Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Delany, Patrick

DELANY, PATRICK (1685?–1768), divine, was born in Ireland in 1685 or 1686. His father was servant to an Irish judge, Sir John Russell, and afterwards held a small farm. Patrick Delany obtained a sizarship at Trinity College, Dublin. He took the usual degrees, was elected to a junior, and then to a senior fellowship, and was tutor of the college. We are told that Sir Constantine Phipps, the Irish chancellor, intended to give him some preferment, but Phipps lost office upon the death of Queen Anne. Delany was a popular preacher and tutor, and is said to have made from 900l. to 1,000l. a year by his pupils. When Swift settled in Dublin after Queen Anne's death, Delany became one of his intimates. Delany and Sheridan joined with Swift in the composition of various trifles, though Delany maintained his dignity more than Swift's other companions. The intimacy had begun before 10 Nov. 1718, the date of some verses addressed by Swift to Delany praising his conversational powers, and requesting him to advise Sheridan to keep his jests within the bounds of politeness. He shared Swift's political prejudices. In 1724 he supported some students who had been expelled by the provost, and defended their case in a college sermon. He was compelled to apologise to the provost. In 1725 he had been presented to the parish of St. John's in Dublin. Archbishop Boulter [q. v.] successfully resisted his application for a dispensation to hold this living with his fellowship. Boulter's letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury upon this occasion shows that Delany was thought to have a dangerous influence in the college against the government. In 1727 Lord Carteret became lord-lieutenant, and was on friendly terms with Swift, who urged the claims to preferment of his friend Delany. In the same year Delany was presented by the university to a small living in the north, and Lord Carteret gave him the chancellorship of Christ Church. In 1729 Carteret also gave him a prebend in St. Patrick's, and in 1730 he became chancellor of St. Patrick's. Delany, however, had been extravagant, and his whole income was little over 300l. a year. In a poetical epistle to Lord Carteret (about 1729) he still asks for further preferment. Swift had a temporary coolness with Delany, whom he thought too much of a courtier. Some of Swift's poems at this time take Delany to task for his vanity, extravagance, subservience, and jealousy of Sheridan (see Swift's poems of 1729), but the coolness passed off. Delany afterwards annoyed Swift by inducing him to patronise the Pilkingtons, who turned out badly; but they continued to be on good terms, and Swift calls Delany (to Barber, March 1737–8) the ‘most eminent preacher we have.’ In the same year Delany published a periodical called the ‘Tribune,’ which ran through twenty numbers. He had become reconciled to Boulter, who in 1731 gave him an introduction to Bishop Gibson, calling him one of ‘our most celebrated preachers.’ Delany was going to London to arrange for the publication of his ‘Revelations examined with Candour,’ the first volume of which appeared in 1732, and the second in 1734; a third was added in 1763. In 1732 he married Margaret Tenison, a rich widow, with 1,600l. a year, according to Swift (Letter to Gay, 12 Aug. 1732). Delany's income from his preferments is estimated at 700l. a year, and though he was 1,000l. in debt (Brown, Cases in Parliament, v. 303), he presented 20l. a year to be distributed among the students of Trinity College. Swift tells Pope soon afterwards (January 1732–3) that Delany was one of the very few men not spoilt by an access of fortune, and praises his hospitality and generosity, which often left him without money as before. Delany, he says soon afterwards (8 July 1733), is the only gentleman he knows who can maintain a regular and decorous hospitality, having seven or eight friends at dinner once a week. Delany's book, though orthodox in intention, was fanciful, and he was ridiculed for maintaining the perpetual obligation of christians to abstain from things strangled and from blood. He excited more criticism by a volume published in 1738 called ‘Reflections upon Polygamy and the encouragement given to that practice by the Scriptures of the Old Testament,’ by Phileleutherus Dubliniensis; a second edition appeared in 1739, with an apologetic preface addressed to Boulter. He argues in this that polygamy is not favourable to population. A further result of these investigations was ‘An Historical Account of the Life and Reign of David, King of Israel,’ of which the first volume appeared in 1740, the second and third in 1742. Delany defends David against Bayle, but it was said that the author was ‘too fond of his hero,’ and apologised even for crimes of which David repented. Delany's first wife died on 6 Dec. 1741. In the spring of 1743 he went to England to offer himself to Mrs. Pendarves, whose acquaintance he had made during her visit to Ireland at the time of his first marriage [see Delany, Mary]. He probably knew from Swift that she remembered him kindly. Her letters to Swift in the interval generally contain a friendly message to Delany, and refer to the ‘many agreeable friends’ gathered at his ‘sociable Thursdays.’ They were married on 9 June 1743, and through her interest with her relations he was appointed in May 1744 to the deanery of Down. The Delanys lived when in Ireland between Down and Delville, built by him and Dr. Helsham, another fellow of Trinity and an eminent physician. It was called originally Hel Del Ville. Its minute size is ridiculed in some verses by Sheridan printed in Swift's works. It still remains nearly in the state in which it was left by the Delanys, with shell decorations of the ceilings and a fresco portrait of Stella, attributed to Mrs. Delany (Craik's Swift, p. 435). Many accounts of their hospitalities, and the bills of fare of their solid dinners, may be found in Mrs. Delany's autobiography. They paid frequent visits to England, and in 1754 Mrs. Delany bought a house in Spring Gardens, with which she parted just before Delany's death. In 1754 appeared his ‘Observations upon Lord Orrery's Remarks upon the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift.’ The book was intended to vindicate Swift from some of Orrery's insinuations. It is well written, and especially interesting as the only account of Swift by one who had known him in the full force of his intellect. Swift had left a medal to Delany and appointed him one of his executors.

