Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Holdsworth, Edward

HOLDSWORTH, EDWARD (1684–1746), Latin poet and classical scholar, son of Thomas Holdsworth, rector of North Stoneham, Hampshire, was born there on 6 Aug. 1684, and baptised on 3 Sept. He was educated at Winchester College, and in 1694 was elected a scholar at the age of nine. On 14 Dec. 1704 he matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, but in July of the following year migrated to Magdalen College, on his election as a demy, graduating B.A. on 22 June 1708, and M.A. on 18 April 1711. For some years he remained at Oxford as tutor of his college, but in 1715, when his turn came to be chosen fellow, he resigned his post and quitted the university, through his objection to recognise the new government by taking the oath of allegiance. During the rest of his life he acted as tutor at the houses of those who shared his political opinions, or travelled abroad with their children. Pope wrote to him (December 1737), asking him to support Harte's candidature for the poetry-professorship at Oxford, (Pope, Works, Courthope's ed. x. 226–7). Spence met Holdsworth at Florence in 1732, and in the ‘Polymetis’ (2nd edit. pp. 174, 277) praises him for understanding Virgil best of any man that he ever knew, and for being ‘better acquainted with Italy as classic ground than any man’ then living. It was the habit of Holdsworth to study Virgil's works on the spot where they were written, and he always carried some interleaved editions with him to jot down the observations as they arose in his mind. He was especially fond of the ‘Georgics,’ and long meditated a new edition with copious notes. Rome and its antiquities were objects of his close study. He visited that city in 1741, in the company of George Pitt, and in September 1742 he paid, in company with the Rev. Thomas Townson, Mr. Drake, and Mr. Dawkins, long visits to France and Italy, returning home with Townson by way of Mont Cenis in the autumn of 1745. While at Rome in 1741, a sketch of Holdsworth, representing him as very handsome, was taken by Carlo Francesco Ponzone Milanese, a copy of which was made for Magdalen College Library. The friends were met on their last visit to Rome by Russell, the reputed author of ‘Letters from a Young Painter Abroad,’ and painted in a ‘conversation piece,’ afterwards the property of the Drake family, the likeness of Holdsworth being especially good. In return for this civility some particulars by him and Townson of the newer statues and pictures found at Herculaneum were supplied to Russell (cf. letters 32 and 34). Curiosity led Holdsworth on one occasion into a drain made by Claudius for emptying a lake, when he caught a rheumatism which he never completely shook off. He died of fever at Lord Digby's house, near Coleshill, Warwickshire, on 30 Dec. 1746, and was buried in the church on 4 Jan. Charles Jennens of Gopsall in Leicestershire, to whom he left his notes on Virgil, placed a plain black marble stone above his grave. In 1764 a monument to his memory, with a long Latin inscription, and with a figure of Religion by Roubiliac, was erected in an Ionic temple built by Jennens in the wood at Gopsall known by the name of the Racecourse. The temple fell down in 1835, when the cenotaph was removed into the gardens on the east side of the mansion. The original structure is described at length in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for April 1791, pp. 305–6, and in Nichols's ‘Leicestershire,’ iv. pt. ii. 857–8. A poor acrostic on his character was composed by Sneyd Davies, and inserted in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for September 1793, p. 847, and in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature,’ i. 533–4.

Holdsworth's most famous production was the ‘Muscipula sive Cambro-muo-machia [anon.] Londini, mdccix,’ which appeared without his consent, and without any printer's name, being ‘very full of faults it had no title to.’ It was at once published in a correct form by its author, with a dedication to Robert Lloyd, fellow-commoner of Magdalen College, and was immediately reproduced by Curll, all three editions bearing the date of 1709. A rival wit, said to be one Richards of Jesus College, Oxford, resented this ridicule of his Welsh fellow-countrymen, and retaliated in the same year with a Latin imitation of ‘Χοιροχωρογραφία, sive Hoglandiæ descriptio,’ a satire on Hampshire, Holdsworth's native county. ‘Muscipula,’ which was composed at Sacheverell's instigation, and was written, it is said, ‘with the purity of Virgil and the pleasantry of Lucian,’ obtained and deserved great favour. It was republished in 1712, in Curll's ‘Collection of Original Poems,’ 1714, in Curll's ‘Musæ Britannicæ,’ Edward Popham's ‘Selecta Poemata Anglorum,’ ii. 1–14, Archdeacon Edward Cobden's ‘Discourses and Essays,’ and in the collections of Holdsworth's works, published in 1749 and 1768. Translations were made by Samuel Cobb [q. v.], a gentleman of Oxford, in 1709 and 1722 (the first being called ‘Taffy's Triumph,’ and the second ‘The Cambro-Britannic Engineer’); by a Cantab in 1709; by an anonymous versifier in that year; by Archdeacon Cobden in 1718 (afterwards included in his ‘Discourses and Essays,’ with a poetic letter to Holdsworth, his ‘chum’ at Winchester College); by R. Lewis in 1728; by Dr. John Hoadly in Holdsworth's ‘Dissertation,’ 1749, and in Dodsley's ‘Collection of Poems,’ v. 258–68; and by Richard Graves in 1793. Of these versions the author's favourite was that by Hoadly, which he pronounced ‘exceedingly well done.’

The other writings of Holdsworth dealt with Virgil. There appeared in his lifetime a volume entitled ‘Pharsalia and Philippi; or the two Philippi in Virgil's Georgics, attempted to be explain'd and reconciled to History. In several letters to a friend [i.e. Charles Jennens], and published at his request. By Mr. Holdsworth,’ 1742. After his death came out ‘Dissertations upon eight verses in the Second Book of Virgil's Georgics [lines 65–72]. To which is added a New Edition of the Muscipula, together with a New Translation,’ 1749. Both of these treatises, with several other articles, were embodied in ‘Remarks and Dissertations on Virgil, with some other Classical Observations, by the late Mr. Holdsworth. Published, with several Notes and additional Remarks, by Mr. Spence,’ 1768, a labour in which the editor obtained the assistance of Lowth, afterwards bishop of London. Many of these notes had previously appeared in the edition of Virgil by Joseph Warton of Winchester (1753 and 1763, in 4 vols.), and several were included in Spence's ‘Anecdotes’ (ed. Malone, 1820), pp. 256–71, but most of these were omitted by Singer in his editions of that collection. The substance of the 1768 edition of ‘Remarks’ was embodied in ‘Miscellanea Virgiliana. By a Graduate of Cambridge, editor of the Theatre of the Greeks and Miscellanea Græca Dramatica,’ Cambridge, 1825, a collection compiled by Philip Wentworth Buckham.

Holdsworth's plan of rebuilding Magdalen College in the Palladian style was approved of and commenced in 1733, but only a block, called the New Buildings, was executed. To the building fund he bequeathed 100l.

[Bloxam's Magdalen College Reg. vi. 164–9; Hearne's Collections, ii. 445–6 (Oxford Hist. Soc.); Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 643, iii. 67–9, 123–6; Spence's Anecd. (1858 ed.), pp. 97, 138–45, 154–6; Kirby's Winchester Scholars, p. 213; Churton's Memoir of Townson (Works, i. xi–xiii); Russell's Letters, i. 58, 239–40, 249–56; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 229, 550; Gent. Mag. 1791 pt. i. 434, 1792 pt. i. 144, 1798 pt. ii. 753.]

W. P. C.