Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lowth, Robert

LOWTH or LOUTH, ROBERT (1710–1787), bishop of London, second son of William Lowth [q. v.], divine, and Margaret, daughter of Robert Pitt of Blandford, Dorset, was born at Winchester on 27 Nov. 1710, was admitted scholar at the college, Winchester, in 1722, and proceeded to New College, Oxford, where he was elected in 1729. He graduated B.A. in 1733, proceeding M.A. in 1737. While at Winchester he wrote a poem on the genealogy of Christ as displayed in the east window of the college chapel, published in Pearch's ‘Collection of Poems,’ and in 1729 another poem on the view from Catherine Hill, Winchester. Having taken orders he was instituted to the vicarage of Overton, Hampshire, in 1735. In 1741 he was appointed professor of poetry at Oxford, and during his professorship delivered a remarkably learned course of lectures on Hebrew poetry. He accompanied Henry Bilson-Legge [q. v.] on his embassy to Berlin in 1748, and having been appointed tutor to Lords George and Frederick Cavendish, sons of the Duke of Devonshire, travelled with them on the continent in 1749. On his return he was appointed archdeacon of Winchester in 1750 by Benjamin Hoadly [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, vacated his fellowship at New College, and about the same time resigned the professorship of poetry. In 1753, having married the previous year, he was collated to the rectory of Woodhay, Hampshire, and published his lectures on Hebrew poetry, for which the university of Oxford created him D.D. by diploma the following year. Being first chaplain to Lord Hartington [see Cavendish, William, fourth Duke of Devonshire], then lord-lieutenant of Ireland, he was in 1755 offered the bishopric of Limerick, but being unwilling to reside in Ireland, he obtained permission to transfer the offer to Dr. James Leslie, receiving in exchange Leslie's preferments, a prebend in Durham and the rectory of Sedgefield in that county. A sentence in the dedication of his ‘Life of William of Wykeham’ to Bishop Hoadly, commending the bishop's action with reference to the election of Dr. Christopher Golding as warden of Winchester College, involved him in a controversy carried on by pamphlets in 1758. In 1765 he was elected fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Göttingen. In this year he was involved in a controversy with William Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, who attacked him insolently for an argument used in his ‘Lectures on Hebrew Poetry’ (see below). He was offered the bishopric of St. Davids in 1766, and was consecrated on 15 June. Before the end of the year he was translated to the see of Oxford. In 1777 he was translated to the see of London, and appointed dean of the chapel royal and a privy councillor. In the same year he met John Wesley at dinner and refused to sit above him. Wesley spoke of Lowth in his ‘Journal’ as in his ‘whole behaviour worthy of a Christian bishop.’ On the death of Frederick Cornwallis [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, in 1783, Dr. Richard Hurd [q. v.], bishop of Worcester, recommended Lowth to the king for the primacy; the king offered it to him, but he declined it and joined Bishop Hurd in recommending Dr. John Moore, bishop of Bangor (Wraxall, Historical Memoirs, iii. 32, 33). The reason of his refusal seems to have been the declining state of his health, which was broken by the disease of the stone and by family affliction. In 1786 he was appointed a member of the committee of the privy council for trade and foreign plantations. His administration of his diocese is perhaps chiefly memorable for his attack on the corrupt custom of giving bonds of resignation. Finding in 1783 that a clergyman named Eyre had given one of these bonds to a Mr. Ffytche, patron of Woodham Walter, he refused to institute him to the living. Ffytche brought the case before the court of common pleas and gained it there, and at the court of king's bench, whither the bishop carried it. Finally, on appeal to the lords, the bishop obtained the decision that such bonds were illegal. Lowth died on 3 Nov. 1787, and was buried on the 12th at Fulham.

By his wife Mary (d. 1803), daughter of Lawrence Jackson of Christchurch, Hampshire, whom he married in 1752 (Chambers; Nichols, in Literary Anecdotes, ii. 419), he had seven children. Thomas Henry, fellow of New College, Oxford, and rector of Thorley, Isle of Wight, died in 1778. A second son, Robert, vicar of Halstead, Essex, and Martha, survived their father.

