Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trapp, Joseph

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472040Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 57 — Trapp, Joseph1899William Prideaux Courtney

TRAPP, JOSEPH (1679–1747), poet and pamphleteer, born at Cherrington, Gloucestershire, in November 1679, and baptised there on 18 Dec. 1679, was the second son of Joseph Trapp (1638–1698), rector of Cherrington from 1662, and grandson of John Trapp [q. v.] After a training at home by his father and some time at New College school, Oxford, he matriculated from Wadham College on 11 July 1695.

He was elected Goodridge exhibitioner in 1695 and in subsequent years to 1700, and scholar in 1696. He graduated B. A. 22 April 1699, and M.A. 19 May 1702, and either in 1703 or 1704 he became a fellow of his college. He was admitted as pro-proctor of the university on 4 May 1709, and in 1714 was incorporated M.A. of Cambridge.

Early in his academic career Trapp began to versify. He wrote poems for the Oxford collections on the deaths of the young Duke of Gloucester, King William, Prince George of Denmark, and Queen Anne, and the lines on the decease of Prince George were re- printed in Nichols's 'Collection of Poems' (vii. 116–21). To the university set of poems in honour of Anne and peace (1713) he contributed both the proloquium and an English ode. His Latin hexameters, entitled 'Fraus Nummi Anglicani' (1696) appeared in the 'Musæ Anglicanæ' (ii. 211), and his unsigned poem of 'Ædes Badmintonianæ' came out in 1701 (Hyett and Bazeley, Gloucestershire Literature, ii. 13). The anonymous 'Prologue to the University of Oxford. Spoke by Mr. Betterton' at the act on 5 July 1703, was his, and 'The Tragedy of King Saul. Written by a Deceas'd Person of Honour' (1703, again 1739), is sometimes attributed to him (Baker, Biogr. Dramatica, iii. 241). At this period of his life he wrote poetical paraphrases and translations which are included in the 'Miscellanies' of Dryden and Fenton. His play of 'Abramule: or Love and Empire. A Tragedy acted at the New Theatre in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields,' which was printed without the dramatist's name in 1704, and often reissued, brought him 'some reputation among the witts;' but when the author was presented to Bishop Robinson for ordination in the English church, the bishop rebuked him for its composition. These early productions caused his name to be inserted in the ironical Latin distich on the nine famous Oxford poets, viz. 'Bubb, Stubb, Grubb, Crabb, Trapp, Young, Carey, Tickell, Evans' (Percy, Reliques, ed. Wheatley, iii. 307). They gave him also the post of first professor of poetry at Oxford, which he held from 14 July 1708 to 1718. Hearne called him upon his appointment 'a most ingenious honest gent, and every ways deserving of ye place (he being also in mean circumstances),' and added that he was elected 'to the great satisfaction of the whole university' (Collections, ed. Doble, ii. 120). But this good opinion did not last long. Trapp's first lecture concluded with a compliment to Dr. William Lancaster [q. v.], and he was condemned as 'somewhat given to cringing.' His lectures, which were delivered in Latin, were well attended, and his criticisms are said to have been 'sound and clear,' showing thought of his own and not a compilation from others (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 194). The first volume of these 'Prælectiones Poeticæ' came out in 1711, the second in 1715, and the third edition is dated 1736. An English translation by the Rev. William Clarke of Buxted and William Bowyer was published 'with additional notes' in 1742.

Trapp plunged into politics as a tory and a high churchman. He assisted Henry Sacheverell [q. v.] at his trial in 1709 and 1710, and on Sacheverell's recommendation became in April 1710 his successor in the lectureship at Newington, Surrey. The preface to a tract called 'A Letter out of the Country to the Author of the Managers Pro and Con' on this trial was written by him, and in September 1710 he vindicated Sacheverell's noisy progress into exile in an anonymous pamphlet entitled 'An Ordinary Journey no Progress' (Madan, Sacheverell Bibliogr. pp. 37, 53). Hearne pronounced the second of these productions 'a most silly ridiculous thing;' Swift wrote to Stella in March 1711–12, 'Trapp is a coxcomb; Sacheverell is not very deep; and their judgment in things of wit and sense is miraculous' (Works, ed. 1883, iii. 11–12). Another anonymous pamphlet by Trapp was called 'The true genuine Tory Address and the true genuine Whig Address set one against another,' 1710.

