Edwards, Thomas (1699-1757) (DNB00)

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EDWARDS, THOMAS (1699–1757), critic, was born in 1699. His father and grandfather had been barristers, and Edwards, after a private education, was entered at Lincoln's Inn, where he took chambers in 1721. We learn from one of his sonnets upon 'a family picture' that all his four brothers and four sisters died before him. His father dying when he was a young man, he inherited a good estate. He preferred literature to law, and resided chiefly upon his paternal estate at Pitshanger, Middlesex. In 1739 he bought an estate at Turrick, Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, where he resided from 1740 till his death. He was elected F.S.A. 20 Oct. 1745. Edwards is chiefly known by his controversy with Warburton. A correspondent of the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (lii. 268) states, upon the alleged authority of Edwards himself, that he was educated at Eton, and elected to a fellowship at King's College, Cambridge, and was allowed to retain his fellowsliip after accepting a commission in the army. While a young officer, it is added, he met Warburton at Ralph Allen's house. Prior Park, and confuted him in a question of Greek criticism, showing that Warburton had been misled by trusting to a French translation. As Edwards was only a year younger than Warburton, was never at Eton or King's College, was probably never in the army, and had certainly been a barrister for twenty years when Warburton first made Allen's acquaintance (1741), the story is chiefly apocryphal. Edwards is said to have first attacked Warburton in a 'Letter to the Author of a late Epistolary Dedication addressed to Mr. Warburton,' 1744. In 1747, upon the appearance of Warburton's edition of Shakespeare, Edwards published a 'Supplement,' which reached a third edition in 1748, and was then called 'The Canons of Criticism, and a Glossary, being a Supplement to Mr. Warburton'd edition of Shakspear, collected from the Notes in that celebrated work and proper to be bound up with it. By the other Gentleman of Lincoln's Inn.' The first 'Gentleman of Lincoln's Inn' was Philip Carteret Webb, who published a pamphlet under that name in 1742. The 'Canons of Criticism' reached a sixth edition in 1768 and a seventh edition in 1705. It professes to carry out a plan which Warburton, as he says in his preface, had once contemplated, of giving explicitly his 'Canons of Criticism.' It is a very brilliant exposure of Warburton's grotesque audacities. Johnson, who had a kindness for Warburton, admits that Edwards made some good hits, but compares him to a fly stinging 'a stately horse' (Croxer, Boswell, ii. 10). Edwards's assault was 'allowed (as Warton says) by all impartial critics to have been decisive and judicious.' Warburton retorted by a note in a fresh edition of the 'Dunciad,' which greatly annoyed Edwards, who took it for an attack upon his gentility, and replied indignantly in a preface to later editions. Warburton disavowed this meaning, but in very offensive terms, in further notes (Pope, Works, 1751, i. 188, v. 288, notes to Essay on Criticism and Dunciad), Other opponents of Warburton naturally sympathised with Edwards, and Akenside addressed an ode to him upon the occasion.

Edwards was a writer of sonnets, of which about fifty are collected in the last editions of the 'Canons of Criticism,' many from Dodsley's and Pearch's collections. They are of very moderate excellence, but interesting as being upon the Miltonic model, and attempts at a form of poetry which was then entirely neglected. One of them is an answer to an ode from the 'sweet linnet,' Mrs. Chapone. Most of the others are complimentary addresses to his acquaintance. Edwards had a large number of literary friends, with whom he kept up a correspondence. Among them were R. O. Cambridge, Thomas Birch, Isaac Hawkins Browne, Arthur and George Onslow, Daniel Wray, and Samuel Richardson. Many of his letters are printed in the third volume of Richardson's correspondence. Six volumes of copies of his letters now in the Bodleian Library include these, with unpublished letters to Richardson, Wilkes, and others. Richard Roderick, F.R.S. and F.S.A., of Queens' College, Cambridge, was another intimate friend, who helped him in the 'Canons of Criticism.' Edwards died 3 Jan. 1757 while visiting Richardson at Parson's Green. He was buried in Ellesborough churchyard, where there is an epitaph by his 'two nephews and heirs, Joseph Paice and Nathaniel Mason.' To the 'Canons of Criticism' (1758) is annexed an 'Account of the Trial of the letter y, alias Y.' He also wrote a tract, published after his death, called 'Free and Candid Thoughts on the Doctrine of Predestination,' 1761. It 'contained nothing new.'

[Notice prefixed to Canons of Criticism, 1758; Biog. Brit.; Richardson's Correspondence (1804), iii. 1-139; Letters in Bodleian; Watson's Warburton, pp. 322-35; Nichols's Anecdotes, ii. 198-200, ix. 623; Nichols's lllustr. iv. 531-2.]

L. S.