Hollis, Thomas (DNB00)
HOLLIS, THOMAS (1720–1774), ‘republican,’ the only son of another Thomas Hollis, and great-grandson of a third Thomas Hollis, whitesmith, of Rotherham, and owner of Pinners Hall, was born in London, 14 April 1720. In childhood he lived in the house of his maternal grandfather, Mr. Scott, of Wolverhampton, and was sent to school at Newport, Shropshire, and afterwards at St. Albans. In 1732 he spent about a year at Amsterdam, with the object of learning Dutch and French for commercial purposes. Returning to England he lived for some time with his father, who died in 1735. As he inherited both his father's property and that of his great uncle, Thomas Hollis, the benefactor of Harvard College, it was thought unsuitable to train him to mercantile pursuits, and accordingly he studied under Dr. John Ward [q. v.] In 1740 he entered at Lincoln's Inn, where he lived in chambers till 1748. He then went abroad and travelled in the Low Countries, Switzerland, the north of Italy, and France. In 1750 he set out on a second tour, visiting Holland, Germany, Austria, and Italy, and remained on the continent three or four years. He had been from childhood strongly opposed to tory principles, and declined to enter parliament if it were necessary to depend on either favour or bribery. Finding this impossible, he formed the design of propagating his principles by literature. He constantly spent several hundred pounds a year on the production and purchase of books and medals, large numbers of which he gave to various libraries, those of Harvard, Berne, and Zurich being especially favoured. He presented a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1761, and the well-known portrait of Oliver Cromwell by Cooper to Sidney Sussex College in 1764. His fondness for seventeenth-century republican literature, and his habit of having engravings and the covers of books decorated with daggers and caps of liberty, led to his being called a republican, but he only considered himself ‘a true whig,’ and adopted as his ‘faith’ Lord Molesworth's preface to Hotomanus's ‘Francogallia.’ He attended no church, and was consequently suspected of atheism, but his ‘Memoirs’ show him to have been a man of unusual piety. He led the life of a recluse, and he abstained not only from intoxicating liquors, but also from butter, milk, sugar, spices, and salt. In 1770 he left London, and retired to the seclusion of an old farmhouse on his property at Corscombe in Dorsetshire, where he died on 1 Jan. 1774. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1757, and was also fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He left his property to Thomas Brand, who took the name of Hollis. Visiting Lord Chatham at Lyme Regis in June 1773, he formed a high opinion of the ability of the boy William Pitt, and conversed with him so earnestly that Lord Chatham observed: ‘Between these two friends of liberty and virtue, not only the constitution of the state but the universal frame of nature was, I dare say, thoroughly discussed’ (Chatham Correspondence, iv. 269).
Hollis edited the following: 1. ‘Toland's Life of Milton,’ 1761. 2. ‘Sidney's Discourse concerning Government, with his Letters,’ &c., 1763. 3. ‘Neville's Plato Redivivus,’ 1763. 4. ‘Locke's Two Treatises on Government,’ 1764. 5. ‘Wallis's Grammatica Linguæ Anglicanæ,’ 6th ed., 1765. 6. ‘Locke's Letters concerning Toleration,’ 1765. 7. ‘Neville's Ladies' Parliament,’ 1768. 8. ‘Neville's Isle of Pines,’ 1768. 9. ‘Staveley's Romish Horse-leech,’ 1769. 10. ‘Sidney's Works,’ 1772. A letter, dated 21 Dec. 1762, from Hollis to Mr. Pitt, in the ‘Chatham Correspondence,’ ii. 200–3, and two letters from Hollis to Dr. Ward appear in ‘Letters of Eminent Literary Men’ (Camden Soc.)
[Francis Blackburne's Memoirs of Thomas Hollis, 1780; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, iv. 97, 98; Horace Walpole's Letters, vii. 346; Nichols's Anecd. iii. 61–5; Nichols's Illustrations, iv. 736, vi. 157, 484; Franklin's Memoirs, ed. 1818, ii. 44; Thomson's Hist. of Roy. Soc. App.; Hutchins's Dorset, ii. 90, 96 sq., iv. 463 sq.]