1848 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Tennant

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 30 (December 1848) 661-62.



Oct. 15. At his house, Devon-grove, Dollar, Mr. William Tennant, Professor of Oriental Languages in the College of St. Mary at St. Andrew's, and at Edinburgh College.

Mr. Tennant was a native of Anstruther, a small town, which gave birth also to Dr. Chalmers. The circumstances of his parents, and the misfortune, if it might be so called, of his being lame in both limbs, pointed out the path of study on which he early entered as that in which he might overcome the disadvantages of poverty and of nature. He became, and continued through life to be, a zealous and successful student, especially of languages. At fifteen he was sent to the University of St. Andrew's, where he studied under the famous Dr. Hunter. Like all, however, who attain the honours of scholarship, it was but little that the university did for him in comparison to what he achieved for himself. In secret he was diligently amassing those vast stores of literary wealth which raised him to public honour, while they were the solace of a life spent chiefly in solitude. He had been but two years at college when he was called away to fill the situation of clerk to his brother, then a corn-merchant. In this humble sphere, while every duty was faithfully discharged, he continued to increase his acquirements in ancient and modern languages, adding to his studies in the Italian writers accessions from the inexhaustible and then little cultivated fields of German literature. About this time also he first directed his attention to the study of the Oriental tongues, in which his eminence soon became remarkable.

In 1812 Mr. Tennant first became known as a poet by the publication of his "Anster Fair," the best and most successful of his writings. It was printed in Anstruther in that year, and new editions were given to the public in 1814 and 1838.

In 1813 he was elected schoolmaster of the small parish of Denino. From thence in 1816 he was transferred to the more lucrative situation of Lasswade; and in 1819 he was elected teacher of Classical and schoolmaster of Oriental Languages in the Academy of Dollar. From this situation he was in 1837 called to fill the chair of Oriental Languages in the University of St. Andrew's, vacant by the death of Dr. David Scott. In 1840 Mr. Tennant published a Syriac and Chaldee Grammar, and since then he has given to the world a volume of Hebrew Dramas. Besides his Anster Fair, Mr. Tennant was the author of "Cardinal Beaton, a tragedy," and various small poems. "Of all his poetical writings," the Fifeshire Journal observes, "it may be said that the execution is highly excellent, while the selection of the subjects is such as prevents them from becoming extensively popular. 'Materiam superabat opus.' Anster Fair and the tragedy of Cardinal Beaton, his two most considerable pieces, are, while very different in their way, both eminently distinguished by original genius, and by a rich gift of simple and yet highly poetical language."

The Hebrew chair at Edinburgh College is also rendered vacant by the death of Professor Tennant. The endowments of the two appointments were — St. Andrew's 110, Edinburgh 115 per annum.