Posts Tagged ‘Richard Payne Knight’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Society of Dilettanti
Since 1732 –

Society of Dilettanti is believed to have been established as a London dining club in 1732 by a group of people who had been on the Grand Tour. Records of the earliest meeting of the Society were written somewhat informally on loose pieces of paper. The first entry in the first minute book of the Society is dated April 5, 1736.

In 1743 Horace Walpole condemned its affectations and described it as such; “…a club, for which the nominal qualification is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk: the two chiefs are Lord Middlesex and Sir Francis Dashwood, who were seldom sober the whole time they were in Italy”

The group, initially led by Francis Dashwood, contained several dukes and was later joined by Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, among others. It was closely associated with Brooks’s, one of London’s most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs. The society quickly became wealthy, through a system in which members made contributions to various funds to support building schemes and archaeological expeditions.

The first artist associated with the group was George Knapton.

The Society of Dilettanti aimed to correct and purify the public taste of the country; from the 1740s, it began to support Italian opera. A few years before Sir Joshua Reynolds became a member, the group worked towards the objective of forming a public academy, and from the 1750s, it was the prime mover in establishing the Royal Academy. In 1775 the club had accumulated enough money towards a scholarship fund for the purpose of supporting a student’s travel to Rome and Greece, or for archaeological expeditions such as that of Richard Chandler, William Pars and Nicholas Revett, the results of which they published in Ionian Antiquities, a major influence on neo-Classicism in Britain. One notable member was Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples.

The Society has 60 members, elected by secret ballot. An induction ceremony is held at a London club. It makes annual donations to the British Schools in Rome and Athens.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Benjamin Robert Haydon
26 January 1786 – 22 June 1846


Benjamin Robert Haydon

Benjamin Robert Haydon was born in Plymouth, the only son of another Benjamin Robert Haydon, a prosperous printer, stationer and publisher, and his wife Mary, the daughter of the Rev. Benjamin Cobley, rector of Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge, Devon. At an early age he showed an aptitude for study, which was carefully fostered by his mother. At the age of six he was placed in Plymouth grammar school, and at twelve in Plympton Grammar School, where Sir Joshua Reynolds had received most of his education. On the ceiling of the school-room was a sketch by Reynolds in burnt cork, which Haydon loved to sit and look at. Reading Albinus inspired him with a love for anatomy, and from childhood he wanted to become a painter.

Full of energy and hope, he left home, on 14 May 1804, for London, where he entered the Royal Academy Schools. He was so enthusiastic that Henry Fuseli asked when he found time to eat. In 1807, at the age of 21, Haydon exhibited, for the first time, at the Royal Academy. The painting he entered, The Repose in Egypt, was bought by Thomas Hope a year later for the Egyptian Room at his townhouse in Duchess Street. This was a good start for the Haydon, who shortly afterwards received a commission from Lord Mulgrave and an introduction to Sir George Beaumont. In 1809 he finished his picture of Dentatus, which, though it increased his fame, resulted in a lifelong quarrel with the Royal Academy, whose committee hung it in a small side-room instead of the in great hall. That same year, he took on his first pupil, Charles Lock Eastlake, later a leading figure in the British art establishment.

The financial difficulties which were to dog him for the rest of his life began in 1810 when, in response to Haydon having achieved a certain amount of commercial success, his father stopped paying him his annual allowance of £200. He also became involved in disputes with Beaumont, for whom he had painted a picture of Macbeth, and with Richard Payne Knight, who had outraged Haydon by denying both the aesthetic and the financial value of the sculptures from the Parthenon, recently brought to Britain by Lord Elgin. Haydon was fascinated by the “Elgin Marbles”, and believed that they provided evidence that ancient Greek artists had studied anatomy. The Judgment of Solomon, his next production, was sold for £700, to two Plymouth bankers, and also brought £100 voted to him by the directors of the British Institution, and the freedom of the borough of Plymouth. The income was not enough to pay off all his debts, but it maintained his credit, allowing him to continue borrowing.

At the end of May 1814 he took advantage of the cessation of hostilities with France to visit Paris with his friend David Wilkie, and see the art collections gathered by Napoleon from across Europe at the Louvre. Much of what he saw there disappointed him: he described Raphael’s Transfiguration, a painting he had particularly wanted to see, as “small & insignificant”. At François Gerard’s studio he saw a portrait of Napoleon, and began to develop a fascination with the defeated French leader, although, unlike some of his more radical friends such as William Hazlitt, Haydon never admired him politically.

On returning to England, he produced Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, which was later to form the nucleus of the American Gallery of Painting, erected by his cousin, John Haviland of Philadelphia. While painting another large work, the Resurrection of Lazarus, his financial problems increased, and he was arrested but not imprisoned, the sheriff-officer taking his word for his appearance. In October, 1821, he increased his commitments when he married Mary Hyman, a widow with two young children, whom he had known for some years. In 1823 Haydon spent two months imprisoned for debt in the King’s Bench Prison, where he received consoling letters from leading men of the day. While there, he drew up a petition to Parliament in favour of the appointment of “a committee to inquire into the state of encouragement of historical painting”, which was presented by Lord Brougham.

