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

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797477Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 57 — Twining, Thomas1899Stanley Lane-Poole

TWINING, THOMAS (1735–1804), translator of Aristotle's ‘Poetics,’ eldest son of Daniel Twining, tea dealer, by his wife, Ann March, and half-brother of Richard Twining [q. v.], was born at Dial House, Twickenham, on 8 Jan. 1734–5. He was educated first at a small school at Twickenham, and intended for his father's business; but, on his showing great aptitude for scholarship and none for the counting-house, he was sent to the Rev. Palmer Smythies at the grammar school, Colchester (where his name appears in the register for 1754), to be prepared for the university. He was entered at Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1755, and in the following year obtained a foundation scholarship, and on 22 Dec. 1760 a fellowship. He graduated B.A. in 1760, and proceeded M.A. in 1763. Having taken holy orders, he settled in 1764 at the parsonage of Fordham. He was also presented to the living of White Notley in 1768, and to that of St. Mary's, Colchester, in 1788, by the bishop of London; but he continued to pass a quiet studious life between Fordham and Colchester until 1790, when he removed to the rectory at Colchester, in which he died on 6 Aug. 1804. In 1764 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Palmer Smythies, his former schoolmaster. She died in 1796; there were no children.

At Cambridge he had already shown remarkable attainments as a classical scholar and critic, and had also evinced science and talent as a musician. These two tastes filled his tranquil life. His only published work was the well-known translation of Aristotle's ‘Poetics,’ or, as he entitled it, ‘Treatise on Poetry,’ with critical notes, and dissertations on poetical and musical imitation (London, 4to, 1789; 2nd edit., edited by his nephew, the Rev. Daniel Twining, 2 vols. 8vo, 1812; the translation only reprinted in Cassell's ‘National Library,’ ed. Henry Morley, 1894). The work was warmly appreciated by scholars like Heyne and by Samuel Parr [q. v.], who in 1777–8 was among his Colchester friends, and who wrote in 1790 that Twining was ‘one of the best scholars now living, and one of the best men that ever lived.’ Parr wrote Twining's epitaph in St. Mary's Church, Colchester, and in a letter dated 1816 said of him that ‘no critic of his day excelled him; he understood Greek and Latin, and he wrote perfect English.’ Parr's eulogy of Twining's letters, that he possessed ‘a talent for epistolary writing certainly not surpassed by any of his contemporaries—wit, sagacity, learning, languages ancient and modern, the best principles of criticism, and the most exquisite feelings of taste, all united their various force and beauty,’ is borne out by the correspondence published by his grandnephew, Mr. Richard Twining, with the title of ‘Recreations and Studies of a Country Clergyman of the Eighteenth Century’ (London, 1882), and in the sequel, entitled ‘Selections from the Papers of the Twining Family’ (London, 1887). Most of them were written to his brother Richard, but some of the most original and characteristic were addressed to Charles Burney [q. v.], in whose ‘History of Music’ Twining took a keen interest, and to which he contributed the results of his own critical researches. Music was the passion of his life, and he was at the same time a master of its science and history, and a good performer on the violin, organ, harpsichord, and the ‘new piano-forte.’ He was also an accomplished linguist, and spoke and wrote French and Italian almost as well as his native tongue. His varied excellences and tastes stand admirably revealed in his correspondence. Besides his Aristotle, his only other publications were three sermons.

[Memoir by his brother Richard Twining prefixed to the Recreations and Studies of a Country Clergyman, 1882; information from Mr. J. H. Round; authorities under Twining, Richard.]

S. L-P.