‘An Inquiry into some Passages in Dr. Johnson's “Lives of the Poets,” particularly his observations on Lyric Poetry and the Odes of Gray,’ and followed it in 1789 with ‘The Art of Criticism as exemplified in Dr. Johnson's “Lives of the most eminent English Poets.”’ The copy of this tract at the British Museum contains corrections for a new edition. Horace Walpole, in a letter to Mason dated 9 June 1783, calls the defence of Gray ‘sensibly written, civil to Johnson, and yet severe,’ and points out that its true object is ‘to revenge the attack on Lord Lyttelton at the instigation of Mrs. Montagu, who has her full share of incense.’
Potter issued in 1785 a pamphlet of ‘Observations on the Poor Laws and on Houses of Industry,’ in which he commented on the frequent harshness of overseers, and advocated the erection of composite poor-houses for several parishes. His views were answered in the same year by Thomas Mendham of Briston in Norfolk, and by Charles Butler in an anonymous ‘Essay on Houses of Industry’ (Butler, Reminiscences, i. 68–9).
He published several separate sermons and left behind him a manuscript volume of biographical notices of Norfolk men of letters from the reign of Queen Elizabeth to his own death.
[Gent. Mag. 1788 pt. i. p. 431, 1804 pt. ii. pp. 792, 974, 1813 pt. i. pp. 196–7; Living Authors, 1798, ii. 152–4; Le Neve's Fasti, ii. 498; Beloe's Sexagenarian, i. 299–300; Walpole's Letters, (ed. Cunningham), viii. 376; Forbes's Life of Beattie, ii. 191–4; Carthew's Launditch Hundred, iii. 344, 362–3; Pratt's Harvest Home, p. 499.]
POTTER, THOMAS (1718–1759), wit and politician, second son of John Potter (1674?–1747) [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, in 1718, his father being then bishop of Oxford. The eldest son married beneath his rank in society, the wife, according to Cole, being a bedmaker at Oxford, and Thomas inherited from the father all his personal property, the estate being usually estimated at from 70,000l. to 100,000l. He matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 18 Nov. 1731, aged 13, and graduated B.A. 1735, M.A. 1738. In 1740 he was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, and he held the recordership of Bath. Potter was ambitious, and with the wealth which he had obtained from his father, who had also bestowed on him the lucrative post of principal registrar to the province of Canterbury, he was enabled to embark in politics. In the parliament lasting from 1747 to 1754 he sat, through the favour of the family of Eliot, for the Cornish borough of St. Germans; and he acted as secretary to the Prince of Wales from 1748 until the prince's death in 1751. Potter during his first session attacked, in a speech which was ‘for those days extremely violent,’ the conduct of the Duke of Newcastle, who was accused of having exercised undue influence in the election of 1747 for Seaford in Sussex. Henry Pelham indignantly called him to order, and the incident attracted great attention. ‘Mr. Potter the lawyer is a second Pitt for fluency of words. He spoke well and bitterly, but with so perfect an assurance, so unconcerned, so much master of himself, though the first sessions of his being in parliament and first time of opening his mouth there, that it disgusted more than it pleased,’ was the comment of Lady Hervey (Letters, 1821, pp. 110–11). The speech was published in the magazines, and it drew from the old Horace Walpole an anonymous ‘Letter to a certain distinguished Patriot and most applauded Orator on the publication of his celebrated Speech on the Seaford Petition,’ 1748.
Potter's second conspicuous speech in parliament was on the bill for removing the assizes from Aylesbury to Buckingham, a bill introduced owing to a contest between Lord-chief-justice Willes and the Grenvilles. Potter contended for Aylesbury. On 20 March 1751 he opened ‘in an able manner his scheme for an additional duty of two shillings on spirits, to be collected by way of excise,’ and Walpole described him as a ‘young man of the greatest good nature’ and ‘not bashful nor void of vanity’ (Memoirs of George II, i. 69–71). In the session of 1753–4 he introduced a census bill, and, with the support of Pelham, succeeded in passing it through the House of Commons; but it was thrown out in the upper house as ‘profane and subversive of liberty,’ and the first census of Great Britain was not taken until 1801. He criticised as a country gentleman the ill-fated expedition of 1757 against the port of Rochefort in France, and this led to a war of pamphlets with Henry Seymour Conway [q. v.]
From 1754 to July 1757 Potter sat for the borough of Aylesbury. He very soon allied himself with the elder Pitt, who wrote to his nephew in October 1756, ‘Mr. Potter is one of the best friends I have in the world.’ His name was on the list of Pitt's candidates for high office, but the king ‘objected in the strongest manner to the promotion as a thing unheard of at the first step in his service’ (Chatham Corresp. i. 187–8). But Pitt was not to be denied, and in December 1756 Potter was re-elected at Aylesbury after appointment as paymaster-general of the land forces. In the following July he became