Mason, William Monck (DNB00)

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MASON, WILLIAM MONCK (1775–1859), historian, born at Dublin on 7 Sept. 1775, was eldest son of Henry Monck Mason, colonel of engineers, by a daughter of Bartholomew Mosse [q. v.], M.D., founder of the Lying-in Hospital, Dublin. His younger brother was Captain Thomas Monck Mason, R.N., father of George Henry Monck Mason [q. v.] Mason's father held an office in the household of the lord-lieutenant as well as the post of 'land waiter for exports' in the revenue department at Dublin. The landwaitership was transferred to Mason when he attained his majority in 1796. Mason devoted himself to historical investigations, mainly in relation to the history and topography of Ireland; he collected rare books and manuscripts, and transcribed many documents. His ambition was to produce a work on Ireland analogous to the 'Magna Britannia' of Lysons and the 'Caledonia' of Chalmers. The intended title was 'Hibernia antiqua et hodierna: being a topographical Account of Ireland, and a History of all the Establishments in that Kingdom, Ecclesiastical, Civil, and Monastick, drawn^chiefly from sources of original record.' A first portion was issued by the author in 1819, and entitled 'The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St. Patrick, near Dublin, from its foundation in 1190 to the year 1819; comprising a Topographical Account of the Lands and Parishes appropriated to the Community of the Cathedral and to its Members, and Biographical Memoirs of its Deans, collected chiefly from sources of original record,' 4to, illustrated with engravings on copper. Mason dedicated his history to George IV. More than one third of the book was devoted to a biography of Dean Jonathan Swift. The book exhausted its subject, and will always hold a pre-eminent place among the best works of its class in the English language.

Mason pursued his plan by commencing a companion volume on Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Engravings were prepared under his direction, but the work was not printed. These drawings were subsequently acquired by Lord Gosford, and are now in the collection of the writer of this notice, together with others from which plates were engraved for the history of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In 1823 Mason issued a 'prospectus of a new history of the city and county of Dublin, from the earliest accounts to the present time, drawn from sources of original record; together with a review of all previous attempts at the history of that city.' In this prospectus Mason held up to ridicule the imperfect and inaccurate works on the subject by Harris, Warburton, Whitelaw, and Walsh. Adequate support not being obtained, the undertaking was relinquished, and Mason's manuscript collections for it remained unrevised and unmethodised. His excerpts, occasionally inaccurate, from Dublin municipal archives have been entirely superseded by the recent publication of the calendars of the ancient records of that city. In 1825 Mason published at Dublin, in an octavo pamphlet of twenty pages, 'Suggestions relative to the Project of a Survey and Valuation of Ireland, together with some Remarks on the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, Session 1824.'

Towards 1826 Mason left Ireland for the continent, having been granted a government pension on the abolition of the office which he held in the revenue department at Dublin. During his travels and residence abroad he collected numerous valuable works on continental literature and the fine arts. Of these there were auctions at London in 1834-7. Mason came to England in 1848, and devoted himself mainly to the study of philology. In connection with it and the fine arts he formed a very large library, which he disposed of by auction at Sotheby's in 1852. At the same rooms in 1858 he sold by auction his literary collections and original compositions in the departments of Irish history and general philology. Among the latter were his large compilations of original observations illustrative of the nature and history of language in general and of the character and connections of several languages in particular.

Mason died at Surbiton, Surrey, on 6 March 1859 (Gent. Mag. 1859, i. 441).

[Manuscript by Thomas Monck Mason; personal information.]

J. T. G.