Mann, Theodore Augustus (DNB00)

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MANN, THEODORE AUGUSTUS, called the Abbé Mann (1735–1809), man of science, historian, and antiquary, the son of an English land surveyor, was born in Yorkshire on 22 June 1735. Educated at a provincial school, he exhibited, with much general precocity, a special bent towards mathematics, and before 1753, when he was sent to London with a view to his adopting the legal profession, he had already produced manuscript treatises on geometry, astronomy, natural history, and rational religion. He soon revolted from the routine incidental to legal or commercial life, and towards the end of 1754 proceeded without the knowledge of his parents to Paris. There he managed to subsist in some unexplained manner, read and re-read Bossuet's ‘Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle,’ and devoted himself to meditation on religious subjects. This resulted in his being, on 4 May 1756, received into the Roman catholic communion by Christophe de Beaumont, the archbishop of Paris, who subsequently promulgated a sort of bull against Rousseau's ‘Emile.’ On the outbreak of war between England and France in 1756, Mann took refuge in Spain, carrying letters of introduction to Don Ricardo Wall, then chief minister of Spain, and to the Count d'Aranda. Wall lodged him in his own house, and soon obtained for him a commission in Count O'Mahony's regiment of dragoons. But the dearth of books which he experienced in his new profession proved intolerable to him, though he obtained leave to study mathematics at the military academy at Barcelona. To obviate all interruptions to his studies, he resolved in 1757 upon monastic retirement. This he found in the English Chartreuse, at Nieuport in the Netherlands, where he at once recommenced reading fourteen hours a day in the endeavour to appease ‘his insatiable thirst for study.’ After nearly two years of fruitless attempts at a reconciliation with his parents, he became professed in 1759, and in 1764 was made prior of his house.

About 1775 Mann, whose talents and power of application were becoming widely known, was proposed for the bishopric of Antwerp, then vacant; the coadjutorship of the bishopric of Quebec was at the same time offered him by the English minister at the Hague, but he hesitated to accept this offer on account of his delicate health. His doubts were finally resolved by the proposal of the Prince de Stahremberg, the Austrian plenipotentiary, in October 1776, that he should be minister of public instruction in the emperor's service, at Brussels. There, in the enjoyment of ample literary leisure and an annual income of 2,400 florins, he became, as the ‘Abbé Mann,’ a recognised celebrity in the world of letters. An ‘ingenious writer’ on an astonishing variety of subjects, he became a sort of foreign correspondent to numerous learned societies and individuals in England, and was regularly visited ‘by almost every English Traveller of erudition.’ The Austrian government were fully alive to his value; and to free him from unnecessary preoccupation, Cardinal Hersan, Austrian minister at Rome, obtained for him a bull of secularisation, with a permission to hold benefices. Quitting the Chartreuse in July 1777, Mann was almost immediately made a prebendary of the church of Courtrai, without residence, and in November 1777 was sent to London by Stahremberg to examine the means invented by David Hartley the younger [q.v.] and Lord Mahon for preserving buildings from fire. In 1781 he was charged to examine the state of the coast of Flanders with a view to the opening of a fishing port at Blankenberg, his memoir on the subject being presented to the emperor. He was commanded to prepare a scheme for the canalisation of the Austrian Netherlands; wrote manuals and primers upon the most diverse subjects for use in the schools of Belgium, and, in 1782, revised his previous ‘Réflexions sur la Discipline Ecclésiastique,’ in reference to the Belgian church, adding some remarks upon the changes contemplated by the Emperor Joseph II's reforming zeal.

The abbé long suffered from confirmed gout; but from 1779 his health was greatly improved by his use of hemlock and aconite. He was a pioneer of the employment in the Netherlands of these drugs, on the effects of which he wrote a paper in 1784. In this year also he made an extended tour through France, Switzerland, and Germany, acquiring extensive materials for communications to the Royal Academy of Brussels, of which he became a member 7 Feb. 1774 and perpetual secretary and treasurer in 1786.

