Willmott, Robert Aris (DNB00)

WILLMOTT, ROBERT ARIS (1809–1863), author—he invariably dropped his second Christian name of Eldridge—was son of a solicitor who married about 1803 Mary Ann (d. 1861), the only child of the Rev. John Cleeve of Ringwood, Hampshire, and a few years later moved to Bradford in Wiltshire, where Robert was born on 30 Jan. 1809. The father, of a somewhat impracticable disposition, went to London, and afterwards became involved in pecuniary trouble. In October 1819 the boy was admitted at Merchant Taylors' school. He was entered at Harrow school in January or February 1825. There in March 1828 he brought out the first number of the ‘Harrovian,’ which ran to six numbers. At the close of 1828 he became tutor to Thomas Green, and remained so for about two years. Already in 1829–30 he was contributing to the ‘Church of England Quarterly Review,’ ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ the ‘London Magazine,’ and the ‘Asiatic Journal.’ He was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1832, but his matriculation was deferred until 17 Feb. 1834. While at Cambridge he earned his living by his pen. He graduated B.A. on 26 May 1841.

Willmott, on Trinity Sunday 1842, was ordained deacon by Bishop Blomfield to the curacy of St. James, Ratcliffe, and he was ordained priest on 11 June 1843. After serious illness he took leave of St. James's on 2 June 1844, his farewell sermon being printed. For three months he was stationed at Chelsea Hospital, and in June 1845 became curate to the Rev. T. W. Allies at Launton, Oxfordshire. The church of St. Catherine, Bearwood, which had been erected through the munificence of John Walter (1776–1847) [q. v.], was consecrated on 23 April 1846, and Willmott was appointed by him as its first incumbent. For many years he received much practical kindness from Walter and his successor in the property; but about 1861 differences arose with the patron, and Willmott resigned the benefice in May 1862 on a pension of 160l. per annum. His publications included funeral sermons for John Walter (d. 1847) and for Mrs. Emily Frances Walter (d. 1858).

Willmott retired to Nettlebed in Oxfordshire, and began writing for the ‘Churchman's Family Magazine.’ He was engaged in the preparation of three new books, including an edition of the works of Cowley, when he was incapacitated by an attack of paralysis. He died at Nettlebed on 27 May 1863. He was buried, with his mother and sister (Mary Cleeve Willmott, who died at Richmond on 9 May 1854, aged 47), in the churchyard of Bearwood.

Willmott's literary work showed wide reading and a pleasing imagination, and he was an admirable preacher. His most popular productions were: 1. ‘A Journal of Summer-time in the Country,’ 1849; illustrated ed. 1858; 4th ed., with memoir by his sister, 1864. 2. ‘Pleasures, Objects, and Advantages of Literature,’ 1851; 5th ed. 1860; by 1858 five editions of it had appeared in German. His other works included: 3. ‘Lives of Sacred Poets,’ 1834; 2nd ser. 1838. 4. ‘Conversations at Cambridge’ (anon.), 1836. 5. ‘Letters of Eminent Persons, selected and illustrated,’ 1839. 6. ‘Parlour Table Book: Extracts from various Authors,’ 1840, dedicated to his old friend, James Montgomery. 7. ‘Pictures of Christian Life,’ 1841. 8. ‘Poems,’ 1841; 2nd ed., much altered and enlarged, 1848. 9. ‘Life of Jeremy Taylor,’ 1847; 2nd ed. 1848 (cf. Phillips, Essays from the Times, 2nd ser., pp. 103–17). 10. ‘Precious Stones from Prose Writers of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries,’ 1850. 11. ‘Poets of the Nineteenth Century,’ 1857, an interesting collection; the original edition is finely illustrated by engravings by the brothers Dalziel, after Foster, Gilbert, Tenniel, Millais, and other artists. 12. ‘English Sacred Poetry,’ 1862; 2nd ed. 1883.

Willmott edited for Routledge's ‘British Poets’ the poems of Gray, Parnell (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser., x. 141–2), Collins, Green, and Warton (1854 and 1883), the works of George Herbert in prose and verse (1854; Herbert's poems, with Willmott's memoir and notes, were also published at Boston, U.S., in 1855), the poems of Akenside and Dyer (1855), Cowper (1855), Burns (1856; reissued in 1866), Percy's ‘Reliques’ (1857; also published with a slightly altered title-page), and Fairfax's translation of Tasso's ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ (1858). He edited selections from the poetry of Wordsworth (1859) and James Montgomery (1859), and the poems of Goldsmith (1860). His ‘Dream of the Poets at Cambridge, from Spenser to Gray,’ is inserted in J. J. Smith's ‘Cambridge Portfolio’ (i. 47–53), and he contributed notes to Pegge's ‘Anecdotes of the English Language’ (1844 ed.).

An engraved frontispiece of Willmott, by H. B. Hall, is in Christmas's ‘Preachers and Preaching’ (1858).

[Gent. Mag. 1861 ii. 338, 1863 ii. 241–2; Welch's Harrow School Reg. p. 71; Kettle's Memoirs of C. Boner, 1871, i. 109; information from Mr. W. Aldis Wright of Trinity College, Cambridge, and from the Rev. C. A. Whittuck of Bearwood.]

W. P. C.