1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Parnell, Thomas

16963431911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 20 — Parnell, Thomas

PARNELL, THOMAS (1679-1718), English poet, was born in Dublin in 1679. His father, Thomas Parnell, belonged to a family (see above) which had been long settled at Congleton, Cheshire, but being a partisan of the Commonwealth, he removed with his children to Ireland after the Restoration, and purchased an estate in Tipperary which descended to his son. In 1693 the son entered Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1700 took his M.A. degree, being ordained deacon in the same year in spite of his youth. In 1704 he became minor canon of St Patrick's Cathedral and in 1706 archdeacon of Clogher. Shortly after receiving this preferment he married Anne Minchin, to whom he was sincerely attached. Swift says that nearly a year after her death (1711) he was still ill with grief. His visits to London are said to have begun as early as 1706. He was intimate with Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, and although in 17 11 he abandoned his Whig politics, there was no change in the friendship. Parnell was introduced to Lord Bolingbroke in 1712 by Swift, and subsequently to the earl of Oxford. In 1713 he contributed to the Poetical Miscellanies edited for Tonson by Steele, and published his Essay on the Different Styles of Poetry. He was a member of the Scriberlus Club, and Pope says that he had a hand in "An Essay of the learned Martinus Scriblerus concerning the Origin of Sciences." He wrote the "Essay on the Life and writings and learning of Homer"[1] prefixed to Pope's translations, and in the autumn of 1714 both were at Bath together. In 1716 Parnell was presented to the vicarage of Finglass, when he resigned his archdeaconry. In the same year he published Homer's Battle of the Frogs and Mice. With the remarks of Zoilus. To which is prefixed, the Life of the said Zoilus. Parnell was in London again in 1718, and, on the way back to Ireland, was taken ill and died at Chester, where he was buried on the 24th of October.

Parnell's best known poem is "The Hermit," an admirably executed moral conte written in the heroic couplet. It is based on an old story to be found in the Gesta Romanorum and other sources. He cannot in any sense be said to have been a disciple of Pope, though his verse may owe something to his friend's revision. But this and other of his pieces, "The Hymn to Contentment," "The Night Piece on Death," "The Fairy Tale," were original in treatment, and exercised some influence on the work of Goldsmith, Gray and Collins. Pope's selection of his poems was justified by the publication in 1758 of Posthumous Works of Dr Thomas Parnell, containing Poems Moral and Divine, and on various other subjects, which in no way added to his fame. They were contemptuously dismissed as unauthentic by Thomas Gray and Samuel Johnson, but there seems no reason to doubt the authorship.

In 1770 Poems on Several Occasions was printed with a life of the author by Oliver Goldsmith. His Poetical Works were printed in Anderson's and other collections of the British Poets. See The Poetical Works (1894) edited by George A. Aitken for the Aldine Edition of the British Poets. An edition by the Rev. John Mitford for the same series (1833) was reprinted in 1866. His correspondence with Pope is published in Pope's Works (ed. Elwin and Courthorpe, vii. 451-467).

  1. Pope acknowledged the essay with affectionate praise, but in 1720 he said it was written "upon such memoirs as I had collected," and later he complained of its defects, saying it had cost him more pains to revise than it would have done to write it.