Mathias, Thomas James (DNB00)


MATHIAS, THOMAS JAMES (1754?–1835), satirist and Italian scholar, belonged to a family connected with the English court, several members of which are mentioned in the fragments of the ‘Journal’ of Charlotte Burney (Early Diary of Frances Burney, ii. 306–12). His father, Vincent Mathias, sub-treasurer in the queen's household and treasurer of Queen Anne's Bounty, died 15 June 1782, aged 71; his mother, Marianne, daughter of Alured Popple, secretary to the board of trade and governor of Bermuda, was born 8 Nov. 1724 and died 6 Jan. 1799 (Gent. Mag. 1782 pt. ii. p. 311, 1799 pt. i. p. 82). He is said to have been educated at Eton, and the long passage in the notes to the ‘Pursuits of Literature’ appears to corroborate this statement, but he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 2 July 1770, at the age of sixteen, as coming from the school at Kingston-on-Thames kept by the Rev. Richard Woodeson. He took an ægrotat degree in 1774 and proceeded M.A. in 1777, having gained, as a middle bachelor, in 1775 one of the members' prizes for the best dissertation in Latin prose, and in 1776, as a senior bachelor, another of the same prizes. He was admitted scholar of his college on 26 April 1771, elected as a minor fellow in 1776—the Latin letter which he sent to the electing fellows for their suffrages on this occasion is given in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes,’ ii. 676–8—became major fellow in 1776, and acted as third, second, and first sublector respectively in 1777–8, 1779, and 1780. Latin exercises, written by him in 1775 and 1776, probably as tests for a fellowship, are preserved at the British Museum, and in 1779 he printed a Latin oration which he had delivered in the chapel of his college at Trinitytide. While at college he was very intimate with Spencer Perceval, afterwards prime minister, and a letter from one of Perceval's sons speaks of Mathias as his father's private tutor at Cambridge. In 1782 he succeeded to the post of sub-treasurer to the queen, when he probably quitted Cambridge; he afterwards became her treasurer, and about 1812 he appears to have been librarian at Buckingham Palace. For many years he lived in London on the emoluments of these posts, and engaged in literary pursuits, but his edition of the works of Gray in 1814 proved a severe loss to him, and would have been still more disastrous but for the assistance of the authorities at Pembroke College, Cambridge, under whose auspices it was undertaken, and by whom many copies were purchased. It was published at the enormous price of seven guineas, and consequently had no sale, so that most of the volumes were locked up in a warehouse for years. His straitened means, combined with an ‘alarming stroke and attack’ (Madame d'Arblay's Diary, vii. 307), decided him to make his way to Italy ‘on a desperate experiment of health.’ Southey met him at Paris in May 1817, when he was ‘outward bound’ (Letters, iv. 437–8); and he remained in Southern Italy, ‘in love with the climate and the language,’ for the rest of his life. When Sir Walter Scott was at Naples in his last illness, Mathias contributed to his ‘comfort and amusement,’ and a description of him in his lodgings in an old palace on the Pizzofalcone is given by N. P. Willis in his ‘Pencillings by the Way,’ i. 100–2. Another account of his life in Italy is given in the ‘Athenæum,’ 22 Aug. 1835, p. 650. He was a royal associate of the Royal Society of Literature, and so long as its funds allowed he was in receipt of one of its pensions. He died at Naples in August 1835. His books and manuscripts were sold by R. H. Evans in 1820 and 1837. He was at one time the owner of a picture of his family by Hogarth (Dobson, Hogarth, ed. 1891, p. 346). He was elected F.R.S. in March 1795, and F.S.A. in January 1795.

The first dialogue of the ‘Pursuits of Literature’ came out in May 1794, the second and third in June 1796, and the fourth in July 1797. The ‘fifth edition, revised and corrected,’ was published in 1798, and in the same year there appeared three editions of ‘Translations of the passages quoted in the Pursuits of Literature.’ The eleventh edition, ‘again revised, and with the citations translated,’ is dated in 1801, and the sixteenth issue bore the date of 1812. All the impressions were anonymous, and the writer was long unknown. Dawson Turner, who possessed letters addressed to the unknown author, with the answers of Mathias, which are now No. 22976 of the Addit. MSS. in the British Museum, wrote that the authorship ‘was scarcely made a secret by the family after Mathias went to Italy’ (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 276). Rumour asserted that he was aided in the composition by Bishop W. L. Mansel [q. v.], while Gilbert Wakefield, says Rogers, ‘used to say he was certain that Rennell and Glynn assisted in it’ (Table Talk of Samuel Rogers, p. 135), but these suggestions can now be dismissed from consideration. The poem contained some slashing lines scattered among a mass of affected criticism, and as its sole idea was to ridicule those trading on literature, it soon proved wanting in life. George Steevens called it ‘a peg to hang the notes on,’ and these were often of portentous length, though Rogers thought them ‘rather piquant.’ De Quincey, in his ‘Essay on Parr,’ speaks of it as marred by ‘much licence of tongue, much mean and impotent spite, and by a systematic pedantry without parallel in literature,’ and he might have added, by the shameless puffing of his own works by Mathias. Cobbett, who shared many of his prejudices, called it a ‘matchless poem,’ but Dr. Wolcot dubbed him ‘that miserable imp Mathias.’ Among the writers most severely satirised were Payne Knight, Parr, Godwin, ‘Monk’ Lewis, and Joseph Warton for his edition of Pope's ‘Works;’ but Mathias was often obliged to soften or to expunge his criticisms. In Parr's ‘Works’ (viii. 59–82) are several eulogistic letters subsequently addressed to him by Mathias.

