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THE life of a scholar, seldom abounds with adventure. His fame is acquired in solitude. And the historian, who only views him at a distance, must be content with a dry detail of actions, by which he is scarcely distinguished from the rest of mankind. But we are fond of talking of those who have given us pleasure, not that we have any thing important to say, but because the subject is pleasing.
THOMAS PARNELL, D. D. was descended from an ancient family, that had for some centuries been settled at Congleton, in Cheshire. His father, Thomas Parnell, who had been attached to the commonwealth party, upon the restoration, went over to Ireland thither he carried a large personal fortune, which he laid out in lands in that kingdom. The estates he purchased there, as also that of which he was possessed in Cheshire, descended to our poet, who was his eldest son, and still remain in the family. Thus, want, which has compelled many of our greatest men into the service of the muses, had no influence upon Parnell; he was a poet by inclination.
He was born in Dublin, in the year 1679, and receive ed the first rudiments of his education at the school of Doctor Jones, in that city. Surprising things are told us of the greatness of his memory at that early period, as of his being able to repeat by heart, forty lines of any book, at the first reading; of his getting the third book of the Iliad, in one night's time, which was given in order to confine him for some days. These stories, which are told of almost every celebrated wit, may perhaps be true. But for my own part, I never found any of those prodigies of parts, although I have known enow that were desirous, among the ignorant, of being thought so.
There is one presumption, however, of the early maturity of his understanding. He was admitted a member of the College of Dublin, at the age of thirteen, which is much sooner than usual, as at that University, they are a great deal stricter in their examination for entrance, than either at Oxford or Cambridge. His progress through the college course of study, was probably marked with but little splendour; his imagination might have been too warm to relish the cold logic of Burgersdicius, or the dreary subtleties of Smiglesius : but it is certain, that, as a classical scholar, few could equal him. His own compositions show this, and the deference which the most eminent men of his time paid him upon that head, put it beyond a doubt. He took the degree of Master of Arts, the ninth of July, 1700 ; and in the same year he was ordained a Deacon, by William bishop of Derry, having a dispensation from the Primate, as being under twenty-three years of age. He was admitted into Priest's Orders about three years after, by William archbishop of Dublin ; and on the ninth
of February, 1705, he was collated by Sir George Ashe, bishop of Clogher, to the archdeaconry of Clogher. About that time also he married Miss Anne Minchin, a young lady of great merit and beauty, by whom he had two sons, who died young, and one daughter, who is still living. His wife died some time before him ; and her death is said to have malle so great an impression on his spirits, that it served to hasten his own. On the thirty-first of May, 1716, he was presented by his friend and patron Archbishop King, to the vicarage of Finglass, a benifice worth about four hundred pounds a year, in the diocese of Dublin, but he lived to enjoy his preferment a very short time He died at Chester, in July, 1717, on his way to Ireland, and was buried in Trinity church, in that town, without any monument to mark the place of his interment. As he died without male issue, his estate devolved to his only nephew, Sir John Parnell, Baronet, whose father was younger brother to the Archdeacon, and one of the Justices of the King's Bench in Ireland.
Such is the very unpoetical detail of the life of a poet. Some dates, and some few acts scarcely more interesting than those that make the ornaments of a country tomb-stone, are all that remain of one, whose labours now begin to excitë universal curiosity. A poet, while living, is seldom an object sufficiently great to attract much attention; his real merits are known but to a few, and these are generally sparing in their praises. When his fame is increased by time, it is then too late to investigate the peculiarities of his disposition; the dews of the morning are past, and we vainly try to continue the chase by the meri. dian splendour.
There is scarcely any man, but might be made the subjectyof a very interesting and amusing history, if VOL. I.
the writer, besides a thorough acquaintance with the character he draws, were able to make those nice distinctions which separate it from all others. The strongest minds have usually the most striking peculiarities, and would consequently afford the richest materials: but in the present instance, from not knowing Doctor Parnell, his peculiarities are gone to the grave with him; and we are obliged to take his character from such as knew but little of him, or who, perhaps, could have given very little information if they had known more.
Parnell, by what I have been able to collect from my father and uncle, who knew him, was the most capable man in the world, to make the happiness of those he conversed with, and the least able to secure his own.
He wanted that evenness of disposition, which bears disappointinent with phlegm, and joy with indifference. He was ever very much elated or depressed; and his whole life spent in agony or rapture. But the turbulence of these passions only affected himself, and never those about him : he knew the ridicule of his own character, and very effectually raised the mirth of his companions, as well at his vexations, as at his triumphs.
How much his company was desired, appears from the extensiveness of his connexions, and the number of his friends. Even before he made any figure in the literary world, his friendship was sought by persons of every rank and party. The wits at that time, differed a good deal from those who are most eminent for their understanding at present. It would now be thought a very indifferent sign of a writer's good sense to disclaim his private friends for happening to be of a different party in politics; but it was then otherwise, the whig wits held the tory wits in great contempt, and these retaliated in their turn. At