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

FURNESS, RICHARD (1791–1857), poet, the son of Samuel Furness, a small farmer at Eyam, Derbyshire, was born on 2 Aug. 1791. Leaving school at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a currier at Chesterfield, and soon displayed a taste for versifying and an ardour for learning. From some French officers on parole he learned French and mathematics. He became proficient in music. When he was seventeen years old he joined the Wesleyan methodists, and undertook the duties of local preacher. Four years later he walked to London, and on his arrival enlisted as a volunteer soldier. He did not, however, give up preaching, and on, one occasion, at the request of Dr. Adam Clarke, he discoursed from the pulpit at the City Road Chapel. After a year he returned to his native county. He separated from the methodists about this time through resentment at his associates in calling him to account for writing a patriotic song which was sung at a meeting in a public-house. In 1813 he started business on his own account at Eyam as a currier, but trade was neglected for music, poetry, and mathematics, and his prospects were not improved when in 1816 he ran away with and married Frances Ibbotson of Hathersage. In 1821 he entered on the duties of schoolmaster in the free school of the small village of Dore, Derbyshire. He also acted as vestry and parish clerk, but showed his independence of mind and action by invariably closing his book and resuming his seat at the recitation of the Athanasian Creed. He likewise practised medicine and surgery, and when the ancient chapel of Dore was pulled down, his plans for a new one were adopted, and he not only superintended the erection of the building, but carved the ornamented figures which adorn the structure. On a change of incumbent at Dore he retired from his office of schoolmaster on a pension of 15l. The only duties he had now to perform were those of district registrar, which yielded him 12l. a year. In no year of his life did his income exceed 80l.

His first publication was a satirical poem entitled the ‘Rag Bag,’ 1832. His next was ‘Medicus-Magus, a poem, in three cantos,’ Sheffield, 1836, 12mo, in which he depicted the manners, habits, and limited intelligence, in the more remote parts of Derbyshire, the local terms being elucidated by a glossary. The title was afterwards altered to ‘The Astrologer.’ Many of his miscellaneous poems were printed in the ‘Sheffield Iris.’ After his death a collected edition of his ‘Poetical Works,’ with a sketch of his life by Dr. G. Calvert Holland, was published (Sheffield, 1858, 8vo). His verse is antiquated but forcible. One of his short pieces, the ‘Old Year's Funeral,’ was thought by James Montgomery to be worthy of comparison with Coleridge's ode ‘On the Departing Year.’

His wife died in 1844, and in 1850 he took as a second wife, Mary, widow of John Lunn of Staveley, Derbyshire. He died on 13 Dec. 1857, and was buried at Eyam church.

[Holland's Sketch; Hall's Biog. Sketches, 1873, p. 334; Holland and Everett's Memoir of James Montgomery, vi. 232.]

C. W. S.