A satire of such recklessness naturally provoked attacks. Among them were: 1. ‘The Egotist, or Sacred Scroll. A Familiar Dialogue between the Author of the “Pursuits of Literature” and Octavius,’ 1798. 2. ‘The Progress of Satire, an Essay in Verse. With Notes containing Remarks on the “Pursuits of Literature,”’ 2nd ed. 1798. Supplement, with ‘Remarks on the Pursuer of Literature's Defence,’ 1799. Anonymous, but by William Boscawen. 3. ‘Impartial Strictures on the “Pursuits of Literature,” and particularly a Vindication of the Romance of “The Monk,”’ 1798. 4. ‘The Sphinx's Head Broken, or a Poetical Epistle with Notes to Thomas James M*th**s, by Andrew Œdipus, an injured Author,’ 1798. 5. ‘The Literary Census, a Satirical Poem, with Notes, including Free and Candid Strictures on the “Pursuits of Literature.” By Thomas Dutton,’ 1798. 6. ‘Remarks on the “Pursuits of Literature,”’ Cambridge, 1798. Anonymous, by John Mainwaring. This provoked from Mathias ‘A Letter to the Author of “Remarks,” &c., which purported to be written by “A Country Gentleman, formerly of the University of Cambridge.”’ 7. ‘An Examination of the Merits and Tendency of the “Pursuits of Literature,”’ by W. Burdon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1799. Nearly the whole of these works censured the malignity and partiality of the criticisms of Mathias, and some of them reflected on his personal appearance. He was small and swarthy, with a face like that of Sir Francis Burdett.

Satire always had charms for Mathias. So early as 1780 he published anonymously ‘An Heroic Address in Prose to the Rev. Richard Watson [afterwards Bishop Watson] on his late Discourse to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of Ely,’ in which Watson had expressed the hope of supplying some day a ‘more exact survey of the deserts of Arabia and Tartary,’ and ‘An Heroic Epistle [in verse] to the Rev. Richard Watson,’ which passed into two editions and provoked ‘An Answer to the Heroic Epistle.’ The success of the ‘Pursuits of Literature’ tempted him into politics. He attacked Sheridan with great coarseness in ‘The Political Dramatist’ in November 1795 [anon.], 1796; a second edition of which came out in 1796, with a postscript in prose, also published separately, of ‘Remarks on the Declaration of the Whig Club, 23 Jan. 1796.’ The curious correspondence between the Earl and Countess of Jersey and Dr. Randolph on the missing letters of the Prince of Wales drew from him ‘An Equestrian Epistle in Verse to the Earl of Jersey’ [anon.], 1796, and ‘An Epistle in Verse to Dr. Randolph’ [anon.], 1796; also issued as ‘A Pair of Epistles in Verse’ [anon.], 1796, with ‘An Appendix to the Pair of Epistles’ [anon.], 1796. The presence in England of the ‘numerous emigrant French priests and others of the Church of Rome’ caused him to write a foolish ‘Letter to the Marquis of Buckingham. By a Layman,’ 1796. The tories were praised and Fox with his whig followers condemned in ‘An Imperial Epistle from Kien Long, Emperor of China, to George III in 1794;’ 2nd edit. 1796; 4th edit. 1798. In 1797 he ventured upon ‘An Address to Mr. Pitt on some parts of his Administration’ [anon.], 1797; and in 1799 there appeared four editions, also anonymous, of ‘The Shade of Alexander Pope on the Banks of the Thames. A Satirical Poem on the Residence of Henry Grattan at Twickenham.’ This occasioned ‘A Vindication of Pope and Grattan from the Attack of an Anonymous Defamer. By W. Burdon,’ 1799; and eight severe lines by Grattan printed in Wrangham's ‘Catalogue of his English Library,’ pp. 409–10. An ephemeral production by Mathias was called ‘Pandolpho Attonito, or Lord Galloway's Poetical Lamentation on the Removal of the Armchairs from the Pit of the Opera House’ [anon.], 1800; and next year he produced a volume of ‘Prose on Various Occasions collected from the Newspapers’ [anon.], 1801.

