Parr, Samuel (DNB00)
|←Parr, Richard (1617-1691)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43
PARR, SAMUEL (1747–1825), pedagogue, born at Harrow-on-the-Hill on 26 Jan. 1746–7, was the son of Samuel and Anne Parr. The Parrs traced their descent to Sir Thomas Parr (d. 1464), the great-grandfather of Catherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII, and the father of Sir William Parr [q. v.] The family was settled in Leicestershire in the seventeenth century, and produced some royalist divines. Samuel Parr, vicar of Hinckley, Leicestershire, married the daughter of Francis Brokesby [q. v.] the nonjuror. His two sons—Robert (1703–1759), rector of Horstead, Norfolk; and Samuel (b. 1712)—were ardent Jacobites; and in 1745 Samuel gave 800l., nearly his whole fortune, to the Pretender. The loss of the money led him, it is said, to see that the winning side was in the right, and he brought up his son upon sound whig principles. He married the daughter of Leonard Mignard, the descendant of one of the French refugees of 1685, an apothecary and surgeon at Harrow, to whom he had been apprenticed, and on Mignard's death he succeeded to the business. Parr was a man of strong character and good education. His only son was precocious, and afterwards declared that he could remember being suckled by his mother. He learnt Latin grammar from his father when four years old, and played at preaching sermons. At Easter 1752 he was sent to Harrow School, then under Thomas Thackeray (the novelist's great-grandfather). At Harrow Parr became intimate with two schoolfellows, William Bennet [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Cloyne, and Sir William Jones the orientalist. The boys encouraged each other in literary amusements, became rulers of imaginary Greek countries in the fields round Harrow, wrote plays and imitations of Swift and Addison, and even ventured into logic and metaphysics. Parr was at the top of the school when he was fourteen, but was removed in the spring of 1761 to be placed in his father's business. He read medical books, and acquired some knowledge of medicine, afterwards useful to him in his parish. But he hated the business, was shocked by operations, and criticised the Latin of prescriptions while neglecting their substance. He kept up his classics, and obtained notes of the school lessons from Jones and Bennet. His father yielded at last to his wishes, and in 1764 he was allowed to change medicine for divinity. His mother had died on 5 Nov. 1762, leaving Samuel and a daughter Dorothy, born on 6 June 1749, who became Mrs. Bowyer, and survived her brother. His father within a year married Margaret, daughter of Dr. Coxe, a former headmaster of Harrow. Parr was never on friendly terms with his stepmother. She made difficulties about the expense of sending him to college, and it was decided that he should be entered as a sizar, and receive a small sum of money, after the expenditure of which he was to make his own living. He was entered at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, as a sizar on 19 Oct. 1765, and went into residence as a pensioner in the October term of 1765. Richard Farmer [q. v.] was then a tutor, and Parr's schoolfellow Bennet, afterwards a fellow, was an undergraduate. Bennet welcomed him warmly, and he began his studies with enthusiasm. His father died on 25 Jan. 1766, leaving him very little, while his stepmother is said to have been ‘rapacious.’ He was forced to leave Cambridge, though he managed to continue in residence during the whole of 1766, and afterwards kept his name on the books, intending to become a ‘ten-year man.’ (This, under the old system, entitled a clergyman of ten years' standing to the B.D. degree.) He afterwards visited the old college occasionally, and in his later years presented some books and 100l. towards rebuilding after a fire. On 10 April 1784 he migrated for some unknown reason to St. John's College, but must apparently have returned. Robert Sumner, who had succeeded Thackeray as headmaster of Harrow in the autumn of 1760, wrote in September 1766 to offer Parr the place of first assistant, with a salary of 50l. a year, and about as much more in fees. Parr accepted the post, and in February 1767 began his new duties. Sumner was a kind and judicious superior. He sympathised with the whig principles of his assistant. They both had a share in teaching Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the most distinguished Harrow boy of the period (see Parr's letter in Moore's Life of Sheridan, i. 9). The school rose under Sumner's management from 80 boys in 1760 to 250 in 1771 (Parr, Works, i. 62). Parr was ordained deacon by the Bishop of London at Christmas 1769, and for a short time held a neighbouring curacy. On 22 Sept. 1771 Sumner died suddenly, and Parr became a candidate for the head-mastership. He qualified himself by obtaining the degree of M.A. per literas regias, which was granted on 14 Dec. 1771, on the recommendation of the Duke of Grafton, the chancellor of the university of Cambridge. The governors, however, elected Benjamin Heath, an Eton master. Various causes are assigned. One reason was Parr's youth, although we are told that he now for the first time set up the wig, afterwards a constant topic of ridicule, which, with appropriate ecclesiastical costume, added ten or fifteen years to his apparent age. Field (i. 62), on the authority of Richard Warburton Lytton, grandfather of the novelist, and at this time a pupil of Parr, says that Sumner and Parr had offended the governors by opposing their claim to order holidays at discretion. Parr's own account (Works, i. 63) is that he had voted for Wilkes at the Middlesex election. The boys at the school addressed the governor on behalf of Parr. He was accused, but denied the imputation, of having encouraged them in an insubordinate expression of annoyance. In any case Parr was indignant, and resolved to start a rival school at Stanmore. He borrowed 2,000l. from Sumner's brother, and opened his school on 14 Oct. 1771. David Roderick, the second assistant, joined him, with forty of his former scholars, and the school started with sixty pupils. In November 1771 he married Jane, only daughter of Zachariah Morsingale of Carleton, Yorkshire. The match is said to have been arranged by Dr. Anthony Askew [q. v.], for his own convenience as well as Parr's. Mrs. Parr was a woman with a sharp temper, a keen tongue, and a lively sense of her husband's foibles. Though no open quarrel followed, the marriage produced little ‘connubial felicity.’
