1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Farmer

Anonymous, Obituary in Monthly Magazine 4 (October 1797) 315.



The late Dr. FARMER, whose death is noticed in page 320 of this Magazine, under the head Cambridgeshire, was a native of Leicester, where he was born in 1735. Through life he may be considered as a favourite of fortune, having attained without any original influence, and with talents not above mediocrity, a series of the most respectable dignities connected with the church of England and with the university in which he was bred. In 1757, he was admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts; a Bachelor of Divinity in 1767, and a Doctor of Divinity in 1775, in which year he was also elected master of Emanuel, on the decease of Dr. Richardson, and principal librarian on the decease of Dr. Barnardston. In the same year he served the office of vice-chancellor, and had an opportunity of evincing his attachment to the court in a way which is supposed to have led to much of his subsequent preferment: the university had voted an Address to the King, approving of the hostile measures adopted against the Colonies, which was in course opposed by the great Jebb, and the patriotic party; and a member of the CAPUT, from an academical dispute, actually refused his key of the place which contained the seal necessary on these occasions. The courtly zeal of Farmer, then vice-chancellor, supplied the defect by means of a sledge hammer, and was, in consequence, soon after, rewarded by the then premier, Lord North, with a Prebend of Canterbury. This has since been exchanged, by Mr. Pitt, for a residentiaryship of St. Paul's; and as a farther reward for his academical influence, a bishopric is also said to have been offered him, but the solid delights of the pipe and the bottle, in Emmanuel parlour, outweighed, in his estimation, the splendour of the mitre. His pretensions to literature were confined to the English drama, and having a strong predilection for old English writers, he ranked high among the commentators upon Shakspeare. His Essay upon the Learning of Shakspeare, dedicated to Mr. Cradock, the intelligent resident of Gumley-Hall, in Leicestershire, has passed through several editions. This essay was, in fact, the first foundation of his fame; but the same indolence, which prevented him from executing his design of writing the History of Leicestershire, though announced for subscriptions, was a bar to the future exercise of his literary talents. Indolence, and love of ease, were his chief characteristics, and hence the propriety in his external appearance, and in the usual forms of behaviour belonging to his station. The prevailing features of his character distinguished themselves by several oddities: there were three things, it was said, which the master of Emanuel loved, viz. old port, old clothes, and old books; and three things which no one could persuade him to perform, viz. to rise in the morning, to go to bed at night, and to settle an account. — When in Cambridge, if an old house were pulled down, the master of Emanuel was always there, in an old blue great coat, and a rusty hat. When in London, he was sure to be found in the same garb, at an old book-stall; or standing at the corner of a dirty lane, poring through his glass at an old play bill. The Doctor was no less notorious for his violent attachment to the war with America, than he has been to that against France; during the former, he was the determined enemy to John Jebb — during the present war, he has been conspicuous for his violent effusions against every man whom he chose to call a republican and a leveller. He was, in the fullest sense of the word, a Tory, and an enemy of every proposition in the university, which had improvement in study for its object. With these singularities and blemishes, Dr. Farmer, notwithstanding, possessed that species of generosity which results rather from inattention, than from a knowledge of the use of wealth. As he obtained money easily, so he parted with it easily: — and to his honour be it spoken, many a person in distress has experienced his liberality, and his bounty was frequently bestowed in the patronage of learned men and learned publications. At the time of his death, he was a Fellow of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies, Master of Emanuel college, principal Librarian of the public library in the university, one of the Canon residentiary of St. Paul's, Chancellor of the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, and Prebendary of Worcester.