In January 1710–11 Sir Constantine Phipps, the tory lord chancellor of Ireland, carried over Trapp as his chaplain, 'a sort of pretender to wit, a second-rate pamphleteer for the cause, whom they pay by sending him to Ireland' (Swift, Works, ii. 140). On the following 14 May Swift took a pamphlet in manuscript–'a very scurvy piece'–by Trapp to a printer's in the city. It was entitled 'The Character and Principles of the present Set of Whigs ' (anon.), 1711. His poem 'on the Duke of Ormond' was printed in Dublin, and reprinted in London, where 'just eleven of them were sold. 'Tis a dull piece, not half so good as Stella's; and she is very modest to compare herself with such a poetaster' (ib. ii. 326-7). The author's fortunes had not prospered to this date, and they were not improved by his marriage in 1712 to a daughter of Alderman White of St. Mary's, Oxford. This event probably led to the manuscript note in the bursar's book at Wadham College, that he left the society in 1712, though his name appears in the accounts until 1715.

Swift wrote on 17 July 1712, 'I have made Trap chaplain to Lord Bolingbroke, and he is mighty happy and thankful for it' (Works, iii. 41). Next November he was an unsuccessful candidate for the lectureship at St. Clement Danes, London. On 1 April 1713 Swift would not dine with Bolingbroke because he was expected to 'look over a dull poem of one parson Trap upon the peace;' afterwards he both read and corrected the poem, 'but it was good for nothing.' It was printed anonymously at Dublin, as 'Peace, a Poem,' inscribed to the Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, 1713; it was praised by Gay as 'containing a great many good lines.' In February 1713–1714 a case which had been several times before the courts was decided in his favour. He had contested with another clergyman the lectureship of the London parishes of St. Olave, Old Jewry, and St. Martin's, Ironmonger Lane, and through the votes of the parishioners that were dissenters had lost it. It was now decided that they had not the privilege of voting, and this decision gave him the post (Malcolm, Lond. Redivieum, iv. 562). From 1714 to 1722 he held by the gift of the Earl of Peterborough the rectory of Dauntsey in Wiltshire, and through the interest of his old friend Dr. Lancaster he obtained in 1715 the lectureship at the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster. He dedicated to his parishioners at Dauntsey a tract on the 'Duties of Private, Domestic, and Public Devotion.' The governors of St. Bartholomew's Hospital elected Trapp on 20 April 1722 as vicar of the united parishes of Christ Church, Newgate Street, and St. Leonard, Foster Lane, and in 1732–3 he was presented by Lord Bolingbroke to the rectory of Harlington in Middlesex. These preferments he retained until his death, and with them he held lectureships in several London churches, the most important of them being St. Olave, Old Jewry, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields. George Whitefield went to Christ Church, Newgate Street, on 29 April 1739, and heard Trapp preach against him one of four discourses on 'the nature, folly, sin, and danger of being righteous overmuch.' They were printed in 1739, passed through four editions in that year, and were translated into German at Basle in 1769. Answers to them were published by Whitefield, Law, the Rev. Robert Seagrave, and others, and an anonymous reply bore the sarcastic title of 'Dr. Trapp vindicated from the Imputation of being a Christian' (cf. Overton, John Law, pp. 293–308). He retorted with 'The True Spirit of the Methodists and their Allies: in Answer to six out of the seven Pamphlets against Dr Trapp's Sermons' (anon.), 1740. A long extract from Trapp's sermon was printed in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1739, pp. 288–292), and a continuation was promised, but not permitted to appear (a paper of 'Considerations ' on its non-appearance was printed in that periodical for 1787, ii. 557, as by Dr. Johnson).

In the space of a few weeks in 1726 several persons living in London were received into the Roman church, and Trapp thereupon published a treatise of 'Popery truly stated and briefly confuted,' in three parts, which reached a third edition in 1745. In 1727 he renewed the attack in 'The Church of England defended against the Church of Rome, in Answer to a late Sophistical and Insolent Popish Book.' As a compliment for these labours he was created by the university of Oxford D.D. by diploma on 1 Feb. 1727–8.

The second half of Trapp's life passed in affluence and dignity. While president of Sion College in 1743 he published a 'Concio ad clerum Londinensem, 26 April 1743.' He died of pleurisy at Harlington on 22 Nov. 1747, and was buried on the north side of the entrance into the chancel, upon the north wall of which is a monument; another, the cost of which was borne by the parishioners, is on the east wall of the chancel of Newgate church. The books in Trapp's library at Warwick Lane, London, to which Sacheverell's library had been added, and those at Harlington, with his son's collections, were sold to Lowndes of London, and then passed to Governor Palk.

