1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Thomas Fitzgerald

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 99 (November 1829) 471-73.



July 9. At Dudley-grove, Paddington, aged 70, William Thomas Fitz-Gerald, Esq. one of the Vice-Presidents of the Literary Fund.

This gentleman was descended from the Desmond branch of the illustrious family of the Fitz-Geralds of Ireland, and was the son of John Austen Fitz-Gerald, Esq. a Colonel in the Dutch service (the presumed representative of that house), by Henrietta, daughter of Samuel Martin, Esq. of Antigua, sister to Samuel Martin, Esq. Secretary of the Treasury (and the well-known antagonist of Wilkes; see a memoir and portrait of him in vol. LXXV. P. 113), and aunt to the present Sir Henry-William Martin, Bart. and to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Byam Martin, K.C.B.

Mr. Fitz-Gerald received, it is said, the first part of his education at the academy at Greenwich, under the predecessor of Dr. Charles Burney, father of the present learned matter of that distinguished school. He was afterwards sent to the Royal College of Navarre, in the University of Paris, and when Mr. Fitz-Gerald left College, his father presented him to the King of France, Louis the Sixteenth, and his lovely Queen. So highly was the Colonel honoured, that he was invited to the balls and private parties of that Court; as was also his son — even to the choice circle at the Petite Trianon. Upon his return to England he was entered as a Member of the Inner Temple, and became a pupil of the late Sir Vicary Gibbs.

In the year 1782, through the interest of his uncle Henry Martin, Esq. Commissioner at Portsmouth, (and afterwards Comptroller of the Navy, and created a Baronet in 1791,) Mr. Fitz-Gerald obtained a situation in the Victualling branch of the Navy Pay-office; in which he continued, rising as vacancies occurred, until about 25 years since, when he retired upon the allowance usually allotted to such length of service.

Among Mr. Fitz-Gerald's earlier poems are The Sturdy Reformer; The Tribute of an humble Muse to an unfortunate captive Queen, widow of a murdered King; and Lines on the murder of the Queen of France. About the same period also Mr. Fitz-Gerald's muse was frequently called on by his theatrical friends, to whom he contributed Prologues both for the public stage and private theatres; in which Mr. Fitz-Gerald was himself a distinguished performer. His delineation. of Zanga, in Young's celebrated tragedy of the Revenge, when represented at Lord Aldborough's in Stratford-place, in the year 1793, was peculiarly correct and impressive. He altered the concluding lines in a tone which at once augmented the interest and enhanced the moral of the drama. It is apprehended that unfortunately no document of this improvement is extant among his papers. At the representation in question his sister, the late Miss Fitz-Gerald, acquitted herself to the perfect satisfaction of a polished and select audience, in the interesting character of Leonora.

The pieces above mentioned, together with other poems on various occasions, he collected into one volume, and published in 1801. His Prologues to the Bank Note, Way to get Married, and Secrets worth knowing, have been copied into our volumes.

Mr. Fitz-Gerald was one of the earliest and warmest supporters of the Literary Fund, founded by the late David Williams, for the relief of distressed authors, their widows, and children. Mr. F. first advocated the cause of that benevolent Institution at their anniversary in 1797; and those who about this period heard Mr. Fitz-Gerald recite his own compositions, and have witnessed the powerful effect he invariably produced, will agree with us, that Mr. Fitz-Gerald at that time stood unrivalled as a reciter of English verse. After this, for the long period of thirty-two years, Mr. Fitz-Gerald never omitted attending the anniversaries of the Literary Fund, and constantly favoured the Society with a poem and recitation. The spirit they infused into the company, and the consequent benefits to the funds of the Institution, were generally acknowledged. He wrote twenty-five original poems on the subject; and was considered not only as one of the most active, but also as one of the best friends of Genius in distress. He was ever the ready and efficient advocate of the ingenious and gifted, though frequently the irritable and neglected author, when oppressed with misfortune, indigence, and (as is too often the case) absolute pauperism. Mr. Fitz-Gerald was long a constant attendant upon the active but painful duties of the Committee of the Literary Fund, and for some years last past had been annually elected, by the gratitude of his associates, one of the Vice-Presidents of that interesting Institution. His annual poems have usually been printed in our volumes.

Never was there a muse more truly English than that of this gentleman. The early impressions of a French education, which too often gives a bias to the mind that is seldom effaced, never tainted his opinions with Gallic partiality. On the contrary his pen seized every opportunity of proving that his heart was as loyal as his principles were constitutional. Indeed, this patriotic warmth of feeling marks all his poetry. In his addresses to the Literary Fund he seldom omitted powerfully to contrast the tyranny of the French rulers, and particularly Buonaparte, and their hatred of liberty, more especially the liberty of this press, with the amiable qualities of our late and present good and gracious Sovereigns, and the mild spirit of British liberty and British law.

At the breaking out of the last war he wrote a poetical exhortation, beginning with, "Britons, to arms! of apathy beware!" which, together with his Address to every loyal Briton on the threatened Invasion, was widely circulated, and produced a powerful effect.

In 1798 he published a poem called Nelson's Triumph, or the Battle of the Nile; and in 1806, Nelson's Tomb, a Poem. 4to. to which he added, An Address to England, on her Nelson's Death" In 1802 The Tears of Hibernia dispelled by the Union, 4to.

On all other public occasions Mr. Fitz-Gerald's pen was ever ready; witness his Tribute to the Memory of Mr. Pitt; his Address to the Spanish, Patriots; Ode for the Jubilee; lines on the Battles of Barossa, Albuera, Salamanca, Vittoria, and Waterloo; Addresses to the Marquis of Wellington; to the French Nation to the Emperor of Russia; and lines on the Princess Charlotte. Most of these have been copied into our pages.

An 1814 Mr. Fitz-Gerald collected the passages from his various poems relative to Buonaparte, and published them under the title of The Tyrant's Downfall; Napoleonics; and the White Cockade. In the preface to this publication Mr. Fitz-Gerald deservedly takes credit to himself for "consistency of character, a devoted love to his country, unbiassed by party considerations, and an undeviating detestation of the greatest and basest Tyrant that was ever permitted to desolate the earth." (See vol. LXXXIV. ii. p. 58).

In private life Mr. Fitz-Gerald was deservedly esteemed; his manners were social, and his heart was warm and generous; these, aided by his convivial talents, made his society coveted by a large circle of friends, who now lament his loss.

Among the personal friends in whose society he took the greatest pleasure (which they doubtless reciprocated), were Mr. Penn, of Stoke-park, his cousin William Penn, and the accomplished Mr. Sinclair, eldest son of the venerable Sir John. It maybe said that in this instance, in congenial soul, as in high descent, the feudal houses of Orkney and Pennsylvania harmonized with that of Desmond:

The general favourite as the general friend!
Such life there was, and who could wish its end?

Mr. Fitz-Gerald had the happiness of living for many years in the strictest intimacy with the late Lord Viscount Dudley and Ward. His Lordship was much devoted to music, and used to entertain, at his hospitable board at Himley, during the autumnal and winter months, the most celebrated musical professors of the day; and in these delightful parties, Mr. Fitz-Gerald was a constant associate. But what still more rebounds to his Lordship's credit, was his inestimable gift of charity. His Lordship's amiable qualities were pleasingly commemorated by Mr. Fitz-Gerald on a board fixed against an old yew tree, near the mansion at Himley. Viscount Dudley dying without a will, his kind intentions were fulfilled with singular munificence by the present Earl.

His remains were interred its the burial ground of St. John's Wood Chapel, Maryle-bone. A portrait of Mr. Fitz-Gerald appeared in the European Magazine for the year 1804.