Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tyrwhitt, Thomas

TYRWHITT, THOMAS (1730–1786), classical commentator, born on 27 March 1730, was the eldest son of Robert Tyrwhitt, D.D. (d. 15 June 1742), rector of St. James's, Westminster, and afterwards archdeacon of London and canon of Windsor, who married, on 15 Aug. 1728, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edmund Gibson [q. v.], bishop of London. When six years old he was sent to a school at Kensington, and from 1741 he was at Eton. He entered as a commoner at Queen's College, Oxford, on 5 May 1747, matriculating on 9 May, and graduating B.A. in 1750. In 1755 he was elected to a fellowship at Merton College, and next year he proceeded M.A. While at Oxford he wrote ‘An Epistle to Florio at Oxford’ [anon.], 1749 (reprinted ‘Gent. Mag.’ 1835, ii. 595–600). Florio was George Ellis of Jamaica, who had been with Tyrwhitt at Eton and was elected a member of the house of assembly at Jamaica in 1751. Another undergraduate work was ‘Translations in Verse: Mr. Pope's “Messiah” and Mr. Philips's “Splendid Shilling” in Latin; the “Eighth Isthmian” of Pindar in English’ [anon.], 1752. The first two were rendered in 1747, the last in 1750.

In 1755 Tyrwhitt was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, but the state of his health did not permit him to practise. Lord Barrington appointed him deputy secretary at war in December 1756, but the duties of that office were not incompatible with residence for most part of the year at Oxford. He held the post until 1762, when he was made clerk of the House of Commons in succession to Jeremiah Dyson [q. v.], and moved to London, vacating his fellowship. He was credited at the time with the knowledge of ‘almost every European tongue,’ and was as well read in English literature as in that of Greece and Rome.

He remained clerk of the house until 1768, when he was succeeded by John Hatsell [q. v.] A letter from him to William Bowyer, the learned printer, on the printing of the journals of the House of Commons, is in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (ii. 413–14). He published ‘Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons 1620–1, from an original manuscript at Queen's College, Oxford’ [anon.], 1766, 2 vols. (these reports may have been made by Sir Edward Nicholas), and ‘The Manner of holding Parliaments, by Henry Elsinge,’ 1768.

In the meantime Tyrwhitt's exceptional philological knowledge was brought to bear upon some important problems of criticism. In 1766 appeared anonymously his ‘Observations and Conjectures upon some Passages of Shakespeare,’ and many other remarks and criticisms on Shakespeare were given by him in later years to George Steevens [q. v.] for his edition of 1778, to Malone for his supplement in 1780, and to Isaac Reed for his edition of 1785. More noteworthy still was his work upon Chaucer and his exposure of Chatterton's ‘Rowley’ forgeries (see below). Tyrwhitt's ‘Appendix’ to his edition of the ‘Rowley’ poems is the foremost book upon the right side in that controversy; and it is not too much to say, observes Professor Skeat, that Tyrwhitt is the only writer among those that handled the subject who had a real critical knowledge of the language of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and who, in fact, had on that account a real claim to be heard’ (Chatterton's Poems, 1871, vol. ii. p. ix). On withdrawing from official life in 1768 Tyrwhitt spent the remaining years of his life almost wholly among his books. His disposition was most generous, and in one year of his life he is said to have given away 2,000l. In 1778 he gave 100l. towards the new buildings at Queen's College. He was elected F.R.S. on 28 Feb. 1771, and a trustee of the British Museum in 1784. He died after a short illness at his house in Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, London, on 15 Aug. 1786, and was buried in the family vault in the east aisle of St. George's, Windsor, on 22 Aug. He left to the British Museum a valuable collection of classical authors in about nine hundred volumes (Edwards, British Museum, ii. 417), and many of the books contained his manuscript notes.

Charles Burney, D.D., ranked Tyrwhitt among the greatest critics of the last century. Glowing tributes were paid to him by Wyttenbach in his life of Ruhnken (p. 71), by Kraft in the ‘Epistolæ Selectæ’ (p. 313), by Schweighäuser in his edition of Polybius (i. p. xxvi of preface), by Kidd in the ‘Opuscula Ruhnkeniana’ (p. viii, and in pp. lxiii–lxx is a list of his works), and by Bishop Copleston in the ‘Reply to the Calumnies of the “Edinburgh Review”’ (2nd edit. 1810). Mathias thought that his learning and sagacity were often misapplied (Pursuits of Literature, 7th edit. pp. 88 and 96).

A portrait, painted by Benjamin Wilson, was engraved by John Jones, and published on 2 Jan. 1788.

