Lectures of Professor Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Notes of lectures on Metaphysics, 1854-1855, at MS 2650. Lectures on Logic, 1851-1852, at MSS 2704-2705. Notes of lectures on Logic, 1847-1848, at Gen. 49D

Administrative / Biographical History

William Hamilton was born in Glasgow on 8 March 1788. He was educated at grammar school in Glasgow from 1797, and in 1800 began studies at the junior Greek and Latin classes at Glasgow University before attending schools at Chiswick and then at Bromley, Kent. He again studied at Glasgow University 1803-6, where he attended classes in logic and moral philosophy. A period at Edinburgh University followed, 1806-7, and there he studied medicine. He also studied at Balliol College, Oxford, 1807-10, and again at Edinburgh 1811-14. Hamilton was called to the Scottish Bar in 1813 and practised as an Advocate in Edinburgh until 1836. In 1820 he stood unsuccessfully for the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University, but was elected Professor of Civil History at the University in 1821. Around this time he had acquired an interest in phrenology, but after anatomical research of his own he became hostile to the science and engaged himself in controversy with phrenologist George Combe. In 1836, Hamilton was elected to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at Edinburgh University. He became partially paralysed in 1844 and this ill-health reduced his capacity somewhat. Although he wrote no systematic work, his philosophy can be gathered from  Lectures and his  Discussions in philosophy and literature, and from his criticism. Hamilton contributed to psychology and logic with his doctrines of the 'quantification of the predicate' and the 'unknowability of the infinite', and his theories of the association of ideas, of unconscious mental modifications, and the inverse relation of perception and sensation. He was the chief representative of the Scottish School of Philosophy. Professor Sir William Hamilton died in Edinburgh on 6 May 1856.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Notes of Hamilton's lectures taken down by D. Mclaren received from E. M. Lawson, Sutton Coldfield, December 1960, Accession no. E60.31. Lectures taken by James S. Wilson received from Professor Alastair Hannay, Oslo, Norway, March 1985, Accession no. E85.22. Hamilton's lectures on logic purchased April 1990, Accession no. E90.44.


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Geddes, Patrick  Viri illustres. p.30. Edinburgh: Y. J. Pentland, 1884. (2) Addison, W. Innes  The matriculation albums of the University of Glasgow from 1728 to 1858. p.194. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1913. (3) Thorne, J. O. and Collocott, T. C.  Chambers biographical dictionary. Revised ed. with supp. Repr. Edinburgh: Chambers, 1982. (4) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.).  Dictionary of national biography. Vol.3. Glover-Harriott. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to material related to Sir William Hamilton (check the Indexes for more details): historical material and letters in the Laing Collection (La.II, La.III, La.IV); other letters at Dc.2.59, Dc.4.101-3, Dc.6.111, Dk.6.19/1; mentioned in letters; a signature; and, a mention in a journal of a journey to Dresden, Dk.3.34. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: miscellaneous mss collection (147 items) at Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department, NRA 20977 Glasgow Univ. L. for which see Guide to Dept of Special Collections, 1989; lecture notes, 1851, and correspondence with George Combe, 1827-28, at the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Refs. MS 9166 and MSS 7219-7436 Passim., also letters probably to John Cairns, c.1845, at Ref. Acc 5932 5944 5947 6619 6786-87 6825-26 6828 6835 7275 9326 NRA 27384 Cairns, and correspondence with John Lee, 1820-44, Ref. MSS 3434-49 passim; correspondence with William Wordsworth, 1827-33, at Cornell University Libraries, see Location Register of English Literary MSS 18-19th cent 1995; and, correspondence with William Wordsworth (copies), 1827-33, at the British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. RP307, see Location Register of English Literary MSS 18-19th cent 1995 .

Corporate Names