Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hamilton read widely and accumulated books insatiably. The self-education of this autodidact never stopped. He preferred wits, satirists, philosophers, historians, and novelists from the British Isles: Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon, Lord Chesterfield, Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Hobbes, Horace Walpole, and David Hume. Among his most prized possessions was an eight-volume set of The Spectator by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; he frequently recommended these essays to young people to purify their writing style and inculcate virtue. He never stopped pondering the ancients, from Pliny to Cicero to his beloved Plutarch, and always had lots of literature in French on his creaking shelves: Voltaire and Montaigne's essays, Diderot's Encyclopedia, and Moliere's plays. The politician who provoked a national furor with his firebreathing denunciations of the French Revolution paid tutors so that all his children could speak French.

--Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

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