progress, that she would give anything to have him under James.” Her eldest son was called James, but in the Trinity College Admission records there is no James Fox, son of James Fox, yet their younger son is the Matthew Fox mentioned by Graves; he entered Trinity College Dublin on 15 October 1821. Born in Meath, he was a son of James (Jac.) Fox, educated by Mr Hamilton, and just like John Butler he was seventeen when they entered on the same day (pp 302 and 303, respectively), together with 105 others; it was one of the main exam days. Matthew’s grandfather Matthew Fox ‘The Fox’ (1745-1808) from Foxbrook, Co Meath, and Galtrim near Trim, married Elizabeth Grierson of Doolistown. Their eldest son, James (1773-1850), also called The Fox, married in 1803 Harriet D’Arcy of Hyde Park, Westmeath and lived at Foxbrook and Galtrim. Their youngest son, Matthew Maine Fox, who in accord with the data in the Alumni Dublinenses was born in 1804, married in Dublin on 6 September 1832 Hannah Boyce; she died without issue. On 28 July 1835 Matthew married Eleanor Anne Armstrong (as they wrote their names in the record), their son James George Hubert Fox, The Fox, was born on 1 January 1842. Matthew was a reverend; he was curate of Clonard in 1837 and vicar of Galtrim from 1838 until 1843. The headstone in Laracor Church cemetery shows that he died in May 1844, only thirty-nine years old. His wife Eleanor died in April 1845, their infant daughter Louisa in August 1845.

Abraham Bradley King is not in the Alumni Dublinenses, but he appears to have been the younger son of Sir Abraham Bradley King (1774-1838), who in 1793 married Anne Oulton, and had two sons and six daughters. James was born in 1796, and Abraham in October 1810, which is not in accord with the data in the 1821 census which was held on 28 May, and states that Abraham then was nine. Burke suggests that in 1836 Abraham accidentally drowned while travelling in America, but this newspaper article suggests suicide, perhaps combined with neglicence. According to Burke his mother had died on 8 March 1836, and the article placed on 26 July 1836 reads, “By the Toronto Albion, we learn that the son of Sir Abraham Bradley King, of Dublin, has been drowned in Upper Canada. The deceased was seen running down the wharf and plunging into the water with his clothes on; it was only ten Minutes until he was got out; but no means, it is said, were taken to resuscitate the unfortunate person, although he gave a sigh when brought ashore, and a medical gentleman was on the spot immediately after. The rash act is alleged to have been to have been perpetrated in a fit of despondency on hearing of the death of his mother.” Hamilton must have heard about Abraham’s death; a terrible story to hear about someone you knew as a young child.

* A small note just because of the connection between Dublin and Utrecht: a member of the Oulton family, apparently a very close relative because he was called Abraham Bradley King Oulton, married the Dutch Marij Anne Waters. Their daughter Jane Beyon Oulton, who was born in Dublin, married in 1875, in Rotterdam, James Anne Christiaan Raven. She became a widow in 1878, and died in Utrecht in 1894.



Utrecht, 10 July 2022
In 1822, exactly two hundred years ago, Hamilton became a mathematician

At some time during the revision of Illnesses and Astronomy it suddenly dawned on me that Graves had made a remark about Hamilton’s first mathematical papers, “These papers mark the year 1822, when he attained the seventeenth year of his age, as that in which Hamilton entered upon the path of original mathematical discovery.” That was exactly two hundred years ago! I therefore interrupted my work and wrote a short celebration article, now published in the Bulletin of the Irish Mathematical Society, about Hamilton’s transition from the orientalist, theologian or statesman he was expected to become, into the famous mathematician he would become.

The most intriguing part of the preparations for this article was searching for what exactly Hamilton had been thinking of when he mentioned the hyperboloid of revolution which was formed by the places of synchronicity of the emersion of Io and the middle of the eclipse of our moon on 26 January 1823. Not only because having made this observation at such a young age “shows talent and imagination,” as someone rightly commented, but also because it gave extra data about his predictions, which he did not always specify very precisely in letters to his family members. Fortunately, some time ago Miguel DeArce had raised my interest for Hamilton’s early astronomy, and then Rob van Gent had explained to me how to read the Nautical Almanac, which was a great advantage now. It enabled me to compare Hamilton’s predictions of the times of Io’s emersion and the various stages of the eclipse of our moon with the data given in the Nautical Almanac, of which it is almost certain that he used it, and with modern astronomical data. The precision was impressive, and is given in this overview. The main conclusion is that the prediction interval for the emersion of Io from Jupiter’s shadow, the emersion of the moon from the earth’s shadow, and Saturn crossing the meridian, given by the Nautical Almanac, EclipseWise, Stellarium, and Hamilton, was less than four minutes.

I felt a bit sorry that, in order to keep the article readable, I had to abstain from again lauding Hamilton’s uncle John Willey, a Moravian minister and amateur astronomer who was largely responsible for young William’s great skills in astronomy. He regularly came to Trim to prepare with his nephew for astronomical events, and Uncle James took care that whenever he came, William had studied the relevant theoretical astronomy. When shortly before the solar eclipse of 7 September 1820 William “received from his uncle Willey the plans and map of the central path of the moon’s shadow over the earth, with Tables of various kinds,” he recorded in his journal that they were “all most ingeniously, accurately, carefully, neatly, skilfully, obligingly, and beautifully executed.”

While describing the year 1828, when Hamilton lived at Dunsink Observatory for about a year already, Graves writes about Uncle Willey, “His letters prove him to have been a most laborious calculator of celestial phenomena. He constantly resorted to his nephew for extrication from difficulties, for information and advice, and on his part was always willing to do anything in his power for the Professor. On the recent [1828] occasion of the Professor’s Lectures, for instance, he supplied him with a planisphere of his own construction, calculated for the meridian of Dunsink, to serve as one of the illustrations of the course. This correspondence continued to be actively carried on to a late year of Hamilton’s life.” Uncle Willey died in 1847.

Graves was not an astronomer, he had met Hamilton only after the latter had entered College and had befriended his elder brother John T. Graves, and in order to show how wonderful Hamilton had been he was strongly focusing on ‘eminent people’ which Uncle Willey clearly was not; Graves therefore may not really have understood Uncle Willey’s early importance for Hamilton. And perhaps having read Graves’ comments, but not having noticed the traces of William’s intensive training with Uncle Willey in the letters given in the earlier chapters, in 1980 Hankins commented that “Hamilton always showed extraordinary kindness and patience for his Uncle [John]. Even when he became Royal Astronomer and had more elevated occupations to take up his time, he was willing to undertake long calculations and to send lessons of instruction to [John].” But realising that a large part of Hamilton’s early astronomy was acquired under the guidance of Uncle Willey, it does not seem in any way “extraordinary” that Hamilton valued his uncle so highly.

One of the nicest finds during the writing of this paper was that it appeared that the Library of TCD had scanned, and placed online, the “ill-omened gift” which “in so great a degree” withdrew Hamilton’s attention, or affection, from the Classics: Bartholomew Lloyd’s Analytic Geometry, in Hamilton’s narrative the most well-known book hardly anyone had seen before. The scanned copy clearly was intensely studied by a previous owner.



Utrecht, 12 June 2022
The importance of contexts and minute details

The last few weeks I have been revising my Illnesses and Astronomy, and comparing the new version with the 2019 one I am amazed about how much my view on Hamilton’s youth has changed in the three years between the versions. It is perhaps not too apparent from the text except for some deletions and many added little details, but for me precisely these amendations represent the difference. They mainly stem from having been provided with many historical facts and insights by Finbarr Connolly, having discussed Hamilton’s early astronomy with Miguel DeArce, and having written my unpublications about Hamilton’s descent, his grandmother, father, uncle and godfather, the ‘flaw’ in Laplace and the thirteen languages. When writing about the Misses Lawrence and Hamilton’s introduction to Coleridge, all these discussions and searches slowly led to finally realising the enormous influence of the Hutton family on Hamilton’s life. And to the conclusion that also without Sarah Lawrence’s letter Hamilton would have visited Coleridge; it was very kind of her, but not necessary.

Not that I think I now have or have given a complete picture of Hamilton’s private life, but with the addition of the very many details about his youth the picture again became more coherent, and even many of Graves’ often seemingly unimportant or almost hidden remarks started to fall into place. Such as the subordinate clause that after having received his two optimes at college and having become a Dublin celebrity Hamilton was able to remain to be the steadily industrious student he had been before. To me this had sounded like sudden fame which he could cope with because of his stable character and because he had been surrounded by a caring family who already since his childhood had helped him not to become vain, but then I started to see how many people Hamilton already was acquainted with even before his college years; people who now have Wikipedia pages, portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, or entries in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. Contrary to my earliest impressions, Hamilton was in no way a simple, secluded country boy who suddenly rose to fame, and Graves was fully aware of that.

Now recognising many short sentences, subordinate clauses and minute details, despite in fact only a few what could be called ‘flaws’ which were caused by Graves’ emotional involvement with his subject, his biography became even more awe inspiring because of its utter completeness, at the same time explaining its enormous impact upon publication; even though today it costs much time to become familiar with all the nuances of the text, the readers in Graves’ time will have recognised most of the details easily. And when even the ‘flaws’, notwithstanding their unintended yet enormous later influences, became easy to understand by placing both Hamilton’s and Graves’ lives in the contexts of their time, for me a circle began to close.

In the 2014 seminar about the History of Vector Analysis in which I encountered Hamilton’s distorted reputation, two fellow students wrote their essay about “'Contexten”; the last sentence (p. 87) of their essay reads, “Nevertheless, it is important not to judge history with contemporary terminology and ideas.” It stuck with me, even though I then hardly knew anything about history, and could not foresee how important it would become. After the seminar having written, as editor, the preface and then my first chapter about Hamilton (in which I should have credited my fellow students for my use of their “Contexts”), I started my Hamilton quest in which I often encountered it. Revising my ‘Illnesses and astronomy’, I more and more realised how utterly important the minute details are because they often throw, unexpectedly, a different light on events by showing contemporary context. And that not placing Graves’ biography, and therewith the description of Hamilton’s private life, in the context of his time is the main problem of Hankins’ otherwise authorative 1980 biography.

One such detail concerns Hamilton’s honesty, as discussed in my AVM and again in the introduction to Coleridge unpublication. From 1847 Hamilton tutored Catherine Disney’s eldest son, James William Barlow, and Hankins suggests that in 1850, when James William competed for Fellowship,* Hamilton ‘gave James Barlow the same information about quaternions that he was giving to Charles Graves who was lecturing on them,’ and that, for Hamilton, James William’s success ‘was a gift for Catherine and revenge against her husband;’ he thus accused Hamilton of dishonesty. When I was writing my AVM I found that hard to believe, yet I did not have much more than claiming that it did not fit the extremely honest image Hamilton’s friends sketched of him. But when revising ‘Illnesses and Astronomy’ I decided to search for the exact circumstances of Hamilton’s two optimes, and that led to a surprise.

* In 1850 Hamilton did not know yet that Catherine’s marriage was forced upon her; if he had been taking revenge it would have been because he knew Catherine was unhappy. Hankins does not discuss that distinction.

