William Hamilton Maxwell

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Maxwell, William Hamilton, Rev., a voluminous writer, was born at Newry, in 1794. He graduated with distinction at Trinity College. His wish to enter the army was opposed by his family, especially by an aunt, who promised to leave him her fortune if he chose some other career. Whilst yielding to the wishes of his friends, he yearned for excitement, and proceeding to the Peninsula, travelled in the track of Wellington's victorious troops, picking up information upon military matters, and encountering adventures with the narration of which he delighted his readers in after life. On his return home he anticipated his future income by confirming leases granted by his father as tenant for life; and spent his time in hunting and shooting, and reading military history, poetry, and romance. On the death of his aunt it was found that her will was informally executed, and the property for which he had sacrificed his military tastes, went to another.

His design of going to South America was frustrated by the death of a friend upon whom he had relied for advancement in that country; whereupon he turned to the Church as his career, and having taken orders and married, was in 1819 collated to the rectory of Balla, in Connemara. There he occupied his leisure time in authorship. His Stories of Waterloo (1829) and Wild Sports of the West (1833) were received with favour by the public, and between 1829 and 1848, a series of works (numbered up to twenty by Allibone) flowed from his pen. Most of them, whether truth or fiction, deal with military matters. His Life of Wellington (3 vols. 1839-'41 was declared at the time of its publication to have "no rival among similar publications of the day."

Maxwell is thus spoken of in the University Magazine: "If a brilliant fancy, a warm imagination, deep knowledge of the world, consummate insight into character, constitute a high order of intellectual gift, then he is no common man. Uniting with the sparkling wit of his native country the caustic humours and dry sarcasms of the Scotch, with whom he is connected with the strong ties of kindred, yet his pre-eminent characteristic is that sunshiny temperament which sparkles through every page of his writings." His History of the Rebellion in Ireland in 1798, illustrated by Cruikshank, and published in 1845, meant probably as a corrective to Madden's Lives of the United Irishmen, is a solid contribution to the history of the period of the Insurrection and Union. He was a frequent contributor to Bentley's Miscellany and the University Magazine. Cotton, who states that he was deprived of his living for non-residence in 1844, is probably mistaken in saying he was once a captain in the army. Notwithstanding his popularity and success, he never made provision for the future; and after the failure of his health and the exhaustion of his spirits, he is said to have passed his days in penury. He died at Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, 29th December 1850, aged 55.

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

116. Dublin University Magazine (18). Dublin, 1833-'77.

146. Gentleman's Magazine. London, 1731-1868.
Gilbert, John T., see Nos. 110, 335.

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