Parr's character as a schoolmaster has been described by his pupils William Beloe [q. v.], in the ‘Sexagenarian’ (where he is called ‘Orbilius’) and Thomas Maurice [q. v.] He laid great stress upon Greek, and gave more than usual attention to English composition. He allowed the boys to substitute English poetry for classical verses, at the risk of a flogging if the English were bad. He made his pupils act the ‘Œdipus Tyrannus’ and the ‘Trachiniæ’ of Sophocles (omitting the choruses), and obtained costumes from Garrick. A Greek play is said to have been a novelty in England, though it had been anticipated in Ireland by Sheridan, the friend of Swift. Young's ‘Revenge’ was also performed by the boys. Parr encouraged social meetings of his boys, at which literary discussions took place, and anticipated the more modern love of athletic sports. He not only admired cricket, and smoked his pipe among the spectators, but encouraged pugilism, and arranged that fights should take place at a place which he could see from his study window. His temper, however, was hot and capricious; he praised or reproved to excess; he had his favourites, and his discipline varied from laxity to over severity. He flogged after the old fashion (see Parriana, i. 228, for a pupil's reminiscences of his vigour). According to his assistant Roderick (Works, i. 75), he made himself ridiculous by sometimes riding through the streets in ‘high prelatical pomp’ on a black saddle, with a long ivory-headed rod, and sometimes ‘stalking through the town in a dirty striped morning gown.’
The school declined after the departure of the first set of boys. Parr was disappointed in expectations of preferment from William Legge, second earl Dartmouth [q. v.], whose sons he had educated. At the end of 1776 he applied successfully for the mastership of the Colchester grammar school. He obtained, through Bennet Langton, a recommendation from Dr. Johnson. Langton's letter implies that Johnson had some personal knowledge of Parr. Parr moved to Colchester in the spring of 1777. He was ordained priest while at Colchester, and acted as curate to Nathaniel Forster (1726?–1790) [q. v.], who became an intimate friend. Another friend was Thomas Twining, the country clergyman whose letters were published in 1882. A few pupils followed him from Stanmore, but the school did not prosper. He had some quarrel with the trustees, and was glad to move to Norwich early in 1779, having been elected headmaster of the grammar school on 1 Aug. 1778. Beloe was appointed his undermaster at his request, but ‘this worthless man’ soon quarrelled with him and resigned. He acted as curate at Norwich, and preached four sermons, which were his first published works. In 1781 he took the degree of LL.D., and defended two theses upon the occasion in the law schools. His exercises were highly praised by Hallifax, then professor of civil law, but never published.
In the spring of 1780 Parr was presented to the rectory of Asterby, Lincolnshire, worth only 36l. a year, by Lady Trafford, mother of one of his pupils. In 1783 Lady Trafford presented him to the perpetual curacy of Hatton in Warwickshire, on the road from Warwick to Birmingham, when he resigned Asterby in favour of his curate. He remained at Norwich until the autumn of 1785, when he resolved to settle at Hatton, and to take private pupils. He lived there for the rest of his life. He enlarged the parsonage and built a library, which first contained four thousand, and was afterwards increased to over ten thousand, volumes. The number of his pupils was limited to seven, and for some time it was difficult to obtain admission. His politics, however, gave offence after the French revolution; applications became less numerous, and he gave up the business about 1798, when his fortune had improved. His old patron Dartmouth had asked for a prebend at Norwich, which Thurlow refused with an oath; but in 1783 Bishop Lowth, his former diocesan at Colchester, consented, at Dartmouth's request, to give him the prebend of Wenlock Barnes in St. Paul's Cathedral. He was inducted on 23 March 1783. It was worth only 20l. a year at the time, but, upon the falling in of a lease in 1804, became valuable.
In 1789 Parr exchanged his perpetual curacy for the rectory of Wadenhoe, Northamptonshire, in order to enable the rector, Dr. Bridges, to accept preferment which was tenable with Hatton, but not with Wadenhoe. Parr stipulated that he should retain his parsonage, and serve the church of Hatton. Bridges, as the legal incumbent, was bound to preach sermons annually. As these sermons were strongly evangelical, Parr used to employ the following Sundays in pointing out their errors to his congregation (Field ii. 333). Parr also held from 1802 the rectory of Graffham, Huntingdonshire, worth from 200l. to 300l. a year. His friend Sir Francis Burdett heard that Horne Tooke intended to present Parr to a living, and, knowing that Parr hated Tooke, bought the advowson himself and made the presentation (Parr, Works, i. 563). Parr declined two other livings: Winterbourne in Wiltshire, offered to him in 1801 by Lord Chedworth, but at his request transferred to a poor neighbour, James Eyre [q. v.] (Field, i. 421); and Buckingham, offered to him in 1808 by Coke of Holkham (afterwards Lord Leicester).
