John Herman Merivale

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 21 (July 1844) 96-97.

April 25. At his house, 18, Bedford Square, in his 65th year, John Herman Merivale, Esq. Commissioner of the Court of Bankruptcy, F.S.A.

Mr. Merivale was born at his father's residence in Exeter, the 5th of August 1779. His grandfather, the Rev. Samuel Merivale, was a minister of the Presbyterian denomination, and tutor in the theological academy in that city. He was well known and highly respected for his character and attainments among the Dissenters in the west of England. His only son, John Merivale, inherited from him the estate of Annery, near Bideford, and other property in the North of Devon. He married Anne, daughter of Mr. Katenkamp, of a mercantile house at Bremen, who came over to England and settled in business at Exeter in the middle of the last century.

John Herman Merivale received his early education from Mr. Burrington, the Vicar of Chudleigh. He went in his 18th year to St. John's college, Cambridge, where he formed an intimate acquaintance with several of those who became afterwards among the most distinguished ornaments of the bar. The theological views in which he had been brought up prevented his offering himself for a degree at the university, but he completed the usual career of academical study, and proceeded from thence to Lincoln's Inn, where he became a member of the Chancery bar. The knowledge that the honours and emoluments of the University were closed against him as a Dissenter discouraged him from paying very close attention to the principal objects of study there, or rather it furnished him with an excuse for turning to other pursuits more congenial to his taste, and he became a desultory but very extensive reader of modern history and modern literature in various languages. A poetic temperament and great facility in composition, both in verse and prose, induced him to give a large part of his time during the earlier years of his professional career to the cultivation of literature. He was a copious contributor to the Critical Review, the Literary Gazette, and other periodicals; as at a later period to the Quarterly, the Foreign Quarterly, and Blackwood's Magazine. His principal poetical works were his contributions to Mr. Bland's Translations from the Greek Anthology, his Orlando in Roncesvalles, &c. of which, with various other pieces, original and translated, of which his translations from Dante may be particularly mentioned, he published a collected edition in later life. At one period he was not less engrossed in a pursuit of a very different kind, being busily during his spare hours for several years in collecting materials for a history of his native county of Devonshire. But the subject soon began to assume such vast proportions in his hands, that he abandoned all idea of ever effecting any thing of the kind which should be at all adequate to his views, and the increase of his professional business and opening of other prospects prevented his ever making even a more limited use of his acquisitions.

In 1825 and the following year Mr. Merivale was employed upon the Chancery Commission, and he devoted himself with great assiduity to the prosecution of this memorable essay in legal reform, of which he was a zealous advocate. He was appointed by Lord Eldon to a Commissionership of Bankruptcy under the old system, and, when the court was remodelled in the year 1831, he was one of the reduced number who were selected to form its members.

In the later years of his life Mr. Merivale returned with extraordinary vigour to the literary pursuits in which he most delighted. He entered with great interest into the theological questions which have excited so much of the public attention, and devoted himself more particularly to inquiries into the character and history of the dissenting bodies in the eighteenth century. He had himself long since renounced the peculiar tenets of the sect in which he had been brought up, and become a sincere member of the established Church; but his grandfather's voluminous letters and other remains furnished him with stores of information on the history of dissent, and conferred additional interest upon it in his mind; so that he formed various plans for putting his materials in a shape in which they might present an important contribution to the literature of the country. Various circumstances, however, prevented any such design being carried into effect.

Mr. Merivale's last literary effort, contemporary with his acquisition of the German language in the few last years of his life, was a translation of the Minor Poems of Schiller. He just lived to see this production issue from the press, and to be encouraged to augur its favourable reception. Having enjoyed for a considerable time uninterrupted good health, and being in full possession of his usual strength and spirits, he was suddenly cut off by a stroke of apoplexy, on the 25th of April last, and was buried in the family vault in Hampstead churchyard in the 2nd of the following month.

Mr. Merivale married July 10, 1805, Louisa-Heath, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Drury of Cockwood House, Dawlish, for many years Head Master of Harrow School. By her he had a family of six sons and six daughters, of which all but two of the sons survive him.