1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Samuel Bishop

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 5:298-300.



SAMUEL BISHOP, late head-master of Merchant Taylors' school, and a poet of considerable merit, was descended from a respectable family, originally of Worcestershire, and was born in St. John's street, London, his father's residence, Sept. 21, O.S. 1731. He was tender and delicate in his constitution, yet gave early indications of uncommon capacity and application, as appears from his having been called, when only nine years old, to construe the Greek Testament far a lad of fourteen, the son of an opulent neighbour. With this promising stock of knowledge, he was sent to Merchant Taylors' school, June 1743, when between eleven and twelve years of age, and soon evinced a superiority over his fellows which attracted the notice and approbation of his masters. He read with avidity, and composed with success. His first essays, however imperfect, shewed great natural abilities, and an original vein of wit. History and poetry first divided his attention, but the last predominated. He not only acquired that knowledge of the Latin and Greek classics, which is usually obtained in a public seminary, but also became intimately acquainted with the best authors in our own language: and some of his writings prove that he had perused Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Swift, at an early age, with much discrimination and critical judgment. In June 1750, he was elected to St. John's college, Oxford, and admitted a scholar of that society, on the 25th of the same month. During his residence here, he not only corrected his taste by reading with judgment, but also improved his powers by habitual practice in composition. Besides several poetical pieces, with which he supplied his friends, he wrote a great number of college exercises, hymns, paraphrases of scripture, translations from the ancients, and imitations of the moderns.

In June 1753, he was admitted fellow of St. John's, and in April 1754, he took the degree of B.A. and about the same time was ordained to holy orders. He was then settled in the curacy of Headley in Surrey, whither he had removed on account of a declining state of health, but change of air soon restored him, and he continued to divide his time between Headley and the university, till 1758, when he took the degree of M.A. He then quitted Headley, and came to reside entirely in London, on being elected under-master of Merchant Taylors' school, July 26. He was appointed also curate of St. Mary Abchurch, and some time afterwards lecturer of St. Christopher le Stocks, a church since taken down for the enlargement of the Bank. In 1762, he published An Ode to the earl of Lincoln on the duke of Newcastle's Retirement, without his name. In 1763 and 1764, he wrote several essays and poems, printed in the Public Ledger, and soon after a volume of Latin poems, partly translated, and partly original, under the title of Feriae poeticae. This was published by subscription, beyond which the sale was not considerable. He also appears to have tried his talents for; dramatic composition, but not meeting with sufficient encouragement, be very wisely relinquished a pursuit that could have added little dignity to the character of a clergyman and a public teacher. From this period he devoted his talents to the amusement of a few friends, and the laborious duties of his profession, which he continued to discharge with the utmost fidelity, during the prime of his life.

In January 1783, he was elected head-master of Merchant Taylors, the duties of which important station entirely occupied his attention, and in 1789, the company of Merchant Taylors presented him to the living of St. Martin Outwich, as a reward for his long and faithful services. Dr. Warren, bishop of Bangor, a few years before had obtained for him, from the earl of Aylesford, the rectory of Ditton in Kent. But he did not long enjoy these preferments; bodily infirmities grew fast upon him, and repeated fits of the gout undermined his constitution. In the beginning of 1795, he was alarmed by an oppression on his breath, which proved to be occasioned by water on the chest, and terminated in his death, Nov. 17, 1795. He left a widow, whose virtues he has affectionately commemorated in many of his poems, and one daughter. The year following his death, his Poetical Works were published by subscription, in 2 vols. 4to, with Memoirs of the Life of the Author, by the rev. Thomas Clare, M.A. now vicar of St. Bride's, Fleet-street, from which the present sketch is taken; and in 1798, the same editor published a volume of Mr. Bishop's Sermons, chiefly upon practical subjects. The poems entitle Mr. Bishop to a very distinguished rank among minor poets, and among those who write with ease and elegance on familiar subjects; but we doubt whether his talents could have reached the higher species of the art. He is sometimes nervous, sometimes pathetic, but never sublime; yet his vein of humour was well calculated for the familiar verses, epigrams, &c. which are so plentiful in these volumes. His style is always pure, and his imagination uncommonly fertile in those lesser poems which require a variety of the grave, gay, the witty and the instructive.