1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Potter

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 25:236-38.



ROBERT POTTER, an excellent classical scholar and translator, was born in 1721; but where, or of what family, we have not discovered. He was educated at Emmanuel college, Cambridge, and took his bachelor's degree in 1741, but that of master not until 1788, according to the published list of Cambridge graduates, probably owing to his being then made a dignitary in Norwich cathedral. His first preferment was the vicarage of Scarning in Norfolk, in the gift of the Warner family; and, until he completed his translation of Sophocles, he held no higher preferment. In 1774, he published, in octavo, a volume of poems, some of which had appeared before separately: they consist of, A Birth-day Thought; Cynthia; Verses to the same; Retirement, an epistle to Dr. Hurd; A Fragment; Verses to the painter of Mrs. Longe's picture at Spixworth; An Ode to Philoclea; Verses to the same, exemplifying the absurdity of an affected alliteration in poetry; Two Pieces in imitation of Spenser; Holkham, inscribed to the earl of Leicester; Kymber, to Sir A. Woodhouse; and a chorus from the Hecuba of Euripides, his intended translation of whose tragedies he announces in an advertisement. In most of these poems, particularly the Holkham, and Kymber, he shews himself a successful imitator of Pope. In the following year he published a very judicious tract, entitled Observations on the Poor Laws, on the present state of the Poor, and on houses of Industry, in which his principal object was, to recommend houses of industry, upon the plan of those already established in some parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, particularly that at Bulcamp.

Although Mr. Potter had announced his Euripides as in a state of preparation for the press, he first published, in 1777, his translation of Aeschylus, in a quarto volume, indisputably the best translation of any Greek poet that had appeared in the English language. In the same year appeared his Notes on the Tragedies of Aeschylus, about eighty pages in quarto. These were dedicated to Mrs. Montague, at whose request they were written, and were printed and distributed at her expence gratis to the purchasers of the tragedies. A second-edition appeared in 1779, in two volumes octavo, corrected in many places, and with the notes inserted in their respective places. In 1781, he published the first volume of his translation of Euripides, in quarto; and, 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 thought even superior to those of Mr. Wodhull and Dr. Franklin. Besides these very laborious works, Mr. Potter published, in 1783, in quarto, An Enquiry into some passages of Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets; in which we are sorry to observe a degree of petulance unworthy of liberal criticism; and, in 1785, in quarto, A Translation of the Oracle concerning Babylon, and the Song of Exultation, from Isaiah, chap. viii. and xiv. and A Sermon on the Thanksgiving for the Peace, 1802.

In 1788 he was promoted by the lord chancellor Thurlow to the dignity of a prebendary in the cathedral of Norwich. He had been a schoolfellow of lord Thurlow, and had constantly sent his publications to that nobleman, 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. In the following year, and during his residence at Norwich, the united vicarages of Lowestoft and Kessingland were presented to him, without solicitation from any quarter, by Dr. Bagot, then bishop of Norwich. His mind was sensibly impressed by such a disinterested and honourable mark of that prelate's favour, which was the greater, as these united vicarages were the best subject of patronage that fell vacant during the seven years that Dr. Bagot held the see. Mr. Potter died suddenly, in the night-time, at Lowestoff, Aug. 9, 1804, in the eighty-third year of his age. He was a man of unassuming simple manners, and his life was exemplary. His translations are a sufficient proof of his intimate acquaintance with classical learning, and in this character he was highly respected by the literati of his time. It is said that he left a manuscript biography of the learned men of Norfolk, but into whose hands this has fallen we have not heard.