1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Melmoth

David Rivers, in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors (1798) 2:38-39.



This literary Veteran has been distinguished for more than fifty years, as one of the most elegant scholars and classical writers of his time. Few authors have contributed so much to the improvement of our style, or have exhibited, in their works, such complete models of elegant writing, such specimens of correct choice and perspicuous arrangement of words, and of harmonious construction of periods. Mr. Melmoth is a son of the late eminent Advocate of the same name, who wrote an admirable treatise on the great Importance of a Religious Life. He died in 1743, and it is said of him, "few ever passed a more useful, none a more blameless life." The first publication of the subject of this article was The Letters of Sir Thomas Fitzosborne, on several Subjects, an octavo volume. These admired Letters made their first appearance about the year 1742, and have experienced that favourable reception and general circulation, to which their very sterling merit entitles them. Mr. Melmoth's elegant Translation of Pliny's Epistles made its first appearance, in two octavo volumes, in 1747, about four years before the Translation by the Earl of Orrery, to which it was justly preferred. In 1753, he published, in three octavo volumes, a Translation of Cicero's Letters to his Friends, with Remarks in which the patriot character of that celebrated Roman is justly questioned; and, in 1773 and 1777, Translations of Cicero's Cato and Laelius, each in an octavo volume, with Remarks. These finished performances have acquired Mr. Melmoth the greatest reputation possible, as an elegant and accurate scholar. They will probably speak for him while Roman and English eloquence can be united. Yet, when we consider them as specimens of translation, we cannot help thinking, that he is too often led away by the vanity of improving upon his author, that he frequently sacrifices his original to a false refinement and an overspun delicacy of phrase, and lastly, that he has too much of what the Greeks express by the forcible term [Greek characters]. In the year 1794, after a long repose, Mr. Melmoth was constrained to resume his pen, upon the occasion of a very unprovoked attack from Mr. Bryant, in his Treatise on the Truth of the Christian Religion. The grounds of this attack were Mr. Melmoth's remarks in his Translation of Pliny's Letters, respecting Trajan's persecution of the Christians in Bythinia, and he wrote a pamphlet in Answer to Mr. Bryant, in which he vindicated himself with great ability, and proved his point. Two years after this, Mr. Melmoth published, Memoirs of a late eminent Advocate (his father), in a thin octavo volume; which is a tribute of filial piety, not less elegant than merited.