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William Rowan Hamilton was born at midnight between the 3rd and 4th of August, 1805,
at Dublin, in the house which was then 29, but subsequently 36, Dominick Street. His
father, Archibald Hamilton, was a solicitor, and William was the fourth of a family of
nine. With reference to his descent, it may be sufficient to notice that his ancestors appear
to have been chiefly of gentle Irish families, but that his maternal grandmother was of
Scottish birth. When he was about a year old, his father and mother decided to hand over
the education of the child to his uncle, James Hamilton, a clergyman of Trim, in County
Meath. James Hamilton's sister, Sydney, resided with him, and it was in their home that
the days of William's childhood were passed.
In Mr. Graves' "Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton" a series of letters will be found, in
which Aunt Sydney details the progress of the boy to his mother in Dublin. Probably
there is no record of an infant prodigy more extraordinary than that which these letters
contain. At three years old his aunt assured the mother that William is "a hopeful blade,"
but at that time it was his physical vigour to which she apparently referred; for the proofs
of his capacity, which she adduces, related to his prowess in making boys older than
himself fly before him. In the second letter, a month later, we hear that William is
brought in to read the Bible for the purpose of putting to shame other boys double his age
who could not read nearly so well. Uncle James appears to have taken much pains with
William's schooling, but his aunt said that "how he picks up everything is astonishing, for
he never stops playing and jumping about." When he was four years and three months
old, we hear that he went out to dine at the vicar's, and amused the company by reading
for them equally well whether the book was turned upside down or held in any other
fashion. His aunt assures the mother that " Willie is a most sensible little creature, but at
the same time has a great deal of roguery." At four years and five months old he came up
to pay his mother a visit in town, and she writes to her sister a description of the boy;-
"His reciting is astonishing, and his clear and accurate knowledge of geography is beyond
belief; he even draws the countries with a pencil on paper, and will cut them out, though
not perfectly accurate, yet so well that a anybody knowing the countries could not
mistake them; but, you will think this nothing when I tell you that he reads Latin, Greek,
and Hebrew."
Aunt Sydney recorded that the moment Willie got back to Trim he was desirous of at
once resuming his former pursuits. He would not eat his breakfast till his uncle had heard
him his Hebrew, and he comments on the importance of proper pronunciation. At five he
was taken to see a friend, to whom he repeated long passages from Dryden. A gentleman
present, who was not unnaturally sceptical about Willie's attainments, desired to test him
in Greek, and took down a copy of Homer which happened to have the contracted type,
and to his amazement Willie went on with the greatest ease. At six years and nine months
he was translating Homer and Virgil; a year later his uncle tells us that William finds so
little difficulty in learning French and Italian, that he wishes to read Homer in French. He
is enraptured with the Iliad, and carries it about with him, repeating from it whatever