Rev. Thomas Carte

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 8:292-301.

THOMAS CARTE, a very learned English historian, was born at Clifton, in Warwickshire; at which place his father, the subject of the preceding article, at that time resided as vicar; and was baptized there by immersion, on April 23, 1686. If this account be exact, his progress in grammatical learning must have been very rapid and extraordinary; for it appears that he was admitted a member of University-college, in Oxford, and matriculated July 4, 1698, having then not long entered into the thirteenth year of his age. He took his degree of B.A. Jan. 1702; after which he was incorporated at Cambridge, where he became M.A. in 1706.

In 1712 he made the tour of Europe with a nobleman, and on his return entered into orders, and was appointed reader of the Abbey-church at Bath; where he preached a sermon on Jan. 30, 1714, in which he took occasion to vindicate Charles I. from aspersions cast upon his memory with regard to the Irish rebellion. This drew Mr. Carte into a controversy with Mr. (afterwards the celebrated Dr.) Chandler, and gave rise to our historian's first publication, entitled "The Irish Massacre set in a clear light," &c. which is inserted in lord Somers's Tracts. Upon the accession of George I. Mr. Carte's principles not permitting him to take the oaths to the new government, he assumed a lay-habit, and at one time assisted the celebrated Jeremiah Collier, who preached to a nonjuring congregation in a house in Broad-street, London, and on a Sunday he used to put on his gown and cassock, and perform divine service in his own family. What particular concern he had in the rebellion of 1715 does not appear; but that he had some degree of guilt in this respect, or, at least, that he was strongly suspected of it by administration, is evident, from the king's troops having orders to discover and apprehend him. He had the good fortune to elude their search, by concealing himself at Coleshill, Warwickshire, in the house of Mr. Badger, then curate of that town. Mr. Carte himself officiated for a time as curate of the same place; after which, he was some time secretary to bishop Atterbury. This connexion threw him into fresh difficulties: so deeply was he thought to be engaged in the conspiracy ascribed to that eminent prelate, that a charge of high treason was brought against him; and a proclamation was issued, Aug. 13, 1722, offering a reward of £1000 for seizing his person. He was again successful in making his escape, and fled into France, where he resided several years, under the borrowed name of Philips. Whilst Mr. Carte continued in that country, he was introduced to the principal men of learning and family, and gained access to the most eminent libraries, public and private, by which means he was enabled to collect large materials for illustrating an English edition of Thuanus. The collection was in such forwardness in 1724, that he consulted Dr. Mead, at that time the great patron of literary undertakings, on the mode of publication. The doctor, who perceived that the plan might be rendered more extensively useful, obtained Mr. Carte's materials at a very considerable price, and engaged Mr. Buckley in the noble edition completed in 1733, in 7 vols. fol. Mr. Carte would probably himself have been the principal editor, if he had not been an exile at the time the undertaking commenced, but we find that the Latin address to Dr. Mead, prefixed to that work, and dated from the Inner-temple, Jan. 1733, is signed Thomas Carte. Whilst this grand work was carrying on, queen Caroline, whose regard to men of letters is well known, received such favourable impressions of Mr. Carte, that she obtained permission for his returning to England in security; which he did some time between the years 1728 and 1730. He had not long been restored to his own country before he engaged in one of the most important of his works, "The history of the life of James duke of Ormonde, from his birth, in 1610, to his death, in 1688," 3 vols. fol. The third volume, which was published first, came out in 1735, and the first and second volumes in 1736. From a letter of Mr. Carte's to Dr. Swift, dated Aug. 11, 1736, it appears, that in writing the life of the duke of Ormond, he had availed himself of some instructions which he had derived from the dean. In the same letter he mentions his design of composing a general history of England; and finds great fault, not only with Rapin, but with Rymer's Foedera; but his accusations of that noble collection are in several respects erroneous and groundless.