During 1825, following an agreement for his financial support with his lawyer, Thomas Kearsey, Haydon turned, rather unwillingly, to portrait painting, and at first he had considerable success. His works in the genre were, however, attacked in a savage review in Theodore Hook’s weekly newspaper John Bull. Haydon later blamed the article for his loss of clientele, and falling back into unmanageable levels of debt. Following a second period of incarceration at the King’s Bench Prison in 1827, he painted the Mock Election inspired by an incident he had witnessed there. The picture was bought by King George IV for £500. Encouraged by this success, he painted a companion picture, Chairing the Member, returning to the prison to make drawings of some of the inmates. A third painting of contemporary life showed the audience at a Punch and Judy show in the New Road at Marylebone. His hopes that the king would buy this work were disappointed, a setback he blamed on the actions of the Keeper of the King’s Pictures, William Seguier.

Among Haydon’s other pictures were: Eucles (1829); Napoleon at St Helena, for Sir Robert Peel; Xenophon, on his Retreat with the ‘Ten Thousand,’ first seeing the Sea; and Waiting for the Times, purchased by the Marquis of Stafford (all 1831); and Falstaff and Achilles playing the Lyre (1832). Curtius Leaping into the Gulf, and Uriel and Satan. (1843) As a supporter of parliamentary reform, he had the idea of painting a grand canvas of a meeting on Newhall Hill, addressed by Thomas Attwood, leader of the Birmingham Political Union. Attempts to raise subscriptions to fund the painting failed, and only sketches were ever made, but Haydon did receive a commission from the new Whig prime minister, Lord Grey, for a picture of the Reform Banquet held at the Guildhall. Completed In 1834, the painting contained 597 individual portraits. He also made a painting of the Meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Haydon became well known as a lecturer on painting, and from 1835 onwards travelled throughout England and Scotland on lecture tours. He campaigned to have the country’s public buildings decorated with history paintings showing the glories of the nation’s past, and within three days of the destruction of the Palace of Westminster by fire in 1834 he visited the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, in order to impress on him the importance of government patronage of art, especially in relation to the opportunities offered by the rebuilding made necessary by the disaster. Although a scheme along the lines of his suggestions was in fact carried out at the new Houses of Parliament, Haydon played no part in it. When, in 1843, an exhibition was held at Westminster Hall, to choose designs for paintings to decorate the Houses of Parliament. he submitted two cartoons, The Curse of Adam and Edward the Black Prince, but the commission charged with artists to carry out the work (which including his former pupil, Eastlake) found neither suitable.

He then painted The Banishment of Aristides, which was exhibited, along with other works, at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, where he had hired a gallery several times over the years. The American dwarf General Tom Thumb was then appearing at the same venue; over the Easter week 12,000 people paid to see him, while only 133 visited Haydon’s exhibition.

The artist’s difficulties increased to such an extent that, whilst employed on his last grand effort, Alfred and the Trial by Jury, overcome by debts of over £3,000, disappointment, and ingratitude, he wrote “Stretch me no longer on this rough world,” and attempted suicide by shooting himself. The bullet failed to kill him, and he finished the task by cutting his throat. He left a widow and three surviving children, who were generously supported by Haydon’s friends, including Sir Robert Peel, the Count d’Orsay, Thomas Talfourd, and Lord Carlisle. A resident of Paddington, he was buried just to the north-west of the grave of Sarah Siddons at St Mary’s Church, Paddington, London. The cemetery was converted to a park, St Mary’s Gardens, in 1885. Haydon’s is one of the few preserved stones. It is modest and eroded but his name is still (2014) just legible.

In 1839 Haydon began work on an autobiography, drawing on materials from his extensive diaries. Before his death he had completed the story of his life up to the year 1820. It was published in three volumes in 1853, edited by Tom Taylor, with additional material from the diaries, under the title Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon, Historical Painter, from his Autobiography and Journals.

The autobiography was assessed by the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition this way:

Haydon’s autobiography is one of the most natural books ever written, full of various and abundant power, and fascinating to the reader. His love for his art was both a passion and a principle. He found patrons difficult to manage; and did not have the tact to lead them gently. He failed, abused patrons and patronage, and intermingled talk of the noblest independence with acts not always dignified. He was self-willed to perversity, but his perseverance was such as is seldom associated with so much vehemence and passion. He had confidence in his own powers and in the ultimate triumph of art. He proclaimed himself the apostle and martyr of high art, and believed himself to have a claim on the sympathy and support of the nation.

Readers of his autobiography were struck by the frequency and fervour of the short prayers interspersed throughout the work. Haydon had an overwhelming sense of a personal, overruling and merciful providence, which influenced his relations with his family, and to some extent with the world. He had many enemies, actuated by motives as unworthy as his own were always high-pitched and on abstract grounds laudable.

Haydon’s Lectures, published shortly after their delivery, showed that he was as bold a writer as painter. He also wrote the long and elaborate article on “Painting,” in the 7th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Charles Dickens wrote in 1846 that “All his life [Haydon] had utterly mistaken his vocation. No amount of sympathy with him and sorrow for him in his manly pursuit of a wrong idea for so many years — until, by dint of his perseverance and courage it almost began to seem a right one — ought to prevent one from saying that he most unquestionably was a very bad painter, and that his pictures could not be expected to sell or to succeed.”