Optimes were very rarely given at Trinity College Dublin; around 1780 Thomas Elrington received an optime, around 1805 John Henry North received one, then Hamilton received even two optimes. Although therefore especially the second optime was a very extreme event Hamilton’s optimes were never doubted; Graves even wrote that they led to an ‘embarrasing number of invitations.’ Yet the same doubts Hankins casted in James William Barlow’s case could be casted in that of Hamilton.

The first optime was given to Hamilton in 1824, by Charles Richard Elrington, the son of the earlier recipient of an optime; even though some hidden motive might be unclear, it shows in any case how small that academic world was. But in 1826 the second one was given by Charles Boyton, the son of a family friend, and that could have been a problem. Hamilton had been in close contact with him since in any case the summer of 1822, when still sixteen, and Boyton had been his tutor since July 1823; that certainly could have been regarded as conspicuous, yet there is nothing to imply that that was the case. It may therefore be assumed that the social control was so large, and the academic world so small, that such connections were always watched closely.

Peter Guthrie Tait wrote about Hamilton, “his examination papers were the despair of the ‘crammers’. In them there was such an intense novelty and originality, that the experience of forty years could give no inkling of what was coming; the venerable crammers gave up the attempt; and the victory was won by the real intellect of the deserving candidate, not, as it too often is, by the adventitious supply of old material forced into the mere memory of the crammed.” Having given James William ‘the same information as he gave to Charles Graves’ would therefore not have helped, and examination assignments less novel and original than usual would have been food for gossipers.

Knowing that in 1847 James William Barlow had already won a Bishop Law’s prize for mathematics, that he received premiums in 1848 and 1849 for his Fellowship Examinations, and knowing how Hamilton received his second optime, it can be concluded that for their time and circumstances there was nothing out of the ordinary with James William Barlow winning the Fellowship in 1850, and that Hankins’ remark was just an assumption which fitted in with his idea that Hamilton had a life-long infatuation with Catherine Disney. Yet without again minute details it was impossible to convincingly contradict the suggestion that Hamilton had been dishonest.



Utrecht, 20 January 2022
Hamilton and Coleridge, networks and the internet

In 2008 Waka Ishikura published an article in Coleridge Bulletin about Hamilton’s introduction to Coleridge by Miss Lawrence, from which I have gratefully used some remarkable quotes in my biographical sketch of Catherine Disney. But I felt that a small part of her article was in need of a defense, because suggestions were made about Hamilton which were based on the still very wide-spread negative view on his private life. In 2019 I had written an article about it, but I was unable to write it down both convincing, and as short as the Coleridge Bulletin needed it to be. When in October and November 2021 I was rewriting my reply to the article, it began to show that still something was missing in my general views on Hamilton’s private life. When I started my Hamilton researches in 2014, I had assumed that everyone agreed on the view on Hamilton’s younger years, and that I only had to focus on the years after he was alleged to have developed a drinking problem (which appeared not to be true), therefore after 1840. While writing my AVM I did understand that I also had to write about earlier years, but at the time I did not research them in so much detail as the later years, and I did not read the first volume as thoroughly as I did especially the second, which described Hamilton’s life between 1833 and 1853.

Because in her 2008 article Ishikura suggested that in 1832 Hamilton needed the Lawrence sisters to become introduced to Coleridge, I now started to wonder if there would have been alternative ways for him to become introduced. I decided to search in Graves’ first volume for information about Hamilton’s early networks of eminent people and “men of science,” with in the back of my mind the question whether or not he knew enough people to just trust that in London, where Coleridge lived, he would find someone to introduce him to Coleridge or to his friend Dr. Green. Wordsworth had suggested to become introduced to Green as an alternative, because Green would know whether Coleridge’s health was strong enough to receive guests.

The search led to a myriad of new details, of which I will give some hereafter.* And to the conclusion that Hamilton knew so many people with close connections to people in London, that planning a visit to the Lawrence sisters to try to procure an introduction was in fact completely unnecessary.

Most importantly, it led again to contemplations about gossip. In Hankins’ biography Hamilton’s private life is described in only about one-fifth of the book, yet my AVM, of which I felt every page was necessary to counteract suggestions Hankins had made in his 1980 biography, consists of more than five hundred pages. The same happened now; although Ishikura’s article was only six pages long, my reply became a dense article of thirty-one pages. As a mathematician, at the remote location of Dunsink Observatory, Hamilton lived large parts of his life in a very quiet manner, and the problem is that proving that someone like him did not do something is often impossible, only be shown to be very unlikely. And to show how unlikely, costs very many arguments, reasonings, words and pages.

Especially my first, thick, book, A Victorian Marriage, and the long unpublication about the introduction to Coleridge I placed online today, have been written as a defense against the wide-spread negative view on Hamilton, and I hope they will be regarded as such. But it still does not feel good, arguing so extensively that someone who meant well might have been wrong. Hankins’ biography was written before the coming of the world wide web, and Ishikura’s article before libraries uploaded their treasure troves of books from before 1900 to the Internet Archive. The web, the IA, and the effective search engines changed everything, and information can now be found easily on subjects which earlier would not even have seemed to be connected. These altered circumstances, and my uneasy feelings about this article as a dense yet necessary reply to Ishikura’s 2008 article, made me decide that it should not stand on its own, and I placed it here on my website as one of my unpublications. It belongs within the context of this website; the overview of my struggle against the gossip about Hamilton, and my efforts to restore his shattered reputation.


* Some loose details which during the searches attracted my attention.

-- The most surprising find was Edward Hincks (1792-1866), an Irish reverend, Egyptologist and Assyriologist, who had appeared to be related by marriage to Hamilton. He was “one of the great pioneers” in the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform. In 1822 Edward Hincks had received an inscribed copy of Coleridge’s 1816 The Stateman’s Manual, “27 March 1822. Reverend Edward Hincks - with sincere respect of the author S.T.C.” Because in 1822 Hincks was not famous yet, I did not know whether or how Hincks and Coleridge knew each other.
I then asked Kevin Cathcart, emeritus Professor of Near Easter Languages at University College Dublin, whether he knew why Coleridge had sent his book to Hincks. He answered, “Coleridge is not mentioned in Hincks’s correspondence and publications. Hincks (1792–1866) was a young anglican clergyman in 1822 when Coleridge sent him a copy of that pamphlet. Two things strike me: One, Hincks was interested in poetry and for relaxation he composed poems and verse. [...] Two, Hincks was also a clergyman and would have been interested in Coleridge’s theological writings. Although Edward Hincks and his four brothers and three sisters were born in Cork, and their father was born in Dublin, the family was originally from Cheshire in England. The Hincks family was Unitarian by religion. Hincks’s father was a Unitarian/Presbyterain minister. Two of Edward’s brothers (William and John) were Unitarian ministers, but Edward and Thomas were Anglican ministers. This caused tension in the family. As you know, Coleridge was Unitarian in the early part of his life, but Anglican later on. I have little doubt that in Unitarian circles, Hincks family members and Coleridge had contact. I should mention that the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell was Edward Hincks’s second cousin. She was Unitarian.”

-- The question has often been asked why Hamilton did not become a member of the Royal Society even though it was proposed to him; in March 1832 Sir John Lubbock, who at that time was Treasurer of the Royal Society, wrote to Hamilton, “I trust it will not be long before the Royal Society will enrol so great a mathematician as Professor Hamilton among its members. I should have particular pleasure at any time (being on the spot) in preparing your certificate and procuring any signatures you might wish, if the distance renders it inconvenient to you to do this yourself.” But Hamilton wrote to Adare, “[Mr. Lubbock] expresses a wish to propose me as a member of the Royal Society. I believe it would be rather rude to decline, though I should never have applied for the honour.”
In 1825 Hamilton had been elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, in 1828 of the (Royal) Astronomical Society in London, and in October 1831 of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Due to the highly theoretical nature of his work Hamilton did not travel much; many astronomers and mathematicians were also members of the Astronomical Society; whenever he could he attended the yearly meetings of the British Association which generally lasted a week. The combination might indicate that he simply did not need it.

-- The University of Minnesota Library owns the copy of the fourteenth volume (1825) of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, which was inscribed by Hamilton for Maria Edgeworth. It may have been presented to her when she became an honorary member of the RIA; she had great interest in the various scientific reports, and in November 1838 Hamilton “present[ed her] with whatever volumes of the Irish Transactions [had] been published since [her father’s] death [in 1817], and to continue the same presentation as future volumes [appeared].” Her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth had been one of the original members of the RIA.

-- In 1831 Maria Edgeworth spread happy gossip about Hamilton.* It was gossip indeed; not in the sense in which the term it is used here, as ever more distorted stories, but real-time gossip. Apparently in the summer of 1830 Maria Edgeworth had assumed Hamilton was in love with Helen Bayly, and in the winter of 1830-1831 she had concluded that he was going to marry.** In January 1831 the gossip had reached Wordsworth in England; he wrote to Hamilton that he had heard Hamilton was going to be married. In February 1831 Hamilton answered Wordsworth, “Miss Edgeworth’s intelligence of my marriage or engagement is erroneous. I wonder that she did not ask myself whether it was true before she circulated it: perhaps she may have thought she did so by sending me a note last summer [1830] in which she said “My dear Professor, I hear glad tidings of your double happiness:” I did not understand what she meant, until I received your letter as a commentary, and answered at the time, “It is very true, I am very happy with my pupil [Adare].” But I intend to undeceive her, as I hope soon to have an opportunity of sending her a letter.”
Yet in the summer of 1831 he spoke to Arabella Lawrence about Helen Bayly with the same enthusiasm as he perhaps did to Maria Edgeworth; it is not known if this was a part of the same gossip. In February 1833 Hamilton wrote to Helen Bayly, to whom he then was betrothed, “You may perhaps remember my telling you that I was so much and so agreeably struck by your sincerity in saying, in the summer before last [1831], that you preferred my sister’s poems to my own, as to mention it to an English lady, Miss [Ar]abella Lawrence, with whom I had for many years been intimate, our intimacy having begun in a similar instance of candour on her part. Perhaps I expressed myself too warmly, for she took it into her head that I was attached to you at the time, which of course was a wild idea, and one that I soon dispelled.”*** But Hamilton continued the letter, ‘giving a holiday to his modesty,’ that to their upcoming marriage Arabella Lawrence had reacted, “I do indeed congratulate you most heartily on the prospect of happiness which is opening for you, and in which I most cordially sympathise. I can scarcely admit a doubt that the lady will know how to value those qualities in you which I place far above those that have justly gained for you worldly distinction, and for whose deficiency no intellectual eminence could compensate.”

* It was not easy to see; the biography being largely chronological, every now and then, and for several reasons, Graves would deviate from the chronology.

** In the winter of 1830-1831 Hamilton did not know Ellen de Vere yet. That is why it must have been about Helen Bayly; in the summer of 1831 the same thing happened with Arabella Lawrence. Moreover, Hamilton wrote in 1855 that he had been in love three times, not four.

*** That was not unkind as it might seem to be; it was necessary in those strict times. Both men and women had to be very careful not to damage each other’s reputations.

