Open main menu

HAMILTON, JANET (1795–1873), Scottish poetess, daughter of a shoemaker named Thomson, was born at Carshill, Shotts parish, Lanarkshire, 12 Oct. 1795. In her childhood the family removed to Hamilton, and then to Langloan, in the parish of Old Monkland, Lanarkshire. For a time her parents became farm labourers, and Janet, remaining at home, span and worked at the tambour-frame. Her father at length settled down in business for himself as a shoemaker, and John Hamilton, one of his young workmen, married Janet in 1809. They lived together at Langloan for about sixty years, and had a family of ten children. Having learnt to read as a girl, Janet Hamilton in her early years became familiar with the Bible, with Shakespeare and Milton, with many standard histories, biographies, and essays, and with the poems of Allan Ramsay, Fergusson, and Burns. Before she was twenty she had written in a hand writing of oriental aspect invented by herself numerous verses on religious themes; but family cares prevented further composition until she was about fifty-four. Then she began to write for Cassell's 'Working Man's Friend.' During her last eighteen years she was blind, and her husband and her daughter Marion read to her, while her son James was amanuensis. She was visited in those years by many notable people, including one of Garibaldi's sons, of whom she afterwards spoke with affectionate recollection. She died on 27 Oct. 1873, having never been 'more than twenty miles from her dwelling.' A memorial fountain has been placed nearly opposite her cottage.

Her literary work is very remarkable under the circumstances. She published 'Poems and Songs' in 1863, 'Sketches' in 1865, and 'Ballads' in 1868. Her son edited 'Poems and Prose Works of Janet Hamilton' in 1880, and a new edition of this was issued in 1885. The poems are invariably direct and to the purpose; some of the best are on Scotland, on friends, and on the scenes of the writer's neighbourhood; and there are vigorous pieces on temperance, besides various thoughtful and impressive sacred poems. The humorous and patriotic Scottish lyrics those especially with an autobiographical element and the descriptive pieces secure for Mrs. Hamilton a permanent place among the poets of Scotland. Her prose 'Sketches' display an easy command of a fairly accurate and attractive style, and several of them are faithful records of old Scottish manners and customs.

[Introductory articles by George Gilfillan and Dr. Alexander Wallace in Poems and Prose Works of Janet Hamilton; Janet Hamilton and her Works, by Professor Veitch, in Good Words, 1884; Professor Veitch's Feeling for Nature in Scottish Poetry, ii. 322; Irving's Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen.]

T. B.