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Nash
18 January 1752 – 13 May 1835


John Nash

Nash was born during 1752 in Lambeth, London, the son of a Welsh millwright also called John. From 1766 or 67, John Nash trained with the architect Sir Robert Taylor; the apprenticeship was completed in 1775 or 1776.

In 1775 Nash married his first wife Jane Elizabeth Kerr daughter of a surgeon. Initially he seems to have pursued a career as a surveyor, builder and carpenter. This gave him an income of around £300 a year. The couple set up home at Royal Row, Lambeth. He established his own architectural practice in 1777 as well as being in partnership with a timber merchant, Richard Heaviside. The couple had two children.

In 1781 Nash instigated action against his wife Jane for separation on grounds of adultery. The case was tried at Hereford in 1782, Charles Charles, Jane’s lover was found guilty but was unable to pay the damages of £76 and subsequently died in prison. The divorce was final in 1787.

Nash’s career was initially unsuccessful and short-lived. After inheriting £1000 in 1778 from his uncle Thomas, he invested the money in building his first known independent works, 15-17 Bloomsbury Square and 66-71 Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. But the property failed to let and he was declared bankrupt in 1783. His debts were £5000, including £2000 he had been lent by Robert Adam and his brothers.

Nash left London in 1784 to live in Carmarthen, where his mother had retired to. In 1785 he and a local man Samuel Simon Saxon re-roofed the town’s church for 600 Guineas. Nash and Saxon seem to have worked as building contractors and suppliers of building materials. Nash’s London buildings had been standard Georgian terrace houses, and it was in Wales that he matured as an architect.

His first major work in the area was the first of three prisons he would design, Carmarthen, this prison was planned by the penal reformer John Howard and Nash developed this into the finished building. He went on to design the prisons at Cardigan and Hereford. It was at Hereford that Nash met Richard Payne Knight, whose theories on the picturesque as applies to architecture and landscape would influence Nash. The commission for Hereford Gaol came after the death of William Blackburn, who was to have designed the building, Nash’s design was accepted after James Wyatt approved of the design.

By 1789 St David’s Cathedral was suffering from structural problems, the west front was leaning forward by one foot. Nash was called in to survey the structure and develop a plan to save the building, his solution completed in 1791 was to demolish the upper part of the facade and rebuild it with two large but inelegant flying buttresses.

In 1790 Nash met Uvedale Price, whose theories of the Picturesque would have a major future influence on Nash’s town planning. In the short term Price would commission Nash to design Castle House Aberystwyth, its plan took the form of a right angled triangle, with an octagonal tower at each corner, sited on the very edge of the sea, this marked a new and more imaginative approach to design in Nash’s work.

One of Nash’s most important developments were a series of medium sized country houses that he designed in Wales, these developed the villa designs of his teacher Sir Robert Taylor. Most of these villas consist of a roughly square plan with a small entrance hall with a staircase offset in the middle to one side, around which are placed the main rooms, there is then a less prominent Servants’ quarters in a wing attached to one side of the villa. The buildings are usually only two floors in height, the elevations of the main block are usually symmetrical. One of the finest of these villas is Llanerchaeron, at least a dozen villas were designed throughout south Wales.

Nash met Humphry Repton at Stoke Edith in 1792 and formed a successful partnership with the landscape garden designer. One of their early commissions was at Corsham Court. The pair would collaborate to carefully place the Nash-designed building in grounds designed by Repton. The partnership ended in 1800 under recriminations.

As Nash developed his architectural practice it became necessary to employ draughtsmen, the first in the early 1790s was Augustus Charles Pugin, then a bit later in 1795 John Adey Repton son of Humphry.

In 1796, Nash spent most of his time working in London, this was a prelude to his return to the capital in 1797.

In June 1797, he moved into 28 Dover Street, a building of his own design. He built a larger house next door at 29, into which he moved the following year. Nash married 25-year-old Mary Ann Bradley in 1798 at St George’s, Hanover Square. He purchased a plot of land of 30 acres at East Cowes on which he erected East Cowes Castle as his residence. It was the first of a series of picturesque Gothic castles that he would design.

Nash’s final home in London was No.14 Regent Street that he designed and built 1819–23, No. 16 was built at the same time the home of Nash’s cousin John Edwards, a lawyer who handled all of Nash’s legal affairs. Located in Lower Regent Street, near Waterloo Place, both houses formed a single design around an open courtyard. Nash’s drawing office was on the ground floor, on the first floor was the finest room in the house, the 70-foot-long picture and sculpture gallery; it linked the drawing room at the front of the building with the dining room at the rear. The house was sold in 1834 and the gallery interior moved to East Cowes Castle.

The finest of the dozen country houses that Nash designed as picturesque castles include the relatively small Luscombe Castle Devon, Ravensworth Castle, Caerhays Castle, Shanbally Castle. These buildings all represented Nash’s continuing development of an asymmetrical and picturesque architectural style, that had begun during his years in Wales, at both Castle House Aberystwyth and his alterations to Hafod Uchtryd.

