CHAPTER IV

 

MARGARET COUNTESS OF CORK AND ORRERY

 

To return to Margaret Hamilton (Chap III) who succeeded to the Callidon[1] Estates as sole heir of her father, John Hamilton, the second possessor of those estates.

 

John Boyle was born in 1707; he succeeded his father as 5th Earl of Orrery in 1737; D.C.L. of Oxford in 1740; F.R.S. in 1750; and, on the death of his cousin in 1753, he became the 5th Earl of Cork. He was the intimate friend of Pope, Swift, Tom Southerne ("the last remaining of the wits of the reign of Charles II"), Dr. King, an Oxford celebrity, Faulkner, the noted Dublin bookseller and many others. Besides the translation of Pliny's Letters, mentioned in the correspondence with his wife, he was the author of the Life of Swift, and "Letters from Italy" and other works. Bishop Berkeley said of him that he "would have been a man of genius had he known how to set about it." There is a mezzotint portrait of him done from life in 1741 in the National Gallery, Dublin.

 

Lord Orrery had married in 1728 Lady Harriot Hamilton, daughter of the 1st Earl of Orrery. She died in 1732 leaving two sons and a daughter. He remained a widower for six years.[2] In April 1738, he commissioned his friend the Earl of Kildare to make a proposal of marriage on his behalf to Margaret Hamilton. There is no account of how or where he had met her, but the warmth of his affection for her which appears in so many of his letters, shows that he was attracted by something more than the great fortune she was reputed to have. The "Gentlemen's Magazine", in announcing the marriage, stated that she had "one of the largest fortunes in Europe." That this was an exaggeration is clear from references to money difficulties in this correspondence. The offer was conveyed in a letter in which Lord Kildare said that Lord Orrery was "very much confined by his first settlements, but, Madam, your fortune's so ample it will make you and your family quite easy."

 

With Lord Kildare's formal proposal Lord Orrery enclosed a letter in which he asked to be allowed to see her in person, but this was not permitted until Dean Dopping,[3] her uncle and guardian, had been satisfied as to his fortune and settlements.

 

At this time Lord Orrery appears to have been in Dublin, having come over from England to press his suit; and Margaret was at Dean Dopping's house, Lowtown in the County of Westmeath. Between the proposal and the marriage only two months elapsed, during which he went backwards and forwards from Dublin to Westmeath several times, besides writing several letters to her in the intervals between his visits. The replies to these have not been published; he however showed one of them to his friend Dean Swift, who "said many fine things upon it," and asked when he (the Dean) should write to her, to which the Earl replied, "not until after the marriage," intimating that he looked upon the Dean as a possible rival.

 

The marriage took place from Dean Dopping's house on the 30th June 1738, after which they went to Caledon. Shortly after, in writing to a friend from Caledon, Lord Orrery speaks of his wife as having "a sweet temper, good sense, many engaging accomplishments, such as singing, playing, working, reading. In perfection, and all this without a grain of affectation."

 

In November 1738, the correspondence began which continued throughout their joint lives. From first to last his letters show his great affection for her.

 

The correspondence opened from Duke Street, Westminster, and during an absence of about a fortnight five letters passed. In the early part of their married life the Earl seems to have enjoyed living at Caledon, although his amusements did not (he says) include hunting, drinking, shooting, or playing at nine-pins. As an occupation during his first winter there he undertook, what he describes as a great work, a translation of Pliny's Epistles, in which he intends to make Pliny express himself as if he had written in English. He, however, enjoyed some country pleasures, such as planting trees and making other improvements.

 

In a letter written from Caledon in May 1740, he says, "My trees flourish, my lawn looks green, and my walls nice. My gardens are encompassed by a river, whose borders are covered by goodly trees, the boast and glory of the County of Tyrone; thus you see I am fixed among bounties of nature profuse to me in every blessing that this earth affords amidst this scene of uninterrupted joy."

 

In a year or two he tired of being so far from London. The result of his distaste for Caledon was that the property was neglected and his financial affairs suffered. Lady Orrery writes from Dublin in April and May 1746, where she was detained because of a lawsuit relating to their affairs, and points out to him that if he were to come over from England and remain in Dublin for a few months it would mean a gain of eight or ten thousand pounds. She became so well informed in legal matters that she sent a message to friend of the Earl's saying, if he had any business to be done at law he could not employ a better "Solicitor" than herself.

In May 1746, she returned to Caledon to find trees he had planted much grown, and the place "sweetly laid out"; and in September, after much pleasurable looking forward on her part, he joined her there, having stayed for some time at Broghill Castle in Cork on his way from England.

 

In July 1748, she writes from Caledon, and in speaking of the eclipse of the sun that year, tells a story of Dean Swift about the eclipse of 1715. The Dean had mounted the steeple to observe the eclipse. All the town were assembled in the streets, and many hundreds near him. Swift got a speaking trumpet and making three formal "O yes's" proclaimed that the Dean of St Patrick's had adjourned the eclipse till that "sennight" on which all the people returning to their homes, lost the sight.

