1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Sotheby

John Gough Nichols, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 1 (May 1834) 559-60.



Dec. 30. In Lower Grosvenor Street, aged 76, William Sotheby, Esq., F.R.S. and S.A.

Mr. Sotheby was a gentleman of considerable fortune and a liberal education, and the author of several poetical works, which, although they never rendered him a popular writer, were written with taste and elegance; and obtained for him a considerable reputation, particularly as a close, judicious, and nervous translator. His publications appeared in the following order: — Poems; consisting of a tour through parts of North and South Wales, sonnets, odes, and an epistle on physiognomy, 4to. 1790. In the first and longest of these poems, the author describes, in blank verse, the most remarkable features of Welch scenery; and in a second edition, which was printed in a splendid style at Bath in 1791, (where the author then resided,) they were illustrated with plates by Aiken.

Mr. Sotheby's next production was Oberon, a poem, from the German of Wieland, 1798. This poem is faithfully rendered sentence for sentence, and stanza for stanza, in a style well adapted to metrical romance, not widely different from that of Spenser.

The Battle of the Nile, 1799. This was perhaps the best production drawn forth by that signal and important victory; it possesses much nerve, considerable poetry, and a wide range of detail.

The Siege of Cuzco, 1800.

The Georgics of Virgil, translated into English verse, 1800.

Julian; or the Monks of the Great St. Bernard, a tragedy, as performed at Drury Lane Theatre, 1801. The object of the author in this play was stated to be "to endeavour to strengthen the bond of virtuous affection, by holding forth to public view the miseries attendant on the indulgence of criminal passion."

Poetical Epistle to Sir George Beaumont, on the encouragement of the British School of Painting, 1801. In this poem, Mr. Sotheby at once celebrated the patriotic project of Sir George Beaumont, for an exhibition of celebrated pieces of the British school, and paid deserved commendation on our native artists.

Oberon, or Huon de Bourdeaux, a masque; and Orestes, a tragedy, 1802. Saul, an epic poem, in two parts, 1807. Constance de Castile, a poem, 1810. A Song of Triumph on the Peace, 1814. Tragedies; viz. the Death of Darnley; Ivan; Zamorin and Zama; the Confession; Orestes, 1814. The Monthly Reviewers were very complimentary on these Tragedies, which they considered calculated to replace Mr. Sotheby on the eminence to which he was entitled at his first appearance; and from which he had temporarily fallen, not only from the overwhelming popularity of less classical writers, but also from his own less successful original attempts, particularly his unlucky choice of a sacred subject, in his poem of Saul. Ivan, a tragedy, altered and adapted for representation, 1816. Ellen, or the Confession, altered and adapted for representation, 1816. These reprints of the two tragedies have many improvements, and in Ivan, an entirely new scene is introduced.

Mr. Sotheby's translation of the Georgics of Virgil has been already mentioned. It is at once flowing and harmonious, and particularly close to the original. A few years since he republished the Georgics in a Polyglott edition, that is to say, in Latin, German, Spanish, English, Italian, and French: and at the same time entered into a calculation to demonstrate that the English is the most concise language.

His last great work was the translation of Homer. This occupied the latter years of his life, and the most remarkable portions have been frequently read before the Royal Society of Literature. At the time of his death, he had nearly completed an edition of the Iliad and Odyssey, in four volumes octavo, illustrated by the designs of Flaxman; and it is now published.

Mr. Sotheby was the oldest English poet. His Oberon, from Wieland, is an excellent performance, and his translations of Virgil and Homer rank in the first class of that difficult and rarely successful branch of literature. He was not only an elegant scholar, but a good man, and a kind and liberal benefactor to those who required his pecuniary aid.

Mr. Sotheby was one of the earliest and warmest supporters of the Literary Fund, and was for many years one of the council of that excellent Society. He was also a member of the Dilettanti Society, and on the 31st of March, 1822, he delivered an address to them, on the decease of their secretary, Sir Henry Englefield, which was reprinted, by permission, in Gent. Mag. vol. XCII. i. p. 418.