Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kett, Henry

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KETT, HENRY (1761–1825), miscellaneous writer, son of Benjamin and Mary Kett, was born in the parish of St. Peter's Mancroft, Norwich, 12 Feb. 1761. His father was a cordwainer and freeman of Norwich, and he himself was admitted to the freedom of the city on 28 Aug. 1784. He was educated at Norwich grammar school by the Rev. William Lemon, and matriculated as commoner inf. ord. of Trinity College, Oxford, on 18 March 1777, graduating B.A. 1780, M.A. 1783, B.D. 1793. He was elected Blount exhibitioner 26 May 1777, scholar 15 June 1778, and fellow 5 June 1784, retaining his fellowship until 1824. His name occurs as the tutor of various undergraduates from 1784 to 1809, but the period during which he acted as college tutor probably ranged from 1799 to 1808. In 1789 Kett, who was fond of travel, visited France, to observe the first ferment of the revolution. He was Bampton lecturer in 1790, and in the same year was chiefly instrumental in raising a subscription for the venerable scholar, Dr. John Uri [q. v.], when the latter was discharged by the delegates of the Clarendon Press from his position as cataloguer of the Oriental MSS. in the Bodleian. He was select preacher 1801–2, and classical examiner during 1803–4. On 31 Oct. 1793 he unsuccessfully contested the professorship of poetry at Oxford against James Hurdis [q. v.] In 1802 he canvassed again for the same post, but refrained from going to the poll. On the first occasion he published, as his credentials for the professorship, a volume of ‘Juvenile Poems,’ most of which had appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ but he afterwards endeavoured to suppress it as beneath the proper dignity of poetry. On these productions Tom Warton composed the epigram in allusion to their author's large nose:—

Our Kett not a poet
Why how can you say so?
For if he's no Ovid
I'm sure he's a Naso.

The length of Kett's face also led the wits to nickname him ‘Horse’ Kett, and Copleston incurred much censure by reprinting, on the title-page of his pamphlet against him, the lines of Virgil ending with ‘equo ne credite Teucri.’ His person lent itself to caricature, and in June 1807 he was depicted by Dighton in ‘A View from Trinity’ as a tall man, with his hands behind his back. In his younger days Kett was conspicuous for gravity, but he afterwards became a beau, learnt dancing, and sought a reputation for gallantry. He rejected many college livings, and twice missed the college headship. Through the kindness of Dr. Chapman, the president of his college, he held the incumbency of Elsfield, near Oxford, from 22 May 1785 to 28 June 1804; from July 1812 to 1820 he was vicar of Sutton Benger, Wiltshire, and in 1814 he was nominated by Bishop Tomline as perpetual curate of Hykeham in Lincolnshire. He was also king's preacher at Whitehall; but these appointments did not compel him to leave Oxford, and he resided in college until his marriage at Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire, in December 1823, to Miss White. Kett was independent in principle, but of extreme vanity, and subject to fits of depression. His mind became unhinged, and he was found drowned at Stanwell, Middlesex, on 30 June 1825. His widow married at St. James's, Piccadilly, on 28 Nov. 1828, the Rev. Thomas Nicholl. Kett gave to his college, in addition to large subscriptions to various buildings and some plate, portraits of William Pope, earl of Downe, and the first earl of Chatham. The bulk of his fortune, about 25,000l., was left after his widow's death to three public charities, one being the Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford.

Kett was the author of:

  1. ‘Bampton Sermons,’ 1791, consisting of ‘A Representation of the Conduct and Opinions of the Primitive Christians, with Remarks on Gibbon and Priestley;’ 2nd edit., with corrections and additions, 1792. It has been suggested that Parr assisted him in this work.
  2. ‘Juvenile Poems,’ 1793.
  3. ‘History the Interpreter of Prophecy,’ 1799, 3 vols.; and numerous editions in later years. It was dedicated to Bishop Pretyman, afterwards known as Tomline, to whom Kett on his death left the copyright.
  4. ‘Elements of General Knowledge,’ 1802, 2 vols., forming the substance of a course of lectures which he had read to his pupils during the previous twelve years. The appendix of fifty-two pages contained a list of books, in the classical part of which Porson was consulted. There were numerous editions of this work, the eighth appearing in 1815. Some of its blunders were pointed out by John Davison [q. v.] in ‘A Short Account of certain Notable Discoveries contained in a Recent Work,’ pt. i. 1803 [by Phileleutheros Orielensis], pt. ii. 1804. It was defended, probably by Kett himself in the disguise of ‘S. Nobody, of King's College, Oxford,’ in ‘The Biter Bit, or Discoveries Discovered in a Pamphlet of certain Notable Discoveries,’ 1804; and by Frederick Nolan of Exeter College, in ‘A Letter to Phileleutheros Orielensis,’ 1804, upholding the view that Kett's errors were due to carelessness rather than ignorance, and had been unduly magnified (see Gent. Mag. 1805, pp. 41–5).
  5. ‘Emily, a moral Tale,’ 2nd edit. 1809.
  6. ‘A Tour to the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland in August 1798.’ This was published in Mavor's ‘British Tourists' Companion,’ v. 117–57.
  7. ‘Logic made Easy, or a short View of the Aristotelic System of Reasoning,’ 1809. A very severe attack on it was made in ‘The Examiner Examined, or Logic Vindicated. By a Graduate’ [i.e. Bishop Copleston], 1809, and it was afterwards rigidly suppressed by Kett.
  8. ‘The Flowers of Wit, or a Choice Collection of Bon Mots,’ 1814, 2 vols.

Kett contributed five papers (4, 22, 27, 39, and 42, all signed ‘Q.’) to the ‘Olla Podrida’ of Thomas Monro. His life of William Benwell [q. v.] was appended to a volume of ‘Poems, Odes, Prologues, and Epilogues spoken at Reading School,’ 1804, pp. 205–23; and his memoir of Henry Headley [q. v.], with some verses on Headley's death, was inserted in the ‘Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry’ (1810 edit., pp. xx–ii). To Shoberl's translation of Chateaubriand's ‘Beauties of Christianity’ he supplied a preface and notes. His translations of Jortin's poems were reprinted in Jortin's miscellaneous works; numerous pieces by him appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and several letters to and from him are in Johnstone's ‘Parr,’ i. 328–31, vii. 577–93, viii. 212–15; and in T. F. Dibdin's ‘Reminiscences,’ ii. 791–2. He left many manuscripts, including an edition of Greek proverbs by Lubinus, with English translation and notes, on which he was long engaged.

[Gent. Mag. 1812 pt. ii. p. 81, 1825 pt. ii. pp. 184–5, 1828 pt. ii. p. 558; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 380, 448, 517 (1872); Annual Biog. 1826, pp. 15–25; Johnstone's Parr, i. 282, vii. 653; G. V. Cox's Recollections of Oxford, p. 16; information from the Rev. William Hudson of Norwich, and from Trinity College, per the Rev. H. E. D. Blakiston.]

W. P. C.