-- On 14 October 2021 the Cabra Historical Society placed a plaque of Hamilton on Broombridge, next to the 1958 plaque. It was officially unveiled on Saturday 23 October. Its likeness seems quite good! The plaque cannot be seen yet in Google street view because the current image was captured in 2019, but hopefully it will show soon, for the world to see.



Utrecht, 4 November 2021
Hamilton, Coleridge, Arabella Lawrence and nonconformist families

In his biography, Graves made a small mistake; he assumed that Hamilton had befriended the eldest of the ‘Miss Lawrences’, as Hamilton called them; five sisters who lived together and ran a girls’s school in Gateacre, Liverpool. Graves wrote highly admiring about them, albeit in the Victorian sense of women’s greatness, “The three sisters were women of sound judgment and much culture, and two of them are highly spoken of by Miss Edgeworth in letters written by her in July, 1820, from Paris, where she was in intercourse with them. So highly did she esteem the elder, that she desired to secure her as governess for the children of the Duchess of Orleans [(1782-1866)]; but the post was wisely declined by Miss Lawrence. This lady became to Hamilton, for some years, a valuable friend and adviser, as letters from her still in existence amply prove.”

What is clear is that Hamilton’s friend was the sister whom Maria Edgeworth held in high esteeem, and who was asked to become governess. But completely in the style in which he wrote the biography Graves did not explain what he considered ‘wise’ about Miss Lawrence’s decision, and because he did not give first names, nor any individual descriptions of the sisters, he allowed his readers to see the Miss Lawrences as a bunch of marvellous yet interchangeable women. It made it nearly impossible to recognise his error, which therefore only became apparent when in 2009 the Lawrence family tree came online; as far as I know Graves’ mistake was never noticed by Hamilton biographers.

In 2008 Waka Ishikura published an article about Hamilton and “Miss Lawrence” in the Coleridge Bulletin, in which Graves’ mistake became embedded in the then generally accepted extremely negative view on Hamilton’s private life; she concluded that Hamilton had deliberately visited the Miss Lawrences to procure an invitation to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) yet without telling them the purpose of his visit, and that thereafter he lied about it in a letter to his sister Eliza. In 2018 I wrote an article about Graves’ mistake and its consequences from my new point of view, but the Coleridge Bulletin of course not focusing on Hamilton’s private life, only a very short article could be accepted. Because in Ishikura’s article Hamilton’s alleged lifelong infatuation with Catherine Disney played a prominent role but his melancholy about Ellen de Vere around the time of his visit to the Miss Lawrences was missing, I was unable to convincingly show how different the context was around that visit, and how out-of-character it would have been for Hamilton to do something like that, within the restrictions of the Coleridge Bulletin, and I withdrew the article.

But slowly learning more about the people around Hamilton, lately I decided to start a new search for Arabella Lawrence, Hamilton’s friend. To my surprise it appeared that she had been a governess of Ada Byron, later Lady Lovelace, who now is celebrated for having written the first computer program. What I had not at all realised is that in 1832 Hamilton met Charles Babbage and saw his ‘Differential Engine’; that his mother’s cousin Robert Hutton was a friend or a correspondent of Charles Darwin; that the coach-building family of Thomas Hutton, brother of Robert, has a window in the Unitarian chapel at Stephen’s Green. To mention some of the first details I encountered.

I already knew that Archibald Hamilton Rowan and his son Sydney, who was sponsor at Hamilton’s baptism, were Presbyterian, and that Rev. Mathias, who baptised Hamilton at Bethesda Chapel, a Church of Ireland congregation, was called a ‘dissenter’. Searching further for Unitarians, Presbyterians, and nonconformists, I found that more members of the Hutton family, the family of Hamilton’s mother, were Unitarian, as was Lady Byron, Ada Lovelace’s mother, and Sophia and William Frend, wife and father-in-law of Augustus De Morgan* who became Hamilton’s friend in 1841. And then, as already happened often during my Hamilton searches, again unexpected details fell into place.

In 1827 Hamilton had received an introduction to William Roscoe from one of the members of the Roscoe circle, whom he met in Liverpool at the house of Peter and Mary Crompton, friends of Coleridge, and the parents of Caroline Crompton, who in 1821 had married Robert Hutton, a first cousin of Hamilton’s mother Sarah Hutton. I had never before recognised the names Hamilton mentioned in his 1827 letter from Liverpool, nor realised who the Roscoes were. In 1832 Hamilton visited the Roscoes with Arabella Lawrence; William Roscoe had died the year before. In 1851 Hamilton’s second cousin Richard Holt Hutton married Anne Mary Roscoe, a daughter of William Roscoe, and and after her death in 1853 her cousin Eliza Roscoe. And then, surprise, also the Lawrence sisters appeared to be distantly related to the Huttons.

But for me even more surprising was that also Coleridge had been Unitarian for some time. In September 1827 Hamilton met William Wordsworth for the very first time at the house of friends of Wordsworth, John and Alice Harrison, who lived near Ambleside.** Harrison, who was born at Gateacre near Liverpool (where later also the Lawrence sisters lived), was a Unitarian minister at Kendal Chapel. During Harrison’s ministry Wordsworth and Coleridge occasionally worshipped at Kendal Chapel, the latter apparently before he returned to the Church of England in 1814.

Graves did mention that Hamilton’s mother’s sister Susan married a Moravian minister, John Willey, but until now I had assumed he was the exception, and that the people in Hamilton’s biography, and the scientists*** around him, had all been members of the Established Church, as Graves perhaps not mentioned literally, but certainly implied. Of course, the majority of people and scientists around Hamilton were members of the Established Church, but far more than I expected were nonconformist. George James Allman, from whom Hamilton, at a grand ball in 1852, ‘picked up a little botany and embryology’ was Unitarian, as was Newton; Michael Faraday became a Sandemanian. What exactly the consequences were in historical context I do not know, but for Graves it may have mattered. I had always more or less assumed that the Huttons were not academic enough for Graves, but members of the Hutton family did graduate at TCD, allowing for the possibility that for Graves their having been nonconformist played a larger role than it appears from the biography.

* Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Frend did not marry in a church, but at the registrar’s office, “by a form of words differing from that in the prayer book only by the omission of the very small part to which we could not assent with our whole hearts, and of the long exordium of St. Paul on the duties of husbands and wives.” Having read many of De Morgan’s letters in the third volume of Graves’ biography I would not at all be surprised if the omitted very small part was her having to promise to obey him.

** Robert Housman, a brother of Alice Harrison, was “intensely evangelical.” According to Graves, even though from 1839 until late 1845 or early 1846 Hamilton leaned towards High Churchism, he “adhered firmly to most of the principles not unmeritedly called Evangelical; those, namely, identified with salvation through faith, with free forgiveness, and with the sole mediation of Christ.” In 1858 Hamilton indeed referred to himself as an Evangelical Anglican.

*** In 1833 Coleridge attended, for three days, the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Hamilton spent an evening with Coleridge; it would be the last time they met. But at that meeting also the word ‘scientist’ was coined by William Whewell (1794-1866) “in response to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s strongly expressed objection to men of science using the term philosopher to describe themselves.”

Something else which became apparent in my searches is how, like Lady Hamilton, in the course of time some of these women were judged. Arabella Lawrence, but more so Lady Byron and Sophia Frend, have been described, to put it crudely, as cold keepers of the Victorian restrictions which the marvellous, or in other versions overrated, Ada Lovelace had to endure. It seems that only in recent years these women have been described as individuals, for instance in Seymour’s In Byron’s Wake, therewith also shedding a much brighter light on Ada herself. And Watt’s Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760-1860 places the Miss Lawrences within the Unitarian beliefs, with their “far more pronounced egalitarian views on women and their education than was the norm.” It makes something more of the Lawrence sisters than just a bunch of interchangeable spinsters who ran a girls’ school, and provides a framework for Seymour’s calling Arabella Lawrence “an impressive young educationalist.”

What these women had in common with Lady Hamilton, who doubtlessly was and remained a most true member of the Established Church, was that they did not adhere to the strict requirements for women in the Victorian era; supposed to be warm and soft and obedient by nature, loving music and literature and poetry, and most happy when all family members were at home. They were instead independent women, and they had their own opinions, which made them vulnerable for criticisms which, however honest they may have been to begin with, became ever more distorted because society changed but the criticisms did not.

The searches led to so many for me new details, mainly concerning people connected to the Hutton family, that the article I was writing about the letter of introduction to Coleridge was evolving into a myriad of footnotes. I therefore could choose to split it into two halves, one about the hitherto undiscussed parts of the networks Hamilton lived in, and one about the deceit or honesty around the letter of introduction to Coleridge. I decided not to split it, and not submit it anywhere, but place it here as an unpublication, and upload it to the WayBack Machine, to be able to refer to it when useful.

The combination of all the tiny details shows the complexly intertwined group of people around Hamilton. Every now and then it can be seen in Graves’ biography that Hamilton had many ‘local friends’, but it was never clear who these people were. It is therefore surprising how familiar Hamilton sounds about his mother’s side of the family, and how they were connected with the people he met in Liverpool; Caroline Crompton having been married to Robert Hutton, and the Lawrence sisters asking for information about Hamilton’ aunt Mary. It is not known how often Hamilton saw his mother’s family and information is not easy to find; I still do not have any idea who his maternal grandparents were, I just know their names and personal data, nothing else.

But the story of a large dinner party in Dublin, Hamilton’s visits to Belfast, Liverpool and London, where he spoke with an enormous amount of people, again shows a new part of Hamilton’s character, how easily he intermingled with many people with almost incompatible opinions while remaining to be his extremely honest self. This character trait would allow him to become president of very different organisations, official and large or local and small; correspond with eminent men and lay persons at the same time; give celebrated lectures at College and evening presentations in people’s own homes; judge people if he thought he had to, and apologise to a cat.



Utrecht, 16 October 2021
Young William Hamilton as a hyperpolyglot

Today is my seventh Quaternion day; I started this website in September 2015, on Hamilton’s 150th death day, and walked the Hamilton walk in October 2015. From then on I have researched many myths about Hamilton’s private life, and found more erroneous assumptions than I had expected.

In 2014 I wrote a chapter about Hamilton’s marriage for a students’s essay about the History of Vector Analysis because I could not believe that such a peaceful walk as that on 16 October 1843 could be made in such an unhappy marriage as it was claimed to be. But I then still accepted the idea that while writing the Lectures between 1848 and 1853, Hamilton had had a very difficult time in connection with Catherine Disney, and that he then, temporarily, leaned towards alcoholism. That changed when I was writing my AVM and started to recognise the many connections and nuances in Graves’ enormous biography. It changed even further when I was preparing my biographical sketch about Catherine and looked at what happened from her point of view. Hamilton had been distressed about her indeed, but who would not be, discovering that someone who once was so close is so terribly unhappy, betrayed by her own family and imprisoned by forced promises at the altar.

