Manuscript Diaries

  • Reference
      GB 133 HAM/2
  • Dates of Creation
      1776-1797
  • Physical Description
      16 items. Condition: the edges of many of the diaries are worn. There is occasional light staining, and there are marginal marks in red pencil that were added at a later date to indicate significant passages, possibly by Hamilton's descendants prior to the Anson publication. The majority of the diaries have been written on loose sheets of paper which were then stitched or pinned together in grey wrappers; two are bound in red sheepskin.

Scope and Content

Sixteen autograph diaries detailing Mary Hamilton's life as an independent woman, the majority covering the period from her leaving court in 1782 until her marriage to John Dickenson in 1785. Of the other two diaries, HAM/2/1 details Hamilton's visit to Spa in 1776 and HAM/2/16 records her time in London from 22 February 1797 until 3 April of that year.

The diaries not only record Hamilton's daily life but detail her friends, family and acquaintances, many of whom were prominent figures of the day. She describes the dinners, meetings, engagements and conversations with members of the Bas Bleu with whom she was closely associated, such as Elizabeth Carter, Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Burney, Elizabeth Vesey, Eva Maria Garrick and Frances Boscawen, as well as leading society and literary figures including Lady Charlotte Finch, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole and the Duchess of Portland. She writes of her visits to Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill and to Mary Delany and the Duchess of Portland at Bulstrode.

The diaries are full of Hamilton's observations on contemporary politics and elite society, and they are rich in references to the fashions, art, literature, theatre, religion, philosophy, political and military affairs, and social events of the period. Hamilton writes extensively on the Royal family, her time at home with her two friends, Caterina and Anna Maria Clarke, and on the many subjects she read about and discussed and with her circle of friends, including music, theatre, politics, war, philosophy, servants, society gossip, women's education and friendship. She writes on new inventions, entertainments and noteworthy events such as the excitement in London at the first launch of Lunardi's air balloon (see HAM/2/13). She describes the balloon in detail and also includes a drawing of the balloon in her diary, together with measurements and details of the 'curious machine'. She writes about the prominent society figures of the day including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, commenting on the weakness of her poetry (see HAM/2/10) and on her campaigning for Charles Fox (HAM/2/10). The diaries also record her relationships with her own and her friends' servants. She records a dispute between two of her servants, each accusing the other of stealing from Hamilton (see HAM/2/12), but she also writes of aiding her old servants when they were in distress and of her pleasure at being told of the high regard in which the servants at Bulstrode held her, commenting that 'surely it is an innocent & laudable vanity to listen to commendations of this sort [...] [it] gives such universal satisfaction by behaving in a civil pleasing manner towards every individual in society' (HAM/2/3). Hamilton details attending the Prince of Wales's ball at Carleton House, the people there, the clothes, dances and the conversations (HAM/2/8). She also writes frankly about her many 'suitors' and marriage proposals (HAM/2/9).