1837 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges

John Bowyer Nichols, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 8 (November 1837) 534-39.



Sept. 8. At Campagne Gros Jean near Geneva, in his 75th year, Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, Bart. and K.J.

The biography of this gifted and laborious litterateur, this imaginative poet, and in one sense we may accurately say, this imaginary character, can scarcely be treated in the sober detail of our ordinary narrative; yet, as our object in this place is always the relation of facts, we shall, in the first instance at least, state the circumstances of his birth and early life as we should do those of any other distinguished individual, premising that the particulars are derived from his own account, published in his edition of Collins's Peerage; from a Memoir (evidently also his own composition) which was printed in The Public Characters, 1805; and from his Autobiography, published in 1831.

He was born at Wootton Court in Kent, Nov. 30, 1762, being the second son of Edward Brydges, esq. of that place, by Jemima, daughter and co-heiress of the Rev. William Egerton, LL.D. Prebendary of Canterbury, Chancellor of Hereford, Rector of Allhallows, Lombard-street, and Rector of Penshurst in Kent, a grandson of John second Earl of Bridgewater and Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of William Duke of Newcastle. He derived his baptismal name from his godfather and near relation Samuel Egerton, esq. of Tatton Park in Cheshire, M.P. for that county from 1754 to 1780.

He was educated, first, for four years, at the grammar school at Maidstone, and afterwards, for five, at the King's School, Canterbury; and in Oct. 1780 was entered at Queen's College, Cambridge, with the character of a good classical scholar, who excelled in the composition of Latin as well as English poetry. He acknowledges, however, that he neglected at the University not only the mathematical studies which were necessary to academical distinction, but even the ancient classics, abandoning himself to a luxurious enjoyment of English poetry and belles-lettres. It is therefore not surprising that he left Cambridge without a degree.

In the summer of 1782, he was entered at the Middle Temple, and in Nov. 1787, be was called to the bar; but he acknowledges that, notwithstanding the temporary emulation he derived from the remembrance of his great ancestor Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, he never had sufficient perseverance to apply himself to the study of the law.

He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries June 4, 1795.

After his marriage in 1786, Mr. Brydges lived for three years in a retired manner in Hampshire, but on being called to the bar, he took a house in London, where he lived for four years; until, after purchasing Denton, an estate near his native place in Kent, he removed thither, incurring at the time an expenditure of many thousand pounds in repairs, which, "in conjunction with other acts of that inattention and imprudence which too often attends men of his cast, are reported to have since lain with an oppressive weight upon him" (Memoir of 1805). So early did those embarrassments commence which embittered his latter days.

In 1810, he removed from Denton to his son's house at Lee Priory, near Canterbury, "having then an intention of purchasing Sudeley Castle, the ancient seat of the Chandos family, in Gloucestershire, and, with that object, to dispose of his Kentish estates."

In 1790, after the death of the last Duke of Chandos, his elder brother, the Rev. Edward Tymewell Brydges, was incited, by his instigation, to prefer a claim to the Barony of Chandos, alleging his descent from a younger son of the first Brydges who bore that title. The consideration of this claim was long procrastinated; but at length, in June 1803, the House of Peers pronounced its decision, "that the Petitioner had not made out his claim to the title and dignity of Baron Chandos."

From the period of the rejection of his claims, as is well remarked by Mr. Beltz, "the press — public and private, domestic and foreign — has teemed with imputations of the injustice of the decision and the consequent denial to a British subject of a just right of inheritance by the highest tribunal of the country. This bold complaint has taken almost every form of literary composition. It has, sometimes, been poured out in melodious strains of poetry; sometimes an eloquent tale of fiction has shadowed forth the actors in the unfortunate contest; here, a happy anecdote or sketch of real or imaginative biography, — there, a piquant note, or topographical reminiscence, has afforded occasion to inveigh against partial and incompetent judges, or corrupt or treacherous agents; and the sensitive and gifted accuser, with inexhaustible powers to charm and to instruct, has even stooped to the drudgery of editing a Peerage of nine volumes, in order that a few of its pages might transmit to posterity a record of his wrongs."