But there are many more myths to go. One of the myths is whether or not Hamilton was, “when thirteen years old” “in different degrees acquainted with thirteen languages,” as was claimed by Hamilton’s later biographer Graves, in a ‘portrait’ he wrote about Hamilton in 1842.* Although indirectly, it is also mentioned by Hamilton’s father Archibald by giving, in a letter to a friend, the languages his son was studying. Yet his claim has been doubted, as just having come from a father boasting about his “prodigy of a son.”

* The Dublin University Magazine had decided that Hamilton “must take his place in the series of memoirs of distinguished Irishmen,” and although Graves then lived in England for six or seven years already, Hamilton “requested me to undertake the friendly office, and gained my consent.”

I started a search in Graves’ biography, to find who exactly said what and when. It appeared that the claim by Hamilton’s father only seemed to be extravagant because Jane Sydney Hamilton, called aunt Sydney, had died in 1814, while she was the writer of most of the letters about young Hamilton’s progress. She died in Dublin, where she had been taken care of by Hamilton’s parents, in October 1814; her last given letter was from June 1814. But later biographers may not have been aware of her death at that time because Graves only mentioned it when introducing aunt Sydney in the first chapter of his biography.

Strangely enough, the list of languages in the 1880s biography appreared to be not exactly the same as that in the 1842 portrait, which led to the realisation that there was indeed a difference in how the biography and the portrait had come about. When Graves published the first volume of his biography in 1882, he had read all Hamilton’s personal correspondences including those with his family, and therefore also the letter from Archibald Hamilton to his friend. But that was not the case in 1842, when Graves published the portrait, about which he wrote that preparing it “led to my paying [Hamilton] a visit at the Observatory for the purpose of gathering facts.” The portrait therefore gives Hamilton’s own account of his youthful studies.*

* Hamilton had no final say in the text. He mocked the list of languages, but did not deny or correct it.

Now adding up the languages Graves mentioned in his ‘portrait’ and the languages in the biography, I unexpectedly found even sixteen languages. I wrote an unpublication about it, with as I hope enough references to be convincing about my conclusion, that in our times Hamilton would have been a hyperpolyglot.



Utrecht, 2 October 2021
William Edwin and the Chatham Market Guide

For William Edwin see also 2 February 2018, below

Lately Miguel DeArce sent me some scans of letters from the Hamilton collections in Trinity College Dublin Library, and to my utter surprise I recognised the handwriting in one of the letters; it was the handwriting of the first of the drafts in which Lady Hamilton thanked for the continuation of Hamilton’s pension, shown below, and appeared to be that of William Edwin Hamilton. Before having seen this letter I had supposed that the first draft had been written by his sister Helen Eliza because the pension would be shared with her, and because writing out Lady Hamilton’s full name seemed to indicate someone very close by. I adapted the text to this new find.

Strangely enough, searching in my files it appeared that I already had an 1865 letter by William Edwin, which was sent to me by one of the TCD Librarians. Wondering why I nevertheless had not recognised his handwriting in the draft, I compared it with the 1865 and 1882 letters of which it is certain that William Edwin wrote them. As a weak excuse, the draft and the 1882 letter do seem to me to be more similar to each other than to the 1865 letter.*

* The drafts and both letters are kept at Trinity College Dublin Library; the drafts together as 7762-7772/1698, the 1865 letter as 7773-7776/642, the 1882 one as 4015/117.

The letter was written in 1882, in Chatham, Ontario, at the offices of the newspaper Planet,* where William Edwin was a journalist and editor. In 1914 Sheriff J.R. Gemmill, then president of the Chatham Historical Society, wrote, after mixing him up with his father, that William Edwin “came to Canada in middle life, settling in the Muskoka District. Later he came to Dresden and edited the local paper there for a time; then to Chatham, where he directed the Tribune** until its demise. Failing regular employment on either of the existing papers, he published a small advertising sheet, “The Market Guide”, which appeared on Saturdays, and which the Editor faithfully distributed to the patrons of our far famed market for the benefit of his advertisers.”

* Starting as The Chatham Planet in 1851, the name of the newspaper seems to have changed a few times. In William Edwin’s time its proprietor was Syd Stevenson.

** About the Tribune, officially called the Chatham Tribune, Gemmill wrote that it was “started by Dobbyn, B.A., in or about 1880, and existed only a few troublous years.” It existed from 1877 until, apparently, 1882. William R. Dobbyn was a “Universalist clergy-man from New England,” later owner of the W.R. Dobbyn & Sons printing and publishing company. In my AVM I wrote that he was born in 1850 and died in 1922, but I cannot find the exact source any more. Yet he may have been this Dobbyn, the birth and death locations of his wives matching what is known about him.

Gemmill clearly did not know about William Edwin’s time at the Planet, and in his strange autobiography Peeps at my life William Edwin is neither elaborate nor always chronological. Combining the scarce facts about his early years in Chatham: he mentions that he came to Chatham in October 1880. He then was editor of the Tribune for eighteen months, that is until April 1882, which would be in accord with Gemmill’s account. Then for again eighteen months editor of the Planet, which would be until October 1883, and in accord with having written the letter at the offices of the Planet in November 1882. But he may have taken the periods very roughly, because it appears that he was still working at the Planet in 1884.

William Edwin started the Market Guide in September 1885. But Gemmill having called it a “small advertising sheet,” I had not expected to find it in the Chatham list, let alone that some issues would be online. William Edwin published it from 1885 until, most likely, his death in 1902. That it really is William Edwin’s paper can be seen on the first pages of this 1896 issue; “The Market Guide, 1000 Circulation Weekly. Personal Saturday distribution by W.E. Hamilton, B.A., T.C., D. Editor and Proprietor.” Volumes would be mailed to subscribers in Canada and the US, yet he also had subscribers “from Vancouver to Nova Scotia, and even beyond the ocean.”

Alexander Macfarlane wrote that for a time William Edwin drank too much, yet without giving any indication of when that was. Drinking more and more may have been a slow process, taking years, but if he lost the Planet editorship in early 1884, the time of really drinking too much may have started in early 1884. He took the gold cure, and according to Macfarlane he “was able to master his alcoholic enemy.”

William Edwin also features as an old alcoholic called Burnham in the 1924 autobiography of Augustus Bridle, but it is not known how accurate that is. It was suggested that the descriptions were from the late 1880s, and I had accepted that because the Chatham Market Guide had been described as next to nothing. But now having seen the three issues, it is hard to believe that writing and making such a paper, including collecting the advertisements, every week all by himself, can be done next to a day job and just sitting in bars being drunk, as the autobiography suggests. If William Edwin therefore took the gold cure before he started the Market Guide, his most alcoholic time must have lasted from early 1884 until early 1885.

It seems safe to suggests that Bridle combined William Edwin’s most alcoholic time with his later years, when he was selling the Chatham Market Guide. Temperance became very strict in Canada in 1878, and although apparently the gold cure was succesful, it has not been claimed that William Edwin became a teetotaller. The strict laws were only repealed in the 1920s; if Bridle was himself very temperate he may have been unsatisfied with the level of drinking William Edwin maintained.

That also holds for Macfarlane. Writing that William Edwin had ‘wasted years’ by his drinking, he suggested that totally being overcome by alcohol lasted much longer. Macfarlane having written his 1902 obituary of William Edwin in those very temperate times, a pattern can be recognised which also ruined the reputation of Hamilton Sr.: biographers writing about drinking in times of Temperance without giving details about how long it lasted. But the difference is that in Hamilton Sr.’s life not any sign of drinking can be found. No missing years, or months, or periods without hard work, not even missed meetings; the only information comes from his biographer Graves. That is different for William Edwin. He lost his job with the Planet in some undefined way; the time between early 1884 until the summer of 1885 does seem to be missing;* and there were first-hand witnesses, Macfarlane and Bridle, who wrote about it.

* In 1884 his Muskoka Sketch was published, by the Dresden Times Printing Company. But William Edwin must have written the Sketch earlier, perhaps even as early as the late 1870s when he still lived in Dresden, writing about his time in Muskoka.
The Muskoka Sketch was called “a pleasant and entertaining sketch.” About his Guide book & atlas of Muskoka and Parry Sound Districts it was said that he “described the Muskoka waterfalls in the most sublime terminology.” Apparently, I am not the only one who enjoyed his writings.

Added 12 April 2022. Late in March I asked the National Library of Scotland for a copy of William Edwin’s “Scenes in the life of a Planter’s Daughter”, a pamphlet rather than a book, having only twenty pages, and containing three ‘scenes’. Not only did I receive a scan, but I was also allowed to upload it to the Internet Archive, which I did: Scenes in the life of a Planter’s Daughter, 1865; I corrected the text, and made epubs, epub 2, epub 3. It is again a strange and surprising story. In 1862 William Edwin had travelled to Nicaragua with his aunt Sydney Hamilton and because, as I theorised in my AVM, pp 373-375 he was more an observer than a philosopher, I would guess that somehow the last scene really happened, and that the two earlier scenes served to explain how it could have come so far, or, even, that someone told him about what had happened earlier. It would completely agree with the subtitle: “fact 25 per cent, fiction 75 per cent”. Moreover, William Edwin mentions that Edith and Jubal would travel by boat from New Orleans to N-a, G-n, and indeed Aunt Sydney and William Edwin lived for some time in Greytown, Nigeria, which was well connected by boat with New Orleans.

William Edwin’s alcoholic image clung to him, in an even more extreme way than in his father’s case. Although he had, before he became alcoholic, quite an influence as a journalist, his alcoholic image seems to have had as a consequence that not many people took the claims he made in his Peeps seriously. Much is unclear about William Edwin’s later years; what I could find is in my AVM, pp 360-376. Although he was defended by some people, others wrote quite condescending about him. It therefore was a surprise to see that he published the Chatham Market Guide apparently without interruption for in any case sixteen years.

Also surprising is that from his paper his later ‘respectabe life’ can be inferred, and he clearly enjoyed it. Only some months before his death he wrote, “After the council meeting, at the hospitable invitation of the Mayor, the Aldermen present and reporters of the Planet, Banner and Market Guide together with Mr. Cockburn of Toronto, enjoyed a feast of bivalves and other delicacies together with various games ad interchange of anecdotes. Mayor Sulman and his amiable consort, show the model host and hostess with that rare indefinable power of making their guests thoroughly at home. Viewing the spacious semi-circular entrance porch, the handsome rooms en route with their mantle pieces of rare and harmoniously blended marbles, and above all, the extensive library of well selected and handsomely bound books, we were tempted to break the 10th Commandment [Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbour’s], more especially when we entered a cosy little sitting room which could have made an ideal editorial sanctum whence to throw darts at the enemy. Before leaving, our host showed us one of his stamp albums which $1000 wouldn’t buy. Ald. Marshall does it next time.”

What I still would like to know is whether or not William Edwin wrote the text of the unofficial national anthem of Canada Maple Leaf, as he seems to claim on p. 8 of his Peeps. “In 1869, appeared my national song, written in Marbleton, and called the “Maple Leaf,” published first in the Belfast Newsletter, then in the Sherbrooke Gazette and Montreal papers, and which was set to music and sung at concerts in the eastern townships. A phrase in another of my Dominion songs, “For this is our Natal Day,” has been quoted by [Nicholas Flood] Davin and other patriotic orators. I got a very cordial letter from Sir George Cartier, approving of the “Maple Leaf.” Coincidentally, William Edwin was buried at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham.



