Ragg, Thomas (DNB00)

RAGG, THOMAS (1808–1881), divine and poet, born at Nottingham on 11 Jan. 1808, was the son of George Ragg and Jane (Morrison), whose grandfather was an adherent of the old Pretender. The elder Ragg, born at Nottingham in 1782, was great-grandson of Benjamin Ragg, brother-in-law and coadjutor of Richard Newsham [q. v.], the inventor. He removed to Birmingham the year after his son's birth, and set up a bookshop in Bull Street. He had also a large lace and hosiery business, but his devotion to politics soon involved him in bankruptcy. A prominent radical, George Ragg was one of the conveners of the meeting held at New Hall Hill on 22 Jan. 1817 to petition for parliamentary reform. In November 1819 he was prosecuted for selling the ‘Republican’ newspaper; being unable to find bail, he was sent to Warwick gaol, and was sentenced in 1820 to a term of imprisonment, despite the efforts of his counsel, Mr. (afterwards Justice) Denman. Subsequently he took part in the management of the ‘Birmingham Argus,’ founded in 1818 by himself as an organ of reform, and of Carlile's ‘Republican.’ On 12 Feb. 1821 he was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment in the House of Correction, Coldbath Fields, for publishing a ‘seditious and blasphemous libel’ in No. 9 of the ‘Republican.’ After his release he was present at the dinner given to Henry Hunt on 14 July 1823 by the Birmingham Union Society of Radical Reformers. The elder Ragg died in August 1836.

Thomas Ragg was taken from school in his eleventh year to enter the printing office of the ‘Birmingham Argus,’ which his father was then conducting. Four years later he was apprenticed at Leicester to his uncle, a hosier, who soon removed to the neighbourhood of Nottingham, and set up a lace manufactory. But he resented Ragg's studious habits, and in 1834 Ragg left him to become assistant to Dearden, a Nottingham bookseller. He had already contributed verses to the ‘Nottingham Review,’ and in 1832 published a poem entitled ‘The Incarnation,’ which reached a second edition next year. It was a fragment of a larger work in blank verse in twelve books, called ‘The Deity,’ which appeared in 1834, and was designed as a testimony from a converted infidel to the truth of Christianity. James Montgomery, to whom it was dedicated, read it before publication, and Isaac Taylor wrote an introductory essay. Copious extracts appeared in the ‘Eclectic Review,’ and the ‘Times’ of 11 Aug. 1834 termed it ‘a very remarkable production.’ While with Dearden, Ragg published other volumes of verse and wrote for local journals. To ‘Dearden's Miscellany,’ then edited by Alford, he contributed a poetic appeal on behalf of the weaver-poet of Nottingham, Robert Millhouse [q. v.] After declining offers of a university education on condition of taking holy orders in the church, as well as proposals from three nonconformist congregations, he became in 1839 editor of the ‘Birmingham Advertiser,’ of which he was for a short time a proprietor. In 1841–2 he also managed the ‘Midland Monitor.’ When the former paper failed in 1845, Ragg set up as a stationer and printer in Birmingham. Meanwhile he continued to publish verse, and in 1855 produced ‘Creation's Testimony to its God the Accordance of Science, Philosophy, and Revelation,’ an evidential treatise, dedicated to the Rev. J. B. Owen, which obtained wide popularity and reached a thirteenth edition in 1877. Ragg corrected each reissue, in order to keep it abreast of modern scientific progress. It introduced Ragg to Dr. George Murray, bishop of Rochester, who induced him to accept ordination in 1858. He was appointed by the bishop to a curacy, the salary of which the bishop paid himself, at Southfleet in Kent. On the bishop's death he became curate of Malin's Lee in Shropshire, and in 1865 was appointed perpetual curate of the newly formed parish of Lawley, where he remained till his death on 3 Dec. 1881. He was buried in Lawley churchyard.

Ragg was twice married: first, to Mary Ann Clark; and, secondly, to Jane Sarah Barker. Two sons of the first, and two daughters and six sons of the second marriage survived him. Most of Ragg's literary work was produced while he was ‘a self-educated mechanic,’ and is remarkable, considering the circumstances of production. Southey thought well of him and gave him advice.

In addition to the works already named, Ragg's chief publications were: 1. ‘The Martyr of Verulam and other Poems,’ 1835. 2. ‘Sketches from Life, Lyrics from the Pentateuch, and other Poems,’ 1837. 3. ‘Heber, Records of the Poor, and other Poems,’ 1840; 2nd edit. 1841. 4. ‘The Lyre of Zion,’ &c., 1841. 5. ‘Thoughts on Salvation,’ 1842. 6. ‘Hymns from the Church Services adapted to Public, Social, and Domestic Worship,’ 1843. 7. ‘Scenes and Sketches from Life and Nature, Edgbaston,’ &c., 1847. 8. ‘Which was First? or Science in Sport made Christian Evidence in earnest,’ 1857. 9. ‘Man's Dreams and God's Realities, or Science correcting Scientific Errors,’ 1858. 10. ‘God's Dealings with an Infidel, or Grace triumphant; being the Autobiography of Thomas Ragg,’ 1858.

[For George Ragg see Langford's Century of Birmingham Life, vol. ii. chap. iii. &c., and Birmingham Weekly Post, 22 and 29 June, 6 and 13 July 1895, notes by F. W. R. For Thomas Ragg, a notice by one of his sons, the Rev. F. W. Ragg, in Birmingham Weekly Post, 17 Nov. 1894; Wylie's Old and New Nottingham, pp. 177, 245–6; Eclectic Review, September 1833, November 1834, July 1838; Ragg's Works; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Men of the Time, 8th edit., in which there are some mistakes.]

G. Le G. N.