1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Melmoth

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 22:27-29.



WILLIAM MELMOTH, son of the above, by his second wife, was born in 1710. Of his early history little is known. He probably received a liberal education, although we do not find that he studied at either university. He was bred to the law, as appears by his being appointed a commissioner of bankrupts in 1756, by sir John Eardley Wilmot, at that time one of the commissioners of the great seal, and an excellent discerner and rewarder of merit. The greater part of Mr. Melmoth's life, however, was spent in retirement from public business, partly at Shrewsbury, and partly at Bath, where he was no less distinguished for integrity of conduct, than for polite manners and elegant taste. He first appeared as a writer about 1742, in a volume of "Letters" under the name of Fitzosborne, which have been much admired for the elegance of their language, and their just and liberal remarks on various topics, moral and literary. In 1747 he published "A Translation of the Letters of Pliny," in 2 vols. 8vo, which was regarded as one of the best versions of a Latin author that bad appeared in our language. In 1753, he gave a translation of the "Letters of Cicero to several of his Friends, with Remarks," in 3 vols. He had previously to this, written an answer to Mr. Bryant's attack, in his Treatise on the Truth of the Christian Religion, on his remarks on Trajan's Persecution of the Christians in Bithynia, which made a note to his translation of Pliny's Letters. He was the translator likewise of Cicero's treatises "De Amicitia" and "De Senectute," which were published in 1773 and 1777. These he enriched with remarks, literary and philosophical, which added much to their value. In the former he refuted lord Shaftesbury, who had imputed it as a defect to Christianity, that it gave no precepts in favour of friendship, and Soame Jenyns, who had represented that very omission as a proof of its divine origin. The concluding work of Mr. Melmoth was a tribute of filial affection, in the Memoirs of his father, which we have already noticed. After a long life passed in literary pursuits, and the practice of private virtue, Mr. Melmoth died at Bath, March 15, 1799, at the age of eighty-nine. He had been twice married; first to the daughter of the celebrated Dr. King, principal of St. Mary's-hall, Oxford, and secondly to Mrs. Ogle. The author of "The Pursuits of Literature" says, "Mr. Melmoth is a happy example of the mild influence of learning on a cultivated mind; I mean that learning which is declared to be the aliment of youth, and the delight and consolation of declining years. Who would not envy this fortunate old man, his most finished translation and comment on Tully's Cato? Or rather, who would not rejoice in the refined and mellowed pleasure of so accomplished a gentleman, and so liberal a scholar?" Dr. Warton, in a note on Pope's works, mentions his translation of Pliny as "one of the few that are better than the original." Birch, in his Life of Tillotson, had made nearly the same remark, which was the more liberal in Birch, as Metmoth had taken great liberties with the style of Tillotson. To Mr. Melmoth's other works we may add a few poetical efforts, one in Dodsley's Poems (vol. 1. p. 216, edit. 1782), entitled "Of active and retired life;" and three in Pearch's poems (vol. II.) "The Transformation of Lycon and Euphormius;" a "Tale," in p. 149; and "Epistle to Sappho."