Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tupper, Martin Farquhar
TUPPER, MARTIN FARQUHAR (1810–1889), author of ‘Proverbial Philosophy,’ born at 20 Devonshire Place, Marylebone, on 17 July 1810, was the eldest son of Dr. Martin Tupper, F.R.S. (d. 8 Dec. 1844, aged 65), a well-known physician of New Burlington Street, who was twice offered a baronetcy, first by Lord Liverpool and then by the Duke of Wellington (Gent. Mag. 1845, i. 106). The poet's mother was Ellin Devis, niece of Arthur William Devis [q. v.] and daughter of Robert Marris, a landscape-painter and a native of Lincolnshire; she died in 1847. The Tupper family is of an old Huguenot stock known as Töpper in Germany, Toupard in France and the Netherlands, and Tupper in England and America. Representatives of the family were exiled by Charles V from Hesse-Cassel for their protestant opinions about 1522. Of these, Henry Tupper settled at Chichester, and his son John, a direct ancestor of the poet, died in possession of a small estate in Guernsey in 1601. This John's grandson distinguished himself by giving such information at Spithead on 16 May 1692 as led to the victory at La Hogue, and received a massive gold chain and a medal from William III (for the rare medal by James Roettier, see Medallic Hist. 1885, ii. 64; grant of arms to John Elisha Tupper, 1826, ap. Misc. Gen. et Herald., new ser. ii. 1). A younger brother of John Tupper, the hero of 1692, held a naval commission under William III, and was grandfather of John Tupper of the Pollett, Guernsey, the father of Dr. Martin Tupper.
Of the senior branch of the Tuppers who remained in Guernsey, a large number have distinguished themselves in the army and navy. Among these the most noteworthy were Lieutenant Carré Tupper, a gallant young officer who was killed at Bastia on 24 April 1794 (see United Service Journal, 1840, pp. 174, 341); Lieutenant William Tupper of H.M.S. Sybille, mortally wounded in an action with Greek pirates on 18 June 1826; Colonel William de Vic Tupper, who entered the Chilian service and was slain in action at Talca on 17 April 1830; Colonel William Le Mesurier Tupper, who served with the British Legion in Spain and was mortally wounded at St. Sebastian on 5 May 1836; and General John Tupper, who served at Quiberon under Hawke in 1759, was a colonel under Rodney on 12 April 1782, and was commandant-in-chief of the marines at the time of his death on 30 Jan. 1795 (Gent. Mag. 1795, i. 173). Of the American branches, besides several missionaries of note, Tuppers distinguished themselves on either side at Bunker Hill, and one of them was thanked by Washington in general orders. Sir Charles Tupper, the Canadian statesman, is a descendant of the loyalist soldier (De Haviland, Genealogical Sketches; Mag. of American History, October 1889; Duncan, History of Guernsey, 1841; Thibault, Sir Charles Tupper).
After education at Charterhouse (1821–6), Martin Farquhar matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 21 May 1828, and graduated B.A. 1832 and M.A. 1835. In 1831 he won Dr. Burton's theological essay prize, Gladstone standing second. He entered Lincoln's Inn on 18 Jan. 1832, and was called to the bar in 1835, but never practised as a barrister. In 1832 appeared his first work, ‘Sacra Poesis,’ which is now sought by the curious, and in 1838 ‘Geraldine’—a ‘sequel to Christabel’ (see Blackwood's Mag. December 1838). In the same year the first part of ‘Proverbial Philosophy’ was written in his chambers at 21 Old Square, Lincoln's Inn. Some fragments had been written as early as 1827. The original edition of 1838 attained a very moderate success, while its first appearance in America was almost a failure. It was quoted by Willis in the ‘Home Journal’ on the supposition that it was the forgotten work of a seventeenth-century writer; but the style with its queer inversions bears more resemblance to the English of an erudite German of the nineteenth century. The demand for the ‘Proverbial Philosophy’ increased rapidly, and for twenty-five years there were never fewer than five thousand copies sold annually in England. The work was expanded into four series (1839–76), of which the earlier went through between fifty and sixty editions. It was translated into German and Danish, and into French verse by G. Métivier in 1851. In the illustrated quarto edition of 1881 it is stated that a million copies had been dispersed in America, and a quarter of that number in Great Britain. Vast numbers of fairly educated middle-class people perused these singular effusions with genuine enthusiasm, and thought that Tupper had eclipsed Solomon. Clever parodies by Cuthbert Bede and others appeared (cf. Punch, 1842; Dodgson, The New Belfry of Christ Church, 1872, sect. 13), and the book was ably and savagely reviewed in ‘Fraser’ (October 1852) and elsewhere. Tupper persuaded himself that the literary critics who decried his work were a malicious and discredited faction. Yet in due time ‘Martin Tupper’ became a synonym for contemptible commonplace.
