Sayers, Frank (DNB00)

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SAYERS, FRANK (1763–1817), poet and metaphysician, born in London on 3 March 1763 (baptised at St. Margaret Pattens on 3 April), was son of Francis Sayers, an insurance broker, by his wife Anne, daughter of John Morris, esq., of Great Yarmouth. The elder Sayers died within a year of his son's birth, and the boy accompanied his mother to her father's house in Friar's Lane, Yarmouth. At the age of ten he was sent to a boarding-school at North Walsham, where Nelson was his schoolfellow. A year later he was transferred to a school at Palgrave, Suffolk, kept by Rochemont Barbauld, the husband of Mrs. Barbauld [q. v.], who gave the boys lessons in English composition. There he remained three years, and made the acquaintance of his lifelong friend, William Taylor (1765–1836) [q. v.], the German scholar. In October 1778 his mother's father died, leaving him a small estate at Parkfield, and he went to learn farming at Oulton. Subsequently he determined to adopt the medical profession. He attended John Hunter's surgery lectures in London, where he saw much of his cousin, James Sayers [q. v.], the caricaturist. For two years from the autumn of 1786 he pursued medical and scientific study at Edinburgh, at the same time reading much history and philosophy. Failing health necessitated a tour in the lake country in June 1788, and later in the year he went abroad. After graduating M.D. from Hardervyck, he returned to Norwich at the end of 1789.

Sayers abandoned medicine and entered upon a literary career. The study of Gray's versions of the Runic poems and of Percy's ‘Northern Antiquities’ suggested to him his ‘Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology,’ which he issued in 1790. The volume consisted of three tragedies, ‘Moina,’ ‘Starno,’ and ‘The Descent of Frea.’ Jann Ewald's Danish tragedy ‘The Death of Balder,’ on which the last piece is based, was subsequently englished by Borrow. In 1792 a reissue of the volume included an ‘Ode to Aurora,’ in Sayers's own view the most finished of his works, and a monodrama, ‘Pandora.’ A third edition is dated 1803, and the last in 1807. The poems were well received in England and Germany. Two German translations appeared, one in blank verse by F. D. Gräter, with notes, and another in rhyme by Dr. J. W. Neubeck (1793).

In 1792, on his mother's death, Sayers moved to the Close at Norwich, and obtained an assured position in Norwich society. Among his friends and guests at various times were Southey, Sir James Mackintosh, Thomas Fanshawe Middleton, and Thomas Amyot. The death of an aunt in 1799 greatly increased his resources. In 1793 he published ‘Disquisitions, Metaphysical and Literary.’ He followed Hartley and Priestley in his metaphysical essays. The second edition of 1808 omits an essay on English metres. The book was again well received in Germany.

In 1803 he published ‘Nugæ Poeticæ,’ chiefly versifications of ‘Jack the Giant-Killer’ and ‘Guy of Warwick.’ Henceforth he devoted himself to archæology, philology, and history. In 1805 he published ‘Miscellanies, Antiquarian and Historical.’ In one dissertation he maintained that Hebrew was originally the east, and not the west, Aramaic dialect. Other papers dealt with English architecture, the rise and progress of English poetry, Saxon literature, and early English history. In 1808 appeared ‘Disquisitions,’ another collection of his prose works, dedicated to T. F. Middleton. He was also a frequent contributor to the ‘Quarterly Review.’

He died at Norwich on 16 Aug. 1817. A mural monument was erected to his memory in Norwich Cathedral by his heir, James Sayers. Sayers left large benefactions to local institutions, and bequeathed his library to the dean and chapter. His portrait, by Opie (1800), long hung in William Taylor's library, and passed at the latter's death to Amyot. Southey calls it one of Opie's happiest likenesses.

Sayers's work was appreciated by his contemporaries. Scott, writing on 20 June 1807 to acknowledge a copy of his collected poems, said he had long been an admirer of his ‘runic rhymes.’ In July 1801 Southey expressed to Taylor his indebtedness to Sayers for the metre of ‘Madoc’ (cf. Southey to Taylor, 23 Jan. 1803). In 1823 William Taylor published a collective edition of Sayers's works, with Opie's portrait engraved by W. C. Edwards as frontispiece, and an engraving of Sayers's house in the Close. Southey favourably reviewed the work in the ‘Quarterly’ for January 1827.

[Taylor's Memoir, prefixed to the Collective Works (1823) of Sayers, is divided into periods of seven years. It contains ample bibliographical information; on it is based the notice in Blomefield's History of Norfolk (1829), ii. 1064. Other authorities are Robberd's Memoir of Taylor, 2 vols. 1843; Mackintosh's Life of Sir James Mackintosh, i. 147, 377–80; Blakey's Hist. of Philosophy of Mind, iv. 83; Monthly Review, 1824, ii. 411; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit. ii. 1943; Edinburgh Review, July 1879, article (by Henry Reeve probably) ‘The Worthies of Norwich.’]

G. Le G. N.