Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hamilton, Robert (1743-1829)

HAMILTON, ROBERT (1743–1829), political economist and mathematician, was born in Edinburgh on 11 June 1743. He was the eighth son of Gavin Hamilton, a bookseller and publisher; and his grandfather, Dr. William Hamilton, had been professor of divinity and principal in Edinburgh University. After being clerk in a bank he became a partner in the management of a paper-mill. In 1769 he was appointed rector of the Perth Academy, and in 1777 appeared the first edition of his 'Introduction to Merchandise,' the first of a number of unpretending but useful and well-written treatises. In 1779 he was appointed to the chair of natural philosophy in Aberdeen University, but soon after made an arrangement with Mr. Copland, the professor of mathematics, to exchange classes till 1817, when Hamilton was appointed to the mathematical chair. He published in 1790 'Peace and War,' showing philanthropic tendencies, and in 1800 'Heads of a Course of Mathematics.' His chief work first appeared in 1813, under the title ' Inquiry concerning the Rise and Progress, the Reduction and Present State, and the Management of the National Debt of Great Britain and Ireland.' A second edition was issued in 1818. This book commanded attention from its bold attacks on prevailing views of national finance, as well as from its philosophic tone. 'This important work,' says McCulloch, 'opened the eyes of the public to the delusive nature of the sinking fund' (see also Leczy, Hist. of England, v. 53). In it there is much sound reasoning as to principles combined with a great body of well-marshalled historical and statistical facts. After nearly completing half a century of teaching, Hamilton died on 14 July 1829. His last work, the 'Progress of Society,' was published posthumously in 1830.

[Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen; Irving's Book of Scotsmen.]

R. E. A.