1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Gifford

John Nichols, in Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 5:182-87.



Rev. Richard Gifford was educated at Baliol College, Oxford; where in 1748, having then recently taken the degree of B.A. he distinguished himself by a masterly pamphlet, intituled, Remarks on Mr. Kennicot's Dissertation on the Tree of Life in Paradise; in the preface to which he handsomely apologises for "any expressions that may seem too harsh or severe;" and hopes "they will be thought to arise entirely from a warmth that is natural to the love of Truth, and which it is difficult to lay aside when one is engaged in examining points that seem to make against it." And he thus concludes: "As the love of Truth was the sole motive of my engaging in the cause, I shall with all the readiness imaginable, acknowledge the many errors I may have run into, upon the least intimation of them: for indeed I should have spared myself the trouble I have taken in the prosecution of this affair, but that I thought Truth a sacrifice too. great to be made in compliment to the ingenuity of any man." To the sincerity of this profession the whole tenor of Mr. Gifford's life bore the strongest testimony. He was in principle a sound Whig of the Old School, a zealous friend to the House of Hanover; and the leading members, of Baliol College were at that period strenuous Tories. His being placed there (which appears ill-judged) was probably owing to his father being a native of Scotland: its consequence was his not taking any other degree but that of B.A. He also mentioned having met with the Master of Baliol many years afterwards, who asked him if the College could do any thing for him offering every thing in their power, and wishing him to take a Doctor's degree. He declined such tardy services, saying "Alma Mater had been a step-mother to him, and it was then too late."

As he possessed an uncommonly strong mind, highly cultivated by profound learning, it is to be lamented that he did not appear more frequently before the publick as an author. One small poem of his, intituled Contemplation, was printed in 1753, which attracted the notice of Dr. Johnson, who has quoted it in his Dictionary; a circumstance which Mr. Gifford has frequently mentioned to the writer of this article with much satisfaction. The general encouragement of the poem, however, was not sufficient to allure him to further progress in that fascinating pursuit. Having applied himself sedulously to the study of Divinity, the more immediate object of his future destination in life, he entered into holy orders; and was appointed, by his friend Dr. Salway, curate of Richard's-castle in Herefordshire. He was afterwards morning-preacher at St. Anne's, Soho; and his contemporaries have borne honourable testimony to the respectful attention that was paid him there. In 1758 he became Domestic Chaplain to John Marquess of Tweedale; and in 1759 was presented, by Dr. Frederick Cornwallis, then Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, to the vicarage of Duffield in Derbyshire. In 1772, On the recommendation of Hugo Meynell, esq. (to whom he had been tutor,) he was presented, by Thomas Browne, esq. to the rectory of North Okendon in Essex.

In 1782, he published, Outlines of an Answer to Dr. Priestley's Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit; written, as he mentions in an advertisement, "while the author was perusing Dr. Priestley's Disquisitions; which came into his hands in the course of circulation in a Reading Society, at a time when he had not seen Dr. Price's Correspondence with Dr. Priestley, nor knew that any Answer to the Disquisitions had been published;" a circumstance which he thought it necessary to notice, to explain the following passage from Cicero, which stands in the title-page: "Mea fuit semper haec in hac re voluntas et sententia, quamvis ut hoc mallem de iis qui essent idonei, suscipere, quam me; me ut mallem, quam neminern." That in this also he was sincere is evident from the following fact: He had written an answer to two exceptionable chapters, in Mr. Gibbon's celebrated work, which several of his literary friends wished him to publish; and he was inclined so to do; but relinquished the design on hearing that it was taken up by several able pens. In the History of Leicestershire, an acknowledgment is made to Mr. Gifford for the contribution of "good engraved portraits of their common Relations, Mr. and Mrs. Staveley;" and for "having taken on himself the task of translating the Domesday book for that County." Mr. Gifford was an occasional correspondent in the Gentlemans Magazine for more than fifty years, though I cannot specify any articles in particular except those signed. "R. DUFF," between the years 1794 and 1799; one of which, being short, shall be copied at the end of this brief Memoir. The longer ones will be noticed in a printed letter of his in 1799.

His principal residence was at Duffield; but he regularly, whilst he was able, passed a considerable part of the summer at his rectory of North Okendon though for several years (in consequence of a peculiarity in his constitution, which rendered the vicinity of the Essex Fens unfriendly to his health) he never returned from that place without the almost total loss of speech from an inveterate hoarseness; and for the last five or six years, was wholly unable to go there at all. It would be injustice, however, to his memory, were we not to notice his constant readiness to assist the Clergy of his neighbourhood, till he was disabled by age and infirmity — that he many times, in cases of sickness, did it for several months together — and that for some years he officiated at a neighbouring chapel, the income of which was not enough to pay a Curate, in order to enable the Trustees to form a sufficient accumulation for the scanty fund to make a future provision for that purpose. He reconciled himself to the necessity of non-residence, by the persuasion that he had done really as much ecclesiastical duty gratis as the Law would have obliged him to do at his rectory, if his constitution had admitted of his residing there. He always refused any compensation, saying, "he was paid elsewhere for preaching the word of God." The melancholy situation of his health in 1806 was thus affectingly depicted, in a letter dated Feb. 15, addressed to the Bishop of London's Secretary by a medical friend to whom Mr. Gifford was long and very justly attached:

"SIR, about two years ago I sent you an account of the state of health of my neighbour Mr. Gifford; and I am now called upon to make a second report on that head. Mr. Gifford has gone on with accumulating infirmities; bodily strength much diminished; and organs of sense, every interview I have with him, shewing less and less susceptibility to their wonted impressions; sight very imperfect indeed, from an approaching 'gutta serena;' and hearing nothing but what is pointedly expressed and directed towards him. That there has been no attempt at clerical duty since my former report, I can positively affirm; nor can it be likely that that high function should ever be by him attempted again. Those powers which have so often edified and delighted crowded audiences, are now overcome by the infirmities which invariably follow and bear down mankind, when once turned the grand climacterick. If a further recital is necessary, his bodily sufferings and infirmities are not a few, nor amongst the least painful: cramps, rheumatism, and deranged functions of the biliary system, separately or conjoined, are almost constantly harassing him; and from the concurrent effect of these. I have once been called to him under a very alarming 'deliquium animi.' I am, Sir, your obedient servant, SAMUEL SPENCER."

Mr. Gifford married, in 1763, Elizabeth Woodhouse (cousin and devisee of the Rev. Thomas Alleyne, Rector of Loughborough); who died Jan. 15, 1793, after a happy union of 30 years, leaving an only daughter, who by the death of her father, March 1, 1807, aged 82, survived to lament the loss of both her parents; and is happily still living, 1825.