North American Scholar

HAMILTON, James

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1769-01-01
  • Born City: London
  • Born State/Country: England (exact day of birth unknown)
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1829-09-16
  • Death City: Dublin
  • Death State/Country: Ireland
  • Education:

    Study in Dublin at Jesuit school run by Beatty & Mulhall; study of German with Gen. D'Angeli.

  • Professional Experience:

    Merchant in Hamburg; with Karcher & Co., a banking house, taught at Union, Princeton, Yale, Middlebury; lectured widely.

  • Publications:

    An Essay on the Usual Method of Teaching Languages (New York, 1816); The Gospel of St. John in Latin, Adapted to the Hamiltonian System (London, 1824; Italian version, 1825); other interlinear translations of the Epitome Historiae Sacrae, Aesop's Fables, Eutropius, Aurelius Victor, Phaedrus, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Virgil's Aeneid I-VI, Sallust, Nepos, Caesar, Selectae e Profanis; The History, Principles, Practice, and Results of the Hamiltonian System (Manchester, 1829; new ed., 1831) N.B.: Some books were published under his name but without his consent.

  • Notes:

    James Hamilton experimented along Lockean lines and promoted this method in America. He had learned German while in business in Hamburg from retired emigre French general D'Angeli, who, like his teachers Beatty and Mulhall, discarded use of a grammar and translated German stories for him, word for word, into French. In twelve lessons he could read easy German. His trade with France while the peace of Amiens was in force, made him prosperous, but when war broke out between England and France he was captured and held as a prisoner in Paris until the end of the war in 1815. Since the war had ruined his business, he went to New York to recoup his losses by manufacturing potash. The prospects did not suit him and he resolved to put into practice the teaching method he had learned in Hamburg. Hamilton objected to the amount of time, seven or eight years, ordinarily required to learn Latin. In the Hamiltonian system the teacher dictated as the pupils wrote the Latin and his translation of it. After the teacher had pronounced the Latin several times, each time with his translation, several pupils in succession would be called upon to repeat the Latin and its translation. At the end of a two-hour session, broken by a short intermission each half-hour, the pupils would have a sizable body of text and translation which they could review at their leisure. Correct pronunciation would be fixed by constant hearing and occasional practice by each pupil. The size of the class was immaterial; it was just as easy to teach a hundred as ten, and certainly more profitable.Hamilton's first students in New York were adults and his first classes were in French. He soon discovered a larger market for Latin among grammar school pupils. His self-laudatory style of advertising was very successful in forming classes—and in arousing opposition. When the latter became too serious he moved on, from New York to Philadelphia to Wilmington to Baltimore to Washington to Boston, Montreal, and Quebec. When he returned to England in 1823, he was equally successful in promoting his method there. His textbooks apparently sold quite well for a few years, but their influence was not long lasting. His insistence on the use of translations as the best method of learning a foreign language raised a moral issue that helped to usher the method out of favor, and publication of a new kind of textbook by Andrews and Stoddard introduced an entirely new method of teaching that was to hold sway for many years to come.

  • Sources:

    Am. Jour. Educ. (1826); DNB 8:1070-1; “Hamiltonian System of Instruction,” Westminster Rev. 10 (Apr. 1829) 284; “Hamilton's Method of Teaching Languages,” Edinburgh Rev. 44 (June, 1826) 47-69; John Francis Latimer, “An Early Experiment in Latin Teaching,” CO 30 (1952-3) 80-81; New York Eclectic 6 (1827) 299; Sydney Smith, “A Defense of the Hamiltonian System,” (Edinburgh, 1826); Warwick Wroth, James Hamilton (London, 1908).

  • Author: John F. Latimer