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Marsh, Narcissus (DNB00)


MARSH, NARCISSUS (1638–1713), archbishop of Armagh, was born on 20 Dec. 1638, as he himself relates, at Hannington, near Cricklade, Wiltshire, but the family originally belonged to Kent. His father, William Marsh, lived on his estate of over 60l. a year, out of which he contrived to give a very good education to three sons and two daughters His mother was Grace Colburn, 'of an honest family in Dorsetshire,' Narcissus went first to Mr. Lamb's private school at Highworth, near his birthplace, and afterwards to four successive masters or tutors in the neighbourhood. He records with pride that he was never flogged. He was admitted to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, 25 July 1655. During his whole undergraduate career he kept 'an entire fast every week, from Thursday, six o'clock at night, until Saturday, eleven at noon, for which God's name be praised.' He graduated B. A. 12 Feb. 1657-8. On 30 June 1658 he was elected a Wiltshire fellow of Exeter, became M.A. in July 1660, B.D. in 1667, and D.D. in June 1671. He was incorporated in the same degrees at Cambridge in 1678. Being presented to the living of Swindon, he was ordained both deacon and priest in 1662, though under the canonical age, by Skinner, bishop of Oxford — 'the Lord forgive us both, but then I knew no better but that it might legally be done.' He resigned this preferment in 1663, when he found that his patron expected him to make a simoniacal marriage.

Marsh's first sermon was delivered in St. Mary '8, Oxford, in 1664, and in the same year he preached at the annual Fifth of November thanksgiving. He was chaplain to Seth Ward, successively bishop of Exeter and of Salisbury, and afterwards to Lord-chancellor Clarendon. In 1606 he was a pro-proctor, extra discipline being required during the residence of the court at Oxford. As a Wiltshire man, Clarendon made a fruitless promise to provide for Marsh. The young scholar lived on at Oxford upon his fellowship, and Wood notes that he had a weekly musical party in his college-rooms (Life and Times, ed. Clark, i. 274-5). He refused the appointment of domestic chaplain to Lord-keeper Bridgeman, and worked for Beveridge and others without immediate acknowledgment. Being in favour both with the Duke of Ormonde and with Dr. Fell, he was made principal of St. Alban Hall in May 1673. He made the hall 'flourish,' according to Wood, 'keeping up a severe discipline and a weekly meeting for music ' (ib. ii. 264 ; cp. p. 468). The same patrons secured his appointment to the provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, where he was sworn in 24 Jan. 1678-9.

Marsh found his studies too much interrupted by the business of his office. The undergraduates came up with little previous education, 'whereby they are both rude and ignorant, and I was quickly weary of 340 young men and boys in this lewd, debauched town.' But he nevertheless applied himself diligently to his duties, insisting particularly that the thirty natives or Irish-born scholars should learn the Celtic language grammatically. For this purpose he employed Paul Higgins, a converted Roman catholic priest, whom he lodged in his house. Higgins was beneficed by Archbishop Price, who was Marsh's predecessor at Cashel, and who was similarly active in this matter (Cotton, i. 15). A monthly service in Irish, at which Higgins preached to large congregations, was also established. Marsh's successors seem to have let this work drop, and he tells us that 'most of these native scholars turned papists in King James's reign' (Stubbs, pp. 114, 115). Marsh co-operated with Robert Boyle [q. v.] in the work of preparing for publication the long-delayed translation of the Old Testament into Irish, and Higgins was employed in this also. Marsh was much opposed by some of the 'English interest' in the Irish church. There was an old statute against the Irish language, which he was now accused of promoting (Life of Bedell, ch. xx.)

Marsh, who was an enthusiastic mathematician, was associated with Petty and William Molyneux in founding the Royal Dublin Society; the members at first met in his house. In 1683 he himself contributed an essay on sound, with suggestions for the improvement of acoustics. He was also a learned orientalist. While provost, Marsh began the building of a new hall and chapel. The only place left for meals in the meantime was the library, 'and because the books were not chained, 'twas necessary that they should remove them into some other place. ... They laid them in heaps in some void rooms' (to, p. 117). The books were subsequently restored to their places, and Marsh made many improvements in their arrangement. But in 1705 Hearne noted that this library, 'where the noble study of Bishop Ussher was placed, is quite neglected and in no order, so that it is perfectly useless, the provost and fellows of that college having no regard for books or learning.'

