Martyn, Benjamin (DNB00)

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MARTYN, BENJAMIN (1699–1763), miscellaneous writer, born in 1699, was eldest son of Richard Martyn of Wiltshire, and nephew of Edward Martyn, professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, and of Henry Martin the economist [q. v.] His father was at first in business as a linendraper, but was afterwards made a commissioner of the stamp duties by Lord Godolphin, and died at Buenos Ayres, whither he had gone as agent for the South Sea Company. A 'Relation' of his voyage thither and expedition to Potosi was published in 1716 (12mo). Benjamin was educated at the Charterhouse, and became examiner of the out-ports in the custom-house ({{sc|Nichols{{, Lit. Anecd. vxxx. 719). He also acted as secretary to the Society for Establishing the Colony of Georgia, of which he published an account in 1733. Martyn became an original member of the Society for the Encouragement of Learning, founded in May 1736 (ib. ii. 93). He was the first promoter of the design for erecting a monument to the memory of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey, and the scheme was carried into effect by him, with the assistance of Dr. Richard Mead, Alexander Pope, and others, on the profits of a performance of Shakespeare's 'Julius Cæsar' at Drury Lane on 28 April 1738,for which he wrote a special prologue (printed in A General Dictionary, 1739, ix. 189). He died unmarried at Eltham, Kent, on 25 Oct. 1763 (Probate Act Book, P. C. C. 1763). and was buried on the 31st in Lewisham churchyard (Lysons, Environs, iv. 623, 528). According to his epitaph he was 'a man of inflexible integrity, and one of the best bred men in England; which, with a happy genius for poetry, procured him the friendship of several noblemen.' He made frequent tours on the continent, and brought back many additions to his art collections in his loggings in Old Bond Street (will P. C. C. 479, Cæsar).

About 1734 the fourth Earl of Shaftesbury engaged Martyn to compose a life of the first earl from the family papers; but the book, when completed, did not satisfy the earl. It is evident that Martyn had no knowledge of history and no capacity for writing it. After his death the manuscript was revised in 1766 by Dr. G. Sharpe, master of the Temple, and again in 1771 by Dr. Andrew Kippis, and the work was privately printed in 4to about 1790. The book was deemed so unsatisfactory that nearly the whole impression was destroyed. One copy exists at Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset; another is in the British Museum; a third, having found its way into the hands of Mr. Bentley, the publisher, was edited in 1836 by George Wingrove Cooke [q. v.], but the editor's notes and additions increased the stock of errors about Shaftesbury (Christie, Life of Lord Shaftesbury, Pref. p. xvi).

Martyn wrote a tragedy called ‘Timoleon,’ in which he may have had some help from Pope, who admired the subject (Works, ed. Elwin, i. 197, 212). It was brought out at Drury Lane on 26 Jan. 1729–30, and acted fourteen times with success (Genest, Hist. of the Stage, iii. 252). On the first night the author's friends were so very zealous in expressing their approbation that ‘not a scene was drawn without a clap, the very candle-snuffers received their share of approbation, and a couch made its entrance with universal applause’ (Miller, Harlequin Horace). The play, though frequently obscene and wanting in incident, is in some parts well written, the ‘strokes on the subject of liberty,’ which elicited the loudest applause, being probably contributed by Pope. The ghost scene in the fourth act was made up from the chamber scene in ‘Hamlet’ and the banquet scene in ‘Macbeth.’ In dedicating the handsomely printed edition (8vo, 1730) to George II, Martyn states that in the third act he has ‘endeavoured to copy from his majesty the virtues of a king who is a blessing to his people.’ Another edition was published during the same year with some additions.

Martyn wrote also ‘Reasons for establishing the Colony of Georgia, with regard to the Trade of Great Britain … With some Account of the Country, and the Design of the Trustees,’ 4to, London, 1733 (two editions).

Martyn's letters to his friend Dr. Thomas Birch, extending from 1737 to 1760, are contained in Additional (Birch) MS. 4313, in the British Museum.

[Baker's Biog. Dram. 1812; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xi. 98, 139, 253.]

G. G.