Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blount, Thomas Pope

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BLOUNT, Sir THOMAS POPE (1649–1697), politician and author, was descended from an old Staffordshire family, the Blounts of Blount Hall. He was the eldest son of Sir Henry Blount [q. v.], and elder brother of Charles Blount, both noticed above, and was born at Upper Holloway 12 Sept. 1649. Having been carefully educated under the direction of his father, he early acquired a high reputation for the extent and variety of his learning and accomplishments. In his father's lifetime he succeeded to the estate of Tittenhanger upon the death of his mother in 1678, his father having given up the estate to her. On 27 Jan. 1679–80 he was created by Charles II a baronet. In the last three parliaments of Charles he served for the borough of St. Albans, and after the revolution he was made knight of the shire for Hertford. In the first year of King William he was chosen by the House of Commons commissioner of accounts, an office which he held during three successive years till his death at Tittenhanger 30 June 1697. He was buried in the vault of the family at Ridge, in Hertfordshire. By his wife, Jane, only daughter of Sir Henry Cæsar, Benington Place, Hertfordshire, whom he married at St. Olave's, Hart Street, London, 22 July 1669, he had five sons and nine daughters.

The most elaborate and important work of Blount is his ‘Censura celebriorum Authorum, sive Tractatus in quo varia virorum doctorum de clarissimis cujusque seculi scriptoribus judicia traduntur,’ 1690. A second edition, in which, for greater facility of reference, all the passages from the modern languages, English, French, or Italian, were translated into Latin, appeared at Geneva in 1694, and a third impression appeared at the same place in 1710. The translations were the work of the anonymous foreign editor. In the original preface to the work, Blount states that he had been led to compile it solely for his own private use, and that he had been induced to publish it at the urgent request of various learned men, a request which he had complied with, not to gratify his own ambition, for a life of quiet and retirement had always been his supreme delight, but solely that he might benefit letters. It is a bibliographical dictionary of a peculiar kind, and may be described as a record of the opinions of the greatest writers of all ages on one another. The independent research implied, in his time, in the compilation of such a work, comparatively minor though it is, was, of course, very great; but the plan necessarily left little room for the exercise of discrimination, except in the selection of writers to be treated of. The number of names is nearly six hundred, beginning at the earliest records of literature and science. There are many curious omissions. In later scientific names it is very defective, and the later English poets, such as Beaumont, Fletcher, Spenser, Ben Jonson, speare, and Milton, are passed over, while several of their learned contemporaries, whose fame has now utterly vanished, find a place. In 1693 he published ‘A Natural History, containing many not common observations extracted out of the best authors.’ In the following year appeared ‘De Re Poetica, or Remarks upon Poetry, with Characters and Censures of the most considerable Poets, whether Ancient or Modern, extracted out of the best and choicest critics.’ The first part of the work treats on poetry in general, on the different varieties of poetry, and on English, French, Italian, and Spanish poetry, in connection with the characteristics of the several languages—the opinions of the ‘choicest critics’ being given on their subject almost without any comment of his own. The second part gives an account of sixty-seven poets of various ages and countries, including those mentioned above as omitted from the list of celebrated authors. His ‘Essays on several Subjects,’ which first appeared in 1692, and a third impression of which, with additions, was published in 1697, is the only work in which he has an opportunity of displaying his individuality as a writer. The essays in the first edition numbered seven in all. The first illustrates the proposition that interest governs the world, and that popery is nothing but an invention of priests to get money; the second is on the great mischief and prejudice of learning; the third treats of education and custom, lamenting that as children are apt to believe everything, when they grow up they are apt to settle in their first impressions; in the fourth, on the respect due to the ancients, the conclusion is arrived at that we ought not to enslave ourselves too much to their opinions; the fifth answers in the negative the question as to whether the men of the present age are inferior to those of former ages either in respect of virtue, learning, or long life; the sixth demonstrates that the passions are our best servants, but our worst masters; the seventh attributes the variety of opinions to the uncertainty of human knowledge; and the eighth, on religion—added to the third impression—asserts that the God which men imagine to themselves is a picture of their own complexions. The most prominent characteristic of the essays is their strong sceptical spirit, using these terms in the best sense, their freedom from conventionality, and the air of comfortable cynicism that pervades them, a cynicism recognising the enormous prevalence of stupidity and falseness of all kinds, but also possessing a cheerful conviction of the possibilities of amendment. It is worthy of note that, universal scholar as he was, no man despised mere learning more heartily. ‘There is not,’ he says, ‘a simpler animal and a more superfluous member of the state than a mere scholar.’

[Biog. Brit. ed. Kippis, ii. 378–80; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 53, 55; Chauncy's History of Hertfordshire; Clutterbuck's History of Hertfordshire; Add. MSS. 5524 and 6672.]

T. F. H.