In 1683 Marsh was made bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, with the rectory of Killeban in commendam. He resigned the provostship soon after consecration, but continued to reside in Trinity College until Easter 1684. From the accession of James II he was disturbed in his see, and he was driven from it at the beginning of 1689 by the disorderly soldiery. After a short stay in Dublin he fled to England, where he was presented to the vicarage of Gresford, Flint, by Lloyd, bishop of St. Asaph, and was made canon of St. Asaph. He was cordially received by his episcopal brethren. Burnet offered him a home in his house until he could return to Ireland. Barlow, Compton, and many laymen gave him money. Marsh exerted himself to provide for such of the refugee Irish clergy as were less well protected than himself. During his stay in England he preached before the university of Oxford, and before the queen at Whitehall on 3 April 1690. He returned to Ireland in the following July, after the battle of the Boyne (Diary). In 1691 he was translated to the archbishopric of Cashel, which had lain vacant since 1684, the revenue being appropriated by James II to the purposes of his own church. At his primary visitation in 1692 he reminded his clergy that it was long since they had seen one in his place, 'and probably might have been much longer ... if God . . . and our gracious king had not otherwise disposed of affairs.' He forbade preaching in private houses, warned the clergy not to praise the dead too much, 'lest others may thereby think themselves secure in following their examples,' and laid down that every incumbent should preach every Sunday, and 'preach up the royal supremacy four times in a year at least.'

Two years afterwards he substantially repeated this charge in Dublin, to which he was translated in 1694, and in the same year his insistence on Swift's producing a certificate from Temple drew forth the well-known 'penitential letter' (Forster, p. 75). In 1700 Marsh presented Swift to the prebend of Dunlavin, thus giving him his first seat in the chapter of St. Patrick's. While provost of Trinity College Marsh had seen that the regulations in force there made the library quite useless to the public. Bishop Stillingfleet died in March 1699, and the Archbishop of Dublin prevented the dispersion of his library by buying it for 2,500l. He installed the books handsomely, with many additions of his own, at St. Sepulchre's, close to St. Patrick's Cathedral, and his whole expenditure on it was above 4,000l. The books collected by the Huguenot Tanneguy Le Fevre, Madame Dacier's father, who died in 1672, are said to have found their way to this library. As late as 1764 Harris was 'under a necessity of acknowledging, from a long experience, that this is the only useful library in Ireland, being open to all strangers and at all seasonable time.' The library still exists, and is known as 'Marsh's,' but it has long ceased to keep pace with the progress of knowledge. Hearne regretted that Stillingfleet's collection, 'like Dr. Isaac Vossius's, was suffered to go out of the nation [i.e. England, to the eternal scandal and reproach of it.'

Marsh was six times a lord justice of Ireland, between 1699 and 1711. In 1703 he was translated to Armagh, where he was as active as ever. He bought up impropriated tithes and restored them to the church, left an endowment of 40l. a year to his cathedral, repaired many parish churches at his own expense, and founded an almshouse at Drogheda for the widows of clergymen. Not the least pleasing thing recorded of him is that he paid over 2,000l. of the debts of Mr. John Jenner of Wildhill in Wiltshire, who had helped him to his fellowship, and thus given him the first lift. He died unmarried in Dublin on 2 Nov. 1713, and was buried in a vault of St. Patrick's Cathedral adjoining his library. The monument suffered from the weather, and was moved into the church. The inscription, a biography in itself, has been printed by Harris. His brother, Epaphroditus, is buried in St. Patrick's.

Swift has left some very severe reflections on. Marsh, though he owed him preferment, and though he could not deny either his learning or his munificence (Works, vol. ii.) Nor was Marsh on very good terms with Archbishop King. The perusal of his 'Diary' makes one think well of him but his ejaculations, and his fondness for recording dreams, savour of superstition. In this he resembles Laud.

Marsh published:

  1. 'An Essay touching the Sympathy between Lute or Viol Strings,' printed in Plot's 'Natural History of Oxfordshire,' chap. ii. pp. 200-7, Oxford, 1677.
  2. 'Manuductio ad Logicam,' written by Philip du Trieu, Oxford, 1678, 8vo.
  3. 'Institutiones Logicæ in usum Juventutis Academiæ Dublinensis,' Dublin, 1681, 16mo. This was long known as 'the provost's logic.'
  4. 'Introductory Essay to the Doctrine of Sounds, &c., presented to the Royal Society in Dublin on 12 Nov. 1683.' Printed in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' vol. xiv. No. 156.
  5. Charge to the clergy at Cashel at his primary visitation, 27 July 1692.
  6. Charge to the clergy of Leinster at his triennial visitation on 1694.

[Marsh's own Diary from 20 Dec. 1690, of which a nearly contemporary manuscript remains in Marsh's Library, was printed (unfinished), with notes, by Dr. J. H. Todd in Irish Ecclesiastical Journal, vol. v. It contains all the chief particulars of Marsh's early life. Marsh's correspondence with Boyle about the translation of the Bible is in his library in manuscript. See also Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. p. xxxv, iv. 498, and Fasti, ii. 199; Boase's Reg. Coll. Exon. p. 73; Stubbe's Hist. of the University of Dublin; Hearne's Collectanea, ed. Doble; Life of Bedell, ed. Jones (Camden Society); Cotton's Fasti Ecclesiæ Hiberniæ; Thomas's St. Asaph; Fowler's Life of Swift; Stuart's Armagh; Ware's Bishops, ed. Harris; Mason's Hist. of St, Patrick's; Mant's Hist. of the Irish Church; Swift's Works, ed. 1824.]

R. B-l.