Matthews, John (DNB00)

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MATTHEWS, JOHN (1755–1826), physician and poet, baptised 30 Oct. 1755, was the only surviving child of William Matthews of Burton, in Linton, Herefordshire, who died 29 Aug. 1799, by his wife Jane, daughter of Philip Hoskyns of Bernithen Court, Herefordshire, who died 20 May 1768. Both were buried in Linton churchyard. He matriculated from Merton College, Oxford, on 14 Feb. 1772, and graduated B.A. 1778, M.A. 1779, M.B. 1781, and M.D. 1782. On 30 Sept. 1782 he was a candidate for the College of Physicians, and a year later he became a fellow. From 20 April 1781 to his resignation in 1783 he was physician to St. George's Hospital, London, and in 1784 he delivered the Gulstonian lectures, after which he withdrew to his native county. Matthews then acquired the estate of Clehonger, near Hereford, and built on it in 1788–90 the present mansion of Belmont, situated on the banks of the Wye, and adorned with extensive lawns and plantations. A sapling planted by him in 1788 is famous as Colonel Matthews's oak, and is marked by a cast-iron tablet. Its trunk is 22 feet in circumference, and it contains 140 feet of timber (Murray, Hereford Handbook, p. 315). For the rest of his life he took a leading part in county affairs. He acted as mayor of Hereford in 1793, and was senior alderman and magistrate for twenty years. He was also colonel of the first regiment of Hereford militia, chairman of quarter sessions, and member for the county from 31 March 1803 to 1806. After a protracted illness he died at Belmont on 15 Jan. 1826, when a monument to his memory was placed in the south aisle of Clehonger Church. Matthews married at Marcle, Herefordshire, on 9 Nov. 1778, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Arthur Ellis, who died 7 Nov. 1823, aged 66. They had issue eight sons and six daughters, and among their sons were Charles Skynner Matthews, the friend of Byron, and Henry Matthews [q. v.], author of ‘The Diary of an Invalid.’

Matthews was a man of versatile disposition and generous tastes, which frequently occasioned him pecuniary loss. His works are anonymous. The best-known of them, a very ineffective parody of Pope's ‘Eloisa,’ which was long attributed to Porson (Watson, Life of Porson, pp. 289–92), is ‘Eloisa en Dishabille: being a New Version of that Lady's celebrated Epistle to Abelard, done into familiar English metre by a Lounger,’ 1780. It was reprinted in 1801, and again in 1822, when the bookseller put on the title-page that it was ‘ascribed to Porson.’ Matthews wrote ‘A Sketch from the Landscape: a Didactic Poem, addressed to R. Payne Knight,’ 1794, an attack which Knight, in the Advertisement to the second edition of the ‘Landscape,’ stigmatised as ‘a sort of doggerel ode’ and ‘a contemptible publication.’ The ‘Fables from La Fontaine, in English Verse,’ published by Matthews in 1820, were marked by sprightliness, but not infrequently offended through diffuseness and partisan allusions to the politics of the day. He composed many fugitive pieces in prose and verse.

[Duncumb's Herefordshire, ii. 387–8, 402, iii. 174, 215; Gent. Mag. 1826, pt. i. p. 368; Moore's Lord Byron, ed. 1846, p. 129; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 2nd ed. ii. 332–3; Robinson's Hereford Mansions, pp. 66, 181.]

W. P. C.