Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fenton, Richard

FENTON, RICHARD (1746–1821), topographer and poet, born at St. David's, Pembrokeshire, in 1746, received his education in the cathedral school of his native city, and at an early age obtained a situation in London in the custom house. Afterwards he entered the Middle Temple, and studied for the legal profession. During his residence there he became acquainted with most of the literary and dramatic celebrities of the day. He knew something of Dr. Johnson, and of Goldsmith, as well as of Garrick, to whom many of his poems were addressed. After being called to the bar he attended the circuits in Wales for several years. The latter part of his life he devoted to literary pursuits. He was a very intimate friend of William Lisle Bowles and of Sir Richard Colt Hoare, whom he frequently visited at Stourhead. Fenton was a good Greek, Latin, and French scholar, and a gentleman who knew him well described him as ‘a man of indefatigable industry, of a fine poetical fancy, of a very cheerful disposition, of particularly gentlemanly and fascinating manners, and a person of the best information on almost every subject.’ He married the daughter of David Pillet, a Swiss military officer, the personal friend of the second Duke of Marlborough. By her he had a family who survived him. He died at Glynamel, near Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, in November 1821, and was buried at Manorowen.

His works are: 1. ‘Poems,’ Lond. 1773, 4to; 2 vols. 1790, 12mo. 2. ‘A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire,’ Lond. 1811, 4to, with thirty plates and a map. Prefixed is the author's portrait, engraved by T. Woolnorth, from a painting by Woodforde. This is the work censured by Dr. Thomas Burgess, bishop of St. David's, and afterwards of Salisbury, in his ‘Bishops and benefactors of St. David's vindicated from the misrepresentations of a recent publication,’ 1812. Fenton's caustic reply to the bishop remains in manuscript. 3. ‘A Tour in quest of Genealogy through several parts of Wales, Somersetshire, and Wiltshire in a series of letters … interspersed with a description of Stourhead and Stonehenge … and curious fragments from a manuscript collection, ascribed to Shakespeare. By a Barrister,’ Lond. 1811, 8vo. 4. ‘Memoirs of an old Wig,’ London, 1815, 8vo (anon.), a humorous work. 5. A translation of the ‘Deipnosophistæ’ of Athenæus; manuscript deposited in the library of Sir R. C. Hoare at Stourhead. 6. Comedies in manuscript. 7. A great quantity of manuscript materials for the history of every county in Wales.

[Addit. MS. 15030 f. 107, 31142 f. 274; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, p. 114; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, No. 3827; Gent. Mag. xci. pt. ii. p. 644, new ser. xxxvii. 218; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 790; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 198, 3rd ser. ii. 331, 6th ser. v. 279, 339; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Williams's Eminent Welshmen, p. 155; Williams's Biog. Sketch of the most eminent Individuals Wales has produced, p. 11.]

T. C.