Coke and Burdett were admirers of Parr's principles; but Parr had put himself out of the road to other preferment by his strong whiggism. He had hopes of a bishopric when the king's illness in 1788 was expected to bring the whigs into power. Soon after the first disappointment his friend Henry Kett [q. v.] suggested a subscription on his behalf, which was supported by Maltby, afterwards bishop of Durham, and Martin Routh. A sum was raised, in consideration of which the Dukes of Norfolk and Bedford paid him (from 1795) an annuity of 300l. Parr again had his hopes upon Fox's accession to office in 1806; but it does not appear that he ever had any definite promises. Parr had already shown his opinions at Harrow and Stanmore. His sermons at Norwich were in the whig tone, and his intimacy there with Samuel Bourn (1714–1796) [q. v.], successor of the well-known John Taylor, whom Parr greatly admired, showed that he had no prejudice against dissenters. Parr, indeed, was timid in action, though sometimes rash in speech, and refused to join in the agitation for a relaxation of the terms of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, begun in 1772, as he afterwards considered the agitation for repeal of the Test Act, and even that against the slave trade, to be ‘utopian’ (Works, i. 346). He first became conspicuous as a political writer in 1787. His friend Henry Homer (1753–1791) [q. v.] had proposed to publish a new edition of three treatises by William Bellenden (d. 1633?) [q. v.] Parr agreed to provide a Latin dedication and preface, and the book appeared, without Parr's name, in 1787. Parr took the opportunity of inserting ‘all the phraseological beauties which he knew in Latin’ (ib. i. 20), especially, he says, a dexterous and witty use of the subjunctive mood. He managed also to insert a political manifesto. Taking a hint from Bellenden's unfinished treatise ‘de tribus luminibus Romanorum,’ he dedicated the three books to the ‘tria lumina Anglorum,’ Burke, North, and Fox, whose coalition he eulogises. He also attacked Pitt, praised Sheridan, and denounced the Duke of Richmond (Themistocles), Shelburne (Doson), Thurlow (Novius), Dundas (Thrasybulus), and Wilkes (Clodius). A pamphlet in difficult though elegant Latin was not likely to have much popular influence, but it commended him to Fox and the other heroes, and gave him a wide reputation for scholarship. It was translated into English by Beloe, who apologised for the liberty (Bibl. Parr. p. 336). Parr's next publication was intended to annoy his diocesan, Hurd, now bishop of Worcester, who had just published Warburton's works. From this collection Hurd had omitted two early tracts, ‘translations,’ and an inquiry into ‘Prodigies and Miracles.’ Hurd had himself published two pamphlets, ‘On the Delicacy of Friendship’ (against Jortin) and ‘A Letter to Dr. Leland,’ in both of which he appeared as an ally of Warburton in some of his multitudinous quarrels. Hurd, it is said, was buying up his own pamphlets in order to suppress them (Field, i. 271). Parr now published the four as ‘Tracts by Warburton and a Warburtonian,’ with a preface, which is regarded as his best specimen of English, attacking Hurd with great acrimony. That Warburton's youthful performances were crude and Hurd's pamphlets servile and spiteful is undeniable. Parr's conduct, however, in republishing is hard to excuse. D'Israeli, in the ‘Quarrels of Authors,’ and Mathias, in the ‘Pursuits of Literature,’ refer to a story, partly countenanced by a passage in Parr's own dedication, that Hurd had spoken contemptuously of Parr's ‘long vernacular sermon.’ It is also said (Works, i. 396) that Hurd had shown coldness to Parr personally (see Field, i. 377; De Quincey; Parriana, i. 417–18, and ii. 310 seq., where there is a long discussion of the case). Such excuses only make matters worse. Private pique should have been a reason for silence, and Parr's sudden desire to avenge Jortin and Leland betrays a consciousness of the need for apology. A reply was made by Dr. Robert Lucas [q. v.], husband of Hurd's niece, in a ‘Letter to Dr. Parr,’ possibly written with Hurd's concurrence.