This process would be extended by Nash in planning groups of buildings, the first example being Blaise Hamlet; there a group of nine asymmetrical cottages was laid out around a village green. Nash developed the asymmetry of his castles in his Italianate villas; his first such exercise was Cronkhill, others included Sandridge Park and Southborough Place.

He advised on work to the buildings of Jesus College, Oxford in 1815, for which he required no fee but asked that the college should commission a portrait of him from Sir Thomas Lawrence to hang in the college hall.
Nash was a dedicated Whig and was a friend of Charles James Fox through whom Nash probably came to the attention of the Prince Regent (later King George IV). In 1806 Nash was appointed architect to the Surveyor General of Woods, Forests, Parks, and Chases. From 1810 Nash would take very few private commissions and for the rest of his career he would largely work for the Prince.

His first major commissions from the Prince were Regent Street and the development of an area then known as Marylebone Park. With the Regent’s backing, Nash created a master plan for the area, put into effect from 1818 onwards, which stretched from St James’s northwards and included Regent Street, Regent’s Park and its neighbouring streets, terraces and crescents of elegant town houses and villas.

Nash did not design all the buildings himself; in some instances, these were left in the hands of other architects such as James Pennethorne and the young Decimus Burton. Nash went on to re-landscape St. James’s Park reshaping the formal canal into the present lake, and giving the park its present form.

A characteristic of Nash’s plan for Regent Street was that it followed an irregular path linking Portland Place to the north with Carlton House to the south. At the northern end of Portland Place Nash designed Park Crescent, this opens into Nash’s Park Square and this only has terraces on the east and west, the north opens into Regent’s Park.

The terraces that Nash designed around Regent’s park though conforming to the earlier form of appearing as a single building, as developed by John Wood, the Elder, are unlike earlier examples set in gardens and are not orthoganal in their placing to each other. This was part of Nash’s development of planning, this found it is most extreme example when he set out Park Village East and Park Village West to the north-east of Regent’s Park. Here a mixture of detached villas, semi-detached houses, both symmetrical and assymmetrical in their design are set out in private gardens railed off from the street, the roads loop and the buildings are both classical and gothic in style. No two buildings were the same, and or even in line with their neighbours. The park Villages can be seen as the prototype for the Victorian suburbs.

Nash was employed by the Prince from 1815 to develop his Marine Pavilion in Brighton, originally designed by Henry Holland. By 1822 Nash had finished his work on the Marine Pavilion, which was now transformed into the Royal Pavilion. The exterior was based on Mughal architecture, giving the building its exotic form, the Chinoiserie style interiors are largely the work of Frederick Crace.

Nash was also a director of the Regent’s Canal Company set up in 1812 to provide a canal link from west London to the River Thames in the east. Nash’s masterplan provided for the canal to run around the northern edge of Regent’s Park. As with other projects, he left its execution to one of his assistants, in this case James Morgan. The first phase of the Regent’s Canal was completed in 1816 and finally completed in 1820.

Together with Robert Smirke and Sir John Soane, he became an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813, at a salary of £500 per annum, following the death in September of that year of James Wyatt, this marked the high point in his professional life. As part of Nash’s new position he was invited to advise the Parliamentary Commissioners on the building of new churches from 1818 onwards. Nash produced ten church designs, each estimated to cost around £10,000 with seating for 2000 people, the style of the buildings were both classical and gothic. In the end Nash only built two churches for the Commission, the classical All Souls Church, Langham Place terminating the northern end of Regent Street, and the gothic St. Mary’s Haggerston.

Nash was involved in the design of two of London’s theatres, both in Haymarket. The King’s Opera House where he and George Repton remodelled the theatre, with arcades and shops around three sides of the building, the fourth being the still surviving Royal Opera Arcade.

The other theatre was the Theatre Royal Haymarket, with its fine hexastyle Corinthian order portico, which still survives, facing down Charles II Street to St. James’s Square.

Further London commissions for Nash followed, including the remodelling of Buckingham House to create Buckingham Palace and for the Royal Mews and Marble Arch. The arch was originally designed as a triumphal arch to stand at the entrance to Buckingham Palace. It was moved when the east wing of the palace designed by Edward Blore was built, at the request of Queen Victoria whose growing family required additional domestic space. Marble Arch became the entrance to Hyde Park and The Great Exhibition.

Nash’s career effectively ended with the death of George IV in 1830. The King’s notorious extravagance had generated much resentment and Nash was now without a protector. The Treasury started to look closely at the cost of Buckingham Palace. Nash’s original estimate of the building’s cost had been £252,690, but this had risen to £496,169. In 1829 the actual cost was £613,269 and the building was still unfinished. This controversy ensured that Nash would not receive any more official commissions nor would he be awarded the Knighthood that other contemporary architects received. Nash retired to the Isle of Wight to his home, East Cowes Castle.

Nash died at his home on 13 May 1835. His funeral took place at St. James’s Church, East Cowes on 20 May, where he was buried in the churchyard.

His widow acted to clear Nash’s debts (some £15,000). The Castle itself was sold for a reported figure of £20,000 to Richard Boyle, 4th Earl of Shannon within the year.

