Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leland, Thomas

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LELAND, THOMAS, D.D. (1722–1785), historian, was born in Dublin in 1722, and after education at the school of Dr. Thomas Sheridan [q. v.], entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1737. He graduated B.A. 1741, and was elected a fellow in 1746. In 1754, with Dr. John Stokes, he published a text and Latin translation with notes of ‘The Philippic Orations of Demosthenes.’ He was one of the men of letters who used to visit Lord Charlemont at Marino; he was very intimate with all the Caulfeild family, and a long letter from him to Charlemont is printed in ‘Historical Manuscripts Commission,’ 12th Rep. App. x. p. 278. Charlemont persuaded him to publish an English translation of ‘The Orations of Demosthenes against Philip,’ which appeared in parts from 1754 to 1761, and in a complete edition in 1770, and was frequently reissued. In 1758 he published, in two volumes quarto, ‘The History of Philip, King of Macedon,’ and in 1764 ‘A Dissertation on the Principles of Human Eloquence.’ A second edition appeared in 1765, with strictures on Warburton's ‘Discource on Grace.’ This gave rise to a controversy in which Bishop Hurd [q. v.] was his chief opponent. He was appointed to the vicarage of Bray, co. Wicklow, and there began in 1768 his ‘History of Ireland from the Invasion of Henry II, with a preliminary Discourse on the Ancient State of that Kingdom,’ which was published in three volumes quarto in 1773 (3rd edit. 1774). A French translation in seven volumes was published in 1779 at Maestricht. The history contains few references to original authorities, and is in great part based upon the writings of Moryson, Ware, Cox, Harris, and Carte. It is a dry narrative, and exhibits little knowledge of topography or of literature. It concludes with the capitulation of Limerick in 1691. Richard Shackleton was induced by an anonymous correspondent, who pretended to be Leland, to write his opinion of the book to the author, and this led to a real correspondence on the history, which Shackleton approved. In 1766 Leland bought the Irish manuscript chronicle, since printed as the ‘Annals of Loch Cé,’ and gave it to the library of Trinity College. This was perhaps his greatest service to Irish history. He was installed a prebendary of St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1768, and in 1773 he became vicar of St. Anne's, Dublin. In 1774 Charlemont supported his unsuccessful candidature for the provostship of Trinity College. He resided at 18 Clare Street, Dublin. Two of his sermons on days of appointed fast, 13 Dec. 1776 and 10 Feb. 1779, were published separately, and a collected volume, ‘Sermons on Various Subjects,’ in 1788 in Dublin. He gave up his fellowship for the college living of Ardstraw, co. Tyrone, in 1781, and died in Dublin in August 1785. Leland was a friend of Burke, and Edward Murphy called him ‘the most charitable man alive.’

Leland's portrait was painted by Reynolds and engraved by Stainer.

[Works; A. Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; W. Harrison's Memorable Dublin Houses, 1890; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. x.; W. M. Hennessy's Annals of Loch Cé, preface, 1871; M. Leadbeater's Annals of Ballitore, 2nd edit. 1862.]

N. M.