Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth

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THOMPSON, D'ARCY WENTWORTH (1829–1902), Greek scholar, elder son of John Skelton Thompson, shipmaster, by his wife Mary Mitchell, both of Maryport, Cumberland, was born at sea on board his father's barque Georgiana, off Van Diemen's Land, on 18 April 1829. Nearly all his male relatives for generations had followed the sea. D'Arcy Thompson, after twelve years (1835–47) at Christ's Hospital, London, matriculated from Trinity College, Cambridge, at Michaelmas 1848, afterwards migrating to Pembroke College. At Cambridge he read chiefly with Augustus Arthur Vansittart and with Joseph Barber (afterwards Bishop) Lightfoot, both of Trinity; his closest friends were James Lempriere Hammond of Trinity and Peter Guthrie Tait [q. v. Suppl. II] of Peterhouse. Thompson gained a medal for Latin verse in 1849 with an ode 'Maurorum in Hispania Imperium,' and was placed sixth in the first class in the classical tripos of 1852, being bracketed with William Jackson Brodribb [q. v. Suppl. II]. After graduating B.A. in 1852 he became classical master in the Edinburgh Academy, where R. L. Stevenson was, in 1861–2, one of his pupils, a fact recorded by Stevenson in his song called 'Their Laureate to an Academy Class Dinner Club' and beginning 'Dear Thompson Class.' In 1863, after twelve years' service, he left the school for the chair of Greek in Queen's College, Galway. In 1867 he delivered the Lowell lectures at Boston. He died at Galway on 25 Jan. 1902, a few hours after lecturing on Thucydides. He married twice: (1) in Edinburgh, in 1859, Fanny (d. 1860), daughter of Joseph Gamgee and sister of Joseph Sampson Gamgee [q. v.], by whom he had one son, D'Arcy Wentworth; and (2) in Dublin, in 1866, Amy, daughter of William B. Drury, of Boden Park, co. Dublin, by whom he had two sons and four daughters.

D'Arcy Thompson's reputation mainly rests on his 'Day Dreams of a Schoolmaster' (Edinburgh, 1864, 1865), a pathetic and humorous record of his schooldays at 'St. Edward's,' and of his teaching years at the 'Schola Nova' of 'dear Dunedin.' Interwoven with a thread of autobiography, the book is a plea for the sympathetic teaching of the ancient languages, a protest against the then narrow education of women, and a passionate defence of the dignity of the schoolmaster's calling. Some skilful translations, chiefly of Tennyson, are included.

In 1865 followed three sets of little essays, ’Wayside Thoughts of an Asophophilosopher,' the first part containing 'Rainy Weather, or the Philosophy of Sorrow,' 'Goose-skin, or the Philosophy of Horror,' and 'Te Deum Laudamus, or the Philosophy of Joy.' In 1867 he published his Lowell lectures under his old title of ’Wayside Thoughts'; they dealt, after the manner of the 'Day Dreams,' with school and college memories and with the practice and philosophy of education.

D'Arcy Thompson, whose classical scholarship was literary and poetic, possessed a rare power of easy and eloquent translation. Many of his renderings from the Greek appeared in the 'Museum'; others in a volume called 'Ancient Leaves' (1862), which also comprises some 'paraphrases,' or original poems on classical models. ’Sales Attici' (1867) collects 'the maxims, witty and wise, of the Athenian Tragic Drama.'

For his eldest son in childhood D'Arcy Thompson wrote 'Nursery Nonsense, or Rhymes without Reason' (1863–4), and 'Fun and Earnest, or Rhymes with Reason' (1865). These books, admirably illustrated by Charles H. Bennett, and now scarce, were the delight of a past generation of children. Of a third volume, cancelled before publication, 'Rhymes Witty and Whymsical' (Edinburgh, 1865), a copy was sold in Sir T. D. Brodie's sale at Sotheby's in 1904. Thompson also contributed, chiefly to the 'Scotsman' and to ’Macmillan's Magazine,' a few essays and fugitive poems.

[Autobiographical details in Thompson's works; family information; Galway Express, 1 Feb. 1902; T. P. O'Connor, M.P. (Thompson's pupil at Galway) in M.A.P., 8 Feb. 1902, and in T.P.'s Weekly, 17 June 1904.]

D. W. T.