Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Milles, Jeremiah

MILLES, JEREMIAH (1714–1784), antiquary, said to have been born at Duloe, Cornwall, in 1714, was son of the Rev. Jeremiah Milles, forty-two years vicar of Duloe [see under Milles, Isaac], but the entry of Milles's baptism does not appear in Duloe parish registers. He was educated at the expense of his uncle, Dr. Thomas Milles [q. v.], bishop of Waterford and Lismore, first as an oppidan at Eton, and then at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 9 July 1729 as a gentleman-commoner (B.A. 1733, M.A. 1735, and B.D. and D.D. 1747). The greater part of the years 1733–7 was spent by Milles and his cousin, Richard Pococke [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Meath, in travelling through Europe. Numerous manuscripts descriptive of these and of his later expeditions and a register of letters written by him from abroad are among the British Museum Addit. MSS. He was ordained in the English church, and at once received from his uncle, Bishop Milles, preferment in Ireland. From 1735 to 1745 he held the treasurership of Lismore Cathedral, he was precentor of Waterford Cathedral from 31 Dec. 1737 to 12 Nov. 1744, and for a short time he had a living near Waterford; but on the death of his uncle in 1740 he inherited a considerable fortune, and he preferred to live in England. While in Ireland he gave 50l. for the adornment of Waterford Cathedral (Pococke, Irish Tour, 1752, p. 132).

Milles was from early life interested in in archæology. He was elected F.S.A. in 1741, F.R.S. in 1742, and about that date he became a member of the Egyptian Club ‘to inquire into Egyptian antiquities.’ Through his marriage, on 29 May 1745, to Edith, daughter of Archbishop Potter, ample preferments came to him. From 1744 to 1746 he was rector of Saltwood with Hythe in Kent, he enjoyed the sinecure rectory of West Tarring in Sussex for many years to 1779, when he resigned in favour of his son; from 1745 to his death he filled the benefice of Merstham in Surrey, and from 1746 until he died he held the valuable rectory of St. Edmund the King with St. Nicholas Acons, Lombard Street, in the city of London. At West Tarring Milles repaired the old parsonage hall, and adapted it for a charity school (Topographical Miscellanies, 1792, sub ‘Terring’), and the rectory house at Merstham was rebuilt by him in 1768, but some of the stained glass in the church windows is said to have ‘vanished’ during his incumbency. On the presentation of his father-in-law, ‘patron for that turn by reason of a grant made by the Bishop of Exeter to him,’ he was admitted on 11 May 1747 to the precentorship of Exeter Cathedral and to a prebendal stall, with the emoluments of a canon residentiary. He repainted the stately mantelpiece in the great hall of the precentor's house, and surmounted it with the arms of his family and those of Archbishop Potter. The stall was retained by Milles until his death, but he vacated the precentorship on 28 April 1762, through his election by the chapter to succeed Bishop Lyttelton as their dean. An interesting letter from him to George Grenville on the deanery house at Exeter is in the ‘Grenville Papers,’ iv. 20–3. Milles, on Lyttleton's death at the close of 1768, also succeeded him as president of the Society of Antiquaries, a position which he retained as long as he lived. As prolocutor of the lower house of convocation he was presented to the upper house by Bishop John Butler on 23 Jan. 1775, and the ‘Oratiuncula’ then delivered by Butler is printed in his ‘Concio ad clerum Cant. Provinciæ, 1775.’ Milles died at Harley Street, London, on 13 Feb. 1784, and on 19 Feb. was buried by the side of his wife (who had died on 9 June 1761, aged 35) in the church of St. Edmund the King. A monument by Bacon was placed there to their memory. Their issue was three sons, Jeremiah, Richard, and Thomas, and two daughters, one of whom married Captain Blake (Cottle, Early Recollections, i. 34). Many references to the sons are in the ‘Early Diary of Frances Burney’ (i. 234–51), where they are praised as ‘very agreeable and amiable,’ appearing ‘to regard their father only as an elder brother.’ Richard Gough speaks of the dean's ‘domestic happiness,’ but thought that he did not maintain sufficient control over the proceedings of the Antiquaries.

