Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thirlby, Styan
THIRLBY, STYAN (1686?–1753), critic and theologian, son of Thomas Thirlby, vicar of St. Margaret's, Leicester, by his wife Mary, eldest daughter of Henry Styan of Kirby Frith, gentleman, was born about 1686 (Nichols, Leicestershire, iv. 239, 614). He was educated at the free school, Leicester, under the tuition of the Rev. John Kilby, the chief usher, who afterwards said: ‘He went through my school in three years; and his self-conceit was censured as very offensive. He thought he knew more than all the school.’ One of his productions while at school was a poem in Greek ‘On the Queen of Sheba's Visit to Solomon.’ From his mental abilities no small degree of future eminence was presaged, but the hopes of his friends were unfortunately defeated by a temper which was naturally indolent and quarrelsome, and by an unhappy addiction to drinking. From Leicester he was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1704. He contributed verses in 1708 to the university collection on the death of George, prince of Denmark. In 1710 he published anonymously an intemperate pamphlet on the occasion of the dismissal of the whig ministry. It was entitled ‘The University of Cambridge vindicated from the Imputation of Disloyalty it lies under on account of not addressing; as also from the malicious and foul Aspersions of Dr. Bentley, late Master of Trinity College, and of a certain Officer and pretended Reformer in the said University,’ London, 1710, 8vo (cf. Monk, Life of Bentley, 2nd edit. i. 289). Thirlby obtained a fellowship of his college in 1712 by the influence of Dr. Charles Ashton, who said ‘he had had the honour of studying with him when young,’ though he afterwards spoke of him very contemptuously as the editor of Justin Martyr.
Devoting himself to the study of divinity, he published ‘S. Joannis Chrysostomi de Sacerdotio … editio altera. Accessit S. Gr. Nazianzeni … de eodem Argumento conscripta, Oratio Apologetica, opera S. Thirlby,’ Greek and Latin, Cambridge, 1712, 8vo; ‘An Answer to Mr. Whiston's Seventeen Suspicions concerning Athanasius, in his Historical Preface,’ Cambridge, 1712, 8vo; ‘Calumny no Conviction: or an Answer to Mr. Whiston's Letter to Mr. Thirlby, intituled Athanasius convicted of Forgery,’ London, 1713, 8vo; and ‘A Defence of the Answer to Mr. Whiston's Suspicions, and an Answer to his Charge of Forgery against St. Athanasius,’ Cambridge, 1713, 8vo. On 17 Jan. 1718–19 he was appointed deputy registrary of the university of Cambridge, but he held this office for a very short time (Addit. MS. 5852, ff. 31, 31 a). He took the degree of M.A. at Cambridge in 1720. Two years later he brought out his principal work—a splendid edition of ‘Justini Philosophi et Martyris Apologiæ duæ, et Dialogus cum Tryphone Judæo cum notis et emendationibus,’ Greek and Latin, London, 1722, fol.; dedicated to William, lord Craven. Bishop Monk observes that ‘so violently had resentment got possession of him [Thirlby] that he gives the full reins to invective, and rails against classical studies and Bentley in so extravagant a style that he makes the reader, at the very outset of his work, doubt whether the editor was in a sane mind’ (Life of Bentley, ii. 167). He also treated Meric Casaubon, Isaac Vossius, and Dr. Grabe with contempt.
Having discontinued the study of theology, his next pursuit was medicine, and for a while he was styled ‘doctor.’ While he was a nominal physician he lived for some time with the Duke of Chandos as librarian. He then studied the civil law, on which he occasionally lectured, Sir Edward Walpole being one of his pupils. The civil law displeasing him, though he is said to have become LL.D., he applied himself to the common law, and had chambers taken for him in the Temple with a view of being called to the bar; but of this scheme he likewise grew weary. He came, however, to London, to the house of his friend, Sir Edward Walpole, who procured for him in May 1741 the sinecure office of a king's waiter in the port of London, worth about 100l. a year. The remainder of his days were passed in private lodgings, where he lived in a very retired manner, seeing only a few friends, and indulging occasionally in excessive drinking. He contributed some notes to Theobald's Shakespeare, and afterwards talked of bringing out an edition of his own, but this design was abandoned. He left, however, a copy of Shakespeare, with some abusive remarks on Warburton in the margin of the first volume, and a few attempts at emendation. The copy became the property of Sir Edward Walpole, to whom Thirlby bequeathed all his books and papers. Walpole lent it to Dr. Johnson when he was preparing his edition of Shakespeare, in which the name of ‘Thirlby’ appears as a commentator. Thirlby died on 19 Dec. 1753.[Addit. MS. 5882, f. 16; Boswell's Johnson (Hill), iv. 161; Bowes's Cat. of English Books; Brüggemann's Engl. Editions of Greek and Latin Authors, pp. 334, 424; Davies's Athenæ Britannicæ, ii. 378; Gent. Mag. 1753 p. 590, 1778 p. 597, 1780 p. 407, 1782 p. 242; Hist. Reg. 1738, Chron. Diary, p. 28; London Mag. July 1738, p. 361; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 238, iv. 264; Nichols's Select Collection of Poems (1781), vi. 114; Whiston's Memoir of himself (1749), i. 204.]