Nash’s widow retired to a property Nash had bequeathed to her in Hampstead where she lived until her death in 1851; she was buried with her husband on the Isle of Wight.

  • Park Crescent, London (1806, 1819–21)
  • Carlton House, alterations, demolished
  • Southborough House, 14 Ashcombe Avenue, Southborough, Surbiton (1808)
  • Southborough Lodge, 16 Ashcombe Avenue, Southborough, Surbiton (1808)
  • 18 Ashcombe Avenue, Southborough, Surbiton (1808) Southborough House’s summer house
  • Regent Street (1809–1826) rebuilt
  • Regent’s Park (1809–32)
  • Regent’s Canal (1811–1820)
  • Royal Lodge (1811–20) subsequently remodelled by Sir Jeffry Wyattville
  • Carlton House, London remodelled several interiors, (1812–14)
  • Trafalgar Square (1813–30) completely redesigned by Sir Charles Barry
  • The Rotunda, Woolwich (1814) & (1820)
  • St. James’s Park (1814–27)
  • The King’s Opera House, Haymarket (1816–18)
  • Waterloo Place (1816) rebuilt
  • The County Fire Office (1819) rebuilt
  • Piccadilly Circus (1820) rebuilt
  • Suffolk Place, Haymarket (1820)
  • Haymarket Theatre (1820–21)
  • 14-16 Regent Street (Nash’s own house) (1820–21)
  • York Gate (1821)
  • the Church of All Souls, Langham Place (1822–25)
  • Hanover Terrace (1822)
  • York Terrace (1822)
  • Royal Mews (1822–24)
  • Sussex Place (1822–23)
  • Albany Terrace, London (1823)
  • Park Square, London (1823–24)
  • Park Village East & West (1823–34)
  • Cambridge Terrace (1824)
  • landscaped King’s Road (1824)
  • Ulster Terrace (1824)
  • Buckingham Palace the state rooms and western front (1825–30)
  • Chester Terrace (1825)
  • Clarence House (1825–27)
  • Cumberland Terrace (1826)
  • Former United Services Club Pall Mall now Institute of Directors(1826–28)
  • Gloucester Terrace (1827)
  • Carlton House Terrace (1827–1833)
  • Marble Arch (1828)
  • 430-449 Strand (1830)

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Richard Porson
25 December 1759 – 25 September 1808


Richard Porson

Richard Porson was an English classical scholar. He was the discoverer of Porson’s Law; and the Greek typeface Porson was based on his handwriting.

He was born at East Ruston, near North Walsham, in Norfolk, the eldest son of Huggin Person, parish clerk. His mother was the daughter of a shoemaker from the neighboring village of Bacton. He was sent first to the village school at Bacton, kept by John Woodrow, and afterwards to that of Happisburgh kept by Mr Summers, where his extraordinary powers of memory and aptitude for arithmetic were soon discovered.

His literary skill was partly due to the efforts of Summers, who long afterwards stated that during fifty years of scholastic life he had never come across boys so clever as Porson and his two brothers. He was well grounded in Latin by Summers, remaining with him for three years. His father also took pains with his education, making him repeat at night the lessons he had learned in the day. He would frequently repeat without making a mistake a lesson which he had learned one or two years before and had never seen in the interval.

When Porson was eleven, the curate of East Ruston, Mr Hewitt, took charge of his education. Porson had already made great progress in mathematics. Hewitt brought him to the notice of John Norris of Witton Park, who sent him to Cambridge to be examined by James Lambert, the two tutors of Trinity College, Cambridge (Thomas Postlethwaite and Collier), and the mathematician George Atwood, then assistant tutor; the result was so favourable that Norris decided to provide for his education. Porson was entered at Eton College in August 1774.

Porson did not care for Eton, but he was popular there; and two dramas he wrote for performance were remembered. His memory was noticed; but he seems not to have lived up to expectations, as his composition was weak, and he fell behind through gaps in his knowledge.

He went to Eton too late to have any chance of a scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1777 his patron John Norris died; but contributions from Etonians helped fund his maintenance at the university, and he found a new patron in Sir George Baker, then president of the College of Physicians.

With Baker’s help Porson entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a pensioner in 1778, matriculating a month later. What first set his mind towards literary criticism was the gift by the headmaster of Eton.

He became a scholar of Trinity in 1780, won the Craven university scholarship in 1781, and took his degree of BA in 1782, as third senior prime, obtaining soon afterwards the first Chancellor’s Medal for classical studies. The same year he was elected a fellow of Trinity, an unusual appointment for a junior bachelor of arts, under a regulation which lasted until 1818. Porson graduated MA in 1785.

His first appearance in print was in a short notice of C. G. Schütz’s Aeschylus in Paul Henry Maty’s Review, written in 1783. This review contains several other essays by him. He also began a correspondence with David Ruhnken, requesting fragments of Aeschylus that Ruhnken had come across in his collection of unpublished lexicons and grammarians, and sending Ruhnken his restoration of a corrupt passage in the Supplices .

