The compass of Parnell's poetry is not extensive, but its tone is peculiarly delightful: not from mere correctness of expression, to which some critics have stinted its praises, but from the graceful and reserved sensibility that accompanied his polished phraseology. The curiousa felicitas, the studied happiness of his diction, does not spoil its simplicity. His poetry is like a flower that has been trained and planted by the skill of the gardener, but which preserves, in its cultured state, the natural fragrance of its wilder air.
His ancestors were of Congleton, in Cheshire. His father, who had been attached to the republican party in the civil wars, went to Ireland at the Restoration, and left an estate which he purchased in that kingdom, together with another at Cheshire, at his death, to the poet. Parnell was educated at the university of Dublin, and having been permitted, by a dispensation, to take deacon's orders under the canonical age, had the archdeaconry of Clogher conferred upon him by the bishop of that diocese, in his twenty-sixth year. About the same time he married a Miss Anne Minchin, an amiable woman, whose death he had to lament not many years after the union, and whose loss, as it affected Parnell, even the iron-hearted Swift mentions as a heavy misfortune.
Though born and bred in Ireland, he seems to have had too little of the Irishman in his local attachments. His aversion to the manners of his native country was more fastidious than amiable. When he had once visited London, he became attached to it for ever. His zest or talents for society made him the favourite of its brightest literary circles. His pulpit oratory was also much admired in the metropolis; and he renewed his visits to it every year. This, however, was only the bright side of his existence. His spirits were very unequal, and when he found them ebbing, he used to retreat to the solitudes of Ireland, where he fed the disease of him imagination, by frightful descriptions of his retirement. During his intimacy with the Whigs in England, he contributed to the Spectator and the Guardian. Afterward his personal friendship was engrossed by the Tories, and they persuaded him to come over to their side in politics, at the suspicious moment when the Whigs were going out of power. In the frolics of the Scriblerus club, of which he is said to have been the founder, whenever literary allusions were required for the ridicule of pedantry, he may be supposed to have been the scholar most able to supply them; for Pope's correspondence shows, that among his learned friends he applied to none with so much anxiety as Parnell. The death of the queen put an end to his hopes of preferment by the Tories, though not before he had obtained, through the influence of Swift, the vicarage of Finglass, in the diocese of Dublin. His fits of despondency, after the death of his wife, became more gloomy, and these aggravated a habit of intemperance which shortened his days. He died, in this thirty-eighth year, at Chester, on his way to Ireland, and he was buried in Trinity church, in that city, but without a memorial to mark the spot of his interment.