Unfortunately for his reputation Milles rushed into the Chatterton dispute with an extravagant edition of ‘Poems supposed to have been written at Bristol in the Fifteenth Century by Thomas Rowley, Priest. With a Commentary,’ 1782, copies of which, with numerous manuscript notes by Haslewood, Dr. Sherwen, and Horace Walpole, are in the British Museum. In this work he maintained the antiquity of the poems, and committed himself to the assertion, when writing on the poem of the death of ‘Syr Charles Bawdin,’ that ‘a greater variety of internal proofs may be produced for its authenticity than for that of any other piece in the whole collection.’ His ingenuous comments provoked replies from Edmund Malone, Thomas Tyrwhitt, and Thomas Warton, and a very severe ‘Archæological Epistle to Dean Milles,’ 1782, which, though long attributed to the poet Mason, was written by John Baynes [q. v.] On the dean's part in this controversy S. T. Coleridge wrote that he ‘foully calumniated Chatterton, an owl mangling a poor dead nightingale,’ and that ‘though only a dean, he was in dulness and malignity most episcopally eminent’ (Joseph Cottle, Early Recollections, i. 36).

Milles also wrote: 1. ‘Inscriptionum Antiquarum liber alter à Jeremia Milles et Richardo Pococke editus,’ 1752, printed as an appendix, pp. 100–127 of Pococke's work on the same subject. 2. ‘Observations on the Wardrobe Account for 1483, the Coronation of Richard III,’ 1770. This originally appeared in the ‘Archæologia,’ i. 361–83, and it produced from Horace Walpole ‘A Reply to the Observations of Dean Milles on the Ward Robe Account,’ 24 pages, of which six copies only, dated 28 Aug. 1770, were printed at Strawberry Hill. 3. ‘A Speech delivered to the Society of Antiquaries, 11 Jan. 1781, on their Removal to Somerset House,’ 1781. He also contributed numerous papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ and the ‘Archæologia.’

Milles's library was sold by Leigh Sotheby on 10 April 1843 and four following days, when several of his manuscripts were acquired for the British Museum (cf. Bibl. Corn. and Boase, Collectanea Cornub.) Milles was the medium, on 9 May 1766, of the presentation of Pococke's Irish collections to the British Museum. His ‘Topographical Notes on Bath, Wells,’ &c. were printed from the original manuscript by J. G. Bell in 1851, in a series of tracts on British topography. In early life he made large collections for a history of Devonshire, and for illustrating the Domesday survey and the Danish coinage. Letters to and from him are in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes,’ iii. 295, vi. 297–9, viii. 10, and in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1823, pt. ii. pp. 327–8; he is frequently mentioned with keen dislike in Walpole's ‘Correspondence,’ and he was lashed, with his brother antiquaries, by Foote in the comedy of the ‘Nabob.’

A bust portrait of him, life size, with face seen in three quarters, is in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries. It was copied by Miss Black, by direction of the Earl of Leicester, from the original belonging to the family. A comical sketch by George Steevens of his wig is in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1782, p. 288.

[Gent. Mag. 1745 p. 276, 1784 pt. i. pp. 153, 234, 1786 pt. i. p. 480, 1823 pt. i. pp. 516–17; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Fowler's Corpus Christi Coll. (Oxford Hist. Soc.), pp. 282–3; Scharf's Cat. of Pictures of Soc. of Antiquaries, p. 41; Polwhele's Biog. Sketches, ii. 6–13; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 388, 413, 429, 431; Cotton's Fasti Eccl. Hib. i. 23, 56; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. vols. i. and iii.; Hasted's Kent, iii. 410; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 657, iv. 471–3, v. 334, vi. 620–626; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. i. 707–8, vii. 460; Oliver's Bishops of Exeter, pp. 263–4; Manning and Bray's Surrey, ii. 261–4; Biog. of Bishop Richard Pococke in Tours in Scotland (Scottish Hist. Soc.), pp. xxxvi, lx–lxvi; information from Mr. Arthur Burch, Diocesan Registry, Exeter.]

W. P. C.