1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Potter

Stephen Jones in Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse (1812) 1:579-80.



ROBERT POTTER was of Emmanuel 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 is most intrinsically indebted to him for excellent poetical versions of the three Greek tragedians. He published, 1774, an 8vo. 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 made its appearance in a 4to. volume, and has since been reprinted, with the addition of notes, in two volumes 8vo. 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 4to.; and, 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 even superior to those of Mr. Wodhull and Dr. Franklin. Besides these very laborious works, Mr. P. published, in 4to. 1783, An Inquiry into some Passages in Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets; and, in 1785, in 4to. a translation of The Oracle concerning Babylon, and the Song of Exultation, from Isaiah, chap. xiii. and xiv; A Sermon on the Thanksgiving for the Peace, 1802. By his death the republic of letters has 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 that of vicar of Lowestoft. He had been a school-fellow 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 requested 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, aged 83, August 9, 1804. His translation of Aeschylus contains the following plays, viz. 1. Prometheus chain'd. 2. The Supplicants. 3. The Seven Chiefs against Thebes. 4. Agamemnon. 5. The Choephorae. 6. The Furies. 7. The Persians. 4to. 1777; 8vo. 1779. He also published, as we have mentioned above, translations of Euripides and Sophocles; for lists of whose plays, see WODHULL and FRANKLIN, respectively, in this volume.