Trapp's eldest son, Henry, so named after Henry St. John, lord Bolingbroke, died in infancy. The second son, Joseph, rector of Strathfieldsaye, died in 1769; a poem by him on 'Virgil's Tomb, Naples,' 1741, is in Dodsley's 'Collection of Poems ' (iv. 110); in 1755 he gave to the picture gallery of the Bodleian Library an admirable three-quarter-length portrait of his father. An engraving of it was prefixed to vol. i. of the father's sermons (1752), and a second engraving is in Harding's 'Biographical Mirror' (ii. 84). A copy by Joseph Smith hangs in the hall of Wadham College.

Trapp was a man of striking appearance, and he was effective in the pulpit as an inculcator of plain morality. The assertion that he wasted his youthful energies in dissipation has to be accommodated to Bishop Pearce's statement that he studied harder than any man in England.

The best remembered of Trapp's works is his translation into blank verse of Virgil, which was the amusement of his leisure hours for twenty-eight years. The first volume of the 'Aeneis ' came out in 1718, the second in 1720, and the translation of the complete works, 'with large explanatory notes and critical observations,' which have been much praised, was published in three volumes in 1731 and 1735. Freedom is sacrificed to closeness of rendering, a quality which, as Johnson said, 'may continue its existence as long as it is the clandestine refuge of schoolboys' (Lives of Poets, ed. Cunningham, i. 374-5). Several epigrams were made on it, the most familiar being that by Abel Evans [q. v.] on the publication of the first volume:

Keep the commandments, Trapp, and go no farther, For it is written, That thou shalt not murther.

Trapp's other works comprised, in addition to single sermons:

  1. 'Most Faults on one Side' (anon.), 1710. In reply to the whig pamphlet, 'Faults on both Sides.':
  2. 'To Mr. Harley on his appearing in Publick after the Wound from Guiscard,'1712.:
  3. 'Her Majesty's Prerogative in Ireland ' (anon.), 1712.:
  4. 'Preservative against unsettled Notions and Want of Principles in Religion,' 1715, vol. ii. 1722; 2nd ed. 1722, 2 vols.:
  5. 'Real Nature of Church and Kingdom of Christ,' 1717, three editions. This reply to Hoadly was answered by Gilbert Burnet, second son of Bishop Burnet, and by several other writers.:
  6. 'Doctrine of the Trinity briefly stated and proved. Moyer Lectures, 1729 and 1730,' 1730.:
  7. 'Thoughts upon the four last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. A Poem in four parts ' (anon.), 1734 and 1735; 3rd ed. 1749. He presented a copy to each of his parishioners.:
  8. Milton's 'Paradisus Amissus Latine redditus,' vol. i. 1741, vol. ii. 1744. This was printed at his own cost, and he lost heavily by the venture.:
  9. 'Explanatory Notes upon the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles,' 1747 and 1748, 2 vols; reprinted at Oxford, 1805.

Two volumes of Trapp's 'Sermons on Moral and Practical Subjects' were published by his surviving son in 1752.

Trapp wrote several papers in the 'Examiner,' vols. i. and ii., and contributed several pieces to the 'Grub Street Journal,' 1726. Many anonymous pieces are assigned to him by a writer, apparently well informed, in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1786, ii. 1661). The well-known tory epigram on the king sending a troop of horse to Oxford and books to Cambridge is usually attributed to him [see under Browne, Sir William, and Moore, John, 1640-1714].

[Gardiner's Wadham College, i. 387-8; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Biogr. Brit.; Gent. Mag. 1741 p. 599, 1786 i. 381-4, 452, 660-3; Lysons's Parishes of Middlesex, pp. 129-32; Malcolm's Lond. Redivivum, iii. 341, 350; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 140, iv. 383; Wordsworth's Life in English Univ. pp. 5, 45; Wood's Hist, of Oxford, ed. Crutch, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 976; Jacob's Poet. Register, i. 259, ii. 213-14; Scott's Swift, ii. 143-4,263, iii. 43, 143-4; Hearne's Collections, ed. Doble, i. 212, 265, ii. 120, 141, 192, 384, iii. 56, 70, 480; Reliq. Hearnianae (ed. 1869), i. 311, ii. 140; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, i. 39, ii. 148-50, iii. 330, vi. 85; information through Mr. W. V. Morgan, alderman of London.]

W. P. C.