The Rev. John Bidlake, D.D., was born at Plymouth, in the year 1756, and received the first rudiments of his education under the Rev. Mr. Lemoine, Master of the public grammar school, in that town. At a very early period, it was noticed that his mind was remarkably sedate and contemplative. It is said that in his boyhood, he had made many attempts in poetry, and that among his first essays in drawing, was a miniature of his mother. Music also formed a part of his juvenile pursuits; and English Composition in prose, in which he afterwards so eminently excelled, employed many of his youthful hours. The lovely and sublime scenery in the neighbourhood of his native town, took possession of his mind: and the perusal of the works of our best English Poets imparted to him an early bias for the beautiful, in descriptive poetry.
This excellent man always evinced a decided predilection for Holy Orders, and was, at the proper time, entered at Christ Church, Oxford, where he enjoyed the notice and patronage of Dr. Kennicott, well known to the learned for his valuable edition of the Hebrew Bible, and other celebrated publications. At College he gave indications of a clear and vigorous intellect. He applied himself to his different studies, particularly to Divinity, with much diligence; and attracted by his talents, placid manner, and uniform propriety of behaviour, the notice of many characters of distinction: but a natural reserve, or rather an unobtrusive disposition, which accompanied him through life, was the barrier which prevented him from pushing his pretensions in the world, and reaching that rank in his sacred profession to which his superior mind, gifted eloquence, and blameless life, so eminently entitled him. It is painful to remark that nothing more in the Church was allotted to him than the Curacy of Stonehouse, with a salary of fifty pounds a year; and had he not previously been elected Master of the Plymouth Grammar School, with an income at best but precarious, he could not, with all his prudence, and living unmarried, have combated with the difficulties of the times. But the power of mind and taste prevailed over his condition; he was not only happy in the possession of Poetry, Painting, and Music, but solicitous to create a taste for them in others; and whatever may be the present developement of the Fine Arts in the town of Plymouth and its neighbourhood, the germ must justly be attributed to the late Dr. Bidlake.
This amiable character sustained, with great patience, for the last three years of his life, that most afflicting calamity, a total deprivation of sight, accompanied with many bodily infirmities. During this dark and distressing part of his existence, he amused his mind by enlarging and preparing his most important Poem, "The Year," for publication; and many of the passages were composed by him a few weeks only before the work was printed. Dr. Bidlake, though a man of retiring and unassuming manners, was very communicative among his intimate friends, by whom he was beloved and respected: he was patient under injuries; strict in his religious principles, but not intolerant; devoted to the Church Establishment, but without preferment; he possessed all the tender charities of the heart, and in the duties of a son he was truly exemplary. One of the striking features of his character was, the deep interest he felt in discovering young men of talent and modesty, and patronising them as far as his limits would admit. Through the whole tenor of his life he was just and honourable; prudent in his domestic concerns, but not niggardly; liberal in the acquisition of the works of taste but not expensive.
As an Author, he was instructive, elegant, and pathetic; as a Preacher, he was unembarrassed, persuasive, and forcible; he had an unaffected and lively sense of the beauties of nature, and a genuine relish for every species of Literature; but Poetry was his favourite art. In a word his mind was enriched with various knowledge; and had he concentrated the brilliant rays of his powerful intellect, he might have shone among the greatest men of his age.
Besides some sermons and other pieces left in MS. his printed works are: Three vols. of Sermons; The Country Parson, a Poem; The Precepts of Prudentius, a Tale; The Sea, a Poem, in two books; Virginia, a Tragedy; The Summer's Eve, a descriptive Poem; The Bampton Lecture, published in 1811; The Elements of Geography, for Schools; The Year, a Poem, in blank verse.