Fields of Fire. A Life of Sir William Hamilton.

By David Constantine

Printed: 2001

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicolson. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 4 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 4

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Item information


In the original dustsheet. Brown cloth binding with gilt title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

                                A rare collector’s edition

A superbly entertaining and humane biography of one of those civilised Englishmen (technically this one was Scottish) who created bridges between our cool native intelligence and the intoxications of the Mediterranean and the inspirations of the Classical world. Consul Smith, Horace Mann, the Dilettanti, the Grand Tourists, all helping to bring forth that fine English elegance of the eighteenth century. Was William Hamilton the last of them before the Romanticism of Byron and the High Victorianism of Ruskin made it a plusher, heavier thing? Oh – and Nelson and Emma thrown in for some Vesuvian pyrotechnics. Wondrous tale in a gorgeous setting.


              In A Cognocenti contemplating ye Beauties of ye Antique (1801), by James Gillray

Sir William Hamilton, KB, PC, FRS, FRSE (13 December 1730 – 6 April 1803), was a British diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and volcanologist. After a short period as a Member of Parliament, he served as British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples from 1764 to 1800. He studied the volcanoes Vesuvius and Etna, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of the Copley Medal. His second wife was Emma Hamilton, famed as Horatio Nelson’s mistress.

In the summer of 1799 Naples was recaptured from the French and savage reprisals were enacted against those who had supported the Parthenopean Republic. Hamilton, together with the king and queen, and Nelson, remained in Palermo, except for a visit to the Bay of Naples in Foudroyant when he briefly went ashore. Hamilton was anxious to return to Britain. At the beginning of 1800 Sir Arthur Paget was sent out to replace him and the Hamiltons and Nelson returned overland to England. By this time Emma and Nelson were lovers. They landed at Great Yarmouth on 31 October 1800. The relationship between Hamilton, Emma and Nelson was already causing a scandal and Hamilton was caricatured in cartoons by James Gillray.

Hamilton would live in retirement for another two and a half years, at Merton with Emma, Nelson, and Mrs Cadogan, and in a house he leased in Piccadilly. He spent his time fishing on the River Thames, visiting his estates in Wales, selling paintings and vases, trying to get money owed to him by the government for his expenses in Naples, and attending his clubs, especially the Royal Society and the Dilettanti. He died on 6 April 1803 at his house in Piccadilly. He left Emma £800 a year, which included £100 a year for her mother, and small annuities for four servants in Naples. His estates in Wales, which were heavily mortgaged, were left to Greville. Nelson was left an enamel copy of a portrait of Emma by Élisabeth Vigée le Brun.

Hamilton was buried beside his first wife at Slebech.

Condition notes

Small tear on dustsheet

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