Two other literary quarrels made some noise at the time. Parr, who was always ready to help his friends with his pen, was intimate with Dr. Joseph White [q. v.], whose Bampton lectures of 1784 had been very successful. In 1789 White was accused of having employed Samuel Badcock [q. v.], who died 19 May 1788, to write the lectures for him. Parr thereupon stated that the charge could not be true, because he had himself written part of the lectures. This awkward defence complicated the controversy, in which several persons joined; while various other charges arose. A meeting was held at Parr's house, at which White was present; and a ‘statement’ of his obligations to Badcock and Parr was published by White in 1790. Parr is said to have revised tthe book, added notes, and written most of the tenth lecture. His contributions are elsewhere given as about a fifth of the whole (see list of pamphlets in Lowndes's Manual, under ‘Joseph White;’ Correspondence in Parr's Works, i. 226, &c.; and Field, ii. 82–5). Parr was engaged about this time in helping his friend Homer, who had undertaken an edition of Horace in conjunction with Dr. Charles Combe [q. v.] Upon Homer's death in 1791 Parr withdrew; but upon the publication of the book by Combe in 1792–3, he was reported to be responsible. He denied this by an advertisement in the ‘British Critic,’ to which he afterwards sent an unfavourable notice of the edition. Combe, in a reply, charged Parr with ungenerous behaviour to Homer. Parr seems to have vindicated himself satisfactorily in ‘Remarks,’ published in 1795 (extract given in Works, vol. iii.) In 1795 Parr exposed himself by being the first to sign a profession of faith in the Ireland forgeries [see Ireland, Samuel].
Parr, though he afterwards changed his mind (Bibl. Parr. p. 615), had opposed the repeal of the Test Acts which was proposed in 1787, and for two or three years later in the House of Commons, with the support of Fox; and in 1790 had attended a county meeting called at Warwick to counterbalance meetings of the dissenters. In the following July, however, he was present at a dinner given to celebrate the ordination of his friend William Field [q. v.] (afterwards his biographer) to the High Street Chapel in Warwick. He there met Priestley, with whom he at once formed a friendship. The acquaintance, it seems, became dangerous in 1791, when the rioters were expected to attack Hatton parsonage after their outrages upon Priestley's supporters in Birmingham. Parr complains pathetically (Works, iii. 278) that his house was to be burnt, his family terribly alarmed, and his ‘very books,’ on which he had spent ‘more than half the produce of twenty years' labour,’ were to be exposed to destruction. Order was happily restored in time to save his books and his family. The disturbance gave rise to a small personal controversy with Charles Curtis, a Birmingham rector. It was apparently due to a practical joke of Parr's pupils, who sent him an anonymous letter, attributed by him to Curtis (Annual Obituary). Parr published a pamphlet called ‘Sequel to a Printed Paper,’ with voluminous notes, which was ridiculed in Cumberland's ‘Curtius rescued from the Gulph.’ In 1792 he published a ‘Letter from Irenopolis,’ in which he successfully dissuaded the Birmingham dissenters from a proposal to hold a second celebration of the fall of the Bastille. In these pamphlets Parr defined his politics as a good whig. He regarded Burke as a renegade, but was equally anxious to disavow the doctrines of Paine, and expressed his agreement with Mackintosh's ‘Vindiciæ Gallicæ.’ He was much affected by the disgraceful trial of his old pupil Joseph Gerrald [q. v.] in 1794; endeavoured to persuade him to fly the country, offering to indemnify him for damages; and, after the sentence, did his best to serve the unfortunate convict: sent him money, and wrote to him a letter, in which the absence of pomposity shows the real feeling of the writer. He was afterwards a kind guardian to Gerrald's son. Parr denounced the repressive measures of the ministry, promoted a county meeting at Warwick in 1797 to petition for their dismissal, and condemned the dominant war spirit in various sermons (quoted from the manuscript by Field, i. 396). His best-known utterance, however, was the spital sermon preached before the lord mayor of London at Christ Church, Newgate Street, on Easter Tuesday 1800. The mayor observed that he had heard four things in it which he disliked—namely, the quarters struck by the church clock. It was published, with voluminous notes, wandering over many topics and quoting many authors. The chief point, however, was an attack upon the theory of universal benevolence as expounded in Godwin's ‘Political Justice.’ Godwin replied forcibly, and a previous friendship, never very warm, expired. A lively review in the ‘Edinburgh’ is the first of Sydney Smith's collected essays, and gives a very fair account of the performance. After this period Parr published little. His only important work was the ‘Characters of Fox,’ which appeared in two volumes in 1809. The first volume contains a collection of articles upon Fox from newspapers and magazines, with a reprint of the character from ‘Bellendenus,’ and a letter upon Fox addressed by Parr to Coke of Holkham. The second is a mass of notes, notes upon notes, and additional notes. These are followed by a discursive review of Fox's ‘James II.’ The most remarkable note is one, long enough for a volume, upon the criminal law. Parr argues at great length, and with many quotations from his friend Bentham and others, on behalf of a reform of the old barbarities. Though cumbrous in style and diffuse in substance, it is very creditable to his generosity and good feeling.
