Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davies, Miles

DAVIES, MILES (1662–1715?), bibliographer, son of George and Elizabeth Davies, was born at Tre'r Abbot, in the parish of Whiteford, Flintshire, in 1662 (Pennant, Hist. of Whiteford and Holywell, p. 115). ‘I was born and bred,’ he says, ‘ with the straying herd, that is the papists.’ On 28 Sept. 1686 he was admitted into the English college at Rome; he took the oath on 10 May 1687, and was ordained priest on 17 April 1688. He left the college on 15 Oct. 1688 for England, with a letter of recommendation from the cardinal protector to the bishop who had jurisdiction in Wales (Foley, Records, vi. 437). According to his own account he was educated in the seminaries of St. Omer, Douay, Liège, Paris, and Rome, and after his return to this country acted as missioner and popish emissary in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Flintshire, being confessor and chaplain to the Roman catholic families at Hill End, at Malvern, and Blackmore Park, and others near the city of Worcester. In his ‘courses beyond the seas’ he went by the name of Blount, but he assumed that of Pollet when he was engaged on the mission. He says that he was converted to protestantism in consequence of attending the services at St. Peter's, Cornhill, of which parish, Beveridge, afterwards bishop of St. Asaph, was incumbent. For six or seven years before his public recantation of catholicism in 1705 he privately conformed to the protestant religion and endeavoured to get a livelihood by his own learning and industry. Isaac D'Israeli, who knew nothing about the early career of Davies, has drawn a fancy picture of him, as a typical ‘Mendicant Author, the hawker of his own works,’ whose life was passed in the study of languages and the sciences, who was ‘not only surrounded by his books, but with the more urgent companions of a wife and family,’ while his faculties ‘appear to have been disordered from the simplicity of his nature and driven to madness by indigence and insult’ (Calamities of Authors, ed. 1812, pp. 67, 70, 71). It is probable that after his recantation he adopted the legal profession, as he subscribes himself ‘counsellor-at-law,’ and in one of his volumes has a long digression on law and law-writers. His attempt to earn a livelihood as a professional author did not answer his expectations. He dedicated his books to persons of eminence without receiving a pecuniary acknowledgment, and was often rudely repulsed while hawking his publications in person from door to door. How long he carried on this unprosperous business, or when he died, has not been ascertained.

The most curious of his works is in seven volumes, bearing the general title of ‘Athenæ Britannicæ: or a Critical History of the Oxford and Cambrige [sic] Writers and Writings, with those of the Dissenters and Romanists as well as other Authors and Worthies, both Domestick and Foreign, both Ancient and Modern.’ This is a kind of bibliographical, biographical, and critical work, ‘the greatest part,’ says Baker the antiquary, ‘borrowed from modern historians, but containing some things more uncommon, and not easily to be met with.’ Vol. i. appears to have been first published separately with the title ‘Eἰκὼν μικρο-βιβλικὴ, sive Icon Libellorum; or a Critical History of Pamphlets, by a Gentleman of the Inns of Court,’ Lond. 1715, 8vo. The fourth volume is the only one in quarto, and it was sold by the author ‘at the corner of Little Queen Street, Holbourn.’ Vol. v. contains ‘Pallas Anglicana,’ a dramatic composition which the author describes as ‘Drama Ethico-Politico-Epistemicum.’ According to his ‘Argumentum’ prefixed, Albionopolis (London) is invaded by certain strangers who are led on by Ars Magica, and Discordia, i.e. Genius Jesuitismi and Irreligio Atheistica, and these, after giving a great deal of trouble, are at last eternally exiled by Pallas or Irenastes. It is a strange farrago, but not without marks of learning and ability. Vol. vi. contains ‘The present and former state of Physick, Diseases, Patients, Quacks, and Doctors.’ All the volumes are of such great rarity, that Dr. Farmer never saw but one (the first), nor Baker but three, which were sent to him as a great curiosity by the Earl of Oxford, and are now in the library of St. John's College, Cambridge. In the British Museum there are seven volumes (Lond. 1715–16, 8vo and 4to). Davies's other publications are: 1. The Recantation of Mr. Pollet, a Roman Priest, late Missioner and Popish Emissary in Worcestershire, Glocestershire, Herefordshire, Flintshire, &c.’ Lond. [21 May 1705] 4to. This is a sermon on Revelation xviii. 4. 2. ‘The Present and Primitive State of Arianism truly stated’ [London, 1715], 8vo. 3. In the Harleian MSS. there is a long letter from him in French, to the Earl of Oxford, with a Latin ode.

[Addit. MS. 5867 ff. 170 b, 171; D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors (1812), i. 66–80; D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature (1866), 128–30; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 501; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), 600; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Williams's Eminent Welshmen, 107.]

T. C.