 

In January 1751, we again find Countess Margaret writing from Caledon. She was then reading Swift's works, no doubt in Lord Orrery's edition, which she mentions in a letter. In speaking of Swift's bitterness against Presbyterians, which she was confident did much harm in keeping up divisions and sowing dislike "in the breast of one honest man to another honest man," she refers to her own feelings, and says that for herself, until her husband's superior reasoning made her look upon all prejudice as "unjust, a great folly, and indeed a great wickedness," she had held both Presbyterian and Roman Catholic in the utmost abhorrence. At this time her letters from Caledon extend from January 1751 to March 1752. Besides matters of domestic and local interest we find her occupied with many intellectual subjects - largely indeed arising from her study of Swift and showing a considerable power of independent thought. In one of the earliest of Lord Orrery's letter's to her, he spoke of "your favourite Queen Elizabeth," and in a letter of hers to him in 1751 after remarking that Queen Elizabeth died in the most fortunate period imaginable, her last speech in Parliament testified her mind as undecayed as her first, when she declared her people were both her husband and children, she says "If I shut my eyes I can fancy Elizabeth admitted into (not the Christian, but) the heathen paradise. What a contention would there be among the illustrious dead who shall have this glorious Queen for his wife! Would it be a sin to bring Solomon, Caesar, Henry IV of France, Pope Sextus Quintus, Prince Henry Plantagenet (V), Antony even from Cleopatra, the Black Prince, and Oliver Cromwell. Elizabeth will not take Solomon, because he is wiser than herself, she would have preferred the Black Prince as an English hero only she is his grand-daughter (sic); she coquets a little with the Pope and the two Henrys, kicks Oliver to Tarturus, and accepts the hand of Caesar."

 

There are many references in the letters to Lord Orrery's children by his first wife: Lord Boyle, afterwards Lord Dungarvan when his father succeeded to the Earldom of Cork in 1753; the Hon. Hamilton Boyle, who succeeded his father as 6th Earl; and Lady Betty, who married Sir Thomas Worsley, Bart. Lady Betty must have been a mere child when her father married Margaret Hamilton. She is often mentioned with the children of his second marriage. The latter were Edmund, who succeeded his brother Hamilton (Boyle) as 7th Earl; Lady Lucy, who married George, 4th Viscount Torrington and Lady Kitty who died young.

 

Some of Lady Orrery's own relations are mentioned. Her aunt, Mrs Magdalen Hamilton's name frequently occurs. In a letter from Dublin, where her aunt lived, she writes: "My aunt Hamilton is vastly fond of the children and delighted with their words and actions. She finds all the beauties (of) grandmothers and great-grandmothers for a thousand generations back in Lucy, and in Edmund all the spirit and courage of the Stuarts, Hamiltons, Seatons, Gordons, Murrays, Douglasses, etc, etc., whether loyal or rebel that had inhabited Highland or Lowland and could possibly give a drop of blood to her ancestors for those five thousand years past."

 

The only other reference to ancestral matters is in a letter to her husband, in which she says that both had Welsh ancestors a statement which their known pedigree does not elucidate.

 

The last letter from Lady Orrery is one from Florence in January 1755, to Mrs Dopping. She and her husband and Lucy were spending the winter, partly on account of her health, and partly for Lucy's education; the latter, she says, was very good and very cheap. It included playing, singing, dancing, writing, drawing and Italian.

 

Lady Orrery died in 1758, and her husband followed her in the grave towards the end of 1762; both lie in the family vault in St. John's Parish Church of Frome Selwood, a little known town built on part of the ancient forest of Selwood in Somersetshire.

 

The editress of the "Orrery Papers" makes the following comment upon Countess Margaret: - "From the letters of Margaret Hamilton we may gauge the sterling value of a character that constituted her at least as great a mainstay to her husband morally as were her estates to his circumstances. Throughout her correspondence much of it from private reasons could not be reproduced - every sentence, nay every word, is inspired by overflowing tenderness towards her husband and family; a judicious tenderness which does not preclude the occasional honest expression of difference in opinion, where his welfare is concerned. Her piety was unaffected and free from narrow-mindedness; her perspective understanding ripened by cultivation despite barbarous irregularities of orthography and wifely partiality at times overweighted her judgement of his compositions." [4]

 

Chapter V

 

CONTENTS



[1] The spelling was changed to "Caledon" in the eighteenth century.

[2] This sketch is compiled from the "Orrery Papers", edited by the Countess of Cork and Orrery; London: Duckworth & Co. 1903.

[3] Anthony Dopping, Dean of Clonmacnois, afterwards Bishop of Ossory, son of Anthony Dopping, Bishop of Meath.

[4] The following note was added in the margins of this paragraph by Cdr. Hubert John Douglas Hamilton RIN Rtd. "Admiral The Earl of Cork and Orrery was CinC Home Fleet in HMS NELSON, when I served in NELSON as a Midshipman in 1934. He was originally Capt. Ginger Boyle a firebrand - and on retirement in 1934 he signalled for all his Senior Midshipmen aboard HMS NELSON one Sunday evening gave us a stern lecture and forecast the 2nd World War. Thereafter, stood us all drinks. Good chap!! He certainly put the wind up us but we were all ready in 1939.