Moultrie, John (DNB00)
|←Moulton, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
MOULTRIE, JOHN (1799-1874), poet, born in Great Portland Street, London, on 30 Dec. 1799, at the house of his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Fendall, a woman of remarkable memory and critical faculty, was the eldest son of George Moultrie, rector of Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, by his wife Harriet (d. 1867). His father was the son of John Moultrie of Charleston in South Carolina, who, as governor of East Florida, retained his allegiance to the British crown ; while his better known brother, William, fought with much distinction on the side of independence (in an action which forms the subject of the last chapter in Thackeray's ' Virginians '), his memory being perpetuated by Fort Moultrie (cf. Appleton, American Cycl. iv. 446). The poet's great-grandfather, John, had emigrated from Scotland about 1733, up to which date the Moultries had owned and occupied Scafield Tower, on the coast of Fife, of which the ruins are still standing. After preliminary education at Ramsbury, Wiltshire, John was in 1811 sent to Eton on the foundation ; Dr. Keate, whose wrath he once excited by a stolen visit to Gray's monument at Stoke Poges, being then head-master. Shelley was seven years Moultrie's senior, but among his friends were W. Sidney Walker [q. v.] (whose literary remains he subsequently edited in 1852), Lord Morpeth, Richard Okes, J. L. Petit, Henry Nelson and Edward Coleridge, and W. M. Praed. He composed with great facility in Latin, but was indifferent to school studies, distinguishing himself rather as a cricketer, an actor, and a school-wit and poet. He wrote for the 'College Magazine,' edited the subsequent 'Horee Otiosee,' and after leaving Eton contributed his best verses to the 'Etonian' during 1820-1. A sentimental poem written in October 1820, and entitled 'My Brother's Grave,' won general approval; while the young poet's treatment of the trying subject of 'Godiva' elicited warm praise from two critics so different and so eclectic as Gifford and Wordsworth. Both in the 'Etonian' and in Knight's 'Quarterly Magazine' his verses appeared under the pseudonym 'Gerard Montgomery.'
In October 1819 Moultrie entered as a commoner Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became intimate with Macaulay, Charles Austin, and others of their set. Proceeding M.A. in 1822, he began ' eating dinners ' at the Middle Temple, but after acting for some time as tutor to the three sons of Lord Craven, he abjured the law and entered the church, his decision being assisted by his presentation to the living of Rugby by Lord Craven in 1825. In 1825 he was also ordained, and on 28 July in that year he married Harriet Margaret Fergusson, sister of James Fergusson [q. v.], the historian of architecture. He had the parsonage at Rugby rebuilt, and went to reside there in 1828. Taking up his duties as rector of the parish almost simultaneously with Thomas Arnold's acceptance of the head-mastership of Rugby School, Moultrie and Arnold were thrown a good deal together and became firm friends. In an interesting communication to Derwent Coleridge, Moultrie's intimate friend, Bonamy Price [q. v.], describes the reciprocal influence of these 'two foci of a very small society.' 'Moultrie,' he adds, 'was always, without intending it, suggesting the ideal, not by direct allusion, but by raising the sensation that for him the outward practical working life had beneath it something which transcended and ennobled it.' In 1837 Moultrie issued a collection of his poems, which were favourably reviewed both in the ' Quarterly ' and the 'Edinburgh.' In 1843 he published ' The Dream of Life ; Lays of the English Church and other Poems.' The ' Dream of Life ' is an autobiographical meditation in verse, which contains some interesting and perspicuous estimates of a number of contemporaries, including Macaulay, Henry Nelson Coleridge, Charles Austin, Chauncey Hare Townshend, and Charles Taylor. In 1850 appeared 'The Black Fence, a Lay of Modern Rome,' a vigorous denunciation of the aggressions of the papacy, and ' St. Mary, the Virgin and Wife.' both of which passed several editions. Moultrie also wrote a number of hymns, which treat of special subjects, and are consequently not so well known as they deserve to be. Most of them are in Benjamin Hall Kennedy's 'Hymnologia Christiana,' 1863.
In 1854 appeared his last volume of verse, 'Altars, Hearths, and Graves.' Among its contents is the well-written 'Three Min- strels,' giving an account of Moultrie's meeting, on different occasions, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Tennyson. He died at Rugby on 26 Dec. 1874, and was buried in the parish church, to which an aisle was added in his memory. His wife had died in 1864, leaving three sons Gerard (see below), George William, and John Fergusson and four daughters.
Had Moultrie died shortly after the production of ' Godiva ' and ' My Brother's Grave,' speculation might well have been busy as to the great poems which English literature had lost through his death. The passage concluding with the description of Lady Godiva's hair veiling her limbs,
As clouds in the still firmament of June
Shade the pale splendours of the midnight moon,
is well worthy of the admiring attention which Tennyson evidently bestowed upon it. Unfortunately, in his later writing much of the ideality and also much of the humour and pathos that were blended in his earlier work vanished, and Moultrie became the writer of much blank verse of a conscientious order, labouring under explanatory parentheses, and bearing a strong general resemblance to the least inspired portions of Wordsworth's ' Excursion.' The best of his later poems is the rhymed 'Three Sons,' which greatly affected Dr. Arnold. To Arnold two of Moultrie's best sonnets are dedicated. Another is addressed to Macaulay, who was grateful for a feeling allusion to the loss of his sister.
A complete edition of Moultrie's poems, with an exhaustive 'Memoir 'by the Rev. Prebendary (Derwent) Coleridge, appeared, in 2 vols. London, 1876. No portrait of Moultrie has been engraved.
The eldest son, Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885), devotional writer, was educated at Rugby School and at Exeter College, Oxford, whence he graduated B.A. in 1851. Taking orders, he became a master at Shrewsbury School. In 1869 he obtained the vicarage of Southleigh, and in 1873 became warden of St. James's College, Southleigh. There he died on 26 April 1885. His publications include: 1. 'The Primer set forth at large for the use of the Faithful in Family and Private Prayer,' 1864. 2. 'Hymns and Lyrics for the Seasons and Saints' Days of the Church,' 1867. 3. 'The Espousals of St. Dorothea and other Verses,' 1870. 4. 'Cantica Sanctorum, or Hymns for the Black Letter Saints' Days in the English and Scottish Calendars, to which are added a few Hymns for special occasions,' 1880. Gerard Moultrie's hymns are less spontaneous than those of his father, but are scholarly and carefully studied in form. His translation of the 'Rhythms of St. Bernard de Morlaix' is specially praised by John Mason Neale among other critics.
The poet's eldest daughter, Mary Dunlop Moultrie (1837-1866), contributed some hymns to her brother's 'Hymns and Lyrics.' The second daughter, Margaret Harriet, married in 1863 the Rev. Offley H. Cary, grandson of the translator of Dante.
[Memoir as above; article in Macmillan's Mag. 1887, Ivii. 123; Monthly Review, clxi. 309; Annual Register, 1874, p. 180; Guardian, 6 Jan. 1875; Athenaeum, 1875, i. 20; Times, 30 Dec. 1874; Maxwell Lyte's Eton; Stanley's Life of Arnold, 1881, ii. 288; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 334, 5th eer. i. 246 : Chambers's Encycl. of English Literature; Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, pp. 772-3; Moir's Sketches of the Literature of the past Half-century; information kindly supplied by G. W. Moultrie, esq., of Manchester.]