Utrecht, 29 August 2021
The word ‘Quaternion.’

In 1841, having searched in vain for triplets to describe motion in three-dimensional space, in the first letter of the correspondence with Augustus De Morgan which would continue until Hamilton’s death, Hamilton wrote, “If my view of algebra be just, it must be possible, some way or other, to introduce not only triplets but polyplets.” He later mentionedsingles, couples, triplets,” to which quadruplets would seem to be a natural addition. Still, Hamilton called the objects he found on 16 October 1843 ‘Quaternions,’ and he even decided very quickly what to call them; it took him less than an hour.

Hamilton had started a new search in the second half or the last week of September 1843, and every morning in early October, on his coming down to breakfast, his sons asked him, “Well, Papa, can you multiply triplets?” Whereto he “was always obliged to reply, with a sad shake of the head: “No, I can only add and subtract them.”” On Monday 16 October he was walking along the Royal Canal on his way to a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy when Lady Hamilton joined him. She had perhaps driven to meet her husband at the Canal,* and she talked with him now and then. Yet an ‘under-current of thought was going on in his mind,’ and he suddenly realized what the solution should be. Apparently still walking he pencilled, just as he reached Broom Bridge, the basic formulae in the notebook she had given him in 1840, and happily or in any case ‘unphilosophically’ scratched the general formula on the bridge.

At the next bridge, Cross Guns Bridge (Westmoreland Bridge),** he apparently took a car and drove from the “neighbourhood of the turnpike to the Academy,” while Lady Hamilton may have returned home to tell the children that Papa had found his answer. They certainly will have sympathised; next to having asked him every morning, they would from then on call the bridge the ‘Quaternion Bridge.’*** During the ride in the car Hamilton examined whether the law of the moduli held for the new system (which he “wished for as a child might wish for the moon”). In the 1865 letter to his son Archibald he wrote, “Less than an hour elapsed before I had asked and obtained leave of the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, of which Society I was, at that time, the President - to read at the next General Meeting a Paper on Quaternions; which I accordingly did, on November 13, 1843.” And indeed, the word ‘Quaternions’ is in the Minutes of 16 October 1843.

* She may have let someone take her to the Canal; if she had had her horse with her Hamilton would have known.

** I heard about the second bridge, Cross Guns Bridge, at the Hamilton Walk in 2015, when Anthony O’Farrell told us about the turnpike and the ‘hackney stand’ at the bridge.

*** Calling Broom Bridge ‘Brougham Bridge’, as Hamilton did, may have been a family joke.

But it is not known why he chose to call them quaternions. Because of Hamilton’s poetic mind John Milton’s 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost is often mentioned as a possible source; Milton uses the word quaternion in line 181 of book 5. Also the Bible is suggested; Hamilton was deeply religious, and he already loved reading the Bible when still very young. The word quaternion is used in The Acts, 12:4.

Wondering how common the word was around 1843, the year of discovery, I did an Ngram search, which starts with 1500. Such a search is of course never complete; this one searches the titles in Google Books. Before Milton in 1667, the word quaternion was most often used around 1640; three times by Ben Jonson and two times Thomas Fuller in 1640 or rather, in publications from 1640. Clicking on the 1718-1828 box yielded 188 results, of which some are counted multiple times, and some are later publications. The list contains a surprise; the first books in the list are from the mathematician Charles Hutton who was supposed to be a relation of Hamilton’s mother Sarah Hutton, which he was not. In his 1785 Mathematical tables he used the word quaternion very straightforward, signifying the boxes in the logarithm table on p. 63, ‘spaces of four lines or numbers.’

Also in the list is Sir John Leslie, who wrote in 1817, in The Philosophy of Arithmetic, “But four, or the tetrad, was the number which Pythagoras affected to venerate the most. It is a square, and contains within itself all the musical proportions, and exhibits by summation all the digits as far as ten, the root of the universal scale of numeration; it marks the seasons, the elements, and the successive ages of man; and it likewise represents the cardinal virtues, and the opposite vices. The ancient division of mathematical science into Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music, was four-fold, and the course was therefore termed a tetractys, or quaternion.”

Apparently, the word quaternion was such a common word that the question how Hamilton knew about the word does not have to be answered further, leaving the question why he chose the word. The only time Hamilton did give something of an explanation was a rather general remark in a footnote; on p 111 of the Elements of Quaternions, written between 1858 and 1865, he writes, “As to the mere word, Quaternion, it signifies primarily (as is well known), like its Latin original, “Quaternio,” or the Greek noun τετρακτυς, a Set of Four: but it is obviously used here, and elsewhere in the present work, in a technical sense.” Not really an answer to the question posed here.

Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher who lived around -500, and his connection with the tetractys or quaternion, as mentioned by Leslie, was well-known; clicking on the 1500-1639 NGram box yields almost 700 hits, including the 1549 English translation of Desiderius ErasmusThe praise of Folie who also mentions, on p. 10, “Pythagoras quaternion,” in the original 1509 Latin “Pythagoricus quaternio.” In the 1641-1717 box is a book by André Dacier, The life of Pythagoras, with his Symbols and Golden verses, published in 1707, in which Dacier explains the origin of the Greek word tetractys. The book starts with a Life of Pythagoras. Having given Pythagoras’ Golden verses, in a footnote Dacier writes, “We have shewn in the Life of Pythagoras, that this Philosopher having learnt in Egypt the Name of the true God, the mysterious and ineffable Name, Jehovah, and finding that in the original Tongue it was compos’d of four Letters, translated it into his Mother Tongue by the Word Tetractys, the Quaternion, and gave the true Explication of it, saying that it properly signify’d, the Source of Nature that perpetually rolls along; for so the original Word signifies.

Also Hamilton knew about Pythagoras. In his younger years he was educated in the classics and was interested in mathematics and astronomy; already in 1820, when he was fifteen, he read Joanne Keill’s 1718 Introductio ad Veram Astronomiam. In the Preface Keill writes, in his own English translation, “Diogenes Laërtius [around +300] owns, that Thales [around -600], Pythagoras [around -500], Eudoxus [around -400], and many others went to [Egypt] to be instructed in the sidereal science. These men were not only the first but the greatest philosophers whom Greece produced; and from the same writer we know, that they who staid longest in that country, were most famous for their skill in Geometry and Astronomy after they returned home. So Pythagoras, who lived in society with the Egyptian priests seven years, and was initiated into their religion, carried home from thence besides several geometrical inventions, the true extent of the universe; and was the first who taught in Greece, that the earth and planets turned round the sun, which was immoveable in the center; and that the diurnal motion of the sun and fixed stars was not real, but apparent, arising from the motion of the earth round its axis. [...] Nicolas Copernicus was not only a diligent observer, but also a restorer of the ancient Pythagorean system.” The general view being that Copernicus in his 1543 De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was the first to propose an heliocentric solar system, Hamilton will doubtlessly have been interested in such a claim.

What is certain is that Hamilton associated the word quaternion with Pythagoras. In 1846 he wrote a poem which Graves introduced, writing “This [...] sonnet [Hamilton] valued himself, and it will be valued by the reader, as one having a distinct individual character, uniting as it does Herschel and Hamilton in converse on Quaternions, and connecting this recent offspring of his mathematical thought by some imaginary lineage with the tetractys of Pythagoras.” The sonnet was preceded by lines from another sonnet which Hamilton later did not like too much, but Graves remarks that these lines were needed as a ‘grammatical introduction’ to the second poem. The sonnets together were called Recollections of Collingwood; John Herschel lived with his family at Collingwood, Kent,

Where all things graceful in succession come;
Bright blossoms growing on a lofty stalk,
Music and fairy-lore in Herschel’s home.

II.

The Tetractys.

Or high Mathesis,* with its “charm severe
Of line and number,” was our theme; and we
Sought to behold its unborn progeny,
And thrones reserved in Truth’s celestial sphere;
While views before attained became more clear:
And how the One of Time, of Space the Three,
Might in the Chain of Symbol girdled be:
And when my eager and reverted ear
Caught some faint echoes of an ancient strain,
Some shadowy outline of old thoughts sublime,
Gently He smiled to mark revive again,
In later age, and occidental clime,
A dimly traced Pythagorean lore;
A westward floating, mystic dream of Four.

* Hamilton may have alluded to mathematics in general, or to the idea by Leibniz and Descartes, of a universal science, or to the Mathesis universalis of John Wallis, published in 1657 in the first volume of the Operum Mathematicorum.

Yet here another concept is added, Truth. For Hamilton, Truth was one of the most important values in his life, which he connected with Science, and later with his wife. He called Poetry ‘Beauty’ and Science ‘Truth’, and in a poem he called Catherine Disney ‘Sweet Piety’, Ellen de Vere ‘Enthusiasm’, and Helen Bayly ‘Truth’. He felt that his epitaph should be “a labour-loving and truth-loving man,” he ultimately chose Science, and married Helen Bayly.

Searching online for these three concepts, Pythagoreanism, Quaternions and Truth, I found this ten-volume set, Ante-Nicene Fathers. It was published after Hamilton’s death, but it “brings together the work of early Christian thinkers.” On p. 241 of the fifth volume it is stated that “The Quaternion Exhibits “Truth”,” within the Hamilton narrative a remarkable connection. But it was said by Marcus, a contemporary of Irenaeus; they lived around +200. Marcus was a Gnostic, for the Christian thinkers a heretic, and on p. 235 Irenaeus calls him a “mere impostor.”

Hamilton and his Dublin colleagues knew about Marcus; George Salmon wrote the entry about Marcus in A dictionary of Christian biography and literature to the end of the sixth century A.D.. The question is therefore whether Hamilton would reject Marcus or gnosticism so fundamentally that he would not want to make a connection between his discovery and such a sense of Truth. But that certainly does not have to be the case; he wrote openly, “I do not feel in the least afraid, for myself, of reading anything. I have read atheistical books, infidel books, Socinian books, Protestant evangelical books, books by the Archbishop of Dublin, Protestant High-church books, Romanist books.”*

* This list is obviously partly in jest, and the context shows that De Vere’s conversion to Catholicism in 1851 did not cost him Hamilton’s friendship.

Concluding, Milton and his impressive poem does not seem to be necessary at all, because in Hamilton’s time the word quaternion was a quite regular word, connected to Pythagoras and the tetractys. What is left is the connotation with Truth. Hamilton decided for the word quaternion less than an hour after the discovery; obviously not having known beforehand what he would find it was a quick decision. The fact that Lady Hamilton had been with him at the moment of discovery, and that Hamilton explicitly mentioned that he wrote down the equations for the first time in a notebook which was given to him by her, allows for the idea that he associated them with her, and that his choice for Quaternions was connected with Truth. A totally unproven statement, but perfectly fitting the always romantic Hamilton.

