1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Parnell

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 2:218-19.



This amiable man, and agreeable poet, was born in Dublin, in 1679, but was descended from a very respectable family long seated in Cheshire.

At the early age of thirteen, Thomas Parnell was admitted a member of Trinity College, Dublin, a proof of the precocity of his talents. In 1700 he entered into holy orders, though then only twenty-one years of age, another testimony of his progress in learning, and the prejudices in his favour. Five years after, he was made Archdeacon of Clogher; and on the removal of the whigs, towards the end of Queen Ann's reign, was received with open arms by the new ministry, particularly by the Earl of Oxford, to whom he was introduced by Dean Swift. On this occasion, Pope compliments Harley in the following beautiful lines, from a dedicatory poem of Parnell's works:

For him thou oft has bid the world attend,
Fond to forget the statesman in the friend;
For Swift and him despis'd the farce of state,
The sober follies of the wise and great:
Dextrous the craving, fawning fool to quit,
And pleas'd to 'scape from flattery to wit.

About this time, Parnell seems to have cherished high expectations of preferment in England; but on the Queen's death, his prospects were clouded; and though he kept up a correspondence with the most eminent literary characters in this country, and occasionally visited his friends here, he was never fortunate enough to obtain any establishment in England. Archbishop King, however, gave him an Irish prebend in 1713, and three years after, presented him to a living of 400 a year, which he only enjoyed a few months, dying at Chester in 1717, at the early age of thirty-eight. About four years before, he had lost his wife, to whom he seems to have been most sincerely attached; and from this period he was never easy, except when in company, to which he fled as a refuge from the pains of recollection. He left an only daughter, who was alive in 1770.

Parnell has been accused of being too social and convivial in his disposition; but it is allowed that he increased the happiness of every company into which he entered, and the state of his spirits probably required that he should force exhilaration, though the remedy is the end became his disease. He is on all hands acknowledged to have been a man of very great benevolence, and that his manners were as sweet as his song.

Of his poems, which are pretty numerous, the most popular are the Rise of Woman, The Fairy Tale, Health an Eclogue, The Night Piece, and the Hermit. His prose productions breathe none of the ease of his poetical pieces. The whole, however, seems to have been written within the space of ten years: had he lived longer and enjoyed health, be might have performed more, and increased his literary reputation by publishing what he left behind him. But his reputation is sufficiently established: the associate of Swift, Pope, Addison, Arbuthnot and Gay, is in no danger of sinking into oblivion, even with inferior claims to immortality. Johnson admits that Parnell is sprightly without effort, and always delights, though he never ravishes: every thing is proper, though every thing is casual. And Goldsmith allows, that the language of Parnell is the language of life, conveying the warmest thoughts in the amplest expressions.