None of Tupper's other works caught the popular taste, but among them may be noted his ‘War Ballads’ (1854), ‘Rifle Ballads’ (1859), ‘Protestant Ballads’ (1874), and the ‘Rides and Reveries of Mr. Æsop Smith, edited by Peter Query, Esq.’ (1857), a vigorous and unsparing criticism of ‘wicked wives, bad servants, dull parsons, hypocritical mercy-mongers and zoilistical critics.’ Tupper was of a chivalrous nature, and his feelings sometimes ran away with his judgment; yet he led a forlorn hope in many movements that have since won success. Thus his American and Canadian ‘Ballads’ tended to promote international kindliness between England and the United States of America; his ‘Rifle Ballads’ gave a warm support to the volunteer movement at a time when it was most needed, and ‘Mr. Æsop Smith’ was strong on the reform of the divorce laws. Tupper was also an early friend to the colonising of Liberia, and he gave a gold medal for the encouraging of African literature. Both in prose and verse he urged upon his countrymen the duty of national defence, and several of his suggestions were adopted by the authorities. He further displayed considerable ingenuity as an inventor (My Life, p. 217). He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society on 8 May 1845; and he had the courage to enter a protest against vivisection at one of the society's meetings. He was granted the degree of D.C.L. at Oxford in 1847, and received distinctions from several foreign sovereigns, the Prussian gold medal for science and art being forwarded to him by Bünsen in 1844. In the prince consort's time he was frequently seen at St. James's (in a Queen Anne court suit), thinking it right to make his ‘duteous bow, whenever some poetic offering had been received’ (ib. p. 222). He was welcomed enthusiastically on his two visits to America in 1851 and 1876. During the zenith of his fame (1850–60) he received many distinguished visitors at his house at Albury, near Guildford, among them Nathaniel Hawthorne, who ill requited his hospitality by some not too agreeable remarks in his ‘English Notebooks.’ During the next few years he experienced heavy losses owing to the failure of an insurance office, and, though he overcame the impediment in his speech which had been an obstacle in early life, he was unable to recoup his losses by lecturing. He accepted on 26 Dec. 1873 a civil list pension of 120l. (Colles, Lit. and the Pension List, p. 59; Britton, Autobiogr. 1850). In 1883 he was presented with a public testimonial by some of his admirers (Times, 25 and 26 Sept. 1883). In 1886 he published his naive ‘Autobiography’ and his ‘Jubilate’ in honour of Queen Victoria. He died at Albury after a short illness, on 29 Nov. 1889, and was buried in Albury churchyard. By his second cousin Isabella, daughter of Arthur William Devis (his mother's uncle), whom he married in 1835, he left a large family. One of the daughters, Ellin Isabelle, has published several translations from the Swedish and books for children.
Personally Tupper was a vain, genial, warm-hearted man, a close friend and a good hater of cant, hypocrisy, and all other enemies of his country. He remained the butt of the critics for over half a century without being soured.
Tupper's portrait was frequently engraved. One engraved by J. H. Baker, after Ronchard, was prefixed to many editions of the ‘Proverbial Philosophy.’ A bust by Behnes was lithographed, and a photograph was prefixed to ‘My Life as an Author’ in 1886.
Tupper's published works comprised more than thirty-nine volumes. Of his earlier works numerous editions were published in America, where collective editions of his ‘Works’ appeared at Philadelphia, 1851, and also at New York, Boston, and Hartford. ‘Gems from Tupper’ and ‘Selections’ were also published in London, the latter by Moxon in 1866.[Apart from My Life as an Author (1886), autobiographical material abounds in Tupper's works. See also Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Lincoln's Inn Registers, ii. 146; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894, ii. 2060; Tupper's Hist. of Guernsey, 1876 passim; Times, 30 Nov. 1889; Athenæum, 1889, ii. 781; Spectator, lxiii. 803; Biograph and Review, vi. 149; Photographic Portraits of Men of Eminence, 1865, vol. iii.; St. James's Gazette, 27 June 1881; Mitford Corresp. ed. L'Estrange, ii. 266; Holmes's Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, 1859, pp. 307, 317, 361; Hamilton's Parodies, vi. 88–91; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat. Some Letters from Tupper to Philip Bliss, dated 1847, are in Addit. MS. 34576.]