Yet even though not proof, there are two enigmas which would hint at such a suggestion. Hamilton did not explain his choice for the word quaternion, and he kept silent about the last part of the walk, even though the distance between Broom Bridge and Cross Guns Bridge is two kilometres; twenty minutes are missing. He wrote that he “did actually pencil at the time, and just as I reached the Bridge here mentioned, the notes [in the pocket-book]. Then in a jolted handwriting, the same pencilled page contains these other notes, which were inserted while I was driving on that (to me memorable) Monday from the neighbourhood of the turnpike to the Academy.” There is nothing about the walk between the bridges, and Hamilton did not already start to check the law of the moduli even though he could have; he often enough read while walking. That might mean that he was not alone, which leaves room for a further possibility; that Lady Hamilton walked with him to Cross Guns Bridge, that they ecstatically talked about the discovery, and that she knew that he would call them after her before she returned to the Observatory.* It would certainly have been a loving reward for all the effort she had made, and as he “foresaw, immediately,” would have to make for many years to come, to allow for her husband’s intense studies, and tolerate his disappearing from her sight so often when he was in one of his mathematical trances.

The “Quaternions exhibiting Truth” would indeed be an answer to the enigmas why Hamilton never explained his choice for the word Quaternion,** and why he did not say anything about the last part of the walk. Telling people that it was a Gnostic association would perhaps not be appreciated too much, and having chosen it to honour his wife was doubtlessly not something he would like to explain. Giving some other beautiful reason was out of the question; it is known that Hamilton could not lie, but he could keep silent if he had to.

* When I asked Daniel Doyle about the sand sculpture, he explained that because Lady Hamilton was present at the moment of discovery he had assumed that she was her husband’s muse. He may have been more right than I had imagined before this search.


Note added September 2021: I completely overlooked a ‘popular account of the principles on which the Quaternion Calculus was founded,’ given in the appendix of the third volume of Graves’ biography in the form of an ‘Elementary Sketch.’ It was written after the publication of the Lectures on Quaternions in 1853, and in this sketch Hamilton writes about the naming of the Quaternions. “The word ”Quaternion” requires no explanation, since, although not now very commonly used, it occurs in the Scriptures and in Milton. Peter was delivered to “four quaternions of soldiers” to keep him; Adam, in his morning hymn, invokes air and the elements, “which in quaternion run.” The word (like, the Latin “quaternio,” from which it is derived) means simply a set of four, whether those “four” be persons or things.”

This explanation is similar to the above-mentioned remark in the Elements of Quaternions, and as dry as an explanation can be. Even though Hamilton mentions the Bible and Milton, he does not in any way connect his choice to them. As was also suggested above it is easy to imagine that that was intentional, to avoid having to tell a lie; it is hardly credible that such a deeply romantic man as Hamilton would, on such an extraordinary day, for the discovery about which he “foresaw, immediately” that it would profoundly influence and change his life, choose a name just for its literal meaning.



Utrecht, 7 August 2021
Hamilton’s godfather, Sydney Hamilton Rowan

Some years ago, I do not remember when exactly, I found Archibald Hamilton Rowan’s death record. And I was surprised; he died in November 1834. I knew that Graves had written a quite indignant piece about a letter, as he supposed written by Rowan, in which Hamilton had been congratulated with his knighthood. Clearly, that was impossible; Hamilton was knighted in 1835, and Rowan died in 1834. An enigma which I thought would be beyond my reach, and in my blog post of 11 February 2018 I described the problem and suggested that someone should read the letter.

When we were in Dublin in 2019, we made photos of that letter, but it appeared quite difficult to read, and for a long time I did not look at it any more. Lately having found a Hamilton genealogy while at the same time slowly becoming more used to reading such handwritings, I decided to make a new effort. Having deciphered the letter, it all fell in place very smoothly.

There did not appear to be any reason to assume it must have been written by Archibald Hamilton Rowan himself; it can be surmised that seeing the name Hamilton Rowan, Graves reacted as if stung by a wasp, therefore not thinking about checking the dates. Searching the Hamilton genealogy which was published in 1867, around the same time that Graves started to write the biography, the only Hamilton Rowans were the members of Archibald Hamilton Rowan’s family. Rowan’s eldest son Gawin died in the same year as his parents, 1834, before Hamilton was knighted. The writer of the letter mentioned his sons, which means that he cannot have been Rowan’s third or fourth son; they died without issue. Having been born in 1801 the youngest son was only four at the time of the baptism, which means that the only Hamilton Rowan who could have stood as a sponsor at the baptism was Sydney Hamilton Rowan. Finally, reading in the letter that he was “father of ten children” which appeared to be in complete accord with the genealogy, did not leave much further doubt.

I wrote a short non-publication about it, and while writing and reasoning, taking into account how children were named then, I again arrived at the conclusion that Sir William Rowan Hamilton was most likely named after his early deceased uncle, Arthur Rowan Hamilton.



Utrecht, 14 July 2021
Hamilton’s Scottish or rather Irish descent, and Dr. James Hutton

When searching for the family of Hamilton’s mother Sarah Hutton I found something unexpected; that Peter Guthrie Tait (here on the left), when he claimed that Sarah had been a relative of Dr. Hutton, will not have had the English mathematician Charles Hutton (1737-1823) in mind as Graves assumed (although he had his doubts), but the Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726-1797). Mentioning a relationship between Hamilton’s mother and ‘Dr. Hutton’ while claiming Hamilton for Scotland, having been related to the English Charles Hutton would not contribute to that claim, but one with the Scottish James Hutton would. It is shown in my unpublished Hamilton’s descent and Dr. James Hutton that the assumption that Tait was writing about Charles Hutton seems to have come from a train of earlier assumptions, as most of the errors in Hamilton’s story did, and still do, as shown in our gossip article.

Next to the assumption that Tait thus may have been right about ‘Dr. Hutton’ (the Scottish records should be searched), the conclusion about Hamilton’s descent is that both the Hamiltons and the Huttons came to Ireand in the 1600s. His paternal grandmother Grace MacFerrand was Scottish, and his maternal grandmother, Mary Ann Guinin, appears to have been French. It was marvellous to find her marriage record and therewith her last name, which was supposed to have been Guinant or Guissand. But I did not look at her descent yet.



Utrecht, 26 September 2020
The error or flaw in Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste

A well-known story about Hamilton’s early mathematics is that in 1822, when he was sixteen years old, he discovered an error in the Mécanique Céleste by Pierre-Simon Laplace, and that showing his find to John Brinkley, who in 1788 he had graduated from Cambridge as Senior Wrangler and now was Royal Astronomer at Dunsink, the latter was impressed.

In my AVM I had not given much attention to such stories, on the one hand because I did not write about Hamilton’s mathematics, and on the other hand because it was generally agreed that Hamilton had a happy childhood; to discuss the contemporary view on his married life I therefore had not much need for it. But lately searching for his youthful astronomy, I found that the story about Laplace’s “error” was not so straightforward as it seems. The problem here is that when Hamilton’s biographer, Robert Graves, became emotional, indignant or in awe, he neglected the general chronology of the biography, causing much confusion.

In the first volume of his biography, while describing 1819, Graves writes that Hamilton, thirteen years old and celebrating holidays at his father’s house in Booterstown, wanted to remain there a bit longer. “One of these grounds was, that he might have the opportunity of repeating a visit to the Observatory which he had made on the day before [8 July 1819]. This was his first sight of the house which was to be his future home. He had walked out there with two apprentices of his father, carrying a lease as a letter of introduction to Dr. Brinkley, the Astronomer Royal; but to his disappointment the great man was absent, and he had to be contented with being shown the instruments by the assistant, and receiving some information respecting the comet which was then visible [the Great Comet of 1819]. The prayer of the petition [to be allowed to extend his stay at his father’s house] was granted, but it does not appear that the Observatory was again visited by him during his stay at Booterstown. When he did revisit it, years subsequently, he carried in his hand a more appropriate introduction, in the form of an original mathematical paper and a letter from his friend Mr. Kiernan.”

* From what Hamilton and Graves wrote about Kiernan it appears that he lived at Henry Street, and knew the astronomers Brinkley and John Herschel well. In January 1808 George [Shirley] Kiernan, sixteen years old, born in Dublin as a son of George Kiernan, Pharmacopola, entered Trinity College Dublin. In 1819 Kiernan, indeed living in Henry Street, became State Apothecary. In Wilson’s almanac it can be seen that in 1783 there was a John Kiernan, living at 8 S. Anne Street, also an Apothecary; he may have been close family. In 1783 also Hamilton’s grandfather, William Hamilton, was an Apothecary, at 30 Jervis Street, and it is reasonable to suggest that these people knew each other. If these connections are right, George Kiernan and his father may have known Hamilton’s father as well as Cousin Arthur, after all, the letter was left at Cumberland Street. How Kiernan knew Brinkley was in any case through the RIA; in 1818 Kiernan was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and Brinkley was its president from 1822 until 1835.

In May 1822 Hamilton was staying in Dublin with a cousin of his father and uncle James, called by Hamilton “Cousin Arthur”, who lived at Cumberland-street. Graves writes, “we find him studying the Differential Calculus in the Treatise of Garnier, and making acquaintance with the Mécanique Céleste of Laplace. He signalised the beginning of this acquaintance with a great masterpiece by detecting a flaw in the reasoning by which Laplace demonstrates the parallelogram of forces. He wrote out his criticism at the instance of a friend, Mr. G. Kiernan, by whom it was shown to Dr. Brinkley; and thus was the seed sown of personal acquaintance with an elder of Science which had a most happy influence upon the future career of Hamilton. It will interest the mathematical reader to see a criticism which led to these results, and I am enabled by the kindness of Professor Hennessy to commit it to print from the original document, which was found by him inserted at the pages it refers to in the copy of the Mécanique Céleste which belonged to Dr. Brinkley, and which subsequently came into the possession of Mr. Hennessy. It is given in the Appendix.”

In these two paragraphs, when not reading very carefully, Graves seems to suggest that the “appropriate introduction, in the form of an original mathematical paper” was the “criticism” of Laplace, and that this paper was the direct cause of Hamilton’s personal acquaintance with Brinkley. But that is not exactly what he was saying, and it is not what happened.

As can be seen in the Appendix, Hamilton had found the ‘flaw in Laplace’s reasoning’ on 31 May 1822, and apparently Kiernan asked Hamilton to write it out so that he could show it to Brinkley. On 31 October 1822, Hamilton wrote from Trim to Cousin Arthur, “When was Mr. Kiernan’s letter left at Cumberland-street? He tells me that “I forgot your ‘queries about Laplace’ for a long time,* but at last I laid them before Dr. Brinkley, who said he thought them ingenious, and he was so good as to say that he would write an explanation for you. [...]” And in a postcript: “I will have Dr. Brinkley’s answer for you when you call.” As my calling for it is out of the question [Hamilton then was in Trim], and I am rather anxious to see what Dr. Brinkley says - Do you know Mr. Kiernan? or would you like to call some day you are passing through Henry-street, and get it in my name? or should I write a note to him on Monday? In short I wish you would tell me what you think I had better do, as Mr. Kiernan’s politeness requires a return of civility.” Obviously, Hamilton was writing about the queries, not about the flaw in Laplace.

* Graves comments that he was “not able to supply any information” about the ‘queries’.