But that the claim was actually groundless, and that the connexion between the Bridges of Harbledown, near Canterbury, yeomen, and the Brydges Lords Chandos, was imaginary and fabricated, is proved beyond dispute in a volume which, in vindication of the professional character of his predecessor Francis Townsend, esq. Windsor Herald, and of the College of Arms at large, was published in 1834, by George Fred. Beltz, esq. Lancaster Herald.

It seems indeed scarcely possible to acquit Sir Egerton Brydges himself of having tampered, and that in several instances, with the documentary evidence that existed of his actual ancestors; though such was the devotion with which he ever adhered to his favourite illusion, that one would fain have concluded that he had created in his own mind a sincere conviction of the justice of his claims. Latterly, though he admitted that he had been defeated by Parliamentary law, he maintained that he could when he pleased assert his rights by common law, and he used to add to the signature of his name, — "per legem Terrae, B. C. of S." — meaning Baron Chandos of Sudeley. His elder brother had died without issue in 1807. But for further particulars on this subject we must refer to Sir Egerton Brydges's account and reflections in his edition of Collins's Peerage, and to Mr. Beltz's volume.

In his edition of the Peerage, Sir Egerton declared, "It becomes the Editor to show, that, if he is not entitled to the honours which he lays claim to, he has no occasion to resort to them to put him on a par either in education, blood, fortune, alliances, independence, or habits of life, with those who are more fortunate in obtaining such distinctions." With such rhetorical gasconades are his writings constantly interwoven. The "blood" and "alliances" were illustrious indeed in his mother's family, but only there. In fact, it was his Egerton descent which first directed his mind to genealogical pursuits, and incited him to grasp at a peerage which he found just failing on the extinction of a family bearing a name similar to his own. His ambition was inordinate. Not satisfied with the ordinary paths of distinction at the University or at the bar, and absolutely neglecting the opportunities which they offered, he aspired to ascend "per saltum" to the benches of the Lower House of Parliament, and to be admitted, by acclamation, and on his own assertion, as the heir presumptive to a seat in the Upper House.

The hopes and disappointments of .his early years are disclosed in his Novel, called Arthur Fitz-Albini, in which he clothed a fictitious personage with his own sentiments and aspirations, and at the same time depicted with the utmost freedom the foibles not only of his neighbours and acquaintances, but even those of his own family and relations. In Arthur Fitz-Albini, "the few, whose penetration and freedom from envy enabled them to appreciate such a character, beheld the eloquence of the enlightened senator, with the independence of the country-gentleman, and the spirit and hospitality of the feudal chief, without his fierceness, his tyranny, or his uncultivated mind. Before such a man, all the paths of glory seemed to open, and the ascent to fame appeared to be covered with flowers."

Fitz-Albini's father, however, as we may presume Sir Egerton's may have done, refused him the means of entering Parliament; he was quickly disgusted with the vanity and frivolity of a town life; and he joined with still greater repugnance in the insipid and unintellectual intercourse of the country. His manners were fretful, passionate, and repulsive.

"Himself he saw often neglected, and sometimes passed by with gross affront. The virtues he occasionally displayed, or the wisdom that at times burst from him, and silenced all opposition, he saw followed by unwilling and extorted praise. And he saw a thousand tongues ready to burst forth and overwhelm him at the least deviations from rectitude, or even from the appearance of rectitude. An inequality of temper and of mind, an indignation and haughtiness at folly and meanness, which seemed by fits to possess him, he was conscious often raised the bitterest enmity against him. But, when he wished to please, and the softness and benevolence of his heart discovered themselves, it seemed strange that he should be the object of neglect and aversion."

In these and many similar passages may be traced the adumbrations of Sir Egerton's own character, and proofs that he was not unconscious of the defects which repelled the affections of his fellow-creatures, though unhappily destitute of that sober discretion and that Christian humility which would have proved the only efficient means to control or correct them.

At the general election in 1796, "the ambition which he had always indulged by fits, prompted him to seek a seat in Parliament by canvassing a neighbouring city (Canterbury, we presume), from which, however, he was soon induced to withdraw."

"As this disappointment, co-operating with other causes made him restless, he soon after accepted the command of a troop in one of the new-raised regiments of Fencible Cavalry, with which he continued to serve for two years in different parts of England." But again we meet with the same unsteadiness as at college and at the bar, for it is added that "his studious habits, his eccentricities, his indolence, and his frequent absences of mind were little suited to the duties of a soldier."

