Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 17. Anthony Hamilton’s Mémoires de la Vie du Comte de Gramont

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

X. Memoir and Letter Writers

§ 17. Anthony Hamilton’s Mémoires de la Vie du Comte de Gramont

The anonymous Mémoires de la Vie du Comte de Gramont, published for the first time at Cologne in 1713, is universally acknowledged to be a masterpiece of French literature; in fact, Voltaire went so far as to say that the author was the first to discover the essential genius of the French language. Yet this book was written by an Englishman, and it deals chiefly with the English court of Charles II. It was carelessly translated into English by Abel Boyer (a French Huguenot who settled in England and wrote histories of king William III and queen Anne) and published in the year after that of the appearance of the original work. This translation was touched up by Sir Walter Scott and has generally been used in the various editions of the English version. No first-rate writer has been at the pains of retranslating it and making it a masterpiece of English prose. Some of the blunders made by the original translator have been continued without correction, and have given considerable trouble. The names of persons mentioned in the original French are often wrong, as “Stwart” for Stewart and “Hubert” for Hobart, and so forth; but, in the English translation, they are usually given with an initial followed by a line; this allowed of the publication, at the price of twopence, of a needed Key to the Memoirs.

The author was Anthony Hamilton, third son of Sir George Hamilton and grandson of the earl of Abercorn. At the end of the first chapter of his book, he wrote “To himself we owe these Memoirs since I only hold the pen.” Report told how Gramont dictated his Memoirs to Hamilton in the year 1701 and sold the manuscript to a publisher for fifteen hundred livres. When Fontenelle, then censor of the press, saw the manuscript, he is said to have refused to license the publication, on account of the scandalous conduct of the hero in cheating at cards which is described in the third chapter. There is little authority for this report, and Gramont is only known as a brilliant talker and not as an author.