1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Potter

John Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 2:305-06n.



Robert Potter was educated at Emanuel college, Cambridge; B.A. 1741; M.A. 1788; and prebendary of Norwich. His first preferment was the vicarage of Scarning, Norfolk. He was a character of the highest distinction as a classical scholar; the literary world having been most intrinsically indebted to him for excellent poetical versions of the three Greek Tragedians. He published, 1774, an octavo volume of Poems, most of which had before appeared separately, many very pretty compositions, particularly a beautiful Farewell Hymn to the Country, in imitation of Spenser. Three years after this, his translation of Aeschylus mad its appearance in a quarto volume, and his since been reprinted, with the addition of notes, in two volumes octavo. Of the excellence of this translation it is hardly possible to say too much; many of the parts are so exquisitely beautiful as to leave us in doubt whether any Poet could have accomplished the task with greater success. In 1781 he published the first volume of his translation of Euripides, in quarto; in the following year, the second; and in 1788, that of Sophocles, in the same size. These last-mentioned versions are, on the whole, inferior to his first production, yet they are each of them excellent performances, and equal, if not superior, to those of Mr. Wodhull and Dr. Franklin. Besides these very laborious works, Mr. Potter published in quarto, 1783, An Enquiry into some passages in Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets; and, in 1785, in quarto, A Translation of the Oracle concerning Babylon, and the Song of Exultation, from Isaiah, chap. XIII and XIV, and A Sermon on the Thanksgiving for the Peace, 1802.... By his death the republick of letters lost one of its best and most unassuming ornaments. His manners were simple, and his life exemplary. He was a scholar of the Old School; and nothing tempted him to relinquish divine and polite literature. It was not till after he had completed his last translation, that of Sophocles, that Mr. Potter obtained any preferment in the church higher than vicar of Lowestoft. He had been a schoolfellow of Lord Thurlow, and had constantly sent his publications to that great man, without ever soliciting a single favour from him. On receiving a copy of the Sophocles, however, his Lordship wrote a short note to Mr. Potter, acknowledging the receipt of his books from time to time, and the pleasure they had afforded him, and requesting Mr. Potter's acceptance of a prebendal stall in the cathedral of Norwich, which, with his vicarage, rendered him comfortable for the remainder of a life devoted to those pursuits which best become a profound scholar and a true Christian. He was found dead in his bed, at Lowestoft, Aug 9, 1804, at the advanced age of 83. He is supposed to have left completed a work, not yet published, but which would be a desirable acquisition to the literary world, consisting of biographical notices of Norfolk Literati, from the time of Queen Elizabeth to the present day.