1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry Kett

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 95 (August 1825) 184-85.



June 30. Suddenly, at Stanwell, the seat of Sir J. Gibbons, Bart. the Rev. Henry Kett, late Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and of Charlton, co. Gloucester. The reverend gentleman had preached at Stanwell, on the preceding Sunday, and on the morning when the fatal accident occurred had, as usual, breakfasted with the family party in excellent spirits. About noon, the weather being hot, he proceeded to take a cold bath, when it is supposed that venturing out of his depth he was seized with cramp and sank to rise no more. His clothes were found on the bank where he had undressed for bathing.

He was born at Norwich in 1761, and received his education at the Grammar-school in that city, under the Rev. Mr. Lemon. In 1777, at the age of sixteen, he was admitted a Commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, and was chosen scholar the following year.

Mr. Kett took the degree of A.M. Nov. 26, 1783, soon after which he was elected Fellow, and appointed one of the College tutors. Among some of his first pupils he numbered the present Duke of Beaufort, and his next brother Lord Charles Somerset, and in the discharge of the important duties of his office, for a very long space of years, united the character of friend with that of tutor.

He early commenced his theological studies, nor did he give them up on taking orders. He was appointed Bampton Lecturer in 1790, and the University had no reason to be sorry for their choice. These Lectures were published the following year, dedicated to the Bishop of St. Asaph, and a second edition, "with corrections and additions," appeared in 1792.

It was not only in defence of the doctrines of Christianity that Mr. Kett distinguished himself; he was equally solicitous to show that their precepts influenced his practice. About the period of his being Bampton Lecturer, he exerted himself, in conjunction with other friends, in rescuing Dr. John Uri, a native of Hungary, one of the best Oriental scholars in Europe, from indigence and distress. This gentleman had been sent for from the University of Leyden to Oxford, and had been employed during the vigour of his faculties in taking a catalogue of the Oriental Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library; but growing infirm and old, without relations or friends in his own country, he was discharged by the delegates of the press. By the benevolent interference, however, of Mr. Kett, of Mr. Agutter, now Secretary of the Asylum, Mr. Smith, Master of Pembroke College, and Dr. Parr, a handsome subscription was raised for his support; and the venerable scholar was placed in a situation of comfort in Oxford, where he passed the remaining part of his life.

In 1787 Mr. Kett engaged with Mr. Monro, formerly of Magdalen College, and Dr. Horne, afterwards Bishop of Norwich, in a periodical publication, under the title of Olla Podrida, to which several other distinguished scholars contributed. Their essays were re-published in a collected form, and are replete with humour, good sense, and acute observation.

In 1793 he published a small collection of Juvenile Poems, stating "most of the verses in this collection have appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine." However meritorious these trifles of his muse appear, the author was afterwards very desirous to suppress them, and so sedulous to effect that intention as to increase the value of this little volume above the usual proportion of modern publications. When the poems first appeared, the playful muse of Mr. Thomas Warton supplied the following epigram:

Our Kett, not a poet!
Why how can you say so?
For if he's no Ovid,
I'm sure he's a Naso.

See his portrait by Dighton.

On the 13th of July, 1793, he took the degree of B.D.; and in October he was a candidate for the Poetry Professorship against the Rev. James Hurdis, Fellow of Magdalen, but lost his election by a majority of 20, polling 181 against 201.

Alarmed at the rapid progress of infidelity, and wishing to awaken in the minds of the public a due sense of the importance of religious truth, by the most striking arguments, derived from the divine predictions, in the year 1798 Mr. Kett published History the Interpreter of Prophecy; or, a View of Scriptural Prophecies, and their Accomplishment in the past and present Occurrences of the World. Dr. Tomline, the present Bishop of Winchester, in his Elements of Christian Theology, calls it "a very interesting work, penned with great judgment, and which he recommends to all who are desirous of becoming acquainted with the prophecies of the Old and New Testament, especially those which relate to the present times." But the approbation of Dr. Porteus, Bishop of London, is much more distinctly expressed; and his recommendation is more warmly urged in his eloquent Charge to his Clergy in 1799.

The Journal of A Tour to the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland, performed by Henry Kett, B.D. in August, 1798, was published by Dr. Mavor in his British Tourist. It is not very long, occupying forty duodecimo pages. This was one of several similar tours, which Mr. Kett was accustomed to make during the long vacation. At the beginning of the Revolution he visited France, intent on observing the changes then in progress.

In 1802 appeared Elements of General Knowledge, introductory to useful Books in the principal Branches of Literature and Science; with Lists of the most approved Authors, including the best Editions of the Classics; designed chiefly for the Junior Students in the Universities, and the higher Classes in Schools. This work, which is the result of Mr. Kett's studies for many years, contains much valuable information compressed within a moderate compass, and is by far the most useful book of the kind. On its first appearance he was assailed by a host of Critics, great and small, and it was remarked that few men kept their temper so well as he did, or acted so judiciously, adopting all their corrections and suggestions, where worthy to improve the later editions. The ninth edition has been very lately published.

Mr. Kett's first preferment was the small perpetual curacy of Elsfield, near Oxford, for which he is said to have been indebted to the kindness of Dr. Chapman, the President of his College. He was also a King's Preacher at Whitehall. In 1814 his friend and patron Bishop Tomline, presented him to the Perpetual Curacy of Hykeham, co. Lincoln.

He also published, Logic made Easy, or a short View of Aristotle's Method of Reasoning, 12mo. 1809; Emily, a Moral Tale, 3 vols. 12mo. 1809 and 1812; A Sketch of the Life of Henry Headley, Scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, prefixed to his Beauties of English Poetry, 2 vols. 12mo. 1810; The Beauties of Christianity, by F. A. de Chateaubriand, with a Preface and Notes, 3 vols. 8vo. 1812; The Flowers of Wit, or a collection of Bon Mots, Ancient and Modern, 2 vols. 12mo. 1814.

In his manners Mr. Kett was affable and easy. Conscious of talents and integrity, he affected not the disguise of gravity to impose on the vulgar, nor delivered his sentiments with formal precision and oracular solemnity. In mixed society he was equally qualified to shine as in the company of professed scholars. On his marriage he had recently retired from the University.