THOMAS EDWARDS, a critic and poetical writer, was born in 1699, in or near the city of London, and was a younger son of — Edwards, esq. a gentleman in the profession of the law. His grandfather had been of the same profession. The principal part of his grammatical education he is said to have received at a private school, and never was a member of either of the universities. At a proper age he was entered of Lincoln's Inn; and, in due time, was called to the bar, but, having a considerable hesitation in his speech, he was discouraged from engaging much in the practice of the law. Although he never appears to have fallen into that dissipation which is sometimes chargeable upon young gentlemen of the inns of court, it may be conjectured, from his subsequent publications, that he applied himself more assiduously to the cultivation of the belles lettres than to the severer studies belonging to his profession. Shakspeare, in particular, was the object of his warmest admiration and most sedulous attention; and to this circumstance Mr. Edwards is principally indebted for his literary reputation. His first appearance from the press was in a pamphlet published, in 1744, and entitled A Letter to the author of a late Epistolary Dedication, addressed to Mr. Warburton. This was the beginning of our author's attack upon that famous writer, which was followed, in 1747, by A Supplement to Mr. Warburton's edition of Shakspeare, a performance so well received, that two impressions of it were printed in the same year. A third edition of it appeared in 1748, under the title of The Canons of Criticism, and a Glossary, being a Supplement to Mr. Warburton's edition of Shakspeare. Collected from the notes in that celebrated work, and proper to be bound up with it. By the other gentleman of Lincoln's Inn; which title the book has ever since retained. The expression of "the other gentleman of Lincoln's Inn," refers to a previous controversy of Warburton's, upon a different topic, with another member of that society. Mr. Warburton, in the preface to his edition of Shakspeare, declares that it had been once his design to give the reader a body of canons for literary criticism, drawn out in form, together with a glossary; but that he had laid aside his purpose, as these uses might be well supplied by what he had occasionally said upon the subject in the course of his remarks. This idea Mr. Edwards humourously took up, and from the notes and corrections of Warburton's Shakspeare, has framed a set of canons ridiculously absurd, each of which is confirmed and illustrated by examples taken from the edition in question; and it cannot be denied that Mr. Edwards has perfectly succeeded in his attempt, and that through the whole of his work he has displayed his wit, his learning, and his intimate acquaintance with Shakspeare; but such an attack upon Warburton, though conducted with pleasantry rather than ill-nature, was too formidable to avoid exciting resentment. Accordingly, Warburton introduced Mr. Edwards into the next edition of Pope's Dunciad in a note under the following lines in the fourth book of that work:
Next bidding all draw near on bended knees,
The queen confers her titles and degrees.
Her children first of more distinguished sort,
Who study Shakspeare at the inns of court.
"Ill," says our annotator, "would that scholiast discharge his duty, who should neglect to honour those whom Dulness has distinguished; or suffer them to lie forgotten, when their rare modesty would have left them nameless. Let us not, therefore, overlook the services which have been done her cause, by one Mr. Thomas Edwards, a gentleman, as he is pleased to call himself, of Lincoln's Inn; but, in reality, a gentleman only of the Dunciad; or, to speak him better, in the plain language of our honest ancestors to such mushrooms, a gentleman of the last edition: who, nobly eluding the solicitude of his careful father, very early retained himself in the cause of Dulness against Shakspeare, and with the wit and learning of his ancestor Tom Thimble in the Rehearsal, and with the air of good-nature and politeness of Caliban in the Tempest, hath now happily finished the Dunce's progress, in personal abuse. For, a libeller is nothing but a Grub-street critic run to seed."