This was Parr's last work. In 1810 he had much domestic trouble. He had been the father of three daughters. The second, Eliza Jane, born at Colchester on 26 May 1778, died at Norwich on 29 May 1779; the third, Catherine Jane, born at Norwich on 13 June 1722, died of consumption at Teignmouth on 22 Nov. 1805. She was buried at Hatton, and her father long afterwards directed that a lock of her hair, with other relics, should be placed on his own body at his funeral. In a short notice of her in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (December 1805) he speaks with strong affection, and describes the grief of her ‘venerable father, whose attainments are exceeded only by the strength of his understanding and the warmth of his heart’—we may hope an editorial addition. His eldest daughter, Sarah Anne, born at Stanmore 31 Dec. 1772, had in 1797 eloped with a pupil, John, son of Robert Watkins Wynne of Plasnewydd, Denbigh. Parr had warned Wynne's parents of the danger, but they were indignant, and the elder Wynne threatened to disinherit his son. The match proved unhappy, and, after the birth of three daughters (the last in 1807), Mrs. Wynne was separated from her husband. She went to live at Shrewsbury, and began an action for maintenance. Her health broke down, and she was sent to Teignmouth, where she was nursed by her mother. The mother had to give evidence in the trial at Shrewsbury, was exhausted by the journey, and died at Teignmouth on 9 April 1810. Mrs. Wynne's youngest daughter died on 26 May, and Mrs. Wynne herself on 8 July at Hatton. Mrs. Wynne had been the cleverest of Parr's daughters, and showed some of her mother's sarcastic temper. Parr's son-in-law came to Hatton at Christmas 1812, with his two surviving daughters, when a solemn reconciliation took place. Unfortunately, it was followed by a fresh quarrel, and the granddaughters were taken away by their father. On 17 Dec. 1816, however, Parr made a second marriage with Mary Eyre, sister of his old friend James Eyre, for whom he had obtained the living of Winterbourne (see above). The second marriage was successful; Parr was more comfortable than he had ever been; his granddaughters, whose father had again married, came to live with him, and ultimately inherited most of his property. The eldest, Caroline Sobieski, married the Rev. John Lynes in September 1822. The younger, Augusta Eliza, was unmarried at his death. His income was improved on the purchase of some prebendal estates by the Regent's Park, and he was able in his last years to set up a coach-and-four.
Parr's last public activity was on occasion of the Queen Caroline business in 1820. He wrote a solemn protest in the parish prayer-book at Hatton against the omission of her name from the liturgy. He visited her on her return to England, was appointed her first chaplain, recommended the appointment of his friend Robert Fellowes [q. v.] as her secretary, and was consulted by Fellowes upon the various answers to addresses, although he did not himself write anything.
Parr's health had hitherto been unusually strong. He tells Bentham, however, of a very dangerous illness in 1803 (Bentham, Works, x. 403). In 1820 he had a serious illness, in spite of which he was present at a ‘sumptuous dinner’ upon his birthday. After recovering he indulged too carelessly at the table, declaring that his stomach had ‘never complained for seventy-three years.’ He nevertheless retained much vigour, but caught cold at the funeral of a parishioner on 17 Jan. 1825. Erysipelas set in; and, after a long illness, borne with patience, he died at Hatton on 6 March 1825. He was buried in the chancel; the service was read by Rann Kennedy [q. v.], and a sermon preached by Samuel Butler [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Lichfield. A mural monument to himself and his wife, with a simple inscription of his own composition, was erected in the church.
Field says (ii. 150) that eight or ten portraits and three or four busts of Parr were in existence. An engraving of a bust by George Clarke (1824) is prefixed to vol. i. of his collected works; and of portraits by George Dawe [q. v.], with his pipe (1814), and by John James Halls [q. v.] (1813), to vols. ii. and vii. of the same. The portrait by Dawe (with the pipe obliterated) is now at St. John's College, Cambridge. A portrait by Romney is at Emmanuel College (sent by Parr in exchange for a copy in 1811; see Works, vii. 450). There is a portrait by J. Lonsdale in the Fitzwilliam Museum. An engraving after Opie is given in the ‘European Magazine,’ and a characteristic drawing of Parr, with an after-dinner pipe, in the ‘Aphorisms,’ &c. Parr is described by Field as of ‘about the middle height, square and athletic, and not much inclined to corpulence.’ De Quincey describes him as ‘a little man,’ apparently in disappointment at not finding a Dr. Johnson. In his youth, as his sister informed Johnstone, he used to show his strength by slaughtering oxen, though he was conspicuous for kindness to animals. He was, however, clumsy, and cared for no exercise except bell-ringing; and neither for gardening nor country sports. His portraits show a massive head, with coarse features and huge, bushy eyebrows. According to De Quincey, he boasted of ‘inflicting his eye’ upon persons whom he desired to awe. His voice was fine, and he was an impressive reader, but had an unfortunate lisp. His handwriting was so bad that when he wrote to ask for two ‘lobsters’ his friend read the words two ‘eggs.’ He rose early, and dressed in uncouth garments in the morning, but often appeared in full-dress black velvet and his famous wig in the evening. He was very sociable, and loved his dinner as well as Johnson. He smoked all day, and told with pride how the prince regent joined him in a pipe at Carlton House; and he used to make the youngest lady present give him a light till his friends persuaded him to give up the practice (Field, ii. 115–16). Parr's library, consisting of about ten thousand volumes, was sold by auction at Evans's in 1828.
