Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 04.djvu/206

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Beloe
Belsham
202

insinuated himself into the good graces of the easy-going and somewhat bon vivant custodian by sending him delicacies for his table. The detection of Dighton's depredations in 1806 inevitably led to Beloe's dismissal, and he never recovered the blow. He was not deterred, however, from prosecuting his ‘Anecdotes of Literature and Scarce Books,’ which he had been induced to undertake by his appointment at the Museum. Two volumes, chiefly derived from his researches in the national library, appeared in 1806; and by the assistance of Earl Spencer, the bishop of Ely, and other patrons, he was enabled to publish four more, the last appearing in 1812. He died on 11 April 1817, his latter days having been embittered by ill-health and other circumstances not precisely stated. His last work, ‘The Sexagenarian, or Recollections of a Literary Life,’ had just passed the press at the time of his decease, and was published immediately afterwards under the editorship of the Rev. Thomas Rennell. It excited much unfavourable comment. Dr. Butler, head master of Shrewsbury, criticised it severely in the ‘Monthly Review,’ and Dr. Parr, in the catalogue of his library, felt ‘compelled to record the name of Beloe as an ingrate and a slanderer.’ The modern reader may feel rather disposed to complain that there is not ill-nature enough to preserve some portions from insipidity, and that it is hardly worth consulting, except in one of the numerous copies where blanks left for names have been filled up in manuscript. With this assistance, however, it is in the main very entertaining reading, and preserves many traits and anecdotes with sufficient flavour of human nature to interest, even when the particular individuals mentioned have ceased to excite public curiosity.

Beloe's character is represented by his friends in an amiable light, and this estimate seems on the whole supported by his writings. There are traces of peevishness and asperity in the ‘Sexagenarian;’ but, considering his broken health and fortunes, these might well have been more numerous. If he forsook the liberal principles which he originally professed, the excesses of the French revolution are at hand to excuse him. He was a fair scholar and a man of extensive miscellaneous reading, but entirely devoid of mental vigour and originality of talent. He, therefore, excels chiefly as a translator and annotator. Something in his mental constitution qualified him admirably for reproducing the limpid simplicity and amiable garrulity of Herodotus; his version, infinitely below the modern standard in point of accuracy, is much above modern performance in point of readableness. Aulus Gellius was another author entirely congenial to him, and his translation, the only one in English, is a distinct addition to our literature. The value of both translations, especially that of Herodotus, is enhanced by a discursive but most entertaining commentary. The ‘Sexagenarian’ has been characterised already; the ‘Anecdotes of Literature’ are an amusing but uncritical compilation, chiefly of extracts from, and bibliographical particulars concerning, old English books.

[The Sexagenarian; Preface to Anecdotes of Literature; Gent. Mag. and Annual Register for 1817; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, vol. ix.; Bibliotheca Parriana, p. 393.]

R. G.

BELPER, Lord. [See Strutt.]

BELSHAM, THOMAS (1750–1829), unitarian divine, was born at Bedford, 26 April 1750, being a son of the Rev. James Belsham, dissenting minister there, and of Anne, his wife, a daughter of Sir Francis Wingate, and granddaughter of the first Earl of Anglesey (Williams, Memoirs of Thomas Belsham, p. 1). Belsham received his education first under Dr. Aikin (a relative on the mother's side) at Kibworth; next under a Mr. French, at Wellingborough, and at Ware when the school moved there; and finally at the Daventry academy, which he entered in August 1766. In 1768 he was received as a member of the independent church there; in 1770 he became assistant-master of Greek, and in 1771 tutor in mathematics, logic, and metaphysics. In 1778 he was appointed minister of the congregation at the independent chapel, Angel Street, Worcester (Williams, p. 159); but in 1781 he returned to Daventry to be resident tutor, and to fill the divinity chair, together with the pulpit of the town chapel (independent); he began his duties with forty students. In the course of the next eight years Belsham's biblical studies led him to doubt whether the trinitarian position could be held; and having satisfied himself that he could no longer teach trinitarianism he resigned his post in 1789, and was appointed professor of divinity and resident tutor at the Hackney College, where his unitarianism was acceptable, and where Priestley was lecturer on history and philosophy (Williams, p. 444). In March 1794 Priestley resigned the pulpit of the Gravel Pit Unitarian Chapel at Hackney on his departure for America, and it was offered to Belsham (Gent. Mag. vol. lxiv. part i. p. 486), who preached his first sermon as minister on April 6. In 1796 his college ceased to exist, and he took a house in Grove Place