The Cambridge press was proposing a new edition of Thomas Stanley’s Aeschylus, and the editorship was offered to Porson; but he declined.

In 1786, a new edition of Thomas Hutchinson’s Anabasis of Xenophon was called for, and Porson was asked by the publisher to supply notes, which he did in conjunction with Walter Whiter. These are a good example of the terse style of Latin notes he practised.

The following year Porson wrote his Notae breves ad Toupii emendationes in Suidam. These first made Porson’s name known as a scholar, and carried his fame beyond England.

During 1787 he wrote three letters on John Hawkins’s Life of Johnson for the Gentleman’s Magazine, which were reprinted by Thomas Kidd in his Tracts and Criticisms of Porson, and in a volume of Porson’s Correspondence. They are specimens of dry humour, and allude to English dramatists and poets.

In the same periodical, appeared the Letters to Archdeacon Travis, against George Travis, on the debated Biblical verse called the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7). Edward Gibbon’s verdict on the book was that it was “the most acute and accurate piece of criticism since the days of Bentley.” But it was then the unpopular side: the publisher is said to have lost money on the book; and one of his early friends, Mrs Turner of Norwich, cut down a legacy she had left Porson to £30 on being told that he had written a book against Christianity.

After 1787 Porson continued to contribute to the leading reviews, writing in the Monthly Review the articles on Joseph Robertson’s Parian Chronicle, Thomas Edwards’s Plutarch on Education, and Richard Payne Knight’s Essay on the Greek Alphabet. He gave assistance to William Beloe in one or two articles in the British Critic, and probably wrote also in the Analytical Review and the Critical Review.

In 1792 his fellowship ceased to be tenable by a layman; and Porson decided not to take holy orders. Porson was without means of support. A subscription was, however, got up among his friends to provide an annuity; Cracherode, Cleaver Banks, Burney and Samuel Parr took the lead, and enough was collected to produce about £100 a year. He accepted it on the condition that he should receive the interest during his lifetime, and that the principal should be returned to the donors at his death. When this occurred, part of the sum was used to found the Porson Prize in 1816 at Cambridge, and remainder was devoted to the foundation of the Porson Scholarship, first awarded in 1855.

He continued chiefly to reside in London, having chambers in Essex Court, Temple—occasionally visiting his friends, such as Joseph Goodall at Eton College and Samuel Parr at Hatton, Warwickshire. It was at Goodall’s house that the Letters to Travis were written.

At Hatton, in the evenings, he would collect the young men of the house about him, and pour forth from memory torrents of literature. In 1792 the Regius Greek Professorship at Cambridge became vacant and Porson was elected without opposition, and he held the chair until his death. The duties then consisted in taking a part in the examinations for the university scholarships and classical medals. It was said he wished to give lectures; but lecturing was not in fashion in those days.

He worked mainly on the tragedians, Aristophanes, Athenaeus, and the lexicons of Suidas, Hesychius and Photius.

In 1795 there appeared from Foulis’s press at Glasgow an edition of Aeschylus in folio, printed with the same type as the Glasgow Homer, without a word of preface or anything to give a clue to the editor. Many new readings were inserted in the text with an asterisk affixed, while an obelus was used to mark many others as corrupt. It was at once recognized as Porson’s work; he had superintended the printing of a small edition in two octavo volumes, still without the editor’s name.

Soon after this, in 1797, appeared the first instalment of what was intended to be a complete edition of Euripides–an edition of the Hecuba.

His work did not escape attack. Gilbert Wakefield had published a Tragoediarum delectus; and, conceiving himself to be slighted, as there was no mention of his work in the new Hecuba, he wrote a diatribe extemporalis against it.

Gottfried Hermann of Leipzig had also written a work on Greek metres, and issued an edition of the Hecuba, in which Porson’s theories were attacked. Porson at first took no notice of either, but went on with his Euripides, publishing the Orestes in 1798, the Phoenissae in 1799 and the Medea in 1801, the last printed at the Cambridge press, and with the editor’s name on the title page.

But there are many allusions to his antagonists in the notes; and in the Medea he holds Hermann to scorn by name in caustic language.

Porson lived six years after the second edition of the Hecuba was published, but he put off the work. He found time, however, to execute his collation of the Harleian manuscript of the Odyssey, published in the Grenville Homer in 1801, and to present to the Society of Antiquaries his conjectural restoration of the Rosetta Stone.

In 1806, when the London Institution was founded in the Old Jewry, he was appointed principal librarian with a salary of £200 a year and a suite of rooms; and thus his latter years were made easy as far as money was concerned.

Among his most intimate friends was James Perry, the editor of the Morning Chronicle; and he married Perry’s sister, Mrs Lunan, in November 1796. Porson then drank less; but she died a few months after her marriage, and he returned to his chambers in the Temple and his old habits. Perry’s friendship induced him to spend his time in writing for the Morning Chronicle.

For some months before his death he had appeared to be failing: his memory was not what it had been, and he had some symptoms of intermittent fever; but on 19 September 1808 he was seized in the street with a fit of apoplexy, and after partially recovering died on the 25th. He was buried in Trinity College, close to the statue of Newton, at the opposite end of the chapel to where rest the remains of Bentley.

