Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brydges, Samuel Egerton
BRYDGES, Sir SAMUEL EGERTON (1762–1837), editor of early English literature and genealogist, was born at the manor-house of Wootton, situated between Canterbury and Dover, on 30 Nov. 1762, and was the second son of Edward Brydges (or Bridges) of Wootton, by Jemima, daughter of William Egerton, LL.D., prebendary of Canterbury and chancellor of Hereford, he was educated at Maidstone School, at the King's School, Canterbury, and (from October 1780 till Christmas 1782) at Queens' College, Cambridge. On leaving the university he was entered of the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar in November 1787. He never, however, practised, and retired in 1792 to Denton Court, a seat which he had purchased near his birthplace in Kent. From his boyhood Brydges had had a passion for reading, and had sacrificed his degree at college by 'giving himself up to English poetry.' His first literary venture was made in March 1785, when he published a volume of poems, among which the earliest pieces are some sonnets dated 1782. A fourth and much enlarged edition of his miscellaneous poetry appeared in 1807. The volume of 1785 was coldly received, and Brydges continued to be much disheartened, even though his novels, 'Mary de Clifford' (1792) and 'Arthur Fitzalbini' (1798), obtained some popularity. He was by nature shy and proud, yet morbidly sensitive and egotistic, and being tormented by an extraordinary thirst for literary fame, he was unhappily led to mistake his delight in reading great works of literature for an evidence of his capacity to produce similar works himself. From the extremely naive self-portraiture of his rambling but interesting 'Autobiography,' there can be no doubt that he imagined himself a poet and a man of genius. His poetry, however, is of the most mediocre description, recalling the dullest efforts of Bowles or Thomas Warton. Of his useful labours as a bibliographer and editor he is inclined to speak with contempt: 'These were unworthy pursuits … they overlaid the fire of my bosom … they suppressed in me that self-confidence without which nothing great can be done, and bound my enthusiastic spirits in chains. The fire smouldered within, and made me discontented and unhappy.' Indulging in this amabilis insania, he easily persuaded himself that his failure as an author was due to the misdirection of his own energies, and especially to the jealous machinations of enemies hostile to his fame. At Denton he got on badly with his neighbours, 'the book-hating squires,' and was embarrassed in his money affairs; yet his life there between the years 1797 and 1810 was not altogether unhappy, and was productive of much literary work. He produced, among other books, an edition of Edward Phillips's 'Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum' (1800), with large additions; and began in 1806 a new and augmented edition of Collins's 'Peerage of England,' a work which was eventually published in 1812 in nine volumes, 8vo. In 1805-9 he published the ten volumes of his 'Censura Literaria, containing Titles, Abstracts, and Opinions of old English Books, with original Disquisitions, Articles of Biography, and other Literary Antiquities.'
In 1789 Brydges's taste for genealogy was turned to practical account, for in October of that year he persuaded his elder brother, the Rev. Edward Tymewell Brydges, to put forward his claim to the barony of Chandos. The case came on for hearing before the committee of privileges of the House of Lords on 1 June 1790, and more than twenty-six hearings took place at intervals. New evidence was brought forward from time to time, and the matter was not finally settled till June 1803, when a majority of the lords resolved that the claim to the title and dignity of Baron Chandos had not been made out. Brydges, who was the moving spirit on the claimant's side, was greatly mortified, and never ceased to maintain in his writings that the claim was just. He inserted a special account of the Chandos case in his edition of Collins's ‘Peerage,’ and in 1831 wrote his ‘Lex Terræ, a Discussion of the Law of England regarding Claims of inheritable Rights of Peerage,’ to prove that by the common law he was not bound to abide by the peers' decision, which did not take from him the right to resort to a legal trial by jury. The Brydges, however, never actually appealed to the law courts, though Egerton, after the death of his brother, was accustomed to style himself ‘Per legem terræ, Baron Chandos of Sudeley.’ The Chandos case was in 1834 made the subject of a thorough investigation by Mr. G. F. Beltz, Lancaster herald, who in his book relating to it conclusively proves that the claim was not well founded. John Brydges, first baron Chandos [q.v.] (created by patent in 1554), had three sons, Edmund, Charles, and Anthony. After his death the barony descended to his eldest son, Edmund, and then to the heirs male of Edmund. On the failure of that line, the barony passed to the heirs male of Charles, second son of the first Lord Chandos, and this line became extinct in 1789. Edward Tymewell Brydges, who then came forward, claimed the barony as the descendant of Anthony, the third son of the first baron Chandos. He traced back his descent through the Bridges of Wootton to a certain Edward Bridges of Maidstone (baptised 25 March 1603), who was, according to the claimant's contention, the grandson of Anthony Brydges, the third son of the original Baron Chandos. The connection of Edward Bridges of Maidstone with Anthony Brydges was, however, strenuously denied by the claimant's opponents, and was certainly not satisfactorily proved by him. The counsel for the crown showed, moreover, that there were good grounds for believing that the claimant was really descended from an obscure family of yeomen of the name of Bridges who had lived at Harbledown, near Canterbury, and who were quite unconnected with the Chandos family. It was further suggested by the crown—and, according to Mr. Beltz, not without good reason—that there had been foul play with parish registers and other documents in order to support the claim. No distinct attempt, however, seems to have been made to bring home the charge of falsification to any particular person. In 1808, five years after the decision of the Chandos case, Egerton Brydges accepted with considerable gratification the knighthood of the Swedish order of St. Joachim. He henceforward wrote after his name the letters K.J., styling himself ‘Sir,’ though of course without heraldic propriety. He was not created an English baronet till 1814.
