Book Review – The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton by J. T. Herbert Baily (history)

Here’s the blurb;

Emma, Lady Hamilton, is best remembered as the mistress of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and the muse of English painter George Romney.

In The Life of Lady Hamilton, J. T. Herbert Baily traces the life of Lady Hamilton, born in 1765 to a blacksmith and christened Amy Lyon, along its startling rise to the upper echelons of English society and power.

Disputing other reports of Emma’s early life that depict her working as a model and dancer for charlatan James Graham’s ‘Temple of Health’, Baily depicts a young girl whose early falterings give way to later strength.

Losing her virtue at a young age, with a child to show for it, Emma swiftly came under the protective wing of Charles Greville, who installed her in a home in London and paid particular attention to her education, introducing her to music and art and improving her command of language such that she was in no danger of embarrassing herself — or, more importantly, him — when in Society.

For Emma herself, life with Greville was more than she ever dreamed, and a deep and abiding love for her protector blinded her to any realistic understanding of the future of their relationship.

Greville’s financial difficulties, Baily explains, led to his need to cast off Emma — through an underhanded scheme that delivered her into the hands of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton.

Devastated, Emma initially refused Hamilton’s overtures, but eventually became his mistress, and in time his wife.

Yet her relationship with Hamilton, and even Greville before him, paled in comparison with her passion for Nelson, and his for her.

Though both were married, they secretly carried on an affair that produced a daughter and lasted until the day of Nelson’s death, from which Emma never truly recovered.

James Thomas Herbert Baily (1865-1914) wrote several biographical works and also served as the editor of The Connoisseur, a British magazine for collectors.

Albion Press is an independent ebook publisher of classic books that have fallen out of print but deserve to be read once again. And indeed this biography of Emma, Lady Hamilton, should be as much interest to the reader for its content and writing style, as the object of its subject.

The book was written in the early 1900’s, by someone who clearly professed a great deal of respect and admiration for Lady Hamilton, and perhaps found it a little difficult to reconcile it with the more stringent mores of the early Twentieth Century. When reading the work, which is quaint and relies quite heavily on the actual texts of letter that Lady Hamilton wrote during her life, it is quite sobering to think that the author knew nothing of the two World Wars, or the vast advances in technology which have since overtaken the world, or even of the advance of Women’s Right, or of the more demanding rigours now required of a work of historical biography. There is no discussion of source material and at one point the author does make an assumption that the reader knows all about Nelson and the battles he commanded, which I think is no longer in the social consciousness of most people, swept away by the politics and war of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

However, the book is still worth a read for those who are interested in Lady Hamilton for both general interest and for those interested in the study of how women have been variously catalogued throughout history, and perhaps for those interested in the study of the Twentieth Century. Much current historical thought has its basis in the scholarship of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century and without their efforts history as we know it would not exist. For all it’s antique style, and flaws, this book is thoroughly enjoyable and only gets a three star review not because of its content and writing style but because of its age!

And you can buy a copy here;

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