1896 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Hugh Downman

W. H. K. Wright, in West-Country Poets (1896) 158-59.



HUGH DOWNMAN, M.D. was the son of Hugh Downman, of Newton House, St. Cyrus, Exeter, and was educated at the Exeter Grammar School. He entered Balliol College, Oxford, 1758, proceeded B.A. 1763, and was ordained in Exeter Cathedral the same year. His clerical prospects being very small, he went to Edinburgh to study medicine, and boarded with Thomas Blacklock. In 1768 he published The Land of the Muses; a Poem in the Manner of Spenser, by H. D. In 1769 he visited London, for hospital practice, and in 1770, after proceeding M.A. at Jesus College, Cambridge, he practiced medicine at Exeter, where he married the daughter of Dr. Andrew. A chronic complaint, in 1778, compelled him to retire for a time. His best-known poem, Infancy; or, The Management of Children, was published in three separate parts, in 1774, 1775, 1776; a seventh edition was issued in 1809. In 1775 appeared The Drama, An Elegy written under a Gallow, The Soliloquy, etc. During his retirement he also published Lucius Junius Brutus, in five acts (1779); Belisarius, played in Exeter Theatre for a few nights; and Editha, a Tragedy (1784), founded on a local incident, and performed for sixteen nights. These plays appeared in one volume, as Tragedies by H. Downman, M.D., Exeter, 1792. He also published Poems to Thespia (1781), and The Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrach, translated from the Latin of Olaus Wormius (1781). He was one of the translators of an edition of Voltaire's Works, in English. In 1791 he published Poems, second edition, comprising the Land of the Muses. He was also a contributor to Polwhele's Collections of the Poetry of Devon and Cornwall.

Downman seems to have resumed medical practice at Exeter about 1790, and in 1796 he founded there a literary society of twelve members. A volume of the essays was printed, and a second is said to exist in manuscript. In 1805 Downman finally relinquished his practice, on account of ill-health, and in 1808 the literary society was discontinued. He died at Alphington, near Exeter, September 23, 1809, with the reputation of an able and humane physician and a most amiable man. Two years before he died, an anonymous editor collected and published the various critical opinions and complimentary verses on his poems, Isaac D'Israeli (1792) being among them.