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Eugene Lee Hamilton

Eugene Lee Hamilton (1845-1907) was Vernon Lee’s brother. He was a polyglot like his sister, and after his studies at Oxford University, from 1869 he worked as an attaché of the British diplomatic service at the embassies of France, Switzerland, Portugal and Vatican City. On the verge of being transferred to Argentina for work, he endured a severe form of paralysis of neurological origin, which rendered bedridden him for 20 years, precluding him from living a normal life.

It was during this period that he began to compose poetry: delicate and exquisite sonnets imbued with Petrarchism, romantic ballads and poems inspired by classical themes and applying them to modern subjects (e.g. A rival of Fallopius, a true hymn against vivisection) while maintaining a cultured and classical

writing style.

Starting from 1873, he lived in Florence with his parents and sister, Vernon Lee, then they all moved to Villa Il Palmerino in 1889. Here, he was cared for by family members but continued to suffer and write poetry, often under dictation due to his inability to write. Nevertheless, during the late 19th century, his poetry accrued the esteem and recognition of many colleagues, and in 1894, Oscar Wilde wanted to visit him, in particular, at Il Palmerino. Henry James also owed the subject of one of his most famous books, The Aspern Papers, to a conversation with Eugene. In fact, despite his precarious health, he always maintained contact with poets and writers. Some of his Italian correspondents include Alessandro Arnaboldi, Francesco Protonotari, Mario Pratesi, Giosuè Carducci, Arnaldo Cervesato, Giovanni Pascoli, and Enrico Nencioni.

After the death of his mother in 1896, Eugene, by a strange fate, returned to good health. Recovering from physical paralysis, he traveled to the United States where he met writer Eliza Annie Holdsworth (1860- 1917) and after marrying her in Florence in 1898, they lived together at Villa Benedettini, which is not far from Il Palmerino. The short life of their daughter Persis (1902-1904) effectively took away his will to life.

He wrote more than ten books of poetry, the last of which, Mimma Bella, published after his death by his wife Annie, is dedicated to his daughter who died prematurely. He also tried his hand at translating Inferno by Dante Alighieri (1898) and Purgatorio (unpublished, Colby University Archive), which La Associazione Culturale Il Palmerino promoted at an international conference in 2021.

A poetry prize named after Eugene Lee Hamilton is still held at Oxford University:


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