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

FRANCKLIN, THOMAS (1721–1784), miscellaneous writer, son of Richard Francklin, bookseller near the Piazza in Covent Garden, London, who printed Pulteney's paper, ‘The Craftsman,’ was born in 1721, and admitted into Westminster School in 1735. In 1739 he was elected second from the school to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted on 21 June 1739, and took the degrees of B.A. in 1742, M.A. 1746, and D.D. in 1770. In 1745 he was elected to a minor fellowship, was promoted in the next year to be ‘socius major,’ and resided in college until the end of 1758. On the advice and encouragement of Pulteney he was educated for the church, but that statesman forgot his promises, and rendered Francklin no assistance in life. He was for some time an usher in his old school, and on 27 June 1750 was elected to the honourable, if not profitable, post of Greek professor at Cambridge. Later in the same year he was involved in a dispute with the heads of the university. Forty-six old boys of Westminster met between eight and nine o'clock on 17 Nov. at the Tuns Tavern to commemorate, as was their custom, the accession of Queen Elizabeth, and Francklin was in the chair. The party was just about to separate at eleven o'clock, when the senior proctor appeared and somewhat rudely called upon them to disperse. Many of the graduates present resented the summons, and hot words ensued. Several pamphlets were afterwards published, and among them was one from Francklin entitled ‘An Authentic Narrative of the late Extraordinary Proceedings at Cambridge against the W … r Club,’ 1751. Further particulars concerning the disturbance and the subsequent proceedings in the vice-chancellor's court will be found in Wordsworth's ‘Social Life at the English Universities in the Eighteenth Century,’ pp. 70–5. He resigned his professorship in 1759, and on 2 Jan. of that year was instituted, on presentation of his college, to the vicarage of Ware in Hertfordshire, which he held in conjunction with the lectureship of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, and a proprietary chapel in Queen Street, London. As a popular preacher his services were often in requisition. He was appointed king's chaplain in November 1767, and was selected to preach the commencement sermon at St. Mary's, Cambridge, on the installation of the Duke of Grafton as chancellor of the university in 1770. Through the favour of Archbishop Cornwallis he was appointed in 1777 to the rectory of Brasted in Kent, whereupon he vacated the living of Ware. For the greater part of his life Francklin was compelled, by want of lucrative preferment, to write for the press and for the stage. His plays were more numerous than original, but two of them met, through the excellence of the acting, with considerable success. He brought out in 1757 a periodical paper of his own composition entitled ‘The Centinel,’ and he was one of the contributors to Smollett's ‘Critical Review.’ Dr. Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds were among his friends, and through their influence he was exalted to the place of chaplain to the Royal Academy on its foundation, when he addressed the associates ‘in good old lyric commonplaces,’ and on Goldsmith's death in 1774 succeeded to the professorship of ancient history. It has been generally assumed that he was the ‘Tho. Franklin’ who signed the round-robin to Johnson on the Latin epitaph to Goldsmith; but Dr. Hill says, on account of the omission of the letter c in the name, and the difference in the handwriting from his acknowledged signature, ‘he certainly was not,’ but no other bearer of the name was sufficiently prominent among their friends to justify such a conspicuous honour. With the generality of literary men he was unpopular. One of his victims in the ‘Critical Review’ was Arthur Murphy, who solaced his feelings of indignation in ‘A Poetical Epistle to Samuel Johnson, A.M.,’ whereupon it is said that Francklin ‘had recourse to the law for protection, and swore the peace’ against Murphy (Biog. Dramatica, 1812 ed., i. 253–6). Churchill, in the ‘Rosciad,’ sneeringly says that ‘he sicken'd at all triumphs but his own,’ and in the poem of ‘The Journey,’ exclaims, with less reason, let

    Francklin, proud of some small Greek,
    Make Sophocles, disguis'd in English, speak.

After a laborious life Francklin died in Great Queen Street, London, 15 March 1784. He married, on 20 Jan. 1759, Miss Venables, the daughter of a wine merchant; she died in Great Queen Street, 24 May 1796.

