1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gen. Richard Fitzpatrick

Richard Ryan, in Biographica Hibernica. A Biographical Dictionary of the Worthies of Ireland (1819) 2:138-40.



RICHARD FITZPATRICK, distinguished for his attainments as a scholar, and his talents as a poet, was descended from an ancient Irish family, and born at —, in the year 1747. He commenced his public life in a military capacity, which he filled with great credit to himself during the earlier part of the American war. In 1780, he was elected member of the British House of Commons, for the borough of Tavistock, which he continued to represent, till chosen for the county of Bedford.

By the side of his personal and intimate friend Mr. Fox, he declaimed with energy and, perseverance against that war, in which he had been compelled, by his obedience and duty, as a soldier, to bear an unwilling part; and on the change of administration, in 1782, he was appointed secretary to the Duke of Portland, then lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In 1783, he was nominated secretary at war, but soon retired with his party into the ranks of opposition, in which he continued to shine for many years. Yet though as a politician he continued during the whole of his life firmly attached to the principles with which he had commenced, his noble and elegant manners attracted the intercourse of his political adversaries: his society was cultivated by many persons of the highest rank, who constantly voted in opposition to him; one of whom, the Duke of Queensberry, acknowledged his deep obligations and gratitude by a noble legacy. His votes were generally what are termed silent; for though his cultivated intellect and constant habits of clear and precise observation, had perfectly qualified him to shine in debate, his elocution was not sufficiently energetic to utter the dictates of his powerful mind. He seldom spoke except in his official capacity: on one occasion, however, he evinced himself capable of much bolder flights. On his celebrated motion respecting the Marquis de la Fayette, he spoke with so much elegance and energy, combined with a precision and perspicuity so seldom united, that the late Lord Melville observed, "that the honourable general's two friends had only impaired the impression made by his speech;" an observation, than which nothing could be more flattering, when we remember that these two friends were Fox and Sheridan. The reputation even of this most celebrated exertion came upon him unlooked for and unregarded. His observation had taught him that the proper world of a rational being is his own circle, and he looked with indifference on the applause which was bestowed on him, at a time when a more ambitious or less philosophic mind would have been stimulated to preserve and increase the fame it had acquired, by continual exertion. During the administration of Lord Grenville, in 1806, General Fitzpatrick was again appointed secretary at war, which he quitted when that nobleman retired from office; and he afterwards remained in opposition until his death, which occurred April 25, 1813.

His extensive acquirements and powerful judgment ensured him the friendship and esteem of the circle in which he lived. A connection which had commenced by family intermarriage, was quickly cemented by these sympathies; and the warm and susceptible heart of Fox claimed an intimacy with him, which redounded to the honour of both. The highest intellectual enjoyment of Fox was criticism: Fitzpatrick had read extensively and well; and their literary discussions were attended with equal advantage to both. In classical attainments, Fox was the superior; in general knowledge, Fitzpatrick had the advantage; and the sound understanding of both made each respect the talents of the other. As a poet, Fitzpatrick is deserving of considerable praise. The smoothness of his verse, and the justness of his conceptions, are greatly to be admired. Thousands have feasted on his poetry, in total ignorance of its author. As he was a politician without. ambition, he was a poet without vanity.

The following lines, written by himself, are inscribed on his monument at Sunning-hill, Berks:—

Whose turn is next? — this monitory stone
Replies, vain passenger, perhaps thy own.
If, idly curious, thou wilt seek to know,
Whose relics mingle with the dust below,
Enough to tell thee, that his destin'd span
On earth he dwelt, — and, like thyself, a man.
Nor distant far th' inevitable day,
When thou, poor mortal, shall, like him, be clay.
Through life he walk'd, unemulous of fame,
Nor wished beyond it to preserve a name;
Content, if friendship o'er his humble bier,
Dropt but the heartfelt tribute of a tear;
Though countless ages should unconscious glide,
Nor learn that ever he had lived or died.