It is highly probable that the success and popularity of Rapin's History gave considerable disgust to Mr. Carte, and other gentlemen of the same principles, and suggested the scheme of a new undertaking. It is evident, from some letters written about this time to Dr. Z. Grey by our author, that he laid a great stress upon that part of his Life of the duke of Ormonde which vindicated Charles I. in his transactions with the earl of Glamorgan, and which brought a charge of forgery against that nobleman, but in this it has since been proved he was mistaken. Some booksellers of Dublin having formed a design of printing in Ireland a piratical edition of the "History of the duke of Ormonde," Mr. Carte recollected an order of the house of lords, made in 1721, which was full to his purpose. By this order, which had been issued upon occasion of Curll's publication of the duke of Buckingham's writings, it was declared that whoever should presume to print any account of the life, the letters, or other works of any deceased peer, without the consent of his heirs or executors, should be punished as guilty of a breach of privilege of that house. An attested copy of the order was carried by our historian to the earl of Arran, and his lordship sent it to his agent in Dublin, to serve upon the booksellers concerned in the pirated impression, and to discharge them in his name from proceeding in the design. But as this was a remedy only in Mr. Carte's case, and arising from the particular nature of his work, he was very solicitous that a new act of parliament should be passed, to secure the property of authors in their writings, and drew up a paper recommending such an act. Lord Cornbury, at the instance of the university of Oxford, had procured the draught of a bill to be prepared, which was approved by the speaker of the house of commons; but we do not find that any farther measures were pursued in the affair. In April 1738, Mr. Carte published on a separate sheet, "A general account of the necessary materials for a history of England, of the society and subscriptions proposed for defraying the expences of it, and the method in which he intended to proceed in carrying on the work." In the following October he had obtained subscriptions, or the promise of subscriptions, to the amount of £600 a year. Not long after, he was at Cambridge, collecting materials for his history, from the university and other libraries. Whilst he was thus employed, his head quarters were at Madingly, the seat of sir John Hinde Cotton, bart. whose large collection of old pamphlets and journals, published during the civil war between 1639 and 1660, he methodized, and procured to be bound in a great number of volumes now in the library there. March 3, 1744, a cause in chancery was determined in his favour against his brother Samuel and his sister Sarah, with regard to a doubt concerning their father's will. Not many weeks after, our author fell under the suspicions of administration, and was taken into custody, together with a Mr. Garth, at a time when the habeas-corpus act was suspended, in consequence of some apprehended designs in favour of the pretender. It is certain that nothing material was discovered against him, for he was soon discharged out of custody, May 9, 1744. This event did not detract from his popularity, or prevent his receiving such encouragement in his historical design, as never before or since has been afforded, or expected in any literary undertaking. On July 18, the court of common-council of the city of London agreed to subscribe £50 a year for seven years to Mr. Carte, towards defraying the expence of his writing the history of England. In the next month was printed, in an 8vo pamphlet, "A collection of the several papers that had been published by him relative to his great work." Oct. 18, the company of goldsmiths voted £25 a year for seven -years, towards defraying the expences of transcribing letters, negotiations, and other materials of the like nature; and, in the December following, the companies of grocers and vintners subscribed £25 a year each to the same purpose; and the chapter of Durham, £21. The university of Oxford, and the societies of New-college, Magdalen, Brazen-nose, and Trinity, were contributors, but no mention is made of Cambridge in the dedication of the first volume. Proposals for printing the history were circulated in 1746, and the first volume of it was completed in December 1747; when the credit of a work which had been ushered into the world with so much preparation and expectation, and which had been supported by such ample subscriptions, was almost wholly overturned by a remarkable act of literary indiscretion. Mr. Carte, having taken occasion to speak of the unction of our kings, and of the great effects annexed to it, introduced in a note a story of one Christopher Lovel, a native of Wells, in Somersetshire, who is represented as having been healed of the evil, at Avignon, in 1716, by application to the pretender. The indiscretion he had been guilty of was hurtful to his interest, and produced the three following pamphlets: 1. "Remarks on Mr. Carte's General History of England;" 2. "A letter to the Jacobite Journalist, concerning Mr. Carte's History, by Duncan Mac Carte, a Highlander;" and 3. "Some Specimens of Mr. Carte's History of England, with Remarks thereon, by Donald Mac Carte." But this was not all: the corporation of London unanimously resolved, in April 1748, to withdraw their subscription; and the history fell into very general neglect. It is to the honour of Mr. Carte's fortitude, that he was not discouraged from prosecuting his undertaking; and perhaps he might receive private aid and support, though public assistance was withdrawn. Whatever may have been the case in that respect, his second volume, containing an account of all public transactions, from the accession of Henry III. in 1216, to the death of Henry VII. in 1509, appeared in 1750. The third volume, which extended to the marriage of the elector palatine with the princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I. in 1613, was published in 1752. The fourth volume, which Mr. Carte did not live to complete, appeared in 1755. It was intended to have been carried on to the restoration, but concludes with the year 1654. It was his design to have brought the narration down to the revolution, for which purpose he had been at uncommon pains to collect materials wherever they could be found. Notwithstanding our author's peculiar opinions and prejudices, his general history is undoubtedly a work of great merit in point of information. It is written with eminent exactness and diligence, and with a perfect knowledge of original authors; and has of late years risen considerably in reputation, as well as in price, especially since it was discovered how much Hume was indebted to it. Mr. Carte died at Caldecot-house, near Abingdon, Berkshire, April 2, 1754, and was buried at Yattenden church, in a vault on the north side of the chancel. The disorder which earned him off, was a diabetes. At his decease, all his papers came into the hands of his widow, daughter of colonel Brett, who afterwards married Mr. Jernegan, a gentleman intended for orders in the church of Rome. Mrs. Carte left the papers to her second husband for life, and after his death to the university of Oxford. They are now deposited in the Bodleian library, having been delivered by Mr. Jernegan to the university, 1779, for a valuable consideration. Whilst they were in this gentleman's possession, the earl of Hardwicke paid £200 for the perusal of them, and, it is said, might have purchased them for £1500.; but we do not see how this can be reconciled with the terms of the will. It is certain, however, that as late as 1775, Mr. Jernegan advertised the use of them. For a consideration of £300 Mr. Macpherson had the use of them; who, from these and other materials, compiled his history and state papers. Mr. Carte was a man of a strong constitution, and indefatigable application. When the studies of the day were over, he would eat heartily; and in conversation was cheerful and entertaining; but his external appearance was slovenly and uninviting.

