1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Graves

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 16:207-10.



RICHARD GRAVES, an English divine and miscellaneous writer, was a younger son of Richard Graves, esq. of Mickleton, in Gloucestershire, where he was born in 1715. His father, who was an able antiquary, died in 1729. His son, Richard, was educated partly at home, wider the rev. Mr. Smith, curate of the parish in which his father resided, and partly at a public school at Abingdon, in Berkshire, whence, at the age of sixteen, he was chosen a scholar of Pembroke college, Oxford. Soon after his arrival he joined a party of young men who met in the evening to read Epictetus, Theophrastus, and other Greek authors, seldom read at schools; and a short time after became the associate of his contemporaries, Shenstone the poet, and Anthony Whistler, who used to meet to read poetry, plays, and other light works. In 1736 he was elected a fellow of All Souls college, where he acquired the particular intimacy of sir William Blackstone; but instead of pursuing the study of divinity, according to his original intention, he now devoted his attention to physic, and attended in London two courses of anatomy. A severe illness, however, induced him to resume the study of divinity, and in 1740, after taking his master's degree, he entered into holy orders. About the same time he removed with Mr. Fitzherbert, father of lord St. Helen's, to the estate of that gentleman at Tissington, in Derbyshire, where he remained three years enjoying in his house the highest pleasures of refined society. At the end of that period, he set off to make the tour of the north, and while at Scarborough, accidentally met with a distant relation, Dr. Samuel Knight, archdeacon of Berkshire, and the author of the Lives of Colet and Erasmus, by whose recommendation he obtained a curacy near Oxford. This was particularly gratifying to Mr. Graves, who was then coming, by turn, into office in the college, and had been for some time desirous of procuring such a situation. He immediately took possession of his curacy, but as the parsonage-house was out of repair, he took a lodging with a gentleman-farmer in the neighbourhood. The attractions of the farmer's youngest daughter made such a powerful impression on the heart of Mr. Graves that he resigned his fellowship and married her. After residing about two years on his curacy, he was presented by Mr. Skrine to the rectory of Claverton, where he went to reside in 1750, and till his death, was never absent from it a month at a time. As the narrowness of his circumstances obliged him to superintend in person the education of his children, be likewise resolved to take other pupils under his tuition; and this practice he continued, with great credit to himself, upwards of thirty years. In 1763, through the interest of Ralph Allen, esq. of Prior-Park, he was presented to the living of Kilmersdon, in addition to that of Claverton, and that gentleman likewise procured him the appointment of chaplain to lady Chatham. His conversation was rendered highly agreeable by that epigrammatic turn which points his writings of the lighter kind. His constant good humour rendered him an acceptable companion in every society, his colloquial impromptus being frequently as happy as the jeux d'esprit of his pen, while both were invariably the unmeditated effusions of a sportive fancy and guileless heart. He died at Claverton, Nov. 23, 1804, at the advanced age of ninety.

Mr. Graves's publications were very numerous. His first was "The Festoon; or, a collection of Epigrams, with an Essay on that species of composition." In 1772 he produced "The Spiritual Quixote," in 3vols. intended as a satire on the itinerant and illiterate preachers among the methodists, and which might have been pronounced one of the most amusing and interesting novels of his time, had he not, in pursuit of his main object, incautiously introduced the language of scripture, which, whether used by methodists, or others, can never be a legitimate subject of ridicule. He next published "A Translation from the Italian of Galates; or, a treatise on Politeness, by De la Casa, archbishop of Benevento." He soon after published "Columella, or the distressed Anchoret," in 2 vols. to show the consequence of a person of education and talents retiring to solitude and indolence in the vigour of youth: in this it is thought he alluded to his friend Shenstone. He also published two volumes of poems under the title of "Euphrosyne," which have gone through several editions, but he is rather entitled to the merit of an agreeable versifier, than that of a genuine poet. Then appeared his "Eugenius; or, Anecdotes of the Golden Vale," in 2 vols. In 1778 appeared "Recollections of some particulars in the life of William Shenstone, esq. in a series of letters to W. Seward, esq. F.R.S." This was published to vindicate the character of his friend from the criticisms and censure of Dr. Johnson, Mr. Gray, and Mr. Mason. The following is a list of his subsequent publications, although probably not in chronological order. "Plexippus; or, the aspiring Plebeian," in 2 vols.; "Hiero on the condition of Royalty," from the Greek of Xenophon; "Fleurettes," a translation of Fenelon's Ode on Solitude, and other French authors; "The Life of Commodus," from the Greek of Herodian; "The Rout," from a young man in town to his friend in the country; "The Meditations of Antoninus, translated from the Greek;" "The Reveries of Solitude," consisting of pieces of prose and verse; "The Coalition; or, Opera rehearsed," a comedy in three acts; "The Farmer's Son," a moral tale, in the ballad metre; " Sermons on various subjects," in 1 vol.; "Senilities," consisting of pieces in prose and verse. His last publication was "The Invalid, with the obvious means of enjoying Life, by a Nonagenarian." The above, we believe, is a tolerably correct list of the publications of Mr. Graves; whose works, although the "Spiritual Quixote" only will be much called for hereafter, will always be read with pleasure, there being a sprightliness and epigrammatic turn in his writings which was peculiar to himself, and which he retained to the last. In Mr. Graves ended the bright associates of their time, composed of Shenstone, Whistler, and Jago.