In 1788 the abbé was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, an honour which he had long coveted. In the next year the French revolution broke in upon Belgium, as he himself said, like ‘a violent sea.’ He was in continual fear of ill-usage until, in 1792, he accompanied his friend Lord Elgin to England. On the re-establishment of the Austrian government in 1793, he returned to Brussels and resumed his functions. In January of the same year he was admitted an honorary member of the Society of Antiquaries. In June 1794 he had to quit Brussels for the last time in company with his friend M. Podevin. The fugitives settled at Lintz and afterwards at Leutmeritz in Bohemia. Thence, however, Mann had to retire at the approach of the French armies as far as Prague, where he received a warm welcome from the Prince-Archbishop de Salm. At Prague he resumed literary production, and for the British Agricultural Society, of which he had been elected a member in 1794, wrote ‘A Memoir on the Agriculture of the Austrian Netherlands’ (1795). This was subsequently printed in Hunter's ‘Georgical Essays’ (vol. v.), together with his ‘Observations on the Wool of the Austrian Netherlands,’ originally communicated to Sir Joseph Banks. In 1804 he compiled ‘by way of recreation’ a most comprehensive ‘Table chronologique de l'Histoire Universelle depuis le commencement de l'année 1700 jusqu'à la conclusion de la paix générale en 1803’ (Dresden, 1803), and continued his communications with learned societies in various parts of Europe until his death at Prague on 23 Feb. 1809. His chief legatee was the sister of his intimate friend, Mlle Podevin.

An extensive collection of Mann's letters written to the Society of Antiquaries and to various private friends, among them Dr. Solander, Magellan, Hartley, and Lord Mulgrave, was published at Brussels in 1845; and a few selected letters are included in Sir Henry Ellis's ‘Original Letters of Eminent Literary Men’ (Camden Society). To the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ he contributed ‘A Treatise on Rivers and Canals’ (1780), ‘A Treatise on Sea Currents and their Effects applied to the Sea and Coasts of the West of Europe, more especially to those which surround the British Islands’ (1789), and a paper ‘On the Formation of great Hailstones and pieces of Ice in great Thunderstorms’ (1798). To the Society of Antiquaries he communicated ‘A Description of what is called a Roman Camp in Westphalia’ (1796), and ‘A short Chronological Account of the Religious Establishments made by English Catholics on the Continent of Europe’ (1797, see Archæologia, xiii. 1 and 251).

The most considerable of Mann's writings in French are: 1. ‘Histoire du règne de Marie-Thérèse,’ Brussels, 1781. 2. ‘Mémoires sur le conservation et le Commerce des Grains,’ Malines, 1784. 3. ‘Abrégé de l'Histoire ecclésiastique, civile et naturelle de la ville de Bruxelles et de ses environs,’ Brussels, 1785. 4. ‘Recueil de Mémoires sur les grandes gelées et leurs effets,’ Gand, 1792. 5. ‘Principes métaphysiques des êtres et des connaissances,’ Vienna, 1807. A fair copy of this work made in Mann's own hand is preserved in the British Museum (Add. MS. 5794).

The abbé also wrote widely on meteorology, philology, political economy, weights and measures, the voyages of Captain Cook and others, on agriculture, religion, and antiquarian matters, devoting (in 1778) an interesting paper to an attempt to refute William Sumner [q. v.] and other English antiquaries, and to prove that Cæsar, when he embarked for Britain, sailed not from Mardyke nor Whitsand, but from Boulogne (Gessoriacum). A great number of his writings take the form of communications to the Brussels Academy; among these will be found a powerful indictment of ‘la grande culture’ (1780) and an interesting ‘Mémoire sur les diverses méthodes inventées jusqu'à présent pour garantir les édifices de l'incendie’ (1778). A volume of his papers, presented by the author to Sir Joseph Banks, is in the British Museum Library.

Finally the abbé compiled numerous catalogues and bibliographical works and many voluminous reports, commanded by the Austrian government, on canalisation, fisheries, agriculture, &c. Several of these papers were translated for ‘Opuscoli scelti sulle scienze,’ published at Milan in 1778, &c.

[Éloge de l'Abbé Mann in Reiffenberg's Annuaire de la Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, Brussels, 1850, pp. 77–125, appended is an exhaustive bibliography, ‘Scripta, tam inedita quam impressa;’ Goethals' Hist. des Lettres en Belgique, 1840, ii. 319; Nouvelle Biog. Générale, xxxiii. 231; Ellis's Letters of Eminent Literary Men (Camden Society), pp. 413 sq.; Mémoires de l'Académie Impériale et Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Bruxelles, 4 vols. 1783; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 41–4, ix. 263–5; Gent. Mag. 1787, 1788, 1789, passim.]

T. S.