Parr was regarded as the whig Johnson. They had some acquaintance, as appears by references in Parr's correspondence with Charles Burney and Langton; but the only recorded meeting seems to be that described by Langton in Boswell (ed. Birkbeck Hill, iv. 15), when Johnson called him emphatically a ‘fair man.’ Field (i. 161) says that they discussed the freedom of the press, and that Parr stamped to show that he would not give Johnson even the ‘advantage of a stamp.’ An argument about the origin of evil is mentioned in ‘Parriana.’ Though Parr found no adequate Boswell, his talk was apparently very inferior to that of his model. His best known speech was addressed to Mackintosh, who had said that it was impossible to conceive a greater scoundrel than O'Coighley, the Irish conspirator. ‘It is possible,’ said Parr, ‘he was an Irishman—he might have been a Scotsman; he was a priest—he might have been a lawyer; he was a traitor—he might have been an apostate’ (Field, i. 395). Parr, to use his accustomed formula, had Johnson's pomposity without his force of mind, Johnson's love of antithesis without his logical acuteness, and Johnson's roughness without his humour.
Parr's mannerism and his verbosity make his English writings generally unreadable. He complains on his return to Combe that his duties as a teacher and parish priest, his correspondence, and frequent consultations upon the affairs of friends, left him no leisure. He meditated lives of his old colleague Sumner, of Dr. Johnson, of Fox, and of Sir W. Jones; but never got beyond the stage of collecting material. His personal remarks are pointed, though necessarily laboured; but in his general discussions the pomposity remains without the point. He was admittedly a fine Latin scholar, as scholarship was understood by the schoolmasters of his day; and perhaps did not assume too much in placing himself between Porson and Charles Burney. De Quincey praises his command of Latin in the preface to ‘Bellendenus,’ and in the monumental inscriptions for which his friends were always applying. These, perhaps, show more skill, as De Quincey remarks, in avoiding faults of taste than in achieving pathos. Among the best known subjects are Johnson, Burke, Fox, Gibbon, and Charles Burney.
Sir William Hamilton, though a personal stranger, appealed to him in 1820 to give an opinion that might influence the town council of Edinburgh in electing a successor to Brown (Works, vii. 199). Parr was supposed to be an authority upon metaphysics, but his knowledge was confined to the ordinary classical authorities and the English writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He tried Kant (Works, i. 712), but the irksomeness of reading through an interpreter (French being his only modern language) made him give it up as a bad job. He admired Hume, Hartley, Butler, Hutchison, and Adam Smith; but agreed most with the utilitarians. He ‘exulted’ (Field, ii. 176) with pride and delight in the friendship of Bentham, who made his acquaintance at Colchester. Bentham visited him at Hatton in 1803, asked him in 1823 to translate into classical language a code meant for modern Greeks, and to Bentham Parr left a mourning ring, as the ‘ablest and most instructive writer’ upon jurisprudence who ever lived. He sympathised very heartily with Bentham's desire for improvements in the criminal code, reform of the poor laws, and the extension of schools. He argued in his earliest sermons that the poor ought to be taught, ‘though the Deity himself had fixed a great gulph between them and the rich,’ a liberal sentiment for the time. He got over his early fondness for the Test Acts, and was a steady supporter of catholic emancipation. His religious views were those of Paley, Watson, Hey, and the other whig divines of his day, who, without becoming unitarians, seem to have considered differences of opinion upon mysteries as chiefly verbal. His unitarian biographer, Field, gives an account of his views (ii. 374, &c.), but notes (i. 54) that when Parr had discovered truth for himself he did not always feel bound to communicate it to others. He professed a warm regard for the establishment, but he held that the best age of the church was in the early part of the eighteenth century, when it represented the ‘mild and heavenly temper which breathes through the works of Hoadley’ (Works, iii. 686). He was on friendly terms with many dissenters. He had a rather odd weakness for the Roman catholics, and he heartily detested the evangelicals.
Parr was active in his parish. He built a vestry, in which he took a pipe in the ‘intervals of service’ (Field, ii. 310). With the help of subscriptions he presented painted windows and a peal of bells to his church, and in 1823 nearly rebuilt it. He was on most friendly terms with his parishioners, visited the sick, smoked pipes with the healthy, and celebrated May-day with a good dinner to the villagers and a dance round the maypole. A May-day at Hatton is described in the ‘New Monthly’ (1826, i. 581). He frequently visited Warwick gaol, attended prisoners condemned to death, and often gave money to provide them with legal advice. He generously helped one Oliver, a surgeon who was convicted of murder in spite of the plea of insanity. Oliver was an old pupil, like Gerrald; and Parr says that he could not get a fair trial because he was suspected of having imbibed similar principles, and become a disciple of Paine. This very credible statement is inexcusably misrepresented by De Quincey (Field, i. 373; Parriana, i. 380, 393). This is only one of many cases of similar good deeds (Field, ii. 64–5). He seems to have pushed forgiveness of criminals to weakness (ib. p. 56).
