1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Isaac Reed

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 77 (January 1807) 80-82.



1807. Jan 5. In his 65th year, at his chambers in Staple inn, of which honourable Society he had long been one of the Antients, worn out by natural debility, which for the last two or three years had rendered his hands unable to do their office, though his mind retained its original firmness. ISAAC REED, esq. a respectable solicitory and conveyancer, but who, for several years past, had confined the practical part of his business to the last-mentioned branch of his profesion. He was born in the parish of St. Dunstan in the West, where his father passed unambitiously through life, in the useful occupation of a baker, and had the satisfaction of witnessing the son's literary attainments with that enthusiasm which frequently prevails in a strong uncultivated mind. Placed in a situation which, above all others, is frequently the road to riches and honour, Mr. R.'s principal ambition was, to acquire a fundamental knowledge of the jurisprudence of his Country; and thus far he was eminently successful. But the Law, however alluring to its prospects, had not charms sufficient to engage his whole attention; he loved, he venerated, that admirable system, which, from the days of Alfred and Canute, from the bold usurping Norman to the present amiable Father of his People, has been regularly ameliorating; but he detested the chicanery of which he was almost daily a witness in many of its professors. If ever there was a mind devoid of guile, it was Isaac Reed's; and an attempt to make "the worse appear the better cause" would have been with him a breach of moral obligation. Hence an extensive line of business was necessarily precluded; but he had the satisfaction of numbering among his clients many highly-valued friends; and other avenues to Fame, if not to Fortune, were open to his capacious mind. His intimate knowledge of antient English Literature was unbounded. His own publications, though not very numerous, were all valuable; and he was more satisfied with being a faithful editor, than ambitious of being an original composer. In the year 1768 he collected into one volume, 12mo, The Poetical Works of the Hon. Lady M[ar]y W[ortle]y M]ontagu]e. His other publications were, Middleton's Witch, a Tragi-Coomodie, a few copies only for his Friends, 1778; the VIth Volume of Dr. Young's Works, 12mo, (see our vol. XLVIII. p. 484), 12mo; Biographia Dramatica, 2 volumes, 8vo, 1782 (LII. 77), founded upon Baker's Companion to the Playhouse: the biographical department of this work is the result of diligent enquiry, and his strictures on the productions of the English Drama display sound judgment and correct taste; an improved edition of Dodsley's Old Plays, with Notes, 12 vols. 8vo, 1780 (L. 370); Dodsley's Collection of Poems, with Biographical Notes, 6 vols, 8vo, 1782 (LII. 125); The Repository: a select Collection of Fugitive Pieces of Wit and Humour, in Prose and Verse, by the most eminent Writers, 4 vols. 8vo, 1777-1783 (LIII, 950); Pearch's Notes, 4 vols, 8vo, 1783 (which some have ascribed to the late Geo. Keate, Esq.); A complete Collection of the Cambridge Prize Poems, from their first Institution, in 1750, to the present Time, 8vo, 1773; an edition of Johnson and Steeven's Shakspeare, 10 vols. 1785, which he undertook at the request of Dr. Farmer and Mr. Steevens, the latter of whom resigning, for this time, the office of Editor; some short Lives of those English Poets who were added to Dr. Johnson's Collection, in 1790; the last and splendid Edition of Shakspeare, in 21 vols. 8vo, 1803, with his name prefixed; an effort which he with some difficulty was persuaded to make. So extremely averse indeed was he to appearing before the publick, that, when he was asked, as a matter of course, to add only his initials at the end of the prefatory advertisement to the volume of Dr. Young, his answer was nearly in these words: "I solemnly declare, that I have such a thorough dread of putting my name to any publication whatever, that, if I were placed in the alternative either of so doing or of standing in the pillory, I believe I should prefer the latter." He was a valuable contributor to the Westminster Magazine from 1773-4 to about the year 1780. The biographical articles in that Miscellany are from his pen. He became also very early one of the proprietors of the European Magazine, and was a constant contributor to it for many years, particularly in the biographical and critical departments. He was also an occasional volunteer in the pages of Sylvanus Urban. So ample indeed was his collection of literary curiosities, so ready was he in turning to them, and so thoroughly able to communicate information, that no man of character ever applied to him in vain. Even the labours of Dr. Johnson were benefited by his accuracy; and, for the last 30 years, there has scarcely appeared any literary work in this country, of thes least consequence, that required minute and extensive research, which had not the advantage of his liberal assistance, as the grateful prefaces of a variety of writers have abundantly testified. Among the earlier of these was the edition of Dr. King's Works, 1776, and the Supplement to Swift, in the same year. In both these works Mr. Nichols was most materially indebted to the judicious remarks of Mr. Reed, whose friendly assistance also in many instances contributed to render his