There was a Mr. Montgomery with the Elliots the other day; he is a curate and takes a certain number of boys. We were there: they had been talking a great deal of Willy to him; however he looked on it all as nonsense, 'til after tea Mr. Elliot got a Greek Homer and desired Mr. Montgomery to examine him. When he opened the book, he said, ``oh this book has contractions, Mr. Elliot, of course the child cannot read it''. ``Try him, sir'', said James. To his amazement Willy went on with the greatest ease. Mr. Montgomery dropped the book and paced the room; but every now and then he would come and stare at Willy, and when he went away, he told Mr. and Mrs. Elliot that such a thing he had never heard of and that he really was seized with a degree of awe that made him almost afraid to look at Willy. He would not, he said, have thought as much of it had he been a grave, quiet child; but to see him the whole evening acting on the most infantile manner and then reading all these things astonished him more than he could express.
À 19 ans, encore étudiant mais déjà considéré comme le meilleur mathématicien irlandais, il rencontre Catherine Disney.
Wonderful hour! of my sitting, irregularly, from the very first, - beside her; when, without a word said of love, we gave away our lives to each other. She was, as you know, beautiful; I was only clever and (already) celebrated.Malheureusement, il avait à peine déclaré sa flamme, qu'il reçut la nouvelle que Catherine devait se marier avec William Barlow, de 15 ans plus âgé qu'elle. Bien des années plus tard, marié lui-même, il n'avait toujours pas oublié Catherine.
The same remembrance has run like a river through my life, hidden seemingly for intervals, but breaking forth again with an occasional power which terrifies me - a really frightful degree of force and vividness.Catherine non plus n'avait pas oublié : tentative de suicide, séparation, sa vie n'avait jamais été heureuse. Un jour de 1853, presque 30 ans après leur première rencontre, Hamilton reçut un plumier portant l'inscription «From one you must never forget, nor think unkindly of, and who would have died more contented if we had once more met». Il se précipita chez Catherine, à temps pour la revoir une dernière fois : elle mourut deux semaines plus tard.
Comment Hamilton supporta-t-il la tragédie de sa vie ? La religion dit-il, la poésie dit son ami Wordsworth, l'alcool dit son entourage... et les mathématiques bien sûr !