1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bertie Greatheed

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 96 (April 1826) 367-68.



Jan. 16. At Guy's Cliff, near Warwick, aged 66, after a few days illness only, Bertie Greatheed, Esq. son of Samuel Greatheed, Esq. by Lady Mary Bertie, daughter of Peregrine second Duke of Ancaster.

This gentleman, from an early age, was distinguished for his taste in literature. At Florence, in 1785, he was a member of a well-known coterie, consisting of Mr. Parsons, Mrs. Piozzi, the Chevalier Pindamonte (since styled "the Italian Gray"), Lady Millar, Mr. Merry, &c., who jointly produced the Florence Miscellany. It was a society which, although subsequently exposed to much mortification by falling under the lash of Mr. Gifford's powerful and unsparing satire, in his Baviad, and Maeviad, undoubtedly possessed genius, much elegance of taste, and considerable poetical talent.

In 1788, Mr. Greatheed produced a tragedy, entitled The Regent. It was brought out at Drury-lane Theatre, supported by the powers of John Kemble, and Mrs. Siddons; but the circumstances of the time were against its full success. Its very title proved injurious: it appeared during the illness of the late King, when party politics ran high, and the public mind was much agitated by discussions respecting the Regency. The play, however, possessed some very striking scenes; it was favourably received; and, if not of the highest order, its merits were such as to have insured, under more favourable auspices, a considerable run. Mr. Greatheed's affection for the drama was not extinguished by the lapse of years; even up to a recent period, its unrivalled ornament, Mrs. Siddons, who, it is not a little remarkable, had been, at a very early period of her life, an attendant upon his mother — was a frequent and ever-welcome guest at his seat at Guy's Cliff. There, indeed, the hospitable owner was endeared to an extensive circle of friends by the amiability of his manners, his love of literature and the arts, and the integrity of his mind.

Mr. Greatheed had one son, Bertie, who died at Vicenza in Italy, Oct. 8, 1804, aged 23. (See a character of him in Vol. LXXIV. P. 1236). Many circumstances occurred to render the affliction of the father peculiarly poignant upon this event. Mr. Greatheed jun. possessed the most distinguished talents as a gentleman artist. Being at Paris during the brief domination of Buonaparte, he was much struck by the unrivalled specimens of art, which then enriched and adorned the public institutions of that capital, and he earnestly solicited permission to take copies of some of the paintings. This, under the erroneous supposition that he was an English artist by profession, was at first refused; but subsequently, on the strong representation that he was a man of fortune and consequence in his own country, travelling for his amusement, permission was granted. On the completion of Mr. Greatheed's labours, Napoleon paid at once the highest compliment to their success, and exhibited a specimen of that capricious tyranny, which some of the worshippers of his memory seem desirous of forgetting that he ever exercised. He ordered the copies to be brought before him; and, upon examination, he pronounced their merit to be too great for them to be suffered to go out of France. They consequently remained in the country during the lifetime of their author; but, on his decease, Napoleon, with a returning portion of right feeling, immediately forwarded these memorials of a departed son's talents, to his deeply afflicted father.

Mr. Greatheed jun. had married in France; and he left one daughter, since united (March 20, 1823) to Lord Charles Percy, son of the Earl of Beverley.

Although the habits of Mr. Greatheed became more retired from the period of his domestic affliction, the kindness of his disposition and the benevolence of his heart remained unimpaired. The occupation and amusement of his latter years were to improve his romantic and picturesque residence — a spot which old Leland described as "the abode of pleasure, a place meet for the Muses;" and Dugdale, as "a place of so great delight, that to one, who desireth a retired life, either for his devotions or study, the like is hardly to be found." Mr. Greatheed always evinced the warmest interest for the prosperity of the neighbouring Spa of Lemington, where he possessed considerable property; and he kindly permitted visitors to see the curiosities of Guy's Cliff — a spot immortalized in tradition, by the great Guy Earl of Warwick, and on many accounts an object of interest and admiration. Amongst the monuments of the younger Mr. Greatheed's genius to be seen there, was a portrait of Buonaparte, esteemed an admirable likeness; and an original composition, the subject from Spenser's Cave of Despair.

Mr. Greatheed was, in his political principles, an ardent and consistent friend of civil and religious freedom; but, although repeatedly solicited to represent his county town in Parliament, he invariably declined the honour.

In 1819, Mr. Greatheed derived a large accession of fortune, on the unexpected death of the Hon. Brownlow-Charles Colyear, only son of the Viscount Milsington (now Earl of Portmore), and grandson and only descendant of Brownlow, fifth and last Duke of Ancaster. This young nobleman died at Rome, in consequence of wounds, received in an encounter with banditti. (See vol. LXXXIX. i. 279).