Correspondence from John Dickenson

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 HAM/1/2
  • Dates of Creation
  • Physical Description
      60 items. Condition: a number of the sheets in this series are difficult to read due to ink smudges and as some of the text in a number of letters have been crossed though. A number of the letters have also been censored.

Scope and Content

John Dickenson (c.1757-1842) was the only son of John Dickenson Senior of Birch Hall, Manchester, and Taxal in Derbyshire and of Mary Hamilton's old friend Sarah Dickenson née Chetham, whom Hamilton had met when Mrs Dickenson visited relations in Northampton. He had two sisters, Sarah Dickenson (HAM/1/3/2), who remained unmarried, and Elizabeth, who married the Chevalier Palombi and who moved to Naples after her marriage. John Dickenson first asked Hamilton to marry him in 1780 but he was rejected. He asked again in 1784 (see HAM/2/10) and was accepted. They were married in 1785 and settled in Taxal, Derbyshire. They had one daughter, Louisa, born in 1787.

This sub-series contains correspondence which begins just before his marriage to Hamilton and continues throughout their marriage. The letters are written in a journal style that Dickenson adopts at Hamilton's suggestion (see HAM/2/10). The letters cover many diverse subjects and they detail Dickenson's daily life when away from Hamilton. He writes of his time at Bath which he visits for the benefit of his health and of the people he meets there including a number of Hamilton's friends such as the Rundells. Dickenson writes about the numerous social engagements he attends, as well as art, literature, hunting, his and Hamilton's families, his love for Hamilton, health matters, servants and social gossip.

In his first letter Dickenson writes of his sisters and the possibility of their living with him and Hamilton after he and she are married. He assures Hamilton that he would only agree to what pleases her (HAM/1/2/1). He writes of his love for Hamilton; on being kept away from home by work he writes that, if he was ever to commit a crime, the greatest punishment would be to be separated 'from the woman I adore' (HAM/1/2/6). The letters include details of Dickenson's visits to Hamilton's friends such as Mrs Carter, Miss Gunning and Mrs Delany who described Hamilton to him as his 'better half' and who told him an anecdote of Princess Amelia (HAM/1/2/7). At a party at Mrs Vesey's, Dickenson passes to Hannah More his unfinished letter to Hamilton so that Moore could write to her on the subject of Horace Walpole, teasing that she is attempting to 'supplant you in the heart of Mr Walpole as fast as possible' (HAM/1/2/8). At a later party which Walpole attended Dickenson noted that Mr and Mrs Piozzi were among the party and that Mr Piozzi joined Miss H. and another person in a duet and the music was outstanding. The letters contain information about the improvements in roads and the huge cost of them (see HAM/1/2/47 and HAM/1/2/54). He entertains Hamilton with stories of his travels noting that a very large woman boarded his coach in Buxton and 'half filled it', making two of the passengers move to the outside of the coach (HAM/1/2/15). He writes of a visit to the More sisters and of his astonishment at the 'vulgar' language they used. They spoke of the poet Ann Yearsley commenting that she is 'universally despised' (HAM/1/2/16). The letters describe the water treatments that Dickenson underwent, and of his being told that it would be 'prejudicial' to his health to read or write when taking the water (HAM/1/2/19). He writes with details of gossip on the fortunes of acquaintances and with news on the situation in France. He describes to Hamilton the books he reads including Hester Thrale Piozzi's Travels, which he declares 'is just worth reading' (HAM/1/2/25). He also writes of a meeting with Emma Lyon, the mistress of Sir William Hamilton, who assured Dickenson that she can make Sir William happy (HAM/1/2/34-35). Dickenson writes that the portraits of Emma do not do her justice.

The letters in this series contain a great deal of information about society during this period: the social life of elites, the difficulties of travel, art, and the medical remedies of the period.


This sub-series was previously divided into three sections: the first included letters dating from June 1789 to August 1789; the second contained letters dating from 1813; and the third comprised letters dating from as early as 1784 until 1803. To aid clarity, the letters were integrated into a single sequence, arranged chronologically. Undated items have been placed at the end of the sequence unless dates could be inferred from their content, context or physical characteristics.