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  Anthony Hamilton’s Mémoires de la Vie du Comte de Gramont The writer and his work  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

X. Memoir and Letter Writers.

§ 18. Question of the trustworthiness of these Memoirs.

The book is divided into eleven unequal chapters, of which the first five are short and relate only to continental adventures. This portion closes with the chevalier Gramont’s banishment from the French court owing to his persistent attentions to Mlle. La Motte Houdancourt, one of Louis XIV’s mistresses. This escapade brought him to England, and chapters VI to XI are devoted to the doings of the English court. Hamilton knew nothing of Gramont’s adventures abroad, and this portion has all the marks of having been taken down from Gramont’s dictation. The English portion of the book is quite different in mode of treatment, and, here, Gramont does not relate his own adventures as before. In some scenes he does not even appear, and Hamilton evidently wrote from his own intimate knowledge about subjects and persons unlikely to be known so well to Gramont, as a foreigner.   45
  It is most improbable that Hamilton should have handed over his manuscript, upon which he must have spent much time and labour, to be disposed of by Gramont as his own. Moreover, Hamilton waited for six years after Gramont’s death in 1707, and then issued the work at Cologne instead of at Paris. No doubt, although many of the actors in the scandalous scenes related were dead, some influential persons still lived, who would use all their influence to prevent the publication. In 1713, however, Hamilton was sixty-seven years of age; and, if he wished to see his beloved book in print, he had to find a publisher with as little delay as possible.   46
  The question as to the truthfulness of the details related by Hamilton is one of the greatest importance. In reply to Lord Hailes’s remark that the chronology of the Memoirs is not exact, Horace Walpole exclaimed, “What has that book to do with chronology?” Hallam, likewise, was of opinion that the Memoirs “scarcely challenge a place as historical.” It must be admitted that Hamilton produced a book which is too much a work of art to be entirely trustworthy, and the subject-matter is often arranged for effect, which would scarcely have been allowed if strict accuracy had been the main object. 14    47
  Anthony Hamilton became an intimate friend of Gramont immediately after his arrival in England; but he never mentions himself in his book. Moreover, he purposely confuses the circumstances and date of Gramont’s marriage with his sister, Elizabeth Hamilton, which actually took place in December, 1663. 15    48
  There is evidence that the chevalier de Gramont and his wife left London for France in November, 1664, and took up their permanent residence there. They appear to have made frequent visits to the English court in succeeding years; but their settlement in France in itself proves that the later portion of the book, some of the incidents in which seem to have occurred in the year 1669, must have been written by Hamilton without help from Gramont. Therefore, the following passage from the last chapter can hardly be considered to be written in good faith:
We profess to insert nothing in these Memoirs but what we have from the mouth of him whose actions we transmit to posterity.

Note 14. The king and queen with their court made two visits to Tunbridge Wells, one in 1663 and the other in 1666, but the author confuses the incidents and makes the two visits into one. There was good excuse for this in the length of time that had elapsed since the visits were made when the author wrote his book. Several of the adventures described are also recounted by Pepys and, in these cases, we are able to attach a date. Peter Cunningham (appendix to The Story of Nell Gwyn, 1852, p. 183) set himself to give some indications of the chronology of the Memoirs; but, unfortunately, he made a mistake in the date of Gramont’s marriage with la belle Hamilton, sister of the author of the book. [ back ]
Note 15. This well known story is told in a letter from Lord Melfort to Richard Hamilton (written about twenty-seven years after the marriage). Gramont, being suddenly recalled to France, was on the point of returning without mistress Hamilton (to whom he had made violent love), and had got as far as Dover, when he was overtaken by the lady’s two brothers—George and Anthony. They at once put this question to him—“Chevalier de Gramont, n’avez-vous rien oublié à Londres?” To which, the chevalier replied, “Pardonnez-moi, messieurs, j’ai oublié d’épouser votre sœur.” He then returned to London and the marriage was solemnised.

On 22 December in that year, Pepys noted: “This day I hear for certain that Lady Castlemaine is turned Popish.” In illustration of this entry, Lord Bray-brooke printed an extract from a letter of the count d’Estrades to Louis XIV—in which he wrote that the marriage of chevalier de Gramont and the conversion of Madame de Castlemaine were published on the same day. This fact would never be gathered from the statement in the Memoirs, that Gramont was recalled to France by his sister, the marchioness de Saint-Chaumont, who told him that the king had given him leave to return. When he arrived, he found that it was all a mistake. His brother, marshal de Gramont, had orders from the king for him to go back again without appearing at court.

Sir William Musgrave fixed the date of the occurrences recorded in the Memoirs from 1663 to 1665; but Cunningham fixes the longer period of May, 1662, to October, 1669, supposing, as we have already seen, that Gramont remained in England until the end of the book. [ back ]

  Anthony Hamilton’s Mémoires de la Vie du Comte de Gramont The writer and his work  

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