Mr. Edwards, who had inflicted so deep a wound on Warburton's edition of Shakspeare, and who could be no stranger to the irascibility of his literary temper, was by no means prepared for such an attack, which was felt by him in a very sensible degree; and he was particularly hurt at what he thought a reflection upon his birth. His resentment on this occasion was strongly expressed in a preface which he prefixed to a new impression of the Canons of Criticism; but in one respect Mr. Edwards appears to have been mistaken. Warburton had no reference to his parental origin; which circumstance he condescended to explain in an additional note, though in very uncourtly language. "Lamentable," says he, "is the dulness of these gentlemen of the Dunciad. This Fungoso and his friends, who are all gentlemen, have exclaimed much against us for reflecting on his birth, in the words, a gentleman of the lest edition, which we hereby declare concern not his birth, but his adoption only; and mean no more than that he is become a gentleman of the last edition of the Dunciad. Since gentlemen then are so captious, we think it proper to declare that Mr. Thomas Edwards's ancestor is only related to him by the muse's side." Mr. Edwards, besides answering Warburton in prose, attacked him with sonnets, but had more ample cause for satisfaction in the repeated impressions of his work, in the approbation of his friends, and in an elegant ode addressed to him by Dr. Akenside.
To the seventh edition of the Canons of Criticism, which was published in 1765, is annexed a small piece, entitled An Account of the Trial of the Letter [gamma], alias Y, the design of which was to put gentlemen of learning and leisure in mind of settling the orthography of our language. It is a sensible performance, and displays, in a pleasing manner, Mr. Edwards's skill in English criticism; a study, of which he was particularly fond, and in which few have shewn a more exact taste. The two chief things hinted at in the piece are uniformity in spelling, where the reasons from derivation are the same; and, preserving, as much as may be, the marks of etymology. In the same publication are given fifty of our author's sonnets, in the style and manner of Spenser, twenty-seven of which had never before been printed. The rest, two excepted, had previously appeared in Dodsley's and Pearch's collections of poems. Two more original sonnets, together with an ode, occasioned by a lady's being burnt with curling-irons, may be seen in the sixth volume of Nichols's Select Collection; but as a poet, he has not been so highly esteemed as in his critical capacity, although it has been said that his sonnets are formed upon the model of the Italians of the good age, and of their imitators among us, Spenser and Milton. They discover, however, the traces of an elegant mind.
The early part of Mr. Edwards's life was chiefly spent in town, and at Pitzhanger in Middlesex. But in 1739 he purchased an estate at Turrick, in the parish of Ellesborough, in Buckinghamshire, where he resided till his decease. This, however, did not prevent his frequent mixture with his literary friends, who were numerous and respectable, both in rank and character. It appears that he was acquainted with Richard Owen Cambridge, esq. the honourable Philip Yorke (afterwards second earl of Hardwicke), Daniel Wray, esq., the honourable Charles Yorke, Isaac Hawkins Browne, esq., the lord chancellor Hardwicke, archbishop Herring, lord Willoughby of Parham, Mr. Samuel Richardson, George Onslow, esq. (now lord Onslow), Dr. Heberden, the right honourable Arthur Onslow, Mr. Highmore the painter, and other accomplished gentlemen. Dr. Akenside's regard for him has already been displayed. Three of his letters to Dr. Birch may be perused in the fifty-third volume of the Gentleman's Magazine; and Mrs. Chapone, when Miss Mulso, addressed an elegant ode to him, which he answered by a sonnet.
Mr. Edwards's most intimate friend seems to have been Richard Roderick, esq. of Queen's college in the university of Cambridge, M.A. and a fellow of the royal society, and of the society of antiquaries. This gentleman assisted Mr. Edwards in his Canons of Criticism; and they afterwards corresponded together concerning their favourite bard; the result of which was, the Remarks on Shakspeare, annexed to the last edition of the Canons. In Mr. Edwards's ninety-ninth sonnet, Mr. Roderick is celebrated as possessed of very considerable poetical talents, and some of his poetical pieces are in the second volume of Dodsley's collection.
Mr. Edwards departed this life on the third of January, 1757, whilst he was upon a visit at his friend Mr. Richardson's, at Parson's Green, and was buried in the churchyard of Ellesborough, where a monument is erected to his memory, containing a delineation of his character, composed by Daniel Wray, esq.
In 1761 was published a small tract, which had been written by our author, entitled Free and candid thoughts on the doctrine of Predestination, which contained nothing new.