In October 1810 Brydges removed from Denton to Lee Priory at Ickham, near Canterbury, the residence of his eldest son. In 1812 he was elected M.P. for Maidstone, and sat in parliament till 1818. He seldom spoke in the house, though he took an active part in connection with the poor laws and the Copyright Bill. During this period he managed to find time for a good deal of literary work. In 1813 a private printing press had been established at Lee Priory by a compositor and a pressman (Johnson and Warwick). Brydges engaged to provide ‘copy’ gratuitously, and the printers undertook to pay all expenses, making what profits they could. The editions of the various works issued from the press were purposely limited to a small number of copies, and were sold by the printers to book-collectors at high prices. In spite of these arrangements, considerable expenses were incurred by Brydges and his son, though the press was not finally given up till about December 1822. A list of the books printed at Lee Priory Press will be found in Lowndes's ‘Bibliographer's Manual’ (vi. 218–25). By the works—chiefly reprints—produced at the press under his editorship, Brydges justly claims to have rendered a service to the students of old English literature, particularly literature of the Elizabethan period. Among his productions were many rare and interesting tracts, especially poetical, which had hitherto been unknown, or only accessible to rich collectors, ‘such as poems of Nicholas Breton and William Browne, Raleigh and Margaret, duchess of Newcastle, Davison's “Rhapsody,” Robert Greene's “Groatsworth of Wit,” Lord Brook's “Life of Sir Philip Sydney,” and the Duchess of Newcastle's “Autobiography.”’ Brydges's chief bibliographical works at this period of his life were the four volumes of the ‘British Bibliographer’ (1810–14), in which he was assisted by Mr. J. Haslewood, and the ‘Restituta, or Titles, Extracts, and Characters of Old Books in English Literature revived’ (4 vols. 1814–16). He also compiled ‘Excerpta Tudoriana, or Extracts from Elizabethan Literature with a critical Preface’ (2 vols. 1814–18), and wrote a series of original essays called ‘The Sylvan Wanderer’ (2 vols. 1813–17), and a poem called ‘Bertram.’
From June 1818 Brydges lived entirely abroad till the time of his death, with the sole exception of a visit to England from June 1826 to October 1828. In his ‘Recollections of Foreign Travel’ (2 vols. 1825) he has given an account of his movements and opinions till about November 1824. He lived principally at Geneva, apparently in greater peace of mind, and was still actively engaged in writing. Among his bibliographical works of this period are his ‘Res Literariæ’ (3 vols. Naples, Rome, Geneva, 1821–2), his ‘Polyanthea Librorum Vetustiorum,’ Geneva, 1822, and ‘Cimelia,’ Geneva, 1823. Later on, in 1831, he published the ‘Lake of Geneva,’ a blank verse poem in seven books; the ‘Anglo-Genevan Critical Journal’ for 1831; ‘Lex Terræ’ (1831), and his book entitled ‘The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges’ (2 vols. 1834). He died at Campagne, Gros Jean, near Geneva, on 8 Sept. 1837.
Brydges was twice married: first to Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. William Dejovas Byrche, of the Black Friars, Canterbury, by whom he had two sons and three daughters; and secondly to Mary, daughter of the Rev. William Robinson, rector of Burfield, Berkshire, by whom he had several sons and daughters. His eldest son, Thomas Barrett Brydges (of Lee Priory), entered the army, and died before his father, who was succeeded in his title by his second son (by his first wife), John William Egerton Brydges, who served in the Peninsular war, and died 15 Feb. 1858, aged 87. He was unmarried, and his half-brother, F. Hanley Head Brydges, became the third baronet (Ann. Reg. 1858, c. 389; Gent. Mag. March 1858, p. 342).
[Brydges's Autobiography, 2 vols. 1834 (each vol. contains a portrait of the author); Collins's Peerage of England (ed. Brydges), vi. 704–40; Beltz's A Review of the Chandos Peerage Case (1834); Gent. Mag. November 1837. For the titles of Brydges's very numerous writings, several of which are necessarily excluded from this article, see Lowndes's Bibliographer's Manual, i. and vi. (Appendix), 218–25, and the Brit. Mus. Cat.]