1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Robert Lowth

John Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 2:419-21n.



This illustrious Prelate was born at Winchester, in the Close, December 8, 1710. His father, the Rev. William Lowth was a prebendary of Winchester, and made a distinguished figure in the republic of letters. He published Commentaries on the Prophets; but his most useful and popular work was, Directions for the profitably reading the Holy Scriptures. This tract has passed through many editions, and is still in high estimation. Robert Lowth, like the Hebrew Prophet, when his father winged his flight to Heaven, caught his mantle, and a double portion of his spirit rested upon him. Mr. Lowth was educated at Winchester college, and completed his theological studies at New college, Oxford, of which he became fellow in 173-. The native brilliancy of his genius soon displayed itself; and though he applied himself with vigour and unremitted assiduity to his classical pursuits, yet he frequently unbent his mind, and let his imagination rove through the flowery regions of Poetry. Of these some elegant specimens, indulgently communicated by himself, may be seen in the Fifth Volume of A Select Collection of Miscellany Poems, 1785; which his Lordship also enriched by some biographical anecdotes of his friends Dr. Ridley and Mr. Spence. But more sublime and nobler objects arrested his attention, by unfolding the treasures of sacred knowledge, by directing the attention of mankind to the sacred page of inspiration, and exhibiting to them all the varied charms of biblical literature. — In 1737, he took the degree of M.A. Mr. Lowth's great literary talents and his elegant manners gained him the friendship of the Duke of Devonshire, who appointed him tutor to his son, the Marquis of Hartington (the late Duke). With this young nobleman he made the tour of Europe; and it would be superfluous to add, that his services were such as ever after entitled him to the friendship of the noble house of Cavendish. — In 1741, having been elected Professor of Hebrew Poetry in the University of Oxford, he there delivered those admirable lectures De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum, or the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, which has placed him in the highest scale of eminence as a critic. In 1732, he married Miss Mary Jackson, daughter of Lawrence Jackson, esq. of Christ-Church, Hants. In 1736, he was admitted to his first preferment, the living of Overton, in Hampshire. Dr. Lowth had also gained the esteem of Bp. Hoadly, who became his zealous patron, and appointed him to the archdeaconry of Winchester, in the year 1750. In 1754, the University of Oxford gave him his diploma as doctor of divinity. The Marquis of Hartington being appointed in 1755 viceroy of Ireland, Dr. Lowth accompanied him as his domestic chaplain; and, the bishoprick of Limerick becoming vacant, Dr. Lowth was appointed to that see. In 1758, he published his Life of William of Wykeham, the Founder of the Colleges in which he had received his education. In May 1766, he was promoted to the bishoprick of St. David's; and, in July following, to the see of Oxford; and, in 1777, was translated to that of London. In 1778, he published his Translation of Isaiah. This elegant and beautiful version of the evangelical prophet, on which learned men in every part of Europe have been unanimous in their eulogiums, is alone sufficient to transmit his name to the latest posterity. Dr. Lowth was for some time a prebendary of Durham, and was succeeded in his stall there by Dr. Warburton; and it has been said, that the first disgust taken by these gentlemen to each other was occasioned by a disagreement between their ladies respecting some articles of furniture, on quitting the prebendal house. [His unpleasant controversy with that distinguished Prelate will be elsewhere noticed.] When Archbishop Cornwallis died, the King made an offer of the archiepiscopal see to Dr. Lowth; but this dignity he declined. He was now advanced in life, and was tormented by a cruel and painful disorder, and had recently experienced some severe strokes of domestic calamity. Mary, his eldest daughter, of whom he was passionately fond, died in 1768, aged 13.... His second daughter, Frances, died as she was presiding at the tea-table, July 1783; she was going to place a cup of coffee on the salver. "Take this," said she, "to the Bishop of Bristol;" immediately her cup and her hand fell together upon the salver, and she instantly expired. Amid these scenes of distress the venerable Bishop exhibited the lovely portrait of a Christian philosopher. Animated by the hopes which the religion of Jesus alone inspires, he viewed, with pious resignation, the King of Terrors snatching his dear and amiable children from his fond embrace! And, when the grim monarch levelled his dart at him, he met the stroke with fortitude, and left this world in full and certain hope of a better.