1784 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Oldys

Anonymous, "Biographical Notices of Mr. Oldys" Gentleman's Magazine 54 (April 1784) 260.



April 9.

MR. URBAN,

To your account of OLDYS you may add, that he inherited no fortune, and, after some distresses, became literary secretary to Lord Oxford. Thus situated, he had opportunities of consulting his lordship's collections, and entertaining himself in his own way. He has a settled salary of 200 per annum; and during the latter part of his patron's life was of the number of those whose occupation it was to drink with him. At his lordship's death, he received what was due to him, amounting to about three quarters of a year's exhibition, on which he lived as long as it lasted. He was then thrown into the Fleet for rent due in Gray's Inn, and remained in confinement till his friends, collecting money for his use, set him at liberty. He was very angry with the officious providence of Mr. Southwell (a brother of Lord Southwell, and an excellent casuist in other people's business) for paying the debt on which he was imprisoned; as, with that money, he said, he could have liberated himself from the Fleet without satisfying his creditor, who had taken some legal advantage of him, which he himself in his turn might have claimed, to the detriment of his said adversary, whose proceedings had been both negligent and irregular. But "rebus alienis nimis sapere" was too much the character of Southwell. After poor Oldys's release, such as his affection for the place he left, that he constantly spent his evenings in it. He was an excellent picker-up of facts and materials; but had so little the power of arranging them, or connecting them by intermediate ideas, that he was obliged to discontinue his labours in the Biographia Britannica; and, I have been told, proceeded no further than the letter A.