His library was divided into two parts, one containing the transcript of the Gale Photius, his books with his notes, and some letters from foreign scholars, was bought by Trinity College for 1000 guineas.


  • Notae in Xenophontis anabasin (1786)
  • Appendix to Toup (1790)
  • Letters to Travis (1790)
  • Aeschylus (1795, 1806)
  • Euripides (1797–1802)
  • collation of the Harleian manuscript of the Odyssey (1801)
  • Adversaria (Monk and Blomfield, 1812)
  • Tracts and Criticisms (Kidd, 1815)
  • Aristophanica (Dobree, 1820)
  • Notae in Pausaniam (Gaisford, 1820)
  • Photii lexicon (Dobree, 1822)
  • Notae in Suidam (Gaisford, 1834)
  • Correspondence

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Uvedale Price
14 April 1747 – 14 September 1829


Uvedale Price

Author of the Essay on the Picturesque, As Compared with the Sublime and The Beautiful (1794), was a Herefordshire landowner who was at the heart of the ‘Picturesque debate’ of the 1790s. Apart from the landscape and garden design debates described below, Price’s theory resurfaced in architectural and urban design concepts of the mid-twentieth century.


Caroline Price

Uvedale Price was the eldest son of Robert Price, an amateur artist, by his wife the Hon. Sarah Barrington, daughter of John Shute Barrington, 1st Viscount Barrington. Educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, Price inherited the family estate of Foxley (in Yazor) when he came of age in 1768, a few years after the death of his father in 1761 and of his grandfather (Uvedale Tomkins Price) in 1764. As a young man Price was a figure on London’s social scene, and was once described as the “macaroni of his age,” but with his inheritance and his marriage to Lady Caroline Carpenter, youngest daughter of George Carpenter, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel, he settled down at Foxley to tend to the estate and develop his theories on landscape, as well as equally controversial work on the pronunciation of the Classical languages. He served as High Sheriff of Herefordshire in 1793, and was created a baronet on 12 February 1828.

During his life, Price was befriended by Sir George Beaumont and his wife Margaret Beaumont, with whom he corresponded extensively. He was also a lifetime friend of Charles James Fox, an associate of William Wordsworth, and in later life, a correspondent of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He died in 1829, having finally printed his work on Greek and Latin pronunciation. His only son Robert succeeded as 2nd (and last) baronet.

Price developed his ideas with his close neighbour Richard Payne Knight, whose poem ‘The Landscape’ was published the same year as Price’s Essay delineating his theories on “The Picturesque” as a mode of landscape.

Well before Price’s Essay or Knight’s poem, however, the term ‘pictoresque’ was used in early 18th century France to refer to a property of being ‘in the style of a painter.’ Pope, in his “Letter to Caryll”, brought the word into English as ‘picturesque’ in 1712. The term was used by various English authors throughout the 18th century (cf. Oxford English Dictionary ‘picturesque’) before being described by Bagehot in Literary Studies (1879) as “a quality distinct from that of beauty, or sublimity, or grandeur.”

For Price, the Picturesque was more specifically defined as being located between the Beautiful and the Sublime. In practical application this meant that his preferred mode of landscaping was to retain old trees, rutted paths, and textured slopes, rather than to sweep all these away in the style that had been practised by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Price contested, for example, the obsession of “The Beautiful” with Classical and natural symmetry, arguing instead for a less formal and more asymmetrical interpretation of nature.

Price’s ideas caught fire and led to much debate in artistic and literary circles: they were parodied, for example, by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Price republished the Essay several times, with additional material, and entered into a public debate with Humphry Repton over the latter’s approach to landscape design. He similarly fell out with Payne Knight, whose theories of landscape betrayed a more esoteric attitude.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Richard Payne Knight
15 February 1750 – 23 April 1824


Richard Payne Knight

Knight was a classical scholar, connoisseur, archaeologist and numismatist best known for his theories of picturesque beauty and for his interest in ancient phallic imagery.

He was born at Wormesley Grange, five miles north west of Hereford in Herefordshire, UK, was the son of Rev. Thomas Knight (1697–1764) and nephew and heir of Richard Knight (1693–1765) of Croft Castle. His father and his uncle were two of the sons of Richard Knight, a wealthy Ironmaster of Bringewood Ironworks. He was educated at home. Due to ill health, his actual years of education were few, but his inherited wealth allowed him to supplement it with travel.

He toured Italy and the European continent from 1767 for several years. He was a collector of ancient bronzes and coins, and an author of numerous books and articles on ancient sculpture, coins and other artefacts. As a member of the Society of Dilettanti, Knight was widely considered to be an arbiter of taste. He expended much careful study on an edition of Homer.

He was a Member of Parliament from 1780 to 1806, though more a spectator than an actual participant in the debates. Beginning in 1814, he was a trustee of the British Museum, to which he bequeathed his collection of bronzes, coins, engraved gems, marbles, and drawings.

He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Wormsley, and his chest tomb has been designated as a Grade II listed building.