Mathias was a devoted admirer of Gray the poet and of Dr. Robert Glynn [q. v.] One of his first works was ‘Runic Odes imitated from the Norse Tongue in the manner of Mr. Gray,’ 1781, republished in London in 1790 in ‘Odes English and Latin,’ in 1798, and at New York in 1806 in a collection called ‘The Garden of Flowers.’ In 1814 he edited, at a ruinous expense, ‘The Works of Thomas Gray, with Mason's Memoir. To which are subjoined Extracts from the Author's Original Manuscripts,’ 1814, 2 vols. 4to. The second volume contained his ‘Observations on the Writings and Character of Mr. Gray,’ also issued separately in 1815. His knowledge of Gray's appearance and habits was derived from Nicholls, of whom he wrote in ‘A Letter occasioned by the Death of the Rev. Norton Nicholls, with Italian Ode to him,’ pp. 30. A few copies were printed for private circulation, and it was inserted in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1810, pt. ii. pp. 346–51; his ‘Works of Gray’ (1814), i. 515–35; his ‘Observations on the Writings and Character of Gray,’ 1815; ‘Correspondence of Gray and Nicholls,’ 1843, pp. 3–28; in ‘Poesie Liriche,’ 1810; and in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature,’ v. 65–83; while the Italian ‘Canzone’ to Nicholls was printed separately in 1807. Nicholls left his books to Mathias and a considerable sum of money in the event, which did not take place, of his surviving a near relation of his own. With the assistance of Dr. Glynn, who gave him some Chatterton manuscripts, he compiled ‘An Essay on the Evidence relating to the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley,’ 1783; 2nd edit. 1784. In 1782 he brought out an anonymous ‘Elysian Interlude in Prose and Verse of Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades,’ in which Chatterton described the success of the poems, the means by which they were concocted, and the strife over their authenticity. His unpublished volume of ‘Odes English and Latin,’ 1798, contained, as pt. i., ‘The Runic Odes,’ and as pt. ii. many Latin poems, among which were verses to Thomas Orde as governor of the Isle of Wight, an ode to Bishop Mansel on his neglecting a parrot, and an address on Lord Holland's villa near Margate: all three had been printed separately, and were afterwards included in ‘Odæ Latinæ,’ 1810. He printed privately at Rome in 1818 and at Naples in 1819 several ‘Lyrica Sacra excerpta ex Hymnis Ecclesiæ Antiquis,’ which were reprinted, with an appendix, by Frederick Martin at Norwich in January 1835. Mathias also printed privately a few copies of a Latin elegy taken from that on Netley Abbey by George Keate [q. v.], and of the ballad of Hardyknute with a commentary. There are letters to him in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 2nd ser. x. 41–2, 283–4, xii. 221, and from him in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature,’ viii. 214, 312–14.

Mathias was probably instructed in Italian at Cambridge by Agostino Isola, and he ranks as the best English scholar in that language since the time of Milton. He was the author of ‘Poesie Liriche’ and of ‘Canzoni Toscane,’ each of which went through many editions, and of ‘Canzoni’ on Nicholls, Sir William Drummond, and Lord Guilford. He edited the works of numerous Italian authors, among whom were Gravina, Tiraboschi, and Menzini; published a collection in three volumes of ‘Lyrics from Italian Poets,’ 1802, 1808, and 1819; and letters in Italian on the study of its literature, a new edition of which was published by L. P. at Naples in 1834. The English works which he translated into Italian included Akenside's ‘Naiads,’ Armstrong's ‘Art of Health,’ Beattie's ‘Minstrel,’ Mason's ‘Caractacus’ and ‘Sappho,’ Milton's ‘Lycidas,’ Spenser's ‘Fairy Queen,’ and Thomson's ‘Castle of Indolence.’ In Wrangham's ‘English Library,’ pp. 348–9, is an unpublished Italian sonnet by him.

[Gent. Mag. 1782 pt. ii. p. 360, 1835 pt. i. p. 524, pt. ii. pp. 550–2; Croker Papers, ii. 371; Dyce's Table Talk of Samuel Rogers, pp. 134–6, 323; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816, pp. 227–8; De Quincey's Works, ed. 1890, v. 88–9, 142; Smith's Cobbett, i. 244–5; Brydges's Restituta, iv. 250; Lockhart's Scott, ed. 1838, vii. 340; Wordsworth's Scholæ Acad. pp. 153, 360; Halkett and Laing's Anonymous Lit. i. 43, ii. 1389, iii. 1848, 2038, 2232; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 284; information from Mr. W. Aldis Wright, of Trinity College, Cambridge.]

W. P. C.