1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Parnell

John Aikin, in Select Works of the British Poets (1820) 221.



THOMAS PARNELL, an agreeable poet, was descended from an ancient family in Cheshire. His father, who was attached to the cause of the Parliament in the civil wars of Charles I., withdrew to Ireland after the Restoration, where he purchased an estate. His eldest son, Thomas, was born at Dublin, in 1679, and received his school education in that city. At an early age he was removed to the college, where he was admitted to the degree of M.A. in 1700, took deacon's orders in the same year, and was ordained priest three years afterwards. Its 1705 he was presented to the archdeaconry of Clogher, and about the same time married a lady of great beauty and merit. He now began to make those frequent excursions to England, in which the most desirable part of his life was thenceforth spent. His first connections were principally with the Whigs, at that time in power; and Addison, Congreve, and Steele are named among his chief companions. When, at the latter part of Queen Anne's reign, the Tories were triumphant, Parnell deserted his former friends, and associated with Swift, Pope, Gay, and Arbuthnot. Swift introduced him to Lord-Treasurer Harley; and, with the dictatorial air which he was fond of assuming, insisted upon the Treasurer's going with his staff in his hand into the antechamber, where Parnell was waiting to welcome him. It is said of this poet, that every year, as soon as he had collected the rents of his estate, and the revenue of his benefices, he came over to England, and spent some months, living in an elegant style, and rather impairing than improving his fortune. At this time he was an assiduous preacher in the London pulpits, with the intention of rising to notice; but the change of the ministry at Queen Anne's death put an end to his more brilliant prospects in the church. By means, however, of Swift's recommendation to Archbishop King, he obtained a prebend, and the valuable living of Finglass.

His domestic happiness received a severe shock in 1712, by the death of his beloved wife; and it was the effect on his spirits of this affliction which led him into such a habit of intemperance in wine as shortened his days. This, at least, is the gloss put upon the circumstance by his historian, Goldsmith, who represents him, "as in some measure a martyr to conjugal fidelity." But it can scarcely be doubted, that this mode of life had already been formed when his very unequal spirits had required the aid of a glass for his support. He died at Cheater, on his way to Ireland, in July 1717, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, and was buried in Trinity Church, in that city.

Parnell was the author of several pieces, both in prose and verse; but it is only by the latter that he is now known. Of these a collection was published by Pope, with a dedication to the Earl of Oxford. Their characters are ease, sprightliness, fancy, clearness of language, and melody of versification; and though not ranking among the most finished productions of the British muse, they claim a place among the most pleasing. A large addition to these was made in a work printed in Dublin, in 1758, of which Dr. Johnson says, "I know not whence they came, nor have ever enquired whither they are going."