Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Amory, Thomas (1691?-1788)
AMORY, THOMAS (1691?–1788), eccentric writer, was the son of Councillor Amory, who accompanied William III to Ireland, was made secretary for the forfeited estates, and possessed a considerable property in county Clare. It appears from a confused statement of the younger Amory's son (Gent. Mag. lviii. 1062, lix. 106), that Councillor Amory was a Thomas Amory of Bunratty, son of another Thomas Amory by his wife Elizabeth, daughter to the nineteenth Lord Kerry (Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, by Archdall, ii. 199). Though Irish by descent, Amory was not born in Ireland, but from some of his writings it may be gathered that he had lived in Dublin, where he says that he knew Swift. In 1751 he advertised a letter to Lord Orrery, intended to prove that Swift's sermon upon the Trinity, far from deserving Orrery's praises, was really ‘the most senseless and despicable performance ever produced by orthodoxy to corrupt the divine religion of the blessed Jesus.’ In London he had seen something of Toland and of the notorious Curll. About 1757 he was living in Westminster, with a small country retreat near Hounslow. He was married and had one son, Dr. Robert Amory, who was in practice for many years at Wakefield. Amory lived a secluded life, had a ‘very peculiar look and aspect’ with the manners of a gentleman, and scarcely ever stirred abroad except ‘like a bat in the dusk of the evening,’ wandering in abstract meditation through the crowded streets. He died 25 Nov. 1788, at the age of 97 (Gent. Mag. lix. 572).
Amory published, in 1755, ‘Memoirs containing the Lives of several Ladies of Great Britain. A History of Antiquities, Productions of Nature and Monuments of Art. Observations on the Christian Religion as professed by the Established Church and Dissenters of every Denomination. Remarks on the Writings of the greatest English Divines: with a Variety of Disquisitions and Opinions relative to Criticism and Manners and many extraordinary Actions.’ 2 vols. 8vo. The same year appeared an anonymous pamphlet, presumably by Amory, called ‘A Letter to the Reviewers occasioned by their Account of a Book called “Memoirs, &c.”’ In 1756 he published the first, and in 1766 the second, volume of ‘The Life of John Buncle, Esq.: containing various observations and reflections made in several parts of the world and many extraordinary relations,’ 8vo. Both books have been reprinted in 12mo. ‘John Buncle’ is virtually a continuation of the memoirs. The book is a literary curiosity, containing an extraordinary medley of religious and sentimental rhapsodies, descriptions of scenery, and occasional fragments of apparently genuine autobiography. ‘The soul of Rabelais,’ says Hazlitt, ‘passed into John (Thomas) Amory.’ The phrase is suggested by Amory's rollicking love adventures. He marries seven wives in the two volumes of Buncle, generally after a day's acquaintance, and buries them as rapidly. They are all of superlative beauty, virtue, and genius, and, in particular, sound unitarians. A great part of the work is devoted to theological disquisition, showing considerable reading, in defence of ‘Christian deism.’ Much of his love-making and religious discussion takes place in the north of England, and there is some interest in his references to the beauty of the lake scenery. His impassable crags, fathomless lakes, and secluded valleys, containing imaginary convents of unitarian monks and nuns, suggest the light-headed ramblings of delirium. Amory was clearly disordered in his intellect, though a writer in the ‘Retrospective Review’ is scandalised at the imputation and admires him without qualification. A promise at the end of the memoirs to give some recollections of Swift and of Mrs. Grierson was never fulfilled.
[Life in General Biog. Dict. 1798, slightly compressed in Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Hazlitts Round Table, essay 18; Retrospective Review (1st series) vi. 100; Notes and Queries (1st series), xi. 58; Gent. Mag. lviii. 1062, lix. 107, 322, 372; Saturday Review, 12 May 1877.]