Anne van Weerden (Author)

Wepster, Steven (Author)

British Journal for the History of Mathematics

Volume: 33

Issue: 1

Pages: 2-20

The Irish mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805–65) is often portrayed as an unhappily married alcoholic. We show how this image originated in the 1840s, caused by a combination of the strict social rules of the Victorian era and the then changing drinking habits in Ireland. In the 1880s Hamilton's biographer Graves tried to restore Hamilton's reputation by blaming Lady Hamilton for her husband's habits. This unintentionally caused his biography to become the basis of Hamilton's overall negative image. We argue for a far more positive description of Hamilton's private life. Thereafter we trace the evolution of the negative image using an anecdote about Hamilton's work habits and its increasingly distorted representations.

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