Then, still describing 1822, almost hidden between other letters Graves writes, “I find among the early mathematical manuscripts of Hamilton one entitled ‘Example of an Osculating Circle determined without any consideration repugnant to the utmost rigour of Analysis,’ and dated November 14, 1822; a second, without date, entitled ‘Osculating Parabola to Curves of Double Curvature’; and a third, dated December, 1822, of which the title is, ‘On Contacts between Algebraic Curves and Surfaces.’ These papers mark the year 1822, when he attained the seventeenth year of his age, as that in which Hamilton entered upon the path of original mathematical discovery. With the second and third of them in his hand, availing himself of the kind permission of Dr. Brinkley, he paid his first visit to him at the Observatory. Dr. Brinkley was impressed by their value, and desired to see some of the investigations in a more developed form.”

Although Brinkley indeed received Hamilton’s “criticism” of Laplace, having put it into his copy of the Mécanique Céleste, it must be concluded that nothing is written here about Brinkley’s opinion about it; Brinkley reacted to the “queries” and was impressed by (the value of) the articles.


The ‘flaw’ and Hamilton’s very short proof

In William Hamilton and the ‘flaw’ in Laplace, the flawed story about it, and William’s proof I discussed how a part of this story changed and started its own life, similar to changes in the story of Hamilton’s private life, as described in our gossip article. Then I discussed the much shorter proof Hamilton gave about the parallelogram of forces, where the forces x and y are equal to the sides of the parallelogram, and the resultant force z is equal to its diagonal.


Parallelogram of forces

This ability to generalize, while even staying strictly within the boundaries of physics when needed, is what would define Hamilton as a mathematician; he knew the general quaternion formula on his walk along the Royal Canal before reaching the bridge, and De Morgan alluded to it when he wrote that whenever he sent Hamilton some work, the latter ‘generalized it at a glance.’ It is also why his work is still blossoming today; it is so generalistic that his mechanics easily lived on from Newton through Einstein and Schrödinger up to modern physics, and this quaternions are handled more easily by computers than linear algebra and vector analysis.



Utrecht, 23 August 2020
Lady Hamilton’s grave

Updated 15 October 2020

Finally I found Lady Hamilton’s final resting place; she is buried at Mount Jerome, together with her husband. Strangely enough, although I am not religious, for me that is a relief because for such a pious couple, believing that through marriage they became one, I had been somewhat worried that she was buried somewhere else.

Every now and then searching for her grave, I had noticed that I could not find anything using her own name, I had to use her husband’s name, and then I in any case I found the advertisements announcing her death. So trying such a search again I found a remarkable advertisement in the Dublin Evening Mail of Tuesday 06 July 1869: “We are requested to state that Mr. W. E. Hamilton, eldest son of the late Sir William Hamilton, was prevented, by absence in the province of Quebec, Canada, from attending the funeral of the late Lady Hamilton, last month, at Mount Jerome Cemetery.”

Thereupon I contacted Mount Jerome Cemetery, and almost immediately received the confirmation that “The late Lady Hamilton was buried 05/06/1869” in the grave “which also holds her husband.” But something was unclear about the number, and to be certain in September Miguel DeArce contacted Mount Jerome again, to ask for Lady Hamilton’s burial record. Next to confirming that the Hamiltons are buried in the grave with number C116-3489 it appeared to hold a surprise; her cause of death was given, which until now I still did not know, “Disease of the heart.”

Another surprise was in the registry page for the grave, which was also sent by the contact person of Mount Jerome. The page shows that Archianna, Hamilton’s sister, was not buried in this grave.* That makes it even stranger that Lady Hamilton is not inscribed on the tombstone. The transcription of the gravestone reads: ‘Here lie the mortal remains of Sir William Rowan Hamilton LL.D, Royal Astronomer of Ireland. He was born Aug. 4, 1805. He died Sept. 2, 1865. In the love of God waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, Jude 21. Also of his sister Archianna P.H. Hamilton. Also of his daughter Helen E.A. Hamilton, wife of the venerable John O’Regan, born August 11, 1840, died June 21, 1870. And of her husband the venerable John O’Regan, Archdeacon of Kildare, born Christmas Day, 1817, died Good Friday April 8, 1898. [...] Animae, Love is the fulfilling of the Law.** Erected by his surviving family.’

Searching for what may have happened, causing Hamilton’s sister Archianna to be inscribed in the stone but not Lady Hamilton, it seems of importance that, describing Hamilton’s funeral, Graves wrote that “the grave appropriated to Hamilton, on the north side of the cemetery, is marked by a head-stone, subsequently erected by his family.” That thus seems to have happened not very long after the burial. Archianna Hamilton had died in 1860, five years before Hamilton, and she therefore may have been added to the gravestone while Lady Hamilton was still live, and even though she was not buried there. Was she perhaps added to the stone as a remembrance? And was then an error made, because the inscription suggests her “mortal remains” were buried there? Also strange is that her name was given without date of birth or death, even though Lady Hamilton and her daughter Helen doubtlessly knew these dates.

And if she should have been added only as a remembrance, did perhaps the inscriber of the stone leave too little space to include Lady Hamilton? If that was the case, it may have led Lady Hamilton to decide that she did not want to be inscribed below her sister-in-law and preferred to be seen as one with her husband; she was very pious, and doubtlessly took the biblical unity of marriage very literally, as also her husband did.

I have never seen the last sentence in any photo, ‘Erected by his surviving family,’ which specifically seems to indicate Hamilton. But if that transcription is in order and is at the bottom of the stone, then that would seem to indicate that the various inscriptions were indeed made at different times, with space between them to allow for later inscriptions. Hence giving room for errors.

Why Archianna is on the stone is an intriguing puzzle indeed, and if any one knows something about this, I would love to hear about it.

* The page further shows that in 1867 Archibald, the second son of the Hamiltons, bought the “perpetual right of burial in this plot of ground” for about £8. Further, that in this grave were buried Sir and Lady Hamilton, and their daughter Helen and her husband Archdeacon John O’Regan. In 1900 their son, the Hamilton’s grandson John O’Regan signed the Derivative Assignment Declaration (DA) form. That seems odd, because in 1900 Archibald was still alive: “Where there is no will in existence for the deceased original owner (or surviving spouse) of a grave, then the Mount Jerome DA declaration form applies. ... This DA form may only be signed by the nearest surviving relative (NSR) of the deceased original owner.” In 1920 John O’Regan paid £15, for Care in Perpetuity to this plot by planting Blue & white Violets in Summer & Double white Daisies, ?? in Autumn keeping Stone Clean & reset & Inscription renewed.”

** The transcription often reads “Love is the following of the Law.” Having become curious about such a strange sentence for a grave stone I did a search, assuming that it was, like the earlier sentence, a Bible quotation. It appeared to be from the King James Bible, the letter of Paul to the Romans, chapter 13 verse 10 (left column): “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” The previous sentences in Paul’s letter give the context, “8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for hee that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adulterie, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steale, Thou shalt not beare false witnesse, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” Therefore, extrapolating very far and without knowing why and when this was added to the grave stone, it might be possible that the family therewith showed that according to them, even though the Hamiltons had an in no way standard Victorian marriage and there was much gossip, their marriage was a good one, and that with their love they fulfilled the Law. But to be very certain this is indeed what is written on the grave stone, I hope that perhaps someone can, some day, make a photo of the grave stone in which the sentence is readable, so we can all become certain about it. And of course of the unknown word before Animae.



These photos have been made by Finbarr Connolly. The tree on the right is standing on the other side of the path the grave is on. It is a beautiful old tree, together with the other trees at Mount Jerome ‘adding greatly to the romance and atmosphere of the cemetery.’



Utrecht, 3 May 2020
Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, and apparent disagreements

Ever since our gossip article, I wondered when exactly the negative stories about the Hamilton marriage started to become so wide-spread. Usually, local gossip does not completely overshadow someone’s legacy; not many people would have a good public image if the gossip would mostly win from nuanced views. Therefore, every now and then I search for earlier gossip outside Dublin.

Lately, at first to my happiness, I found a book, published in 2012, For Better or For Worse? Collaborative Couples in the Sciences, in which it was noted that in a book by Samuel Smiles, called ‘Character’ and published in or around 1877, Helen Bayly and William Rowan Hamilton were mentioned in a chapter called ‘Companionship in Marriage.’ That could have meant a first glimpse of a positive view on the Hamilton marriage from before Graves’ biography. But having found Smiles’ book on the Internet Archive, it appeared to be about the marriage of Sir William Hamilton of Edinburgh, and therefore alas no ante-biography view on the Hamilton marriage. But very unfortunately, the 2012 authors felt compelled to add a footnote, 52 on p. 53: “Despite Smiles’s inclusions of the Hamiltons, historians noted the strife in their marriage; see Thomas L. Hankins, Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp, 114-126.”, and that is of course about Sir William Rowan Hamilton.

The Oxford Dictionary gives as a description for ‘strife’: “Angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict. Australian, New Zealand: Trouble or difficulty of any kind.” Assuming that the word is not used here in the second meaning but in the bitter one, and having read Hankins’ biography, this is certainly not what Hankins wrote. Although he was not very positive about the marriage, he also was not this negative. Hankins did believe that Hamilton only loved Catherine Disney, and that Helen Bayly was no match for both Catherine and Ellen de Vere, the first two women Hamilton had been in love with. Indeed, both Graves and Hankins missed Hamilton’s psychological discovery in 1832, and without it that could be concluded. But as shown in A Victorian Marriage, Hamilton did discover how to handle his melancholy feelings, and thereafter fell in love with Helen Bayly. He clearly and openly loved his wife, and did not in any way see her as less than his former loves.

This is no place to discuss all the pages from Hankins’ biography mentioned in the 2012 footnote, but in A Victorian Marriage I have quoted from each of these pages, 114-126, as can be seen in the footnotes, and placed them in context. The last page, p. 126, contains Hankins’ conclusion about the marriage, that “[Helen] remained the central figure in Hamilton’s life. [...] Hamilton never wrote a word of complaint about his wife.” Which is perhaps not jubilant, but can also hardly be abbreviated to Hankins having “noted the strife in their marriage.”

But one quote is too important to leave unmentioned as it has not yet been discussed here. On the first page given in the 2012 footnote, p. 114 of Hankins’ biography, Hankins gives a letter containing Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, which was indeed extremely harsh. But as has been shown, it was not because she was not a good woman in Graves’ eyes, but because he judged her as weak because she should have “governed” her husband and therewith saved his Dublin reputation. Which is of course a contemplation, not a fact from the marriage itself. Graves also wrote that the Hamiltons “remained attached to each other,” so although he felt compelled to openly judge Lady Hamilton, it was a judgement about the theoretical possibility that things would have been different if she had acted differently, not about what these two people felt for each other. And of course, it can easily be stated that knowing what Hamilton did in his scientific life, it is hardly imaginable how in any scenario he could have done even more.

The letter given by Hankins, in which Graves gave his opinion about Lady Hamilton, was written in 1873, when Graves was preparing the biography of which the first volume was published in 1882, and was directed to Ellen de Vere, then Mrs. O’Brien. In the letter Graves wrote, “After marriage the poverty of her mind and the whole nature must soon have revealed itself to him as not to be ameliorated by all the riches of cultivation which he could bestow upon it.” A very harsh opinion indeed.