Besides the works mentioned, he was the author of the following publications: 1. "A collection of original letters and papers, concerning the affairs of England, from 1641 to 1660," 1739, 2 vols. 8vo. 2. "The History of the Revolutions of Portugal, from the foundation of that kingdom to the year 1567, with letters of sir Robert Southwell, during his embassy there, to the duke of Ormonde; giving a particular account of the deposing don Alphonso, and placing don Pedro on the throne," 1740, 8vo. 3. "A full Answer to the Letter from a bystander," a pamphlet, 1742, 8vo. 4. "A full and clear vindication of the full answer to a Letter from a bystander," ditto, 1743. The letter from a bystander, was written by the late Corbyn Morris, esq. 5. "Catalogue des rolles Gascons, Normans, et Francois, conserves clans les archives de la Tour de Londres; tire d'apres celui du Garde desdites archives; & contenant la precis & le sommaire de tons les titres qui s'y trouvent concernant la Guienne, la Normandie, & les autres provinces de la France, sujettes autres fois aux rois d'Angleterre, Paris, 1743, 2 vols. folio, with two most exact and correct indexes of places and persons. This valuable collection, being calculated for the use of the French, is introduced with a preface in that language. 6. "A preface to a translation, by Mrs. Thompson, of the history of the memorable and extraordinary calamities of Margaret of Anjot, queen of England, &c. by the chevalier Michael Baudier," London, 1736, 8vo. 7. "Advice of a Mother to her son and daughter," translated from the French of the marchioness de Lambert. This has gone through several editions. 8. "Farther reasons, addressed to parliament, for rendering more effectual an act of queen Anne, relating to the vesting in authors the right of copies, for the encouragement of learning, by R. H." about 1737. Mr. Carte wrote, also, a paper (the MS. of which is in Mr. Nichols's possession), recommending a public library to be formed at the Mansion-house, and that the twelve great companies of the city of London should each of them subscribe £2000 for that purpose. No notice appears to have been taken of this proposal at the time, but very lately, 1806, in the mayoralty of sir James Shaw, bart. and at the suggestion of that magistrate, the foundation of a library at the Mansion-house was laid, and a fine collection of English classics deposited there, by a vote of the court of aldermen, under the direction of John Nichols, esq. then a member of the corporation, who was assisted in the selection by the late very learned professor Porson. A translation of Mr. Carte's General History of England into French, was undertaken by several gentlemen in conjunction, but was never completed. Some parts of the translation were in Dr. Ducarel's possession. Mr. Carte left behind him, in MS. a Vindication of Charles I. with regard to the Irish massacre. In 1758 was published a book, partly upon the same subject, entitled "The case of the royal martyr considered with candour," in 2 vols. 8vo, the author of which acknowledges his obligations to Mr. Carte. It was written by the rev. J. Boswell, M.A. a clergyman and a schoolmaster, at Taunton, in Somersetshire, and the author of a "Method of Study, or a useful library," printed in 1738, in 8vo, a work of no distinguished merit; and of two pamphlets, called "Remarks on the Free and Candid Disquisitions," which appeared in 1750 and 1751.