Delany was much worried by a lawsuit arising out of his first marriage. He had been imprudent enough to destroy a settlement made at the time of his marriage by himself and his wife. His wife's heirs called for an account of the property, charging him with dishonourable conduct. The case was decided against him by the Irish chancellor of Ireland on 23 Dec. 1752; but upon an appeal to the English House of Lords, the decree was reversed in March 1758, Lord Mansfield stating the argument, according to Mrs. Delany, in ‘an hour and a half's angelic oratory’ (Autobiog. 1st ser. iii. 490).

Delany's health had been decaying since a severe illness in 1754. So late as 1757 he started a paper called the ‘Humanist,’ in which he denounced, among other things, the practice of docking horses' tails. He spent most of his time in Ireland after the decision of his case, but in 1767 returned to try the effect of Bath. Here he gradually sank, dying on 6 May 1768, in the eighty-third year of his age. Delany was clearly a man of great talent and vivacity, rather flighty in his speculations, and apparently not very steady in his politics. He was warm-hearted and impetuous, and hospitable beyond his means, leaving nothing but his books and furniture.

Besides the works above mentioned, he wrote:

  1. ‘Sermon on Martyrdom of Charles I,’ 1738.
  2. ‘Fifteen Sermons upon Social Duties,’ 1744; 2nd ed. in 1747, with five additional sermons.
  3. ‘Essay towards evidencing the Divine Original of Tythes,’ 1748.
  4. ‘An humble Apology for Christian Orthodoxy,’ 1761.
  5. ‘Three Discourses on Public Occasions,’ 1763.
  6. ‘The Doctrine of Transubstantiation clearly and fully confuted,’ 1766.
  7. ‘Eighteen Discourses and Dissertations upon various very important and interesting Subjects,’ 1766.

[Biog. Brit.; Swift's Works; Mrs. Delany's Autobiography; Cotton's Fasti, ii. 58, 79; Boulter's Letters, 1770, i. 48, 54, 58, ii. 20, 67; Josiah Brown's Cases in Parliament, 1783, v. 300–25.]

L. S.