After his second marriage in 1797 he returned home, and again withdrew himself from his neighbours to his books, and the unbroken solitude of domestic privacy. An invitation from another large town in his neighbourhood (we suppose Maidstone is meant) again tempted him to offer himself as a Parliamentary candidate, but he positively wanted the means to enter into a contest. On this subject he gave utterance to his sentiments in Arthur Fitz-Albini, not under any fictitious character, but in the first person as the author, in the following unreserved terms:

"Too proud to solicit a seat as the dependent of Ministers or great men; too poor to carry on expensive and uncertain contests against Indian extortion, or the usurious plenty of loan-contracting bankers, he sees the most stupid, the most ignorant, and the most profligate of mankind, who can bribe thousands of drunken voters, and pay, without ruin, the prodigality and fraudulent charges of tavern-keepers and interested agents, step over his head with brutal insolence, while he is left in the shades of a silent retreat to soothe his indignation by the flashes of imagery and sentiment that now and then break in its darkness."

But the same ambition which struggled after such lofty objects, was strangely elated by some very insignificant ones.

"In Feb. 1808 he received the unexpected but gratifying notification from the Chancellor of the Equestrian, Secular, and Chapteral Order of St. Joachim, then resident at Stock-holm, that at a chapter in the preceding November, held at Bambert in Franconia, the distinctions of that Order, which had so lately been honoured by the acceptance of the illustrious Nelson, had been conferred upon him." Such are the grandiloquent and ridiculous terms in which Sir Egerton records in his peerage the acceptance of a ribbon, the real character of which is exposed in Mr. Beltz's volume. It was an order which had been established by some junior members of the sovereign houses in Germany, but was managed by an English adventurer, who called himself Sir Levett Hanson, and who regularly returned the election of any applicant that had "moyenne" a certain sum at a banking-house in Pall Mall. It is true that, to recommend the merchandise, Nelson was entrapped to accept this dignity, and it is true also that he received the Royal permission to accept it; but this Sir Egerton Brydges never had; notwithstanding, he thenceforward assumed the title of Sir, which, with the initials K.J. appears in the title-page of his Peerage, and other publications previous to his obtaining a baronetcy.

At length, in 1812 he obtained a seat in Parliament for Maidstone, for which he sat during the six sessions of that Parliament, until its dissolution in 1818. He was then, perhaps, too old to become conspicuous; however, he by no means took that leading part in the senate of which he had in early life so fondly dreamed.

He obtained a patent of baronetcy, dated Dec. 27, 1814. At the same time that he accepted this dignity, as it were in contradiction to his former pretensions, he also accepted a coat of arms from the College of Heralds, materially differenced from that of Brydges, Lords Chandos (see it figured in Beltz, Appx. xxiii).

In 1818, on the loss of his parliamentary privileges, Sir Egerton Brydges quitted England, and had since remained an exile from his native land.

Such is the melancholy tissue of Sir Egerton's personal history. As an author his career was equally full of ambition and presumption, attended by their natural consequences, ridicule, neglect, and disappointment. It is, however, now generally allowed that his mental talents were far more sterling than his aristocratic pretensions; and of late years his advanced age and forlorn circumstances have been accepted as an excuse for that waywardness which was ever one of his principal characteristics.

We will, however, again quote his own sentiments, continuing our former extract from his Peerage:

"It is further his boast, that in all those arts which he has most cultivated, all his highest ambitions have been directed to those objects which would have been equally open to one of the meanest birth and fortune, to whom Nature had been profuse of her gifts. * * He who aims, however unjustly, at the honours of a Poet and a Moralist, will surely entertain no inordinate longings for the adventitious superiority conferred by the bauble, a Coronet! A love of reading, more especially works of fancy, history, and biography, and the dreams of authorship, have been the ruling passions of the Editor's life. In these pursuits no mercenary considerations ever mixed themselves for a moment: for these he has neglected interest, and every more profitable ambition. Instigated by these, he undertook, and has at length, by many a wearisome effort, carried through the present laborious edition of Collins's Peerage."