Anecdotes of Mr. Bowyer, in 1782, completer than they otherwise could possibly have been. He contributed also many useful Notes to the later Editions of Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. To enumerate the thanks of the Authors whom he had assisted by his advice would be endless; but in a Preface which I have seen, those thanks are so happily expressed that I feel a great pleasure in referring to it [Author's note: by Mr. Beloe]. With the late Dr. Farmer, the worthy master of Emanuel College, Cambridge, he was long and intimately acquainted, and regularly for many years spent an autumnal month with him at that pleasant seat of learning. At that period Theatricals of Stirbritch Fair had powerful patronage in the Combination-room of Emanuel, where the routine of performance was regularly settled, and where the charms of the bottle were early deserted for the pleasures of the sock and buskin. In the boxes of this little theatre Dr. Farmer was the Arbiter Elegantiarum, and presided with as much dignity and unaffected ease as within the walls of his own College. He was regularly surrounded by a large party of congenial friends and able Criticks; among whom Mr. Reed and Mr. Steevens were constantly to be found. The last-mentioned gentleman, it may not here improperly be noticed, has so inviolable an attachment to Mr. Reed, that, notwithstanding a capriciousness of temper which often led him to differ from his dearest friends, and occasionally to lampoon them, there were three persons with whom through life he scarcely seemed to have a shade of difference of opinion; but those three were gentlemen with whom it was not possible for the most captious person to have differed — Dr. Farmer, Mr. Tyrwhitt, and Isaac Reed. Whilst the Edition of Shakspeare, 1793, was printing, Mr. Steevens was unremitting in his attendance at a very early hour every morning at the chambers of Mr. Reed, where he was allowed to admit himself, with a sheet of the Shakspeare letter-press, ready for correction, and found a room prepared to receive him; there was every book which he might wish to consult; and on Mr. Reed's pillow he could apply, on any doubt or sudden suggestion, to a knowledge of English literature perhaps equal to his own. Mr. S. bequeathed his corrected copy of Shakspeare to Mr. Reed, together with a legacy of 206 guineas; and in a copy of Dido, which was sold after his death for 17 was this note: "This copy was given me by Mr. Reed. Such liberality in a Collector of Old Plays is at least as rare as the rarest of our dramatic pieces. G. S." To follow Mr. Reed into the more retired scenes of private and domestic life, he was an early riser; and, whenever the avocations of business permitted leisure, applied, in general, several hours in the morning either in study or in the arrangement of his numerous scarce tracts. His collection of books, which were chiefly English, was perhaps one of the most extensive in that kind that any private individual ever possessed; and he had recently made arrangements for disposing of a great part of it. The whole, we learn, will now come to the hammer. He was also naturally companionable; and frequently enjoyed the conversation of the table at the houses of a select circle of friends, to whom his great knowledge of men and books, and his firm but modest mode of communicating that knowledge, always rendered him highly acceptable. Exercise was to him a great source of health and pleasure. Frequently the compiler of this article enjoyed a twelve miles walk to partake with him in the hospitalities of Mr. Gough at Enfield, and the luxury of examining with perfect ease the rare parts of an uncommonly rich topographical library. But the most intimate of his friends was the friend of human kind at large, the mild benevolent Daniel Braithwaite, esq. late comptroller of the Foreign Post-office, who has frequently beguiled him into an agreeable saunter of near 20 miles to his delightful retreat in the pleasant village of Amwell, where he was always as happy and as much at home as Dr. Johnson was at Mr. Thrale's at Streatham. Among his other near and dear associates were, Mr. Bindley, senior Commissioner of the Stamp-office, whose skill and taste in collecting rare and valuable articles in literature were so congenial to his own; James Sayer, esq. of Great Ormond-street; Mr. Romney and Mr. Hayley, the eminent Painter and Poet; William Long, esq. the celebrated surgeon; Edmund Malone, esq. the great rival Commentator on Shakspeare; J. P. Kemble, esq. not only an excellent Critick and Collector of dramatic curiosities, but himself (perhaps with the exception of his Sister only) the best living exemplar of Shakspeare's text; the Rev. H. J. Todd, the illustrator of Milton and Spenser, to whom he left a legacy for his trouble in superintending the sale of his library; Francis Newbery, esq. of Heathfield, co. Sussex; Richard Sharp, esq. M.P. for Castle Rising; and George Nichol, esq. the judicious purveyor of literary curiosities for the King. Some of these gentlemen were members of a select dining-club, of which he had from its origin been the president. On the bed of pain and anguish, another of his oldest friends (though unable to hold a pen) feels a soothing satisfaction in dictating this last tribute of respect to so exemplary a character. His remains were deposited in Amwell church on the 13th. He left considerable property to some relations, and small pecuniary remembrances to most of his friends. J. N.