1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Birch

Sir John Hawkins, in Life of Johnson (1787) 209.



The mental endowments of Dr. Birch were singular; he had a great eagerness after knowledge, and a memory very retentive of facts; but his learning, properly so called, bore no proportion to his reading; for he was in truth neither a mathematician, a natural philosopher, a classical scholar, nor a divine; but, in a small degree, all, and though lively in conversation, he was but a dull writer. Johnson was used to speak of him in this manner: "Tom is a lively rogue; he remembers a great deal, and can tell many pleasant stories; but a pen is to Tom a torpedo, the touch of it benumbs his hand and his brain: Tom can talk; but he is no writer."... In the midst of all his labours and pursuits, Dr. Birch preserved an even temper of mind, and a great chearfulness of spirits. Ever desirous to learn, and willing to communicate, he was uniformly affable, courteous, and disposed to conversation. His life was spent without reproach, but terminated by an unhappy accident, a fall from his horse on the Hampstead road, on the 9th day of January, 1766.