The branches of literature to which he devoted himself, were poetry, romance, and political effusions abounding in invective the republication of old English poetry and genealogy. His labours as an Editor rendered good service to the studies of poetical and genealogical antiquaries; though, with the view of enhancing his merits as an original writer, he often affected to depreciate and contemn them.

But our readers will recollect that the literary character of Sir Egerton Brydges has been recently discussed at considerable length and with much justice and discrimination in our number for March 1835, and we cannot do better than refer to that article. Its merits and its defects are there exhibited, with those of his personal character, as unfolded in his own most singular confessions, the Autobiography. We shall here undertake only a more detailed and chronological account of the succession of his literary works.

His first publication was a volume of Sonnets and other Poems, in 8vo. 1785. He was among the first of the modern school of Sonneteers: for at that time those of Bowles, Miss Seward, &c. had not appeared. Some of Sir Egerton's Sonnets possess great merit, particularly one on Echo and Silence, which has been warmly praised by Wordsworth. Latterly, he had returned with such devotedness to this his earliest class of composition, that he used to write several daily, and it is said that be composed two thousand in the space of one year.

In April 1789 he commenced, in conjunction with the Rev. Stebbing Shaw, afterwards the historian of Staffordshire, The Topographer, a monthly miscellany, which was continued until. June 1791, and forms four volumes 8vo.

In 1792 he commenced a similar work in 4to, under the title of Topographical Miscellanies, of which little more than 200 pages were printed. The preface contains an interesting synopsis of the ancient mansions of England, which has been re-worked up in the introduction to Neale's Seats.

In 1792, Mary de Clifford, a novel; and in 1798, another, entitled Arthur Fitz Albini. These we have already noticed.

In 1798, Reflections on the late Augmentations of the English Peerage, to which are added, a short Account of the Peers in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and a Catalogue of all the Knights created in that illustrious reign. (Anonymous) 1798. An 8vo pamphlet.

Tests of the National Wealth and Finances, in Dec. 1798. 8vo.

In 1800, Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum, being a new edition, with additions, of a work under the same title by Edward Philips, nephew of Milton. 8vo.

Le Forester, a novel. 3 vols. 1802.

Memoirs of the Peers of England during the reign of James the First. 1802. 8vo.

In 1805 be commenced that curious and valuable bibliographical work the Censura Literaria, which was continued to the year 1809, and forms ten volumes 8vo. To this the late Joseph Haslewood, esq. F.S.A. was a material contributor; and he still more largely and actively co-operated in The British Bibliographer, and the Restituta, compilations of a similar character, but comprising also some extensive reprints; the former consists of four volumes, 8vo. 1810-1812; and the latter also of four volumes, 1816.

In 1812 Sir Egerton Brydges completed his edition of Collins's Peerage (undertaken in 1806), in nine volumes, 8vo. He also published The Ruminator, a series of Moral, Critical, and Sentimental Essays.

In 1813, The Sylvan Wanderer, a small volume of Essays. A second part was added in 1815; both were printed at his private press at Lee Priory.

Occasional Poems, written in 1811. 4to. 1814.

Bertram, a Poem. 1815. 8vo.

Excerpta Tudoriana, or Extracts from Elizabethan Literature, 1811-1818. 2 vols. 8vo

Population and Riches. 1819.

Coningsby, a novel. 1819.

Res Literarae, 1820,1821. 3 vols. 8vo.

The Hall of Hellingsey, a novel, 1821. 3 vols. 8vo.

Letters from the Continent, 1821, 8vo. Prefixed is a portrait of the author, engraved by Nolchi, from a miniature by Carloni.

What are Riches? or, an Examination of the definitions of the subject given by modern Economists. 1821. 8vo pamphlet.

Polyanthea Librorum Vetustiorum." 1822. 8vo.

Letters on Lord Byron. 1824. 8vo.

Gnomica: detached thoughts. 1824. 8vo.

Odo, Count of Lingen, a Poem. 1824.

Theatrum Poetarum. 1824. 8vo.

Recollections of Foreign Travel. 1825. 2 vols. 8vo.

Stemmata Illustria, praecipue Regia. 1825. fol. (100 copies, for private distribution).

Lex Terrae, with regard to the descent of English Peerages. 1831. 8vo.

The Anglo-Genevan Critical Journal for 1831. 2 vols. 8vo.