A singular circumstance yet remains to be noticed respecting the conduct of the city of London towards our author. At a court of common council held Oct. 11, 1750, he petitioned that the subscription of £50 per annum, towards compiling a history of England, voted to him by that court in 1744, and taken on in 1748, might be paid him for the latter year, of which ten months were elapsed when the resolution of withdrawing that subscription was taken; and it was agreed that the chamberlain should pay him the £50 for that year!

Mr. Carte had two brothers, Samuel and John. SAMUEL CARTE was admitted a scholar of Trinity-hall, Cambridge, on the 5th of May, 1704, and proceeded LL.B. He was afterwards a member of Symond's-inn, and practised as a solicitor in Chancery in 1703, in which profession he became eminent. He was also a learned antiquary. Most of his manuscripts and papers relative to antiquities are supposed to have been sold by his widow to the late sir Thomas Cave, bart. He assisted Mr. Jackson, schoolmaster of Coventry, in his account of the benefactions and charities belonging to that city; and was the editor, though without his name, of Brewster's "Collectanea Ecclesiastica," to which he added many learned notes. Mr. Samuel Carte was alive in 1760, but died not long after. Several manuscript letters of his, relative to subjects of antiquity, were in Dr. Ducarel's possession, and are now in that of Mr. Nichols.

Mr. JOHN CARTE was entered at Trinity-hall, Cainbridge, Jan. 9, 1707, where he was admitted to the degree of LL.B. Having taken holy orders, he became first vicar of Tachbroke, in the county of Warwick, and was afterwards promoted, by the dean and chapter of Westminster, to the vicarage of Hinckley, in Leicestershire, with the rectory of Stoke annexed. At this place he resided, from the year 1720, till his death, which was on the 17th of December, 1735. Mr. John Carte was very remarkable for his absence of mind. Some years before his decease, he paid his addresses to Miss Dugdale, a descendant of the illustrious antiquary, and the wedding-day was fixed. But he forgot to go to the place appointed for the celebration of the marriage, till the day after the time agreed upon; which the lady, as might justly be expected, resented so much, that she absolutely refused him her hand. Being perpetually absorbed in thought, he was careless in his dress, and destitute of oeconomy. His inattention to money matters he carried to such an excess, that, when the inhabitants of Stoke have brought to him the tithes, which he never took the trouble to ask for, it was not unusual with him, if he chanced to be engaged with a book, to request that they would come at a future time, though perhaps he was the next hour obliged to borrow a guinea for his subsistence. The parsonage-house adjoins to the churchyard; and yet he was frequently so engaged in study, that the sermon-bell used to ring till the congregation were weary of waiting, and the clerk was obliged to remind him of his duty. During the fifteen years in which he was vicar of Hinckley, he neglected to make any demand for tithes of the hamlet of The Hide, belonging to that parish, which afterwards involved the parish in a tedious law-suit. Mr. John Carte's unaffected piety, his learning, his integrity, his simplicity of manners, and we may probably add, his avoiding to insist upon his legal dues, are still remembered with veneration by his surviving parishioners. He was a most zealous assertor of the rites and ceremonies of the church of England, which, he justly observed, were equally remote from the extremes of popery and fanaticism, and his opinions were founded on the firm basis of scripture, with which he was so intimately acquainted, as to be able to repeat the greater part of the Bible.