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

DAVIES, SNEYD (1709–1769), poet, was born on 30 Oct. 1709. His father, John Davies, was rector of Kingsland, Herefordshire, and prebendary of Hereford and St. Asaph. His mother, Honora, was daughter of Ralph Sneyd, and married, first, William Ravenscroft in 1690, who died in 1698, and secondly, John Davies, by whom she had four children, Sneyd being the second son. He was on the foundation at Eton, and afterwards became scholar and fellow of King's College, Cambridge. At Eton he made the acquaintance of Charles Pratt, afterwards Lord Camden, who also became a fellow of King's College, and of Frederick Cornwallis, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. Davies wrote poems at school, and was distinguished for scholarship. His father dying in 1732 left him the advowson of Kingsland. Here he settled, and led the life of a recluse, amusing himself with poetical compositions, keeping up an occasional correspondence with Pratt, Cornwallis, and other college friends, and solacing himself with his books and his pipe. His particular crony was Timothy Thomas, rector of Presteigne, in his neighbourhood, who joined him in translating the ‘Essay on Man’ into Latin verse, and shared his tastes as far as superior age and fatness permitted. Thomas died, aged 59, in 1751. Cornwallis, on becoming bishop of Lichfield in 1749, appointed his old friend to a chaplaincy, and afterwards appointed him master of St. John's Hospital in 1751, prebendary of Lichfield, and in 1755 archdeacon of Derby. Davies became known in the literary circles of Lichfield. Miss Seward, then a girl, wept ‘tears of delight’ at his earnest and tremulous voice, and thought him a spirit ‘beatified before his time.’ Though professing love of seclusion, Davies seems to have had some hankerings after preferment, and it is intimated that he showed some irritation when Pratt, who was attorney-general in 1757–62, and became lord chancellor in 1766, failed to obtain any patronage for his old acquaintance. It seems, however, that Davies had a paralytic stroke in 1763, and became irritable and querulous. Lord Camden offered him a small living in the neighbourhood of Kingsland in 1768; but Davies was fast breaking, and died on 20 Jan. 1769. He left the living of Kingsland and his whole fortune to a Mr. Evans. He was never married, and was singularly simple, modest, and unworldly. A lady having once taken a seat in his carriage, he showed his discretion by pulling up the blinds as he passed through the town.

Davies's poems were never collected. They include Latin verses, imitations of Horace's epistles, serious and burlesque imitations of Milton, whom he specially admired, and verses in the manner of Swift. George Hardinge, who tried hard to discover sublimity, as well as elegance, pathos, and humour, in his writings, prefers his Miltonic vein. But Hardinge failed to convert even Miss Seward. Some of them were published anonymously in two volumes of poems (1732 and 1745) by John Whaley, also a fellow of King's College. Whaley, who was Horace Walpole's private tutor, was dissipated and in difficulties, and Davies gave him the poems by way of charity. These and other poems by Davies will be found in Dodsley's ‘Collection’ (1775), v. 95–106, vi. 138–47, 265, 284, and Nichols's ‘Collection’ (1780), vi. 114–42, 151, vii. 312. Pennant's ‘Tour in Wales,’ ii. 422, contains a poem on Caractacus, delivered at an annual meeting on Caer Caradoc. One poem is in the fourth volume of Duncombe's ‘Imitations of Horace,’ which is dedicated to Davies. Others are given for the first time in the rambling life of Davies, by George Hardinge, in the first volume of Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature.’ Some letters called ‘Origines Divisianæ; or the Antiquities of the Devizes, in familiar letters to a friend,’ printed in 1754, ascribed to Sneyd Davies, were really written by James Davis [q. v.]

[Nichols's Illustrations of Literature, i. 481–709, iii. 130–44; Anna Seward's Letters, i. 194, 352; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 577, 615; R. Churton's Lives of the Founders of Brasenose, 488.]

L. S.