1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Spence

Robert Lowth, in Nichols, Select Collection of Poems with Notes Biographical and Historical (1780-82) 8: 1-6n.



This ornament of polite literature became first known to the learned world, by his Essay on Pope's Odyssey, in 1726. He was fellow of New College, Oxford, where he took the degree of M.A. Nov. 2, 1727. He was elected by the University poetry professor July 11, 1728; succeeding the Rev. Thomas Warton, B.D. father to Dr. Joseph Warton, now master of Winchester School, and Mr. Thomas Warton, author of The History of English Poetry, and poetry professor; each of which Professors were twice elected to their office, and held it for ten years, a period as long as the statutes will allow. He wrote an account of Stephen Duck, which was first published as a pamphlet in 1731, and said to be written by "Joseph Spence, Esq. Poetry Professor." From this circumstance it has been supposed that he was not then in orders. But this is a false conclusion, as he was ordained in 1724; and left this pamphlet in the hands of a friend, to be published as soon as he left England, with a Grubstreet title, which he had drawn up merely for a disguise, not choosing to have it thought that he published it himself. It was afterwards much altered, and prefixed to Duck's poems. In 1736, at Mr. Pope's desire, he republished Gorboduc, with a preface containing an account of the author, the earl of Dorset. He traveled with the present duke of Newcastle (then earl of Lincoln) into Italy, where his attention to his noble pupil did him the highest honour. He never took his Doctor's degree; but quitted his fellowship on being presented by the Society of New College to the rectory of Great Horwood in Buckinghamshire, in the year 1742. As he never resided upon his living, but in a pleasant house and gardens lent to him by his noble pupil, at Byfleet in Surrey, (the rectory of which place he had obtained for his friend Stephen Duck), he thought it his duty to make an annual visit to his parish, and gave away many sums of money to the more distressed poor of Horwood, and placed out many of their children as apprentices. In June, 1742, he succeeded Dr. Holmes as his Majesty's Professor of Modern History. His Polymetis, or an Enquiry concerning the Agreement between the Works of the Roman Poets, and the Remains of the antient Artists, being an Attempt to illustrate them mutually from each other, was published in folio in 1747. Of Polymetis, a work of acknowledged taste and learning, Mr. Gray has been thought to speak too contemptuously in his Letters. Mr. Gray's chief objection is, that the author has illustrated his subject from the Roman, and not from the Greek poets: that is, that he has not performed, what he did not undertake. A third edition appeared in folio in 1774, and an Abridgement of it has been frequently printed in octavo. I have seen a pamphlet with Spence's name to it in MS. as the author, called Plain Matter of Fact, or, a short Review of the Reigns of our Popish Princes since the Reformation; in order to shew what we are to expect if another should happen to reign over us. Part I. 1748, 12mo. He was installed prebendary of Durham (the seventh stall), May 14, 1754; and published in that year, An Account of the Life, Character, and Poems, of Mr. Blacklock, Student of Philosophy at Edinburgh, 8vo; which was afterwards prefixed to his Poems. The prose pieces which he printed in The Museum he collected and published, with some others, in a pamphlet entitled MORALITIES, by Sir Harry Beaumont, 1753. Under that name he published Crito, or a Dialogue on Beauty, and A particular Account of the Emperor of China's Gardens near Pekin, in a Letter from F. Attiret, a French Missionary now employed by that Emperor to paint the Apartments in those Gardens, to his Friend at Paris; both in 8vo. 1752, and both reprinted in Dodsley's Fugitive Pieces. He wrote An Epistle from a Swiss Officer to his friend at Rome, first printed in The Museum; and since in the third volume of Dodsley's Collection. In 1758 he took a tour into Scotland, which is well described in an affectionate letter to Mr. Shenstone, in a Collection of several Letters published by Mr. Hull in 1778, vol. I. p. 138. In 1759 he published A Parallel, in the Manner of Plutarch, between a most celebrated Man of Florence (Magliabecchi), and one scarce ever heard of in England (Robert Hill the Hebrew Taylor), 12mo. Printed at Strawberry Hill. — West Finchale priory (the scene of the holy Godric's miracles and austerities, who, from an itinerant merchant, turned hermit, and wore out three suits of iron cloths) was now become Mr. Spence's retreat, being part of his prebendal estate. In 1764 he was well portrayed by Mr. [James] Ridley, in his admirable Tales of the Genii, under the name of Phesoi Ecneps (his name backwards) dervise of the Groves; and a panegyrical letter from him to that ingenious moralist, under the same signature, is inserted in Letters of Eminent Persons, vol. III. p. 139. In 1764 he paid the last kind office to the remains of his friend Mr. Dodsley, who died on a visit to him at Durham. He closed his literary labours with Remarks and Dissertations on Virgil; with some other classical Observations: by the late Mr. Holdisworth. Published, with several Notes and additional Remarks, by Mr. Spence, 4to. This volume, of which the greater part was printed off in 1767, was published in February 1768; and on the twentieth of August following, Mr. Spence was unfortunately drowned in a canal in his garden at Byfleet in Surrey. Being, when the accident happened, quite alone, it could only be conjectured in what manner it happened; but it was generally supposed to have been occasioned by a fit while he was standing near the brink of the water. He was found flat upon his face, at the edge, where the water was too shallow to cover his head, or any part of his body. — The duke of Newcastle possesses some MS. volumes of anecdotes of eminent writers, collected by Mr. Spence, who in his life-time communicated to Dr. Warton as many of them as related to Mr. Pope; and, by permission of the noble owner, Dr. Johnson has made many extracts from them in his excellent Biographical Prefaces.