Notoriously, Knight’s first book, The Worship of Priapus, sought to recover the importance of ancient phallic cults. Knight’s apparent preference for ancient sacred eroticism over Judeo-Christian puritanism led to many attacks on him as an infidel and as a scholarly apologist for libertinism. This ensured the persistent distrust of the religious establishment. The central claim of The Worship of Priapus was that an international religious impulse to worship ‘the generative principle’ was articulated through genital imagery, and that this imagery has persisted into the modern age. In some ways the book was the first of many later attempts to argue that Pagan ideas had persisted within Christian culture, a view that would eventually crystallise into the neo-Pagan movement over a century later.

Another book of interest to the neo-Pagan movement was Knight’s Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology.

An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, 1805, was, however, Knight’s most influential work in his lifetime. This book sought to explain the experience of ‘taste’ within the mind and to clarify the theorisation of the concept of the picturesque, following from the writings of William Gilpin and Uvedale Price on the subject. Knight’s views on the aesthetics of the picturesque are also formed in engagement with Edmund Burke’s emphasis on the importance of sensation, which Knight partly rejects in favour of a modified associationism. The philosophical basis of Knight’s theories have implications for his account of the relationship between the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘picturesque’. For Knight, aesthetic concepts cannot be formed directly from optical sensations, because these must be interpreted within the mind before they can be recognised as beautiful. Thus a Classical architecture Roman temple is beautiful because of the proportions of its parts, but these proportions can never be perceived directly by the senses, which will simply encounter a mass of confused impressions. ‘Beauty’ is thus a product of internal mental acts. It is therefore proper to speak of moral, mathematical and other non-sensuous forms of beauty, contrary to Burke, Hogarth and others who claimed such usages were metaphorical. In all cases ‘the particular object [e.g. proportion] is an abstract idea.’

For Knight ‘picturesque’ means simply ‘after the manner of painting’, a point which is important to his further discussion of sensation, which in Knight’s view is central to the understanding of painting and music which are ‘addressed to the organs of sight and hearing’, while poetry and sculpture appeal ‘entirely to the imagination and passions.’ The latter must be understood in terms of associations of ideas, while the former rely on the ‘irritation’ or friction of sensitive parts of the body. Artists should seek to reproduce primal visual sensations, not the mental interpretative processes which give rise to abstract ideas.

For Knight, colour is experienced directly as pleasurable sensation. A pure blue is not pleasurable because it reminds us of clear skies, as Price supposed, but because of the experience itself. Interpretation of impressions follows chains of association following from this primal sensory experience. However, the pleasures of sense may be ‘modified by habit’, so that the pure stimulus of colour may be experienced as pleasurable when ‘under the influence of mind’ which perceives its meaningful use within a painting. Excess of pure colour is painful, like any other sensory excess. Variety and combination of colours is most pleasurable.

Knight makes much of the need to fragment an image into tonal and colouristic ‘masses’, a view that has been claimed to anticipate the late work of Turner, or even Impressionism. However, it most directly justifies the practices of contemporary painters of picturesque landscapes, such as Girtin, whose stippling effects are comparable to Knight’s account of pleasing colour combinations. Knight commissioned landscape artist, Thomas Hearne to produce several drawings of the grounds of his home, Downton Castle in Herefordshire.

Sculpture – typically colourless form – generates in the mind the idea of shape which we must conceptualise, as with ‘proportion’. The literary arts, like sculpture, deal with thoughts and emotions, though in a more complex form. Knight’s account of these arts therefore falls under the heading of ‘association of ideas’. Here Knight shows the influence of the contemporary cult of sensibility, arguing that these arts engage our sympathies, and in so doing demonstrate the inadequacy of ‘rules and systems’ in both morality and aesthetics. These teach ‘men to work by rule, instead of by feeling and observation.’ Rule-based knowledge of wrong cannot prevent wrongdoing, because it is thought not felt. Therefore, ‘it is impossible that tragedy should exhibit examples of pure and strict morality, without becoming dull and uninteresting.’

Knight’s discussion of ‘the passions’ engages with both Classical and recent theorisations of sentiments. His discussion of the sublime is directed against Burke’s emphasis on feelings of terror and powerlessness. Knight defends Longinus’s original account of sublimity, which he summarises as the ‘energetic exertion of great and commanding power.’ Again he intertwines social and aesthetic reasoning, asserting that the power of a tyrant cannot be sublime if the tyrant inspires fear by mere arbitrary whim, like Nero. However, it may be sublime if his tyranny, like Napoleon’s, derives from the exercise of immense personal capacities. A Nero may be feared, but would also be despised. A Napoleon may be hated, but will nevertheless inspire awe. In art, the mind experiences the sublime as it experiences the exercise of its own powers, or sympathises with the exercises of the powers of others. Fear itself can never engender the sublime.

Knight’s emphasis on the roles of sensation and of emotion were constitutive of later Romantic and Victorian aesthetic thinking, as was his vexed struggle with the relation between moral feeling and sensuous pleasure. Though some contemporaries condemned the basis of his thought as an aestheticised libertinism, or devotion to physical sensation, they influenced John Ruskin’s attempts to theorise the Romantic aesthetic of Turner, and to integrate political and pictorial values.

He was the older brother of horticulturist Thomas Andrew Knight.

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