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  • "Scotch Drollery" in the Marketplace:Dr. Alexander Hamilton's Amusing Instruction in the Maryland Gazette
  • Elaine Breslaw (bio)

On 1 October 1739, the Reverend David Smith of Innerwick, Scotland, wrote to his brother-in-law in America wanting to know how his "scotch drollery" had thrived in that "warmer climate." The recipient of the letter, Dr. Alexander Hamilton, had only recently arrived in Maryland, determined to improve his chances for fortune and, evidently, fame as a literary figure. Smith wondered whether the "more direct ray of Apollo" would transform Alexander into a more sublime "American Wit."

Hamilton, at that time in 1739, had temporarily put aside his goal of achieving recognition as a wit. He was then, and for years afterward, more concerned about finding the financial and physical means to survive in that "warmer climate." Nonetheless, fortune and good health did gradually favor him, and, as it happened, his reputation as a literary figure grew proportionately. Evidence for his skill as a writer has come down to us through three main sources: the satirical "History of the Tuesday Club" that he composed during the 1750s but failed to complete before his death in 1756; his diary of a trip through the colonies in 1744 called the "Itinerarium";1 and a series of essays written for the Maryland Gazette between 1746 and 1751,which established his reputation in the public eye and brought him fame as a social and literary critic.

Neither of the first two texts was published in his lifetime and, therefore, they were familiar to only a small number of people. The travel diary of 1744 had circulated informally in manuscript among Dr. Hamilton's American friends, quite possibly in more than one copy. He continued to send excerpts from the diary in letters to his family in Scotland.2 He eventually gave the manuscript (or at least a copy) to an Italian friend with no indication of plans for the future (Itinerarium xxx). His apparent reluctance to find a publisher for that work at that time has been taken as evidence of his lack of interest in the print media. [End Page 217]

Literary scholars have assumed that gentlemen like Hamilton generally shied away from having their work published. The elite, they suggest, preferred the privacy that came with limited exposure to a small circle of like-minded individuals, arguing that Hamilton tended toward an aristocratic disregard for print (Hall 154; Shields xxv, 76, 176). But Hamilton was not a member of the aristocracy. Although he preferred the manners and outward behavior of the landed gentry, his social sympathies and literary goals were closer to those of the urban elite in Edinburgh and the satiric writers gaining fame in London.

The limitation of the locale is a more likely reason for the unpublished travel diary. Even after Jonas Green established a press in the colony in 1739, there was insufficient demand among the literate population to justify the printing of books. Nor did Green have the necessary outlets for distribution. Those who could afford books ordered them from overseas. Local Chesapeake printers could not compete with British publishers and therefore few books were actually published in those places (Somerville 87–89). It was not necessarily disdain for the marketplace that prevented publication, but the lack of opportunity.

Hamilton also kept a journal of his own and other witty and humorous speeches delivered during meetings of the Tuesday Club of Annapolis, which he would edit carefully and later incorporate into a satiric "History" of the Club.3 There is good reason to assume that he intended, or at least hoped for, eventual publication of that work. In 1749, ostensibly denied permission to write the history of the Tuesday Club by the president, Charles Cole, Hamilton regretfully noted that he had hoped to "make a very great figure in the Republic of Letters, in quality of an Historian" (History 1:530). Ignoring Cole's rejection of his proposal, Hamilton had begun by 1754 to revise earlier drafts of the "History," adding more elaborate and often fanciful details. He hoped that publication would eventually give him "Immortal fame, and a lasting Character, to be transmitted to future ages" (History...


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