Kelly, John (1750-1809) (DNB00)

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KELLY, JOHN, LL.D. (1750–1809), Manx scholar, eldest son of William Kelly and Alice Kewley, was born on 1 Nov. 1750 at Douglas, Isle of Man, where his father, proprietor of the small estate of Algare, some four miles from that town, carried on his trade of wine-cooper. Kelly received his early education under Philip Moore, chaplain and schoolmaster of Douglas. In 1766 Kelly became amanuensis to Moore, who was actively engaged with other clergymen in translating the Bible into the Manx language. Kelly himself revised the translation of the Old Testament, and having transcribed both it and the New Testament, superintended the printing of the whole at Whitehaven [see Hildesley, Mark]. This undertaking employed Kelly incessantly for six years. The printing of the Pentateuch was completed in April 1770. In March 1771, while Kelly was crossing from Douglas to Whitehaven with a second portion, from Deuteronomy to Job, he was shipwrecked, but succeeded in saving the manuscript by holding it above the water till rescued, five hours afterwards. The first volume was completed in July 1771, and the second, and last, in November 1772. Bishop Hildesley brought Kelly's labours, in 1772, to the notice of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which had undertaken to publish the book.

In October 1772 Kelly entered St. John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated LL.B. in 1794, and LL.D. in 1799. In 1776 he was ordained at Carlisle, and until 1779 took charge of the Scottish episcopal church at Ayr, N.B. In 1779 he became tutor to the Marquis of Huntly, son of the Duke of Gordon. In 1791 he was appointed vicar of Ardleigh, near Colchester, which he resigned in 1807 on his appointment to the rectory of Copford, near Ardleigh. He was placed on the commission of the peace for the county of Essex in the same year. He died of typhus fever on 12 Nov. 1809, and was buried on the 17th in the parish church of Copford. A tablet was erected to his memory in Kirk Braddan, near Douglas, Isle of Man, the church of the parish in which he was born.

In 1785 Kelly married Louisa, the eldest daughter of Peter Dollond of St. Paul's Churchyard, and granddaughter of John Dollond, F.R.S. [q. v.], by whom he had an only son, Gordon William, afterwards recorder of Colchester.

In 1775 Kelly revised the Manx translation of the New Testament, and in 1776, with Philip Moore [q. v.], new editions of the Manx versions of Bishop Wilson's ‘Treatise on the Sacraments,’ of the prayer-book, and of the whole Bible. In 1780 he completed the Manx grammar, which he had been compiling gradually while revising the translation of the Bible. It was forwarded to the Duke of Atholl, with a request that he would permit it to be dedicated to him. The duke, however, neither answered Kelly's letter nor returned the manuscript. It was ultimately rescued in 1802, and was published in London in 1804 as ‘A Practical Grammar of the Antient Gaelic, or Language of the Isle of Mann.’ It falls far below the critical standard of the present day, and signally fails in its attempt to reduce Manx to Latin rules. It was reprinted by the Manx Society in 1859. While acting as tutor to the Marquis of Huntly (1779–91) Kelly achieved the greater part of his magnum opus, ‘A Triglot Dictionary of the Celtic Language, as spoken in Man, Scotland, and Ireland, together with the English.’ The printing was not begun till 1807, and in February 1808, when it had reached as far as ‘L,’ a fire in the printing-office destroyed the whole impression except two copies. One of these, together with the remainder of the manuscript, is in the possession of the Manx Society. It is printed in four columns, the first containing the English word, the second the Manx, the third the Irish, and the fourth the Gaelic. It is an unwieldy vocabulary rather than a dictionary. The Manx and English portions of it were reprinted in 1866, under the auspices of the Manx Society, with emendations, which are certainly not improvements, and the addition of an English-Manx part. Kelly's orthography is unfortunately based on that of the Bible, the recognised standard. It incongruously attempts to combine the spelling of written Irish with the phonetic reproduction of the ordinary Manx pronunciation.

[Gent. Mag. January 1810; unpublished letters; Timperley's Encyclopædia of Printing, p. 729.]

A. W. M.