Elizabeth Hamilton (c. 1756-1816)

novelist, essayist and educator.

ELIZABETH HAMILTON was born in Belfast, the daughter of a Scottish merchant and his Irish wife. Following the death of her father in 1759, she was raised by her paternal aunt and uncle near Stirling, where she lived until 1788, when she went to London to join her elder brother Charles, then on leave from the East India Company. While in London, she made a number of literary acquaintances, including the philosopher William Godwin and the novelist Mary Hays, both of whom she later satirized in her fiction. After Charles’s sudden death in 1792, just before he was due to return to India, Hamilton launched her career as a writer, beginning with Translations of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796), a fictional travel narrative that was in part a tribute to her brother. In 1804, after publishing a second novel, Memoirs of Modern Philosophers, as well as a speculative biography of Agrippina the Elder and a book of essays on education, Hamilton settled in Edinburgh, where she spent most of the rest of her life. She quickly established herself as a central figure in Edinburgh intellectual society; Jeffrey maintained what appears to have been a cordial social relationship with her. While her 1808 novel, The Cottagers of Glenburnie, was the only one of her works to be noticed in the Edinburgh, Hamilton’s writing on subjects including educational and aesthetic theory demonstrates her engagement with topics that attracted the Edinburgh reviewers.

Pamela Perkins, University of Manitoba



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