1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir James Bland Burges

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 95 (January 1825) 81-82.



Lately. Sir James Bland Lamb, Bart. D.C.L. who, when known by the name of Burges, greatly distinguished himself in politics and literature.

He was the only son of George Burges, Esq. A military officer, and afterwards Comptroller General of the Customs in North Britain, by the Hon. Anne Wichnoure Somerville, only daughter of James, 10th Lord Somerville, and was born at Gibraltar, June 8, 1752. He was about seven years under the tuition of the Rev. Dr. Somerville, author of The History of the Reign of Queen Anne, &c. during which time he attended for the space of two years the University of Edinburgh. He was then placed at Westminster school, where he continued till Christmas 1769, when he was removed to University College, Oxford, and placed under the tuition of Dr. Scott, (now Lord Stowell). Having left the University in 1773, he made the tour of France, Italy, Switzerland, and part of Germany. On his return he attended the Courts in Westminster Hall; and in Easter Term, 1777, was called to the Bar by the Society of Lincoln's Inn.

On the 19th of June that year, he married the Hon. Elizabeth Noel, 2d daughter of Edward Viscount Wentworth, who died in 1779, without issue. In 1778 he published Heroic Epistles for Serjeant Bradshaw in the Shades, to John Dunning, Esq. December 16, 1780, he married, 2dly, Anne, 3d daughter of Lieut.-col. Lewis Charles Montelieu, Baron of St. Hypolite; by whom (who died Oct. 17, 1810) he had issue ten children. In 1783 appeared h is Considerations on the Law of Insolvency, 8vo; and a Letter to the Earl of Effingham on his lately proposed Act of Insolvency, 8vo.

These were works of acknowledged merit and authority. He was, however, induced to relinquish the profession of the law. In very early life he had formed a close intimacy with Mr. Pitt and the late Duke of Leeds, who, being anxious to attach to their party one so highly talented, prevailed upon him to embark in political affairs.

In 1787 he was returned M.P. for Helston in Cornwall, and in 1790 re-chosen. In August 1789 he was appointed one of the Under Secretaries of State for the Foreign Department. In the course of that year, Mr. Burges published an Address to the Country Gentlemen of England and Wales, on County Courts, 8vo.; and in 1790, Letters on the Spanish Aggression at Nootka, 8vo. published under the signature of Verus. He also privately printed a Narrative of the Negociations between France and Spain in 1790. In 1794, Mr. Burges, Evan Napean, and Stephen Cotterell, esqrs. were appointed Joint Commissioners of the Privy Seal.

Mr. Burges and another Under Secretary of State, of congenial talents and attachment to the British Constitution, not mere servility to the Government of the time, were the founders of The Sun Newspaper, under the sanction of Mr. Pitt. Among the effusions of wit, humour, and satire with which he enlivened the columns of that newspaper in its early days, were a series of verses entitled The Casuist, in which he pourtrayed, with poetical spirit and characteristic truth, the chief members of the Opposition at that period; and several admirable tales, among which was The Bishop's Wig. Of a graver cast were a series of Letters under the signature of Alfred, in which he took a comprehensive view of the several states, political objects, and relative interests of all European Governments. These Letters he collected and published in 1792, in one 8vo. volume, which contains such solid matter as may be useful to Statesmen of all periods.

On resigning his office of Under Secretary of State, he was created, Oct. 31, 1795, a Baronet, of Burville, Berks; and was also appointed for life Knight Marshal of the King's Household.

Having now retired from all political duties, he devoted himself entirely to literary pursuits. In 1796 he published a much-approved poem, entitled The Birth and Triumph of Love, 4to. The plan was taken from a series of plates, The Birth and Triumph of Cupid, published by Mr. P. W. Tompkins, in Bond Street; the beautiful designs of which originated from the Princess Elizabeth (see vol. lx. pp. 500, 1018). A Copy of this was sold at his sale, with a complimentary Letter and a manuscript Latin Poem on Love by Dr. Vincent.

During 1799 and 1800, Sir James was engaged in composing and printing an heroic poem in 18 books, celebrating the character and atchievements of Richard the First. Whilst it was passing through the press, he sent copies to many of his poetical friends, for their opinion on its merits. They were accompanied by the following note:

"Sir James Burges takes the liberty of requesting that, as this is merely a private impression of a very few copies, for the sole purpose of obtaining a candid criticism of the work, it may not be shewn to any one. In this confidence, he has the honour to send it to Mr. —. The remainder is printing, and will be forwarded as soon as possible.

Dartmouth-st. Jan. 25, 1800."

At the sale of Sir James Lamb's library, three of these copies, each containing the above note, were sold; one "with remarks and corrections by J. Anstey;" another with very discouraging "remarks, corrections, and general observations throughout, by Mr. Boscawen;" and the third with particularly flattering "remarks throughout, and an autograph letter, by Richard Cumberland." A fourth copy followed, "collated by Sir J. B. Burges, with Cumberland, Sotheby, Fitz-Gerald, Pye, Anstey, Boscawen, and Arcd. Nares; manuscript letter letter of Mr. Boscawen inserted." The poem was finally published in 2 vols, 8vo. 1801. (See vol. lxxi. p. 145.) A few years after he produced, in conjunction with Mr. Cumberland, a sacred poem, entitled The Exodiad, which is characterised by a poetical as well as a pious fervour. The first part appeared in 1807, the second in 1808, 4to. His play of Riches, or the Wife and Brother, founded on Massinger's City Madam, and acted at the Lyceum Theatre by the Drury Lane Company, was published in 8vo. 1810; and to him has been ascribed the Comic Opera of Tricks upon Travellers, never printed. The Romance of The Dragon Knight was undoubtedly his. All were marked by taste, judgment, learning, and imagination.

Sir James the third time entered the matrimonial state, by marrying, Sept. 8, 1812, Lady Margaret, daughter of James, 5th Earl of Balcarras, and relict of Alexander Fordyce, Esq. By her, (who also died before him, December 1, 1814), he had no issue.

In 1821, by royal sign manual, he was permitted to assume the name of Lamb only, and bear the arms of Lamb quartered with those of Burges. In the latter part of his life Sir James devoted his talents to theological writings, and in 1819 he published in quarto, Reasons for a new Translation of the Bible.

Sir James was tall in stature, and handsome in person. His manners displayed dignity without pride. He was conscious of his own talents and attainments, but always ready to respect those of others. In the private relations of life he was kind, affectionate, and hospitable; an admirer of music, and a performer. It is singular that, even when in public life, no pen was ever employed personally against him. His own pen was never instigated by personal pique, but simply inspired by an ardent desire to aid the general welfare.