Francklin's most profitable works consisted of translations and tragedies. His first venture was an anonymous rendering of Cicero's treatise, ‘Of the Nature of the Gods,’ which appeared in 1741, was reissued in 1775, and, after revision by C. D. Yonge, formed a part of one of the volumes in Bohn's ‘Classical Library.’ In 1749 he published ‘The Epistles of Phalaris translated from the Greek; to which are added some select epistles of the most eminent Greek writers.’ His translation of the tragedies of Sophocles was long considered the best in the English language. It came out in 1759, and was reprinted in 1809 and 1832, large selections from it were included in Sanford's ‘British Poets,’ vol. l., and it has recently been included in Professor Henry Morley's ‘Universal Library’ (vol. xliv.), while a separate impression of the ‘Œdipus Tyrannus’ was struck off in 1806. Equal popularity attended his version of ‘The Works of Lucian from the Greek,’ which was produced in 1780 in two volumes, and appeared in a second edition in 1781. The whole work was dedicated to Rigby, the politician, and parts were inscribed to other eminent men, the most famous of whom were Bishop Douglas, Dr. Johnson, ‘the Demonax of the present age,’ Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Edmund Burke. His translation of Lucian's ‘Trips to the Moon’ forms vol. lxxi. of Cassell's ‘National Library,’ edited by Professor Henry Morley. Francklin's plays are: 1. ‘The Earl of Warwick,’ which was produced at Drury Lane Theatre on 13 Dec. 1766, and was often represented. On its first appearance Mrs. Yates created a great impression in the part of Margaret of Anjou, and Mrs. Siddons in later years made that character equally successful. The whole play, which is said to have been taken without any acknowledgment from the French of La Harpe, was printed in 1766 and 1767, and was included in the collections of Bell, Mrs. Inchbald, Dibdin, and many others. 2. ‘Matilda,’ first presented at Drury Lane on 21 Jan. 1775, was also profitable to the author, as is shown in the balance-sheet in Garrick's ‘Correspondence,’ ii. 44. It appeared in print in 1775, and was also included in several theatrical collections. 3. ‘The Contract,’ brought out at the Haymarket on 12 June 1776, and printed in the same year, was a failure, although it deserved a better fate. The chief characters were two persons who had made a contract of marriage, parted, and on meeting again after many years, wished the engagement broken off. 4. ‘Mary Queen of Scots,’ which was several times announced but was never acted, and remained in manuscript until 1837, when it was edited by the author's eldest son, Lieutenant-colonel William Francklin [q. v.], once of the Hon. East India Company's service.

Francklin's other literary productions were very numerous. Their titles were: 1. ‘Translation,’ a poem, 1753, which condemned many previous attempts at translation, and appealed to abler men to undertake the task, ending with the preliminary puff of his proposal to print by subscription a version of Sophocles. 2. ‘Enquiry into the Astronomy and Anatomy of the Ancients,’ 1749, and said to have been reprinted in 1775. 3. ‘Truth and Falsehood, a Tale,’ 1755, issued anonymously, and panegyrising the then Duchess of Bedford. 4. ‘The Centinel,’ 1757 fol., 1758 12mo, a periodical paper, one of the numberless imitations of the ‘Tatler’ and ‘ Spectator.’ 5. ‘A Dissertation on Ancient Tragedy,’ 1760, given gratis to the subscribers to his translation of Sophocles. 6. ‘A Letter to a Bishop concerning Lectureships,’ ‘a piece of humour’ on the manner of election to such posts, and the miserable pay attaching thereto. Between 1748 and 1779 Francklin printed nine single sermons preached on charitable and special occasions, the most important of which was that delivered at St. George's, Bloomsbury, in May 1756, on the death of the Rev. John Sturges, from which it appears that he had hoped to succeed him in that position. An entire volume of his sermons on ‘The Relative Duties’ was published in 1765, and passed into a fourth edition in 1788. He died without leaving adequate provision for his family, and in 1785 there appeared for his widow's relief two volumes of ‘ Sermons on Various Subjects,’ followed by a third in 1787. Francklin lent his name, in conjunction with Smollett, to a translation of Voltaire's works and letters, but the ‘Orestes’ (produced at Covent Garden Theatre 13 March 1769 for the benefit of Mrs. Yates) and the ‘Electra’ (brought out at Drury Lane 15 Oct. 1774) are believed to have been his sole share in the publication. Some of his fugitive pieces were embodied in the ‘Miscellaneous Pieces’ brought together by Tom Davies, and there are many of his letters in the ‘Garrick Correspondence.’

[Welch's Westm. School (1852 ed.), pp. 311, 321, 326; Forshall's Westminster, pp. 108–9, 229–30; Hill's Boswell, i. 355, iii. 83, iv. 34; Cussans's Hertfordshire, vol. i. pt. i. p. 154; Taylor's Sir Joshua Reynolds, i. 261–2, 310, 317, ii. 73, 162; Gent. Mag. 1759, p. 45, 1784, pt. i. pp. 238–9, 1796, pt. i. p. 446; Genest, v. 119–120, 242–6, 441–7, 528–9; Churchill's Works (1804), i. 7–8, 82, ii. 367; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 594, vi. 425; Hasted's Kent, i. 381; Records of Trin. Coll. Cambr.]

W. P. C.