Burke's First Patron

Thomas W. Copeland here re-examines one of the most perplexing mysteries: that of Burke's connection with the famous “Single-Speech” Hamilton.

Edmund Burke was thirty-six years old— well over half way through his life—when he solemnly renounced his connection with William Gerard Hamilton. Exactly what he solemnly renounced has never been quite clear. In 1759 Hamilton had taken Burke as the “companion of his studies” (Burke’s phrase), and once or twice in the next six years Burke called him his “patron.” The phrase “companion of his studies” does not tell us much about the terms of their association, except that Burke must not have liked to think of them as markedly unequal. “Patron” implies a particular relation, and surely implies inequality. We look about for services on Burke’s side and benefits on Hamilton’s. There are one or two of each. When Hamilton went to Dublin in the winters of 1761 and 1763 as chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, we know that Burke accompanied him. When Burke in 1763 was granted a pension of £300 a year from the Irish Treasury, he acknowledged that he got it chiefly through Hamilton’s influence. These are the main facts known about a relationship lasting six years.

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