Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parsons, William (fl.1785-1807)

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PARSONS, WILLIAM (fl. 1785–1807), poet, was a member of the ‘knot of fantastic coxcombs’ who printed verses in the ‘World’ magazine during 1784 and 1785. At that period he was residing in Florence, and he is mentioned by Mrs. Piozzi as being a flattering and agreeable member of her coterie in that city. In the ‘Florence Miscellany’ of 1785, the joint production of Mrs. Piozzi, Robert Merry, the Della Cruscan, Bertie Greatheed, and others, Parsons had the lion's share [see under Merry, Robert]. According to William Gifford, Parsons was considerably nettled at not being included, ‘though an undoubted Bavian,’ in the first edition of the ‘Baviad.’ ‘He accordingly applied to me,’ says Gifford, ‘(in a circuitous method, I confess), and as a particular favour was finally admitted. … But instead of gratifying the ambition of Mr. Parsons, as I fondly expected, and quieting him for ever, this reference had a most fatal effect upon