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Herbert, William (1778-1847) (DNB00)

HERBERT, WILLIAM (1778–1847), dean of Manchester, third son and fifth child of Henry Herbert, first earl of Carnarvon, by Lady Elizabeth Alicia Maria, eldest daughter of Charles Wyndham, earl of Egremont, was born on 12 Jan. 1778, and was educated at Eton. While still at school he edited the volume of poems entitled 'Musæ Etonenses' in 1795, and, on quitting Eton, obtained a prize for a Latin poem on the subject 'Rhenus,' which was published. A translation appeared in 'Translations of Oxford Prize Poems,' 1831. On 16 July 1795 Herbert matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, but soon migrated to Exeter College, where he graduated B.A. on 6 June 1798. Subsequently removing to Merton, he proceeded M.A. 23 Nov. 1802, B.C.L. 27 May 1808, D.C.L. 2 June 1808, and B.D. 25 June 1840. Inclining to a political career, he was elected M.P. for Hampshire in 1806, and for Cricklade in 1811, and also seems to have practised at the bar. But soon after retiring from parliament in 1812 he changed his plans. In 1814 he was ordained, and was nominated to the valuable rectory of Spofforth in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He left Spofforth in 1840 on his promotion to the deanery of Manchester. He died suddenly at his house in Hereford Street, Park Lane, London, on Friday, 28 May 1847. He married the Hon. Letitia Emily Dorothea, second daughter of Joshua, fifth viscount, Allen, on 17 May 1806, and was father of Henry William Herbert [q. v.] and three other children.

As a classical scholar, a linguist, and a naturalist, Herbert made a high reputation. In 1801 he brought out 'Ossiani Darthula,' a small volume of Greek and Latin poetry. In 1804 appeared part i. of his 'Select Icelandic Poetry, translated from the originals with notes.' Part ii. followed in 1806. Both are noteworthy for containing the first adequate illustration of ancient Scandinavian literature which had appeared in England. Herbert's efforts secured sufficient attention to induce Byron to mention him in his 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers' (1809). Byron writes:

Herbert shall wield Thor's hammer, and sometimes
In gratitude thou 'lt praise his rugged rhymes.

Other translations from German, Danish, and Portuguese poems, with some miscellaneous English poems (1804), attest his exceptional command of foreign languages. He continued his literary career by articles of a non-political character to the 'Edinburgh Review.' 'Helga,' a poem in seven cantos, followed in 1815, with a second edition in the following year; 'Hedin, or the Spectre of the Tomb,' a tale in verse from Danish history. Lond., 1820; 'Pia della Pietra,' 1820; 'Iris,' a Latin ode, York, 1820; and the 'Wizard Wanderer of Jutland' in 1820-1. The epic poem entitled 'Attila, or the Triumph of Christianity,' in twelve books, with an historical preface, came out in 1838, the fruit of many years' labour, and a final volume of poems, 'The Christian,' in 1846.

Early attached to the study of natural history, and a good shot, he helped Rennie to edit White's 'Selborne' in 1833, and Bennett's edition of the work in 1837 was also indebted to him for many notes. For a long series of years the pages of the 'Botanical Register' and the 'Botanical Magazine' were enriched by articles from his pen, particularly on the subject of bulbous plants. He cultivated a large number of these plants at Spofforth, Yorkshire, and at Mitcham, Surrey, and many of them are now lost to cultivation. His standard volume on this group of plants, 'Amaryllidaceæ,' was issued in 1837. His 'Crocorum Synopsis' appeared in the miscellaneous portion of the 'Botanical Register' for 1843-4-5. Extremely valuable contributions on hybridization made by him to the 'Journal of the Horticultural Society' were the outcome of close observation and experiment. A 'History of the Species of Crocus' was reprinted separately from that journal, edited by J. Lindley in 1847, just after his death. The genus Herbertia of Sweet appropriately commemorates his name. His chief works, including his sermons, reviews, and scientific memoirs, besides his early poetical volumes, appeared in 2 vols. in 1842.

[Gent. Mag. 1843 pt. i. pp. 115 sq., and 1847 pt. ii. pp. 425-6; Ann. Reg. 1847, Chron. p. 234; Gardeners' Chron. 1847, p. 234; Journal of Botany, 1889, p. 83; Encycl. Brit. 9th edit. xi. 721.]

B. D. J.