Parr was equally liberal in other relations of life, and had a vast number of friends. His correspondence was enormous. He was known to a great many distinguished men, especially upon his side of politics; to Fox, Lord Holland, Windham, and Coke of Norfolk; to Sir Francis Burdett, to Bentham, and to Mackintosh. He was specially attached to Sir S. Romilly, to whom he bequeathed and afterwards insisted upon presenting, a quantity of plate. He knew Dugald Stewart and William Roscoe, and offered literary help to them, as to many others. He was a friend of Copleston and Martin Routh; of Porson and Burney; and of the schoolmasters Kennedy of Birmingham, Butler of Shrewsbury, and Raine of the Charterhouse. He knew Rogers and Moore, and met Byron. Among literary men who have warmly acknowledged his kindness to them were Landor and the first Lord Lytton. He knew many members of the peerage, from the Duke of Sussex downwards, and a great number of less conspicuous persons are represented in his published correspondence. From the fault, perhaps, of the editor, this is disappointing, as most of it turns upon small personal matters, or minute criticisms of his inscriptions, and so forth. Parr was a warm friend, and, though easily offended, was free from vindictiveness. He was on friendly terms with Mathias, who had satirised him very bitterly in the ‘Pursuits of Literature’ (third canto). Tiresome as his writing has become, there is a warmheartedness and generous feeling about the old pedant which explains his friendships and may still justify some affection.
Parr's works are:
- ‘Two Sermons at Norwich,’ 1780.
- ‘Sermon on the late Fast, by “Phileleutherus Norfolciensis,”’ 1781; at Norwich Cathedral, 1783?
- ‘Discourse on Education, and on the Plan pursued in Charity Schools,’ London, 1786.
- ‘Præfatio ad Bellendenum de Statu,’ 1787; 2nd edit. 1788 (translation [by William Beloe], 1788).
- Preface and dedication to ‘Tracts by Warburton and a Warburtonian, not admitted into their respective Works,’ 1879 (anon.).
- ‘Letter from Irenopolis to the Inhabitants of Eleutheropolis,’ Birmingham, 1792.
- ‘Sequel to the Printed Paper lately circulated in Warwickshire by the Rev. Charles Curtis,’ 1792 (refers to quarrel arising out of the Birmingham riots).
- ‘Remarks on the Statement of Dr. C. Combe, by an occasional Writer in the “British Critic,”’ 1795.
- Spital sermon, with notes, 1801.
- Fast sermon at Hatton, 1803.
- Fast sermon at Hatton, 1808.
- ‘Characters of the late Charles James Fox, selected and partly written by Philopatris Varvicensis,’ 2 vols. London, 1809.
- ‘A Letter to … Dr. Milner, occasioned by some Passages in his … “End of Religious Controversy,”’ edited by J. Lynes, and appeared posthumously in 1825.
- ‘Sermons preached on Several Occasions,’ 4 vols. 1831.
His works were collected in eight volumes 8vo in 1828. They include a large mass of correspondence in the most chaotic state and without an index.
Parr edited, with notes, four ‘Sermons’—two by Dr. John Taylor (1745 and 1757), one by Bishop Lowth (1758), and one by Bishop Hayter (1740), London, 1822. He prepared for the press ‘Metaphysical Tracts,’ containing two tracts by Arthur Collier, one by David Hartley, one by Abraham Tucker, and an ‘Enquiry into the Origin of Human Appetites and Affections,’ 1747, of uncertain authorship. This was published in 1837.
A book called ‘Aphorisms, Opinions, and Reflections of the late Dr. S. Parr,’ 1826, is a series of extracts from printed works. ‘Bibliotheca Parriana,’ a catalogue of his library, with various annotations upon the books, was compiled by H. G. Bohn, and published in 1827. A few copies contained leaves afterwards cancelled by order of his executors (see Lowndes, Manual). ‘Parriana, or Notices of the Revd. Samuel Parr, collected … and in part written by E. H. Barker,’ appeared in 2 vols. in 1828–9. The first volume contains newspaper and magazine notices, with reminiscences from various friends; the second is a collection of very miscellaneous materials bearing upon Parr's controversies.
Parr sent a learned essay to Dugald Stewart upon the origin of the word ‘sublimis.’ As it would have filled 250 octavo pages, Stewart printed an abstract, which will be found in his ‘Works,’ v. 455–65.
|[Field's Memoirs … of the Rev. Samuel Parr, with biographical notices of many of his friends … 2 vols. 1828. The preface explains that, as the biographer selected by Parr himself had transferred the duty to one of the executors, Field held himself at liberty to write. The official biography by John Johnstone, M.D., forms the first volume of the collected Works. Johnstone had fuller materials than Field, but the Life is very inferior in other respects. Parr's own works, the Parriana and the Bibliotheca Parriana, supply some facts. See also De Quincey's paper, Whiggism in its Relations to Literature, coloured by De Quincey's prejudice, but containing one of his best criticisms. Beloe's Sexagenarian, i. 24, &c.; Maurice's Memoirs, 1819, pt. i. pp. 60–4; Life of Romilly, ii. 310, iii. 292, 299, 326; Life of Sir J. Mackintosh, i. 103, 138, 328–9; Bentham's Works, x. 62, 403–4, 534–6, 554; Cradock's Memoirs, iv. 323–40; Forster's Landor, i. 62–7, 82–4, 107, 151, 279; Rogers's Table Talk, pp. 48–9, 62–3; Pursuits of Literature, 5th edit. pp. 47, 140, 170–8; E. H. Barker's Lit. Anec. 1852; Gifford's Mæviad; Moore's Diaries, ii. 145–50, iv. 297, vii. 153; Moore's Byron, letter of 19 Sept. 1818 and diary of 19 Jan. 1821; Butler's Reminiscences, ii. 187–262 (chiefly correspondence); A Country Clergyman of the Eighteenth Century (Thomas Twining), 1882, pp. 7, 11, 65; Miss Seward's Letters, iii. 195, iv. 337, v. 331, vi. 242; Scott's Letters (1894), i. 298, ii. 174; Annual Obituary, 1826, pp. 121–90; European Mag. 1809, ii. 83, 193, 270; Gent. Mag. 1825 i. 366–73, 387–9, 493–6, 1855 i. 196, 1861 ii. 364; New Monthly, 1826, i. 479–90, 576–88 (‘Parr in his later years’), ii. 65–71, 165–72, 233–9 (‘Recollections of Parr’); Blackwood's Mag. Oct. 1825; Green's Diary of a Lover of Literature, and in Gent. Mag. 1834 pt. i. pp. 139, 248–51; information kindly given by the master of Emmanuel College.]