Yet Graves’ suggestion about Hamilton’s view on his wife was denied by Aubrey de Vere. In the on this page aforementioned letter he wrote to Graves in 1879, De Vere had written that “up to that time, A.D. 1837, Hamilton’s affection for his Wife had not waned. Indeed I do not know that it ever did [...].” I had not given the rest of De Vere’s sentence because that was not important in that blogpost. But as can be seen here, De Vere’s complete sentence was, “Indeed I do not know that it ever did, or that he ever discovered how little she approached to his early ideal of her.”

Not having seen other letters of the 1879 correspondence between Graves and De Vere, from this sentence it seems very likely that De Vere knew about Graves’ opinion about Lady Hamilton, and this may have been a cautious attempt to contradict Graves. That even if he agreed with Graves that she was not highly learned and literate enough for Hamilton, as they both were, Hamilton himself did not see her at all as they did. And that makes it a question which of these two friends knew Hamilton best. Although that will perhaps never been known for certain, there clearly are arguments to conclude that De Vere knew Hamilton better than Graves did because the friendship between Hamilton and De Vere had been very close, even to the point of spending, throughout the years, many subsequent days with each other, making excursions together, and having had very intense correspondences.

Of course, never discovering that one’s partner does not live up to the early ideal must signify a very happy marriage, and the question thus is where Graves’ harsh opinion came from. During Hamilton’s marriage Graves did not live in Ireland, but every now and then he visited Hamilton at the Observatory, and Hamilton visited him in England a few times. But Graves thus did not really see Hamilton live his daily life; he was received as a guest, and during his stay Hamilton will not have locked up himself to work out some mathematical idea. Graves only came back to Ireland the year before Hamilton died; Hamilton then was very ill already. It thus seems possible, as it has been argued in A Victorian Marriage, that Graves was positive about the marriage until, preparing for the biography, he read Lady Hamillton’s letters.

Having had a goal for the biography, namely counteract the Dublin gossip by showing what a wonderful man Hamilton had been, he then may have judged her, the letters not having been at all learned and metaphysical as he perhaps had hoped, or even had concluded from Hamilton’s positive remarks about the piousness and spirituality of his wife. The letters gave room to the possibility that it had been her weakness which had been the cause for Hamilton’s bad Dublin reputation.

De Vere was not the only one who did not agree completely with Graves’ opinions; after the publication of the first volume brothers of Catherine Disney tried to persuade Graves not to write so openly about events in Hamilton’s personal life. As it seems, they fully understood what could happen when so many people, very near but also far away, would read such emotional stories in such an authoritative biography. And what they feared for indeed happened, Graves’ emotional outpourings now completely define Hamilton’s reputation. But Graves continued to do what he thought he had to do, be honest and mention it all, but conceal the details as well as possible. Which of course even made it worse, because consequently the hints Graves gave to ‘unfortunate circumstances’ were given without detail, leaving them to the imagination of the reader.

Graves obviously hoped that if he would wrap his criticisms in blankets of warmth, people would read his biography as nuanced as he meant it to be. But what people read between the few kind sentences about Lady Hamilton was his very harsh opinion about her. It may be wondered what might have happened if Graves would have had an editor, or had reacted to the remarks from Hamilton’s close friends.

In any case, searching for the start of the spread of the gossip, so far it thus still has to be concluded that it really started with Graves’ biography. That with blaming and denigrating Lady Hamilton Graves achieved the opposite of what he had been aiming for because also Hamilton, as her husband, was therewith regarded a lot less positive. Graves certainly can be felt sorry for, having worked for twenty-five years on his biography, trying to show how wonderful and marvellous his friend had been. A man of extremely high moral standards who, as Graves observed, until the end of his life was “ready to burst out into a genial laugh.” Yet what is left from all Graves’ hard work is a depressed alcoholic in a deranged marriage. If Graves would have known what has been concluded from his biography, he would have turned in his grave.



Utrecht, 25 April 2020
Lady Helen Hamilton’s crushed reputation

Having published about the private life of the Hamiltons, and thereafter about Catherine Disney, I realised that almost everything I wrote about Lady Hamilton was derived from what others wrote about her. Unfortunately, that also holds for Catherine Disney, but as far as I know the only example of her handwriting is the shaky and smeared out signature on her marriage record, looking very sad and perhaps desperate indeed. I have never heard about still extant letters written by her. That is different for Lady Hamilton; letters by her are kept in the Trinity College Dublin Library.

Still, in their respective biographies both Graves and Hankins only gave a few sentences from Lady Hamilton’s letters, which made us very curious about the rest of what she wrote. We therefore visited Trinity Library last summer, and saw the majority of her letters. Her correspondence is indeed not very extensive as Hankins already remarked in his biography, but they certainly show a glimpse of who she was which is in itself interesting, she was after all the wife of a famous genius, who worked very hard, and mostly at home.

I am now preparing a third book, about Lady Hamilton’s correspondence. The reason I want to do that is because of the extremely negative view on Helen Bayly, later Lady Hamilton, which is nowadays even far more negative than the view on Hamilton himself. That started in the 1880s, when Graves wrote his biography about Hamilton, and blamed Helen Bayly for Hamilton’s bad Dublin reputation. She had already been gossiped about in Dublin, just as people gossiped about Hamilton, yet the wide-spread view on Helen Bayly as an overall “weak wife” originated in the biography.

Hamilton has been described as an overeating alcoholic, and the deterioration of his reputation is still going on, yet about his character everyone has remained to be positive. But Helen Bayly has been sacrificed on the altar of Science; to save Hamilton’s reputation, hers was damaged beyond recognition. Graves firmly believed that it was her ‘weakness’ which prevented her to stop Hamilton from drinking; he does not even seem to have considered for one moment that, like Hamilton, she just did not have a problem with it. Still, he otherwise did not write negatively about her as a person; he called her an “attached wife” and a “good woman,” who “won the good opinion of [Hamilton’s] friends,” and he never claimed that the marriage was unhappy, even on the contrary. But the emotional tone with which Graves put the blame about Hamilton’s Dublin reputation on her dripped into everything that was written about her afterwards.

The blame Graves laid upon her led to what comes close to character assassination. Completely ignoring the positive remarks Graves made about Helen Bayly, and ever further extending his negative remarks, she has been described as having been a “pathologically shy and timid” “semi-invalid” “hypochondriac,” a “local lass” from “across the fields from the observatory,” a “country preacher’s daughter” who “absented herself for long periods of time.” She is said to have been “mentally limited” and ‘unable to look after the children,’ a “frustrated young girl” [jeune fille frustre] with “neurotic and probably slovenly tendencies”, “a totally disorganized woman” [une femme totalement désorganisée] who was “unable to provide an orderly domestic regime” causing her husband to live in “squalor.” Sometimes an attempt at kindness is made, that she could be ‘pitied’ for “having to stand by and watch her husband have his self-absorbed ‘moment of genius’,” i.e., finding the quaternions.

It is of course not known for certain how she felt when Hamilton found the quaternions, but from what is known about them she must have been very proud, having been present while her beloved husband found such a delightful solution for the problem he was working on, which had occupied him so much that in the two weeks prior to the discovery they had asked him at every breakfast if he could multiply triplets already. It must have been wonderful to watch him scratch the formulae on ‘Brougham Bridge’ out of pure happiness.

Reading Graves’ biography, and the letters by Hamilton given in it, it is indeed obvious that the ‘facts’ about Lady Hamilton as quoted above do not fit Hamilton’s remarks about his wife at all. And using our ‘gossip article,’ the sources of these claims can be traced back to their origins, the contemporary gossip apparently having started in the early twentieth century.

Last summer, when we were in Dublin, we saw Lady Hamilton’s letters, and I am slowly transcribing them. Helen Bayly clearly did not like writing letters, and indeed did not write many; she only did it because Hamilton liked receiving letters from her. All that is left of people from those times are letters and notes, hence there is not much which can be used to easily disclaim everything which has been written about her. Yet there is enough to show a very different woman than how she is depicted in the gossip.

What I have read in her letters until now completely fits the picture of her as it emerged from Hamilton’s letters and some remarks made about her by Graves, Hamilton’s Uncle James, and her granddaughter-in-law. Combining them all, Helen Bayly was regarded as an “amiable wife” of “lady-like appearance,” who apparently was truthful and direct, used to speaking her mind, sometimes grumpy and able to get angry, proud of her family and her husband, funny and amused, fashionable while seemingly able to understand (some?) technics. She read and talked about poetry, in any case Shakespeare, Chaucer and “poets of lore,” and the poetry of her husband and of her sister-in-law Eliza Mary Hamilton. Helen Bayly did have a weak health but she certainly was not always ill; she rode a horse, and in later years had her own ‘Arabian’. She made “her own independent excursions” and frequently visited, and was visited by, members of family from both Hamilton’s side and her own. And not the least, she provided a household which made it possible for her husband to do all the work he became so famous for.

Preparing for the book about her, perhaps consisting of annotated letters, it will take a long time to finish because we have to go back to Dublin, which this summer will be impossible due to the corona virus. We have, for instance, to visit Bloomfield in Donnybrook where Lady Hamilton died, and see her original letters in Trinity College Library; due to a miscommunication, of most letters we saw only the xerox copies, which are not good enough for a complete transcription. I therefore decided to already give interesting facts here when I encounter them.

The first one, which then immediately disproves the idea that Helen Bayly was some unfortunate local girl, as I indeed also had concluded from pieces on the internet before starting to read Graves’ biography, is Lady Hamilton’s descent. It has been claimed that she was no match for Hamilton’s earlier two loves, Catherine Disney and Ellen de Vere, who came from important and rich families. Yet next to Helen Bayly’s father having been rector of Nenagh and Knigh, and curate of Kilkeary, Dromineer and Ballinaclough, the Baylys were a large, prosperous and influential land-owning family* in Tipperary, the “main landlords of Ballinaclough in the 19th century. Unlike the national stereotype of the time of landlords being part of an elitist landed gentry, the Bayly’s were known in Ballinaclough as good and fair landlords. They were considered to be the poor man’s friend.”

This sounds like a kind and attached family and indeed, within the Bayly family many members seem to have had close ties. Helen Bayly was an openly beloved daughter, sister and relative; that was the woman Hamilton fell in love with.

* Being Dutch myself, it often feels strange to almost brag about families of the landed gentry in Ireland in the Ascendancy, just like it would about Dutch influential families during the colonialization of Indonesia. Yet Hamilton was a member of the Ascendancy, and this is about those families themselves. I found a for me very enlightening blog post of the Silvermines Historical Society, about the “Buck Gate” of Kilboy House where the Prittie family lived, who were directly related to the Baylys. It describes the history of the house from the perspective of the children who “grew up around Dolla and Silvermines in the [nineteen] fifties,” and greatly helped me to place some things into perspective. It can be read here, Beyond the Buck Gate.



For blogposts written between 2015 and 2019, see theVictorian Marriage archief’.