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In Memoriam: Marie Padgett Hamilton (1895-1986)


A Remembrance by Sigmund Eisner, Roger Dahood, and Carl T. Berkhout

Marie Padgett Hamilton, Professor Emerita of English at the University of Arizona, died in Tucson on March 26, 1986, after a long illness.

A native of South Carolina, Professor Hamilton graduated with a B.A. from Greenville Women's College in 1916. By the mid 1920s she was living in Tucson, where, except for brief absences for study and teaching, she spent the rest of her life. In 1926 she earned an M.A. in English at the University of Arizona and she joined its teaching faculty the following year. She soon returned to graduate study, however, this time at Cornell, where under the supervision of Lane Cooper she earned her doctorate in 1932. It was Cooper who saw that her talents and interests ranged well beyond her earlier specialty in American literature and drew her to the English Middle Ages. "Mrs. Hamilton," he once said, "I hope that you will save yourself for Chaucer."

In the main she did just that. In the year that she finished her degree she published "Notes on Chaucer and the Rhetoricians" in PMLA, the first of many articles on Chaucer. But she also had an expert knowledge of Old English, which she taught throughout her career, and in one notable instance she departed from the Chaucerian path: "The Religious Principle in Beowulf" first appeared in PMLA in 1946 and still circulates widely in the Lewis Nicholson anthology.

In her later career she turned her attention increasingly toward Pearl, in 1955 publishing a lauded interpretive study, "The Meaning of the Middle English Pearl." Her last published work, which appeared in 1970, three years after her retirement, was the section on the Pearl-poet in Volume II of the Severs and Hartung Manual of the Writings in Middle English.

A warm and dedicated teacher, Marie was a favorite of students, who established in her honor an annual scholarship and prize for deserving undergraduates. Her colleagues knew her as learned, gracious, and modest, a soft-spoken and generous person with a ready wit, whom they remember with affection.

OEN 19.2 (1986): 16.