About Antoine Hamilton
Antoine (or Anthony) Hamilton (1646 – 21 April 1720) was an Irish classical author of near Scottish ancestry, who wrote in French.
He is especially noteworthy from the fact that, though by birth he was a foreigner, his literary characteristics are more decidedly French than those of many of the most indubitable Frenchmen. His father was George Hamilton, younger brother of James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Abercorn, and putative 6th duke of Châtellerault in the peerage of France; and his mother was Mary Butler, sister of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. According to some authorities he was born at Drogheda, but according to the London edition of his works in 1811 his birthplace was Roscrea, Tipperary.
From the age of four until he was fourteen the boy was brought up in France, where his family had fled after the execution of Charles I. The fact that, like his father, he was a Roman Catholic, prevented his receiving the political promotion he might otherwise have expected on the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, but he became a distinguished member of that brilliant band of courtiers whose chronicler he was to become. He served in the French army, and the marriage of his sister Elizabeth, "la belle Hamilton", to Philibert, comte de Gramont committed him more closely to France. On the accession of James II to the British throne, he obtained an infantry regiment in Ireland, and was appointed governor of Limerick and a member of the privy council. However, the Battle of the Boyne, at which he was present, brought disaster on the cause of the Stuarts, and before long he was again an exile in France.
The rest of his life was spent for the most part at the court of St Germain and in the châteaux of his friends. With Ludovise, duchesse du Maine, he became an especial favourite, and it was at her seat at Sceaux that he wrote the Mémoires that made him famous. He died at St Germain-en-Laye.
It is mainly by the Mémoires du comte de Gramont that Hamilton takes rank with the most classical writers of France. It was said to have been written at Gramont's dictation, but it is very evident that Hamilton's share is the most considerable. Written between 1704 and 1710, the work was first published anonymously in 1713 (apparently without Hamilton's knowledge) under the rubric of Cologne, but it was really printed in the Netherlands, at that time the great patroness of all questionable authors. An English translation by Boyer appeared in 1714. Upwards of thirty editions have since appeared, the best of the French being Renouard's (1812), forming part of a collected edition of Hamilton's works, and Gustave Brunet's (1859), and the best of the English, Edwards's (1793), with 78 engravings from portraits in the royal collections at Windsor and elsewhere, AF Bertrand de Moleville's (2 vols, 1811), with 64 portraits by E Scriven and others, and Gordon Goodwin's (2 vols, 1903). Peter Quennell's fine translation (Routledge, 1930) includes extensive commentary by Cyril Hughes Hartmann. The original edition was reprinted by Benjamin Pifteau in 1876.
In imitation and satiric parody of the romantic tales which Antoine Galland's translation of The Thousand and One Nights had brought into favour in France, Hamilton wrote, partly for the amusement of Henrietta Bulkley, sister of the duchess of Berwick, to whom he was much attached, four ironic and extravagant contes, Le Bélier, Fleur d'Epine, Zeneyde and Les quatre Facardins. The saying in Le Belier, "Belier, mon ami, tu me ferais plaisir si tu voulais commencer par le commencement," has passed into a proverb. These tales were circulated privately during Hamilton's lifetime, and the first three appeared in Paris in 1730, ten years after the death of the author; a collection of his Œuvres diverses in 1731 contained the unfinished Zeneyde. An 1849 omnibus entitled Fairy Tales and Romances contains English translations of all his fiction.
Hamilton was also the author of some songs as exquisite in their way as his prose, and interchanged amusing verses with the Duke of Berwick. In the name of his niece, the countess of Stafford, Hamilton maintained a witty correspondence with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
See notices of Hamilton in Lescure's edition (1873) of the Contes, Sainte-Beuve's Causeries du lundi, tome 1, Sayou's Histoire de la littérature française a l'étranger (1853), and by LS Auger in the Œuvres completes (1804). In English, Ruth Clark's Anthony Hamilton: His Life and Works and His family (1921) is a thorough, erudite study.