Hurdis, James (1763-1801) (DNB00)

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HURDIS, JAMES (1763–1801), poet, was the son of James Hurdis of Bishopstone in Sussex, where he was born in 1763. He was educated at the grammar school at Chichester, and in 1780 entered St. Mary Hall, Oxford. At the close of two years' residence he was elected a demy of Magdalen College, graduated B.A. in 1785, and was for six years curate of Burwash in Sussex. In 1788 he published his ‘Village Curate,’ which was favourably received and went through four editions. He thus became known to the literary world, and secured the friendship of Cowper and Hayley. A second volume, ‘Adriano; or the First of June,’ followed, and in 1790 Hurdis issued a third volume of poems. In 1791, through the interest of the Earl of Chichester, to whose son he had been tutor, he was appointed to the living of Bishopstone, and in the same year he wrote ‘The Tragedy of Sir Thomas More.’ In 1792 he lost his favourite sister, Catharine, upon whose death he published ‘Tears of Affliction; a Poem occasioned by the Death of a Sister tenderly beloved,’ London, 1794. In April 1793 he was residing at Temple Cowley, near Oxford; in November of the same year he was appointed professor of poetry in that university. In 1799 he married Miss Harriet Minet of Fulham. In 1800 he printed at his private press at Bishopstone his poem entitled ‘The Favourite Village.’ He died very suddenly on Wednesday, 23 Dec. 1801, at Buckland in Berkshire, while staying at the house of his friend Dr. Rathbone. He left two sons, the elder of whom, James Henry Hurdis, is noticed separately. A daughter was born after his death. There is a portrait of him engraved by his elder son after a drawing by Sharpies, and a tablet to his memory in Bishopstone church bears an inscription in verse composed by Hayley. Hurdis is at best a pale copy of Cowper, a poet who does not furnish a powerful original to an imitator. The blank verse in which most of the poetry of Hurdis is written is flaccid and monotonous. Still, here and there we come upon elegant lines, and the poet shows a feeling for nature. Besides his productions in verse, and a few separately printed sermons, he was the author of:

  1. ‘A Short Critical Dissertation upon the true meaning of the word חַתַּנָּינָם found in Genesis i. 21,’ 1790.
  2. 'Cursory Remarks upon the Arrangement of the Plays of Shakespear, occasioned by reading Mr. Malone's Essay on the Chronological Order of those celebrated pieces' 1792. In this work Hurdis shows a very slender knowledge of the subject, and Malone has added the following note to his copy now preserved in the Bodleian: 'It is difficult to say whether he or his friend William Cowper the poet, who writes to him on the subject of this pamphlet, were most ignorant of the matter here discussed.' As a specimen of Hurdis's criticism it may be mentioned that, judging from internal evidence, he thinks the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' one of the latest of Shakespeare's plays, and the 'Winter's Tale' one of the earliest.
  3. 'Lectures showing the several Sources of that Pleasure which the Human Mind receives from Poetry,' Bisbopstone, at the author's own press, 1797.
  4. 'A word or two in Vindication of the University of Oxford, and of Magdalene College in particular, from the posthumous aspersions of Mr. Gibbon,' anonymous, without place or date, but certainly printed at Bishopstone. This is not a very successful performance, as the writer, while heaping plenty of abuse upon Gibbon, is obliged to acknowledge the truth of most of his strictures. The professors come out badly, and Hurdis makes some strange admissions amidst a good deal of shuffling.

[Life of Hurdis, prefixed to the Village Curate and other Poems, London, 1810; Bloxam's Reg. of Magd. Coll. vii. 65-76; Johnson's Memoirs of Wm. Hayley; Cowper's Letters, ed. Johnson.]

W. R. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.163
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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316 ii 11 Hurdis, James: for the grammar school read the prebendal school