Lowth is said to have been well and stoutly built, with a florid countenance and animated expression. His conversation was easy and refined, and his manners were courtly. Of a sympathetic disposition, he was more inclined to melancholy than to mirth. His temper was hasty but kept under control. His taste was fine, and he was an industrious student. He was an accomplished and elegant scholar, well versed in Hebrew, and with a keen appreciation of the poetic beauty of the Old Testament scriptures. Hebrew was, he believed, the language spoken in Paradise; he studied it critically, and his knowledge of it gained him a European reputation. He wrote both Latin and English verse with some success, though the poet Gray thought poorly of his efforts (ed. Mason, 1827, p. 346). In controversy he was a dangerous antagonist, with great power of polished sarcasm. His more important published works are: 1. ‘Prælectiones de Sacra Poesi Hebræorum,’ his ‘Lectures on Hebrew Poetry,’ with a ‘Short Confutation of Bishop Hare's [see Hare, Francis] System of Hebrew Metre,’ 1753, 4to, 1763, 8vo, 1770, ‘notas et epimetra adjecit J. D. Michaelis,’ 1775, 1810, 2 vols. 8vo; translated into English by Gregory, with Michaelis's notes, 1793, 2 vols. 8vo; translation and notes begun by Michaelis, Göttingen, 1763, German translation 1793. Hare's system was defended by Dr. Thomas Edwards (1729–1785) [q. v.], to whom Lowth replied in ‘A Larger Confutation of Bishop Hare's System,’ 1766. An argument in the ‘Prælectiones’ (p. 312, 2nd ed.), in answer to the question whether idolatry was punished by the civil magistrate under the Jewish economy, was supported by a reference to Job, and was opposed to one of the theories advanced in Warburton's ‘Divine Legation.’ Hearing that Warburton had expressed displeasure at this opposition, Lowth wrote to him in September 1756, and a correspondence ensued between them which appeared to end amicably. Warburton, however, attacked Lowth in the appendix to the sixth book of the ‘Divine Legation’ (iii. 507–14, ed. 1788), jeering at him for the date which he assigned to Job, and for his opinion as to the nature of Job's authority. Lowth replied in a ‘Letter to the … Author of the “Divine Legation” in Answer, &c., by a late Professor of Oxford,’ 1765, with an appendix containing the correspondence of 1756, a pamphlet full of amusing sarcasm, in which the ‘Divine Legation’ as viewed by its author is compared to ‘Lord Peter's brown loaf,’ as containing ‘inclusive all the necessaries of life.’ It was generally held that Lowth had got the better of his unmannerly antagonist, and Gibbon described the ‘Letter’ as ‘a pointed and polished epistle’ (Memoirs, p. 136). Warburton rejoined, complaining of the publication of a private correspondence, and the further stage of the controversy was published under the title of ‘The Second Part of a Literary Correspondence between the Bishop of Gloucester and a late Professor of Oxford,’ 1766. This controversy led to some minor disputes, of which only the one between Lowth and Dr. John Brown (1715–1766) [q. v.] need be noticed here. Lowth answered Brown's letter of 1766 by a letter which is printed in the fourth edition of the above-mentioned ‘Letter to the … Author of the “Divine Legation,”’ snubbing Brown for interfering in a matter which did not concern him. 2. ‘Life of William of Wykeham,’ 1758, with ‘supplement to the first edition, containing corrections of the second,’ 1759, London, 3rd ed. 1777, Oxford; an excellent biography considering the date at which it was written. The dedication to Bishop Hoadly occasioned a ‘Letter to the Rev. Dr. Lowth … in Vindication of the Fellows of New College, Oxford,’ 1758, to which Lowth replied in the ‘Answer to an Anonymous Letter,’ &c. 1759, and this was answered in ‘A Reply to … Dr. Lowth's Answer, by a Wykehamist,’ 1759. 3. ‘A Short Introduction to English Grammar,’ 1762, 8vo; 1764, 12mo; numerous editions, first American edition, Cambridge, Mass., 1811, 12mo, is criticised by William Cobbett [q. v.] in his ‘Grammar of the English Language,’ 1818. 4. ‘Isaiah, a New Translation,’ with notes, a book full of learning and poetic feeling, 1778, 1779, 4to, 1790, 8vo, 11th ed. corrected and revised, 1835, was criticised by Dodson, and defended by the bishop's relative, Dr. J. Sturges, 1791 [see under Dodson, Michael], also criticised by Kocher in ‘Vindiciæ S. textus Hebræi Esaiæ vatis,’ 1786; see also ‘Remarks’ by J. Rogers, canon of Exeter. 5. ‘The Choice of Hercules,’ a poem from the Greek of Prodicus, in Roach's ‘Collection,’ vol. vi., and other poems in collections of Pearch, Nichols, and Dodsley, 1794. 6. ‘Sermons and Charges,’ various dates, see volume of ‘Sermons and other Remains,’ 1834, and ‘Twelve Anniversary Sermons before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel,’ 1845; he also contributed notes to ‘Select Psalms in Verse,’ and edited his father's ‘Directions for Reading the Scriptures.’

Lowth's portrait was painted by E. Pine, and engraved by Sherwin in 1777, while he was bishop of Oxford, and is also engraved by Cock in ‘Memoirs of Life and Writings,’ 1787.

[Memoirs of Life and Writings of Bishop Lowth, 1787; Chambers's Biog. Dict. xx. 434 sqq. art. ‘Lowth, Robert;’ Gent. Mag. 1787, pt. ii. pp. 1028 sq. extracted in Annual Register for 1787, pp. 35 sq.; other notices in Gent. Mag. 1791 pt. ii. p. 981, 1794 pt. i. p. 205; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 419, viii. 95, 336, 411, and Lit. Illustrations, iii. 482, v. 345, 737, 765, 805, viii. 209; Wraxall's Historical Memoirs, iii. 32, 33, ed. 1884; Gibbon's Memoirs, p. 136; Disraeli's Calamities and Quarrels of Authors, pp. 235–46, 252–68, ed. Lord Beaconsfield; Stephen's Engl. Thought in the Eighteenth Cent. i. 344, 345; Kirby's Winchester Scholars, p. 230; Cat. of Oxford Graduates, p. 424; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. H.