Expositions on the Parliamentary Reform Bill. 1831. folio.

Lake of Geneva. 1832. 2 vols. 8vo.

Vendica. 1832. fol.

Imaginary Biography. 1834. 3 vols.

The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges, Bart. K.T. (Per legem terrae) Baron Chandos of Sudeley, &c. 1831. 2 vols. 8vo. To these volumes are prefixed two portraits, one from a picture by Carloni 1819, and the other representing the aged bard and philosopher "intonsa barba, incomptisque capillis," drawn and etched by Francis Danby, A.R.A. Geneva, 1834.

This long list does not comprise several minor works, printed at his private press, and consisting either of occasional poetical effusions, or selections from the old poets, genealogists, &c. Of these an accurate description will be found in Mr. Martin's Catalogue of Privately Printed Books, pp. 379-404. "My private press," says Sir Egerton in a letter to Dr. Dibdin, "was established in July 1813, in a vacant room at the extremity of the offices [at the mansion of his son, Lee Priory, near Canterbury]. The number of copies printed there has in no case exceeded one hundred; and I have reason to believe that the complete sets fall short of thirty. The rest have been distributed or sold piecemeal. The first thing printed was, 'Selections from the Poems of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle,' only twenty-four copies, for gifts. Perhaps the most intrinsically valuable of the reprints at this press is Francis Davison's 'Poetical Rhapsody.' But two poetical tracts of Nich. Breton, and original Poems of W. Browne, from a MS. are also very valuable; and the reprint of Lord Brook's 'Life of Sir Philip Sydney' is surely an acceptable present to bibliography." The Lee Priory Press was conducted by two experienced workmen of Mr. Bensley's office, Johnson as compositor, and Warwick as pressman, who were allowed to sell the works for their own benefit. The former is since known as a skilful printer in London, and the author of Typographia: the latter fell a victim to the Kentish hop. The press languished after Sir Egerton's removal to the continent, and was finally discontinued in 1823.

Sir Egerton was also a large contributor to periodical publications; particularly on genealogy and antiquities in former days, to the Gentleman's Magazine; and latterly of poetry and lighter compositions to the Metropolitan and others of our monthly contemporaries. He also frequently wrote on political economy and other public questions in the newspapers, as is mentioned in his Autobiography; and during the discussions on our legislative constitution in 1832, he communicated some letters to the Times newspaper, on the Peerages signed H. M. and dated Leipsic.

Sir Egerton Brydges was twice married; first, in Jan. 1786, to Elizabeth, sole daughter and heiress of the Rev. William Dejovis Byrche, (by Elizabeth, only sister of Thomas Barrett, of Lee Priory, esq.) By that lady he had issue two sons and three daughters: 1. Thomas, who took the additional name of Barrett in 1803, and was a Captain in the grenadier guards; he died unmarried in 1834; 2. Sir John William Egerton Brydges, who has succeeded to the baronetcy; he was born in Nov. 1792, and was formerly a Lieut. in the 14th dragoons; 3. Elizabeth-Jemima. married in 1817 to Lieut-Col. George Holmes, C.B. of the 3d dragoon guards; 4. Jemima-Anne-Deborah, married in 1817 to Edward Quillinan, esq. of the 3d dragoon guards (and author of several poetical pieces which were printed at the Lee Priory press); and 5. Charlotte-Katharine, married in 1830 to Frederick Dashwood Swann, esq. Capt. grenadier guards.

Having lost his first wife in 1796, Sir Egerton married secondly, in the following year, Mary, daughter of the Rev. William Robinson, Rector of Burfield, Berks, and brother to Matthew second Lord Rokeby. By that lady, who survives him, he had five sons and five daughters: 6. George-Matthew, a Midshipman R.N. who died in Minorca in 1812; 7. Anne-Mary; 8. Edward-William-George, who died in 1816, aged sixteen; 9. the Rev. Egerton Anthony Brydges, Rector of Denton, Kent (to whom his father has bequeathed the copyright of all his works); 10. Anthony-Rokeby; 11. Ferdinand-Stanley-Read; 12. Mary-Jane, married in 1827 to George Todd, esq. Capt. 3d dragoon. guards; 13. Ellen; 14. Frances Isabella; and 15. Jane-Grey.