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

X. Memoir and Letter Writers

§ 18. Question of the trustworthiness of these Memoirs

The book is divided into eleven unequal chapters, of which the first five are short and relate only to continental adventures. This portion closes with the chevalier Gramont’s banishment from the French court owing to his persistent attentions to Mlle. La Motte Houdancourt, one of Louis XIV’s mistresses. This escapade brought him to England, and chapters VI to XI are devoted to the doings of the English court. Hamilton knew nothing of Gramont’s adventures abroad, and this portion has all the marks of having been taken down from Gramont’s dictation. The English portion of the book is quite different in mode of treatment, and, here, Gramont does not relate his own adventures as before. In some scenes he does not even appear, and Hamilton evidently wrote from his own intimate knowledge about subjects and persons unlikely to be known so well to Gramont, as a foreigner.

It is most improbable that Hamilton should have handed over his manuscript, upon which he must have spent much time and labour, to be disposed of by Gramont as his own. Moreover, Hamilton waited for six years after Gramont’s death in 1707, and then issued the work at Cologne instead of at Paris. No doubt, although many of the actors in the scandalous scenes related were dead, some influential persons still lived, who would use all their influence to prevent the publication. In 1713, however, Hamilton was sixty-seven years of age; and, if he wished to see his beloved book in print, he had to find a publisher with as little delay as possible.

The question as to the truthfulness of the details related by Hamilton is one of the greatest importance. In reply to Lord Hailes’s remark that the chronology of the Memoirs is not exact, Horace Walpole exclaimed, “What has that book to do with chronology?” Hallam, likewise, was of opinion that the Memoirs “scarcely challenge a place as historical.” It must be admitted that Hamilton produced a book which is too much a work of art to be entirely trustworthy, and the subject-matter is often arranged for effect, which would scarcely have been allowed if strict accuracy had been the main object.

Anthony Hamilton became an intimate friend of Gramont immediately after his arrival in England; but he never mentions himself in his book. Moreover, he purposely confuses the circumstances and date of Gramont’s marriage with his sister, Elizabeth Hamilton, which actually took place in December, 1663.

There is evidence that the chevalier de Gramont and his wife left London for France in November, 1664, and took up their permanent residence there. They appear to have made frequent visits to the English court in succeeding years; but their settlement in France in itself proves that the later portion of the book, some of the incidents in which seem to have occurred in the year 1669, must have been written by Hamilton without help from Gramont. Therefore, the following passage from the last chapter can hardly be considered to be written in good faith:

  • We profess to insert nothing in these Memoirs but what we have from the mouth of him whose actions we transmit to posterity.