Burdy, Samuel (DNB00)

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BURDY, SAMUEL (1760?–1820), author, was born at Dromore, co. Down, about 1760, and was the only son of Peter Burdy, a merchant of that town. The family was descended from a Huguenot who had fled to Holland and came to Ireland in the army of King William III (Ardglass, p. 118). Burdy obtained a sizarship by examination at Trinity College, Dublin, on 22 March 1777; obtained a scholarship in 1780, and graduated B.A. in 1781. He was ordained in 1783, and in the same year was appointed curate of Ardglass, a parish in the county of Down. Burdy had been introduced to Bishop Percy by Hely Hutchinson, the provost of Trinity College (Nichols, Illustrations of Literature, viii.), and was admitted to some intimacy in the bishop's family. He fell in love with the bishop's daughter, and Percy, who prided himself on belonging to the great Northumberland family, resented the possibility of an alliance with a curate, and for more than a year refused even to see Burdy. At the end of that time Burdy wrote a letter of apology, which shows that while he submitted to her father's wishes he remained in love with the daughter. The bishop ceased to be actively hostile, and used to lend books to Burdy, but the curate lived and died unmarried. He was only once promoted, and then to the perpetual curacy of Kilclief, a small preferment in the county of Down. This was soon after 1800, and after twenty years he ended his life there. In 1781 Burdy had made the acquaintance of the Rev. Philip Skelton, then in his old age. They were suited to one another, and became firm friends for the remaining six years of Skelton's life. Skelton lived in Dublin, and for three years Burdy used to visit him often. When the younger man left Dublin they corresponded till 4 Nov. 1786. In February 1787 Burdy saw his friend again, and, as he says, ‘parted for the last time from that dear and worthy man.’ Both were natives of Down, and both were worthy examples of the sturdy race which has made the ancient Ulidia the most prosperous part of Ireland. An inflexible adherence to principle characterised both, and in both existed what Burke finely calls ‘that chastity of honour which feels a stain like a wound;’ and with these great qualities both had a natural humour and a happy turn of expression in conversation and on paper. After Skelton's death Burdy set to work to record his friend's life and conversation. He visited Tyrone, Monaghan, and Donegal, to collect reminiscences of Skelton, and in 1792 he published at Dublin in 8vo ‘The Life of the late Rev. Philip Skelton, with some curious anecdotes.’ The life was republished in London in two volumes, with the lives of Pocock, Pearce, and Bishop Newton, in 1816. In 1824 a third edition appeared, prefixed to an edition of Skelton's works, edited by R. Lynam; but this edition is worthless, as the editor has altered the text of Burdy's biography. The life of Skelton is a piece of literature which does honour to Ireland. Lord Macaulay spoke of it (Rev. Whitwell Elwin) as a delightful book, and one giving the best account of life in Ireland of any work of its time. Dr. William Reeves, dean of Armagh, who has investigated most of the facts of Burdy's life, and generously allowed his collections to be used for the purposes of this biography, remarks ‘that the life of Skelton is characterised by the closest adherence to plain truth in particulars of time, person, and place, and having tested his statements by independent testimony in these departments I can state of the writer that he has been singularly successful as a biographer.’ Soon after its publication the book was attacked for its provincial language, and the author defended himself with success (Vindication of the Life of Skelton, 1795). It is pleasantly flavoured by many phrases and some words characteristic of the English spoken in Ulster, such as the peculiar adverbial use of ‘still,’ the word ‘stationer’ for a pilgrim, ‘scollops’ for bundles of brushwood and ‘lock’ for a quantity. Before his life of Skelton, Burdy had published in 1792 ‘A Short Account of the Affairs of Ireland during the years 1783, 1784, and part of 1785.’ In 1802 he published in octavo in Dublin ‘Ardglass or the Ruined Castles, also the Transformation, with some other poems.’ During his curacy of sixteen years at Ardglass he had often mused over the history of its five ruined castles; hence the poem. The verses are not very poetic. They show that Burdy had visited the Isle of Man in 1794, that Homer, Newton, and Locke were his favourite reading, and that he had observed with exactitude several points of natural history, such as the difference between the way in which gannets and gulls catch fish. The lesser poems are of little merit, but now and then contain amusing glimpses of country life in Ireland. The Belinda who is several times the subject of praise and of lament is probably the bishop of Dromore's daughter. In 1817 Burdy published at Edinburgh in octavo ‘A History of Ireland.’ It is not a work of research, but gives a lucid summary of affairs up to the union, and may well be read in the absence of a better book of the kind. Burdy died in 1820. In his will, dated 27 Oct. 1819, he desires to be buried on the north side of the church of Kilclief. His grave is marked by no monument, and the present biography is the first which has appeared of him.

[Burdy's preface to his Life of Skelton; MS. collections of Rev. William Reeves, D.D.; MS. collections from Records of Dublin Probate Court and of Trinity College, Dublin, by Rev. William Reynell, B.D., both lent by their authors for this biography.]

N. M.