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Emma Lady Hamilton, whose name has occurred so repeatedly in the preceding pages, and with whom Lord Nelson's correspondence was principally maintained, was of obscure birth, being the daughter of Henry Lyon or Lyons, a man living in a menial capacity at Preston, in the county of Lancashire. He dying when she was very young, her mother removed to Hawarden in Flintshire, and there maintained herself and family in habits of industry. It is obvious that the education of the daughter must have been of the most trifling description, and that whatever knowledge or accomplishments she attained were acquired in later years; and, as in the case of most persons who are educated only in advanced life, she never overcame the difficulties of orthography: although she maintained an extensive correspondence with many persons of very high station in society, and with many who were distinguished and will long be remembered in the world of letters by their attainments in science, arts, and literature, she never learnt to speU with accuracy, or to write with any degree of exactness. The precise date of her birth is unknown, but was probably April 26th, 1764. The earlier period of her life was passed in servitude, and without means to cultivate her intellectual faculties. She was first engaged in the capacity of nursery-maid in the family of Mr. Thomas of Hawarden, the brother-in-law of Mr. Alderman Boydell, and father of Mr. Honoratus Leigh Thomas, of Leicesterplace, a distinguished Surgeon; and she filled a similar situation in the family of Dr. Budd, to whom I was known, residing in Chatham-place, Blackfriars, and one of the Physicians attached to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. It is not a little curious that at the time she was thus engaged in the family of Dr. Budd she had a fellow-servant, as housemaid, a companion, who afterwards became highly and deservedly popular as an actress at Drury Lane Theatre, the late Mrs. Powell. Among the papers now before me there is a
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letter1 from Mrs. Powell, which shews that a certain, though qualified, intimacy was kept up by those two adventurers of fortune: and it is not a little singular to find that when Sir William Hamilton married Lady Hamilton, and that it was known to be their intention to be present at a performance at Drury Lane Theatre, where a large audience was assembled to see this remarkable woman, whose achievements, and whose conquests formed a common theme of conversation, the admiration of the house was shared by two beautiful women, the actress and the wife of the Minister whose early fortunes had thrown thtm together under such humble circumstances. Perhaps, at the time, this secret of their lives was known in the house only to themselves, and the feelings excited by this occurrence must necessarily have been of a verypeculiar description.
Quitting her servitude as nursery-maid, Emma is reported to have engaged herself to a dealer in St. James's Market, where, by her appearance and manners, she attracted the attention of a lady of fashion, and by her was withdrawn from her obscurity, and invited to a situation more congenial to her feelings and disposition. Here she had opportunities of reading the novels and romances of that day. This lady was visited by the fashionable world, and at her parties were numerous singers and other public performers, together with many of the writers for the stage. Emma has been known to express regret at the manner in which her time was here engaged. The reading of romances and books of light intelligence and character, only served to fire her imagination, excite a love of display, ami distract her attention from the duties belonging to those in her sphere of life. The acquaintances here formed, and the deluge of flattery with which she was overwhelmed soon overcame her reason, and led her into habits of dissipation .
By all who had acquaintance with her, and I have met with many in my own circle of friends to uhom she was well known, she has been described as of great beauty, of voluptuous form,
1 "Dear Lady Hamilton, "Southend,
"I cannot forbear writing a line to inform your Ladyship I am at this place, and to tell you how much your absence is regretted by all ranks of people. Would to Heaven you were here to enliven this (at present) dull scene. I have performed one night, and have promised to play six, but unless the houses ore better must decline it. Please to remember me most kindly to your mother and
every one at Merton,
"I am, dear Lady Hamilton,