1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Merrick

G. G. Cunningham, in Memoirs of Illustrious Englishmen (1834-37) 5:288-89.



JAMES MERRICK, whom a most competent judge, Bishop Lowth, has characterized as one of the best of men and most eminent of scholars, was born on the 8th of January, 1720. After being opposed, (very unjustly according to his biographer,) as a candidate for a scholarship at St. John's, he was entered at Trinity college, Oxford, April 14th, 1736, and admitted a scholar June 6th, 1737. He took the degree of B. A. in December, 1739, of M.A. in November, 1742, and was chosen a probationer-fellow in May, 1744. The celebrated Lord North, and Lord Dartmouth, were his pupils at this college. He entered into holy orders, but never engaged in any parochial duty, being subject to acute pains in his head, frequent lassitude, and feverish complaints, but, from the few manuscript sermons which he left behind him, he appears to have preached occasionally in 1747, 1748, and 1749. His life was chiefly passed in study and literary correspondence; and much of his time and property were employed on acts of benevolence. Few men have been mentioned with higher praise by all who knew him. He died after a short illness at Reading, where he had principally resided, on the 5th of January, 1769; and was buried at Caversham church, near the remains of his father, mother, and brothers.

Mr. Merrick early commenced his career as an author. In 1734, while he was yet at school, he published Messiah, a Divine essay; and in April, 1739, before he was twenty years of age, he was engaged in a correspondence with the learned Reimarus. The imprimatur from the vice-chancellor, prefixed to his translation of Tryphiodorus, is dated October 26, 1739, before he had taken his bachelor's degree. In Alberti's last volume of Hesychius, published by Ruhnkenius, are many references to Mr. Merrick's notes on Tryphiodorus, which are all ingenious, and serve to illustrate the Greek writer by historical and critical explanations; many of them have a reference to the New Testament, and show how early the author had turned his thoughts to sacred criticism. The translation itself is correct and truly poetical. It is indeed, for his years, a very extraordinary proof of classical erudition and taste, and was deservedly supported by a more numerous list of subscribers than perhaps any work of the time. It was handsomely printed in an 8vo. volume, at the Clarendon press, but without date or publisher's name.

The rest of Mr. Merrick's works were published in the following order: 1. A Dissertation on Proverbs, chapter ix. containing occasional remarks on other passages in sacred and profane writers, 1744, 4to. 2. Prayers for a time of Earthquakes and violent Floods, a small tract, printed at London in 1756, when the earthquake at Lisbon had made a very serious impression on the public mind. 3. An encouragement to a good life; particularly addressed to some soldiers quartered at Reading, 1759. 4. Poems on Sacred subjects, Oxford, 1763, 4to. 5. A Letter to the Rev. Joseph Warton, chiefly relating to the composition of Greek indexes, Reading, 1764. In this letter are mentioned many indexes to Greek authors, some of which were then begun, and others completed. Mr. Robert Robinson, in the preface to his Indices Tres, of words in Longinus, Eunapius, and Hierocles, printed at the Clarendon press in 1772, mentions these as composed by the advice of Mr. Merrick, by whose recommendation to the delegates of the press they were printed at the expense of the university; and they rewarded the compiler with a very liberal present. 6. Annotations, critical and grammatical, on chapter 1, verses 1 to 14 of the Gospel according to St John, Reading, 1764, 8vo. 7. Annotations, critical, &c. on the Gospel of St. John, to the end of the third chapter, Reading, 1767, 8vo. 8. The Psalms translated, or paraphrased, in English verse, Reading, 1765. Of this, which is esteemed the best poetical English version of the Psalms now extant, the only defect was, that not being divided into stanzas, it could not be set to music for parochial use. This objection was removed, after the author's death, by the Rev. W. D. Tattersall. 9. Annotations on the Psalms, Reading, 1768, 4to. 10. A Manual of Prayers for common occasions, ibid. 1768, 12mo. Mr. Merrick occasionally composed several small poems, some of which are inserted in Dodsley's Collection; and some of his classical effusions may be found among the Oxford gratulatory poems of 1761 and 1762. In the second volume of the Museum, is the Benedicite paraphrased by him.