THOMAS RYMER, an antiquary and critic, was born in the North of England, and educated at the grammar-school of Northallerton, whence he was admitted a scholar at Sidney college, Cambridge. On quitting the university, he became a member of Gray's-inn; and in 1692 succeeded Mr. Shadwell as historiographer to king William III. He rendered himself known first as a writer for the stage, by his production of "Edgar," a tragedy, in 1678, which excited little approbation or inquiry until he became the author of "A View of the Tragedies of the last age," which occasioned those admirable remarks by Dryden, preserved in the preface to Mr. Colman's edition of "Beaumont and Fletcher," and since by Dr. Johnson in his "Life of Dryden." Rymer was a man of considerable learning, and a lover of poetry; but had few requisites for the character of a critic; and was indeed almost totally disqualified for it, by want of candour; and the liberties he took with Shakspeare, in his "View of the Tragedies of the last age," drew upon him the severity of every admirer of that poet. His own talents for dramatic poetry were extremely inferior to those of the persons whose writings he has with so much rigour attacked, as appears very evidently by his tragedy of "Edgar." But, although we cannot subscribe either to his fame or his judgment as a poet or critic, it cannot be denied that he was a very useful compiler of records, and his "Foedera" will ever entitle his memory to respect. While collecting this great work, he employed himself, like a royal historiographer, as one of his biographers says, in detecting the falsehood, and ascertaining the truth of history. In 1702, he published his first letter to bishop Nicolson, in which be endeavours to free king Robert III. of Scotland, beyond all dispute, from the imputation of bastardy. He soon after published his second letter to bishop Nicolson, "containing an historical deduction of the alliances between France and Scotland; whereby the pretended old league with Charlemagne is disproved, and the true old league is ascertained."
It was in king William's councils that it was first determined to print, by authority, the public conventions of Great Britain with other powers; and Mr. Rymer being selected as the editor, a warrant, empowering him to search the public repositories for this great design, was granted Aug. 26, 1693. Mr. Rymer then undertook the work, which he entitled "Foedera;" the first volume was published in 1704, and in 1707, Mr. Robert Sanderson was appointed his assistant, the warrant being renewed for that purpose. Mr. Rymer lived to publish fifteen folio volumes of this work; and from his collections a sixteenth was published by Sanderson, who, by a warrant dated Feb. 15, 1717, was continued the sole conductor of this laborious undertaking, and completed it in twenty volumes, the last of which appeared in 1735. This Sanderson, who was usher of the court of chancery, clerk of the chapel of the rolls, and fellow of the society of antiquaries, died Dec. 25, 1741.
Mr. Rymer died Dec. 14, 1713, and was buried in the parish church of St. Clement Danes. Some specimens of his poetry are preserved in the first volume of Mr. Nichols's "Select Collection of Miscellany Poems," 1780. After his death was published, in 1714, a small treatise by him "Of the antiquity, power, and decay of Parliaments;" and in the same year, "Some translations from Greek, Latin, and Italian poets, with other verses and songs, never before printed," which, not being sufficient to make a volume in 12mo, were published in a collection called "Curious Amusements, by a gentleman of Pembroke-hall its Cambridge."
As historiographer, the "Foedera" were not the only labours of Rymer. He left an unpublished collection, relating to the government and history of England, from 1115 to 1698, in fifty-eight volumes, now in the British Museum. The "Foedera" was abridged by Rapin in French in Le Clerc's "Bibliotheque," and a translation of it published in English by Stephen Whatley, in 1731, 4 vols. 8vo. What is more remarkable, an edition of the whole of the original was printed at the Hague, in 1749, in 10 very large volumes, folio.