PARR, THOMAS (1483?–1635), ‘Old Parr,’ described by John Taylor, the water-poet, as the son of John Parr of Winnington, a small hamlet in the parish of Alberbury, thirteen miles west of Shrewsbury, is said to have been born in 1483. He is stated to have gone into service in 1500, but, upon his father's death in 1518, returned to Winnington to cultivate the small holding which he inherited there. The lease of this property was renewed to him by John, the son of his old landlord, Lewis Porter, in 1522, and in 1564 he received a new lease, renewed in 1585, from John's son Hugh. In the meantime, in 1563, being then eighty years of age, he married his first wife Jane Taylor, by whom, the legend avers, he had a son John, who died aged ten weeks, and a daughter Joan, who also died in infancy. Parr was now, according to his biographer, the water-poet, in the prime of life. Years elapsed without in any degree impairing his vigour, which was so far in excess of his discretion that, in 1588, he was constrained to do penance in a white sheet in the neighbouring church of Alberbury for having begotten a bastard child by a certain Katherine Milton. Seven years after this exploit, being then 112 years old, he buried his first wife, and ten years later, in 1605, he married Jane, daughter of John Lloyd (or Flood) of Guilsfield in Montgomeryshire, and widow of Anthony Adda. Thirty years now passed peacefully over the head of ‘Old Parr,’ until in the spring of 1635 Thomas Howard,, second earl of Arundel [q. v.], the most accomplished curiosity-hunter of his day, visited his estates in the neighbourhood of Shrewsbury. The fame of Parr soon reached the earl's ears; he saw him, and ‘the report of this aged man was certified to him.’ Determined to exhibit this ‘piece of antiquity’ at the court, Arundel had a litter constructed for him, and sent him up by easy stages to London, where, in September 1635, he was presented to the king. Charles asked him, ‘You have lived longer than other men: what have you done more than other men?’ Parr replied, ‘I did penance when I was an hundred years old.’ He claimed to have lived under ten kings and queens, well remembered the monasteries, and, when questioned on religious matters, replied that he held it safest to be of the religion of the king or queen that was in being, ‘for he knew that he came raw into the world, and accounted it no point of wisdom to be broiled out of it.’ He was exhibited for some weeks at the Queen's Head in the Strand. But the ‘old, old, very old man,’ as he was styled, did not long outlive his fame and hospitable reception in London. The change of life and plethora of rich diet proved fatal to a man who had lived the simple and abstemious life of a husbandman, and who is stated to have threshed corn when he was in his 130th year. Parr died at Lord Arundel's house on 14 Nov. 1635, and on the following day an autopsy was made by the great physician, William Harvey. Harvey reported that his chief organs were in a singularly healthy condition, and attributed his death mainly to the change of air to which Parr had been subjected, on his removal to London, ‘from the open, sunny and healthy region of Salop’ (Harvey, Report; cf. Diary of Lady Willoughby, 24 Nov. 1635). Aitzema, the Dutch envoy, visited the ‘human marvel’ on the day before his death, and deemed the circumstance worthy of a communication to the States-General (cf. Southey, Common-place Book, iii. 311). Parr was subsequently buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey, where is an inscription (recut in 1870) to the following effect: ‘Tho: Parr of ye county of Sallop. Borne in Ao 1483. He lived in ye reignes of Ten Princes, viz., K. Edw. 4. K. Ed. V. K. Rich. 3. K. Hen. 7. K. Hen. 8. K. Edw. 6. Q. Ma. Q. Eliz. K. Ja. and K. Charles, aged 152 yeares, and was buried here Nov. 15 1635.’ He is also commemorated by a brass plate in Wollaston Chapel in his native parish of Alberbury.
Parr, like Henry Jenkins [q. v.], who was reputed to have lived 169 years, left no issue; but lovers of the marvellous have credited him with a numerous progeny, which, of course, inherited his extraordinary tenacity of life. His son is stated to have lived to 113, his grandson to 109, one of his great-grandsons, Robert Parr, to 124, and another, John Newel (who died at Mitchelstown in July 1761), to 127. Catherine Parr, an alleged great-granddaughter, is described