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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Anthony Hamilton (1645?–1719)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE AUTHOR of ‘Gramont’s Memoirs,’ usually known as Count Hamilton, was a man without a nationality. Born in Ireland of Scotch blood, grandson of the Earl of Abercorn, he was a baby when his parents followed the relics of the royal family to France after the execution of Charles I.; and he remained there till 1660, his education and formative influences during childhood being wholly French, which language was really his mother tongue. At the Restoration he returned to England and became an ornament of Charles II.’s court, though debarred from office for being a Catholic. James II. gave him command of an Irish regiment and made him governor of Limerick; but on James’s abdication he returned to France and remained there, a notable figure in Louis XIV.’s court, whose wit and elastic moral atmosphere were alike congenial to him.  1
  He made a good French translation of Pope’s ‘Essay on Man,’ cordially acknowledged by the author. He wrote graceful poems; and in ridicule of the prevalent craze for Oriental tales, which he declared quite within the powers of any one with the slenderest literary faculty, wrote several stories of the Arabian Nights order, without plot or dénouement, usually promising the finish in “the next volume,” which was never written. These stories are clever and witty enough to be still read, and some of their expressions have become stock literary quotations, but they are curios rather than living works.  2
  More can be said for another work, which has permanent vitality,—the ‘Memoirs’ of his brother-in-law the Duke of Gramont. The latter was a conspicuous soldier and courtier during the Regency, and Hamilton’s senior by twenty years. This dashing, witty profligate, with generous impulses and no conscience, was a true product of the court of Louis XIV. and of that of the English Charles II. An aristocrat of long descent, a soldier of renown, with his laughing eyes, his dimple, and his conversational gift, he was popular everywhere.  3
  Hamilton met him first in England, whither a social imprudence had led him, and where he became engaged to his biographer’s beautiful sister. Then he was recalled, and started for home, unmindful of his promises. The young lady’s brothers hurried after him:—  4
  “Chevalier! chevalier! haven’t you forgotten something at London?”  5
  “I beg your pardon, gentlemen,” said the chevalier. “I have forgotten to marry your sister.”  6
  He went back with them, married Miss Hamilton, and took her to France. The incident is characteristic of his careless ready wit; and it did not seem to weaken Hamilton’s admiring affection.  7
  Gramont’s prime quality was social talent. He loved extravagant living, intrigue, and bons-mots, and the life that receives most stimulus from other personalities. To write as he conversed was impossible to him. Yet he had been told that the record of his life was too interesting to be lost, and his vanity liked the thought. There was talk of giving the task to Boileau, who wanted it. But Boileau might be severe or satiric; so Hamilton was preferred.  8
  Hamilton, in spite of his knowledge of court life in France and England, and his somewhat malicious wit, was rather taciturn and unsuccessful as a society man. He loved better the quiet of Saint-Germain, and solitary, thoughtful constitutionals in its forest. To write was easier for him than to talk. He appreciated the life in which he did not shine, and could do justice to the duke’s reminiscences.  9
  The result is a brilliant picture of the court of Charles II., of that pleasure-seeking king and the beauties and fascinations of his mistresses. There are many other scandalous tales as well, involving the Duke of Buckingham, Lord and Lady Chesterfield, Gramont himself, and other celebrities. In spirit and style the work is wholly French,—a long succession of witty, malicious gossip. The author addresses himself in the opening sentence to those who read for amusement. To such the memoirs are perennially interesting.  10
 
 
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