Burgh, William (1741-1808) (DNB00)

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BURGH, WILLIAM (1741–1808), controversialist and politician, was intimately connected with the Irish church, as his father, Thomas Burgh, M.P., of Bert, co. Kildare, was the son of Ulysses Burgh, bishop of Ardagh, and his mother was the only daughter of Dive Downs, bishop of Cork and Ross. His sister, Margaret Amelia, married in 1764 John Foster, speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and was created Baroness Oriel in 1790 and Viscountess Ferrard in 1821. A second sister, Anne Burgh, married Walter Hussey Burgh, lord chief baron of the Irish court of exchequer. Burgh was born in Ireland in 1741, and was the owner of considerable estates there, but lived for the chief part of his life in England. He represented the borough of Athy, Kildare, in the Irish parliament of 1769–76, and at that time gave his support to the whig cause. At a somewhat later period in his life he was numbered among the principal patrons of the York association for parliamentary reform, but on the outbreak of the French revolution he joined the ranks of the tories. With Wilberforce he was on the closest terms of intimacy, and advocated with enthusiasm the abolition of the slave trade, but he opposed with equal ardour the union of Great Britain and Ireland. William Mason was another of his friends, and Burgh edited at York in 1783 a new edition of Mason’s poem, the ‘English Garden,' to which he added a commentary and notes. The poet desired Burgh to see through the press a complete edition of this work, but the wish was never gratified. After having lived at York for nearly forty years, Burgh died there in his home on the north side of Buotham Street on 26 Dec. 1808, aged 66, and was buried in the lady chapel of the minster, where there is still standing a monument, by Richard Westmacott, to his memory, representing a woman holding in her left hand a book and in her right a cross, with a poetical inscription by J. B. S. Morritt of Rokeby. His wife, Mary Warburton, daughter and heiress of George Warburton, an Irish gentleman, outlived her husband and was buried in the same vault with him, when his sisters became the principal legatees. In compliance with her husband's wish, several hundred volumes from his library were added to the collections of York Minster Library. The fine miniature of Milton by Samuel Cooper passed by successive bequests from Sir Joshua Reynolds to Mason, then to Burgh, and next to Morritt.

Burgh's name leaped into notoriety on the publication, in 1774, of ‘A Scriptural Confutation of the Arguments against the one Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost produced by the Rev. Mr. Lindsey in his late Apology.' The first edition was issued under the disguise of ‘A Layman,' but the authorship was soon known, and was formally acknowledged on the appearance of the second edition in 1775 in the words ‘By Wil1iam Burgh’ on the title-page. This issue was dedicated to Edmund Burke, and in Burke’s ‘Works and Correspondence’ (1852, i. 265-7) there is included a long letter, dated February 1776, returning the proofs of a ‘most ingenious and most obliging dedication,' and setting out Burke’s views on toleration. Some ‘Remarks’ on this work ‘by a member of the church of Christ’ were published at York in 1775 and republished with ‘addenda’ in the same year. A sequel to the ‘Scriptural Confutation’ was thereupon written by Burgh and printed at York in 1778 under the title of ‘An Inquiry into the Belief of the Christians of the first three centuries respecting the one Godhead.' His publications provoked the criticism of the unitarians, but he was rewarded for his efforts on behalf of the trinitarian system of religion with the degree of D.C.L. by the university of Oxford, 9 April 1788. Burgh is referred to in the preface to Dr. Alexander Hunter's edition of Evelyn’s ‘Si1va,’ and one of its illustrations, a ‘Winter View of Cowthorpe Oak,’ was engraved from a drawing by Burgh.

[Gent Mag. (July 1809), pp. 611-15; Davies's York Press, 271–7, 282-3, 299-301, 337, 340; Corresp. of Walpole and Mason, i, 186, 431, ii. 233; Lindsey's Sequel to Apology (1776), pp. vi-xii; Wilberforce's Life, passim.]

W. P. C.