Besides the works already mentioned, Tyrwhitt edited or wrote: 1. ‘Fragmenta duo Plutarchi’ from Harleian MS. 5612, 1773. 2. ‘Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, with an Essay upon his Language and Versification, an Introductory Discourse and Notes’ [anon.], 1775, 4 vols.; 5th vol., containing a glossary, 1778 (Gent. Mag. 1783, i. 461). This edition of Tyrwhitt was reissued in 1798, and has often been reprinted. So late as 1891 his notes and glossary were condensed and arranged under the text in the edition of Chaucer in No. 32 of Sir John Lubbock's ‘Hundred Books’ (cf. Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 86, 133, 214). In 1775 this edition was considered ‘the best edited English Classick that ever has appeared,’ and Professor Skeat in his edition (vol. iv. 1894) speaks of it ‘as a work of high literary value, to which I am greatly indebted for many necessary notes,’ but dwells on its grammatical errors and the frequent introductions of words into the text. Guest praises his sagacity, but points out his defects (English Rhythms, i. 180–1, ii. 255–6). 3. ‘Dissertatio de Babrio Fabularum Æsopearum Scriptore’ [anon.], 1776. Some fables, never before edited, of Æsop, from the Bodleian Library, were added to it. An ‘auctarium’ of this dissertation was appended to his edition of Orpheus in 1781. Both essay and auctarium were reprinted by T. C. Harles at Erlangen in 1785, and were included in 1810 in the ‘Fabulæ Æsopicæ’ of Franciscus de Furia. 4. ‘Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley and others in the Fifteenth Century, with a preface and glossary’ [anon.], 1777; 2nd edit. 1777; 3rd edit., with an appendix to prove that they were written entirely by Chatterton, 1778. Nichols says that Tyrwhitt was at first inclined to believe in the authenticity of the poems, but that, finding good ground for changing his opinion, he cancelled several leaves (Illustr. of Literature, i. 158; Johnson, Letters, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 398, 404; Gent. Mag. 1788, i. 187–8; Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, ix. 529–31). 5. ‘Vindication of the Appendix to the Poems called Rowley's,’ 1782. It was ‘reckoned completely victorious’ (Walpole, Letters, vi. 412, viii. 279; the opposite view was, however, maintained by Samuel Roffey Maitland [q. v.] as late as 1857). 6. ‘De Lapidibus: Poems in Greek and Latin, attributed by some to Orpheus. Based on Gesner's edition, but Tyrwhitt “recensuit notasque adjecit.” With “auctarium de Babrio,”’ 1781. His notes and preface are included in the edition of Germannus (Leipzig, 1805). Ruhnken, who had made Tyrwhitt's acquaintance at Paris, reviewed it in Wyttenbach's ‘Bibliotheca Critica,’ ii. 85–94 (reprinted by Kidd in Ruhnken's ‘Opuscula,’ 1807, Tract 15), with the highest praise (cf. also Kidd's preface to Porson's Tracts, pp. xcv–xcviii). Tyrwhitt is frequently referred to in the letters of Ruhnken to Wyttenbach (ed. Kraft, 1834, pp. 24, 28, 35, 46, 159, 166–7). 7. ‘Conjecturæ in Strabonem, with Latin Inscription to George Jubb, Canon of Christ Church,’ dated London, 13 July 1783; reprinted, with preface by T. C. Harles, at Erlangen in 1788. 8. ‘Two Dissertations by Samuel Musgrave,’ 1782. These were edited by Tyrwhitt for the benefit of Musgrave's family. He had previously given the emendations on Euripides which were added by Musgrave as an appendix (pp. 133–76) to his ‘Exercitationum in Euripidem libri duo’ (1762), and he supplied Schweighäuser with Musgrave's notes on Appian (ed. of Schweighäuser, i. pref. pp. xix–xx). 9. ‘Oration of Isæus against Menecles,’ 1785. 10. ‘Aristotelis de Poetica liber, Græce et Latine,’ 1794. This was edited by Bishop Burgess, with the assistance of Bishop Randolph, and was dedicated to Shute Barrington [q. v.], bishop of Durham, who inscribed some lines to Tyrwhitt on an urn in his garden at Mongewell, Oxfordshire (Gent. Mag. 1807, ii. 1147; Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. v. 616). There were many editions of this work. 11. ‘Thomæ Tyrwhitti Conjecturæ in Æschylum, Euripidem, et Aristophanem. Accedunt epistolæ diversorum ad Tyrwhittum,’ 1822. Possibly edited by Peter Elmsley (1773–1825) [q. v.] (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. vi. 149–50).

In 1814 the Cambridge press promised a reprint in one volume of Tyrwhitt's ‘Babrius, the Pseud-Orpheus,’ and other treatises, but it never came out. A volume of his opuscula, prepared for the press after his death by Thomas Kidd, but never issued, is among the Dyce books at the South Kensington Museum, which also possesses the autograph manuscript of his ‘Epistle to Florio’ (ib. 2nd ser. ix. 198, 6th ser. vi. 71–2, 149–50). He and Matthew Duane [q. v.] purchased at an auction in London in June 1772 three ancient marbles from Smyrna, and gave them to the British Museum. Tyrwhitt's account of them is in the ‘Archæologia’ (iii. 230–5, and see ib. pp. 184, 324). His ‘notæ breves’ on Toup's emendations of Suidas are in that scholar's edition of that work (1790, iv. 419–29); and Monk, in his edition of the Alcestis, inserts Tyrwhitt's conjectures from the copy of it at the British Museum. Burgess dedicated to him the second edition (1781) of the ‘Miscellanea Critica’ of Richard Dawes, and embodied in it (pp. 344–491) many of his observations. Tyrwhitt helped Brunck in his edition of Sophocles, and William Cleaver [q. v.], bishop of St. Asaph, was indebted to him in his 1789 edition of ‘De Rhythmo Græcorum’ for observations on the ‘cæsura metrica’ and for some corrections. Letters to and from him are in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature’ (viii. 220–1), Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (viii. 113), Harford's ‘Life of Bishop Burgess’ (pp. 21–119), ‘Epistolæ Selectæ,’ ed. Kraft (1831, pp. 138–9), and in MSS. 17628–39 at the Bodleian Library.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Foster's Baronetage; Gent. Mag. 1785 ii. 559, 1786 ii. 717–19, 905, 994, 1787 i. 218–19; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 198, 5th ser. xii. 144 (by Professor J. E. B. Mayor), 6th ser. vi. 71, 149, 7th ser. viii. 133; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. v. 427, viii. 220–3; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 147–51, 234, iv. 660, viii. 525, ix. 527–9, 756–7; information from Rev. Dr. Magrath, Queen's Coll. Oxford.]

W. P. C.