1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Farmer

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 67 (September 1797) 805-06.



8 October. At Cambridge, after a long illness, in his 63d year, the Rev. Richard Farmer, D.D. F.R. and A.SS. master of Emanuel-college, principal librarian of the public library in that university, some time prebendary of Canterbury, which he resigned on becoming one of the canons-residentiary of St. Paul, London (in which he is succeeded by Dr. Prettyman, brother to the bishop of Lincoln), chancellor of the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, and prebendary of Worcester. He was born at Leicester in 1735; was admitted to the degrees of B.A. 1757, M.A. 1760, B.D. 1767, and D.D. 1775; elected master of Emanuel college, on the death of the Rev. Dr. Richardson, March, 1775; in the same year principal librarian, on the death of the Rev. Dr. Barnardiston, master of Bene't-college. He served the office of vice-chancellor in the years 1775 and 1787; and was much respected for his liberality to the poor, and the various plans suggested by him for the improvement of the town of Cambridge. He was well known in the literary world for his Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, addressed to Joseph Cradock, Esq. 1766, (vol. XXXVII. p. 120), which has been four times printed, viz. 1766, 1767, 1789, and (in Mr. Steeven's complete edition of the great Dramatic Bard) 1793. Two letters of Dr. Johnson to Dr. Farmer are preserved in Boswell's Life; the one, in 1770, requesting (for Mr. Steevens and himself) such information concerning Shakspeare as Dr. F. was "more able to give than any other man;" the other, in 1780, soliciting information concerning "Ambrose Philips, Broome, and Gray, who were all of Cambridge; and of whose lives he was to give such accounts as he could gather." In or about 1765 he announced his intention of publishing, by subscription, the History and Antiquities of the Town of Leicester; but, in his letter to Mr. Cradock on a more favourite subject, laments that "he had been persuaded into that employment."

("Though I have as much," he says, "of the natale solum about me as any man whatsoever, yet, I own, the primrose path is still more pleasing than the Fosse or the Watling-street:

Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale
Its infinite variety.—

And, when I am fairly rid of the dust of topographical antiquity, which hath continued much longer about me than I expected, you may very probably be troubled again with the ever-fruitful subject of Shakespeare and his Commentators.")

After having printed only four pages of his History, he relinquished it, returned the subscriptions, and presented his Leicester MSS. and plates to Mr. Nichols (see vol. LXV. p. 186; LXVII p. 545).

Dr. Farmer's knowledge was various, extensive, and recondite; and it is to be regretted that he never concentrated and exerted all the great powers of his mind on some great and important subject; in quickness of apprehension, and acuteness of discrimination, he had few equals; without the smallest propensity to avarice, he possessed a large income; and without the mean submission of dependence, he rose to a high station; ever liberal in patronizing learned men, and forward in promoting learned publications; his ambition, if he had any, was without insolence, his munificence without ostentation, his wit without acrimony, and his learning without pedantry. There is a large and very fine portrait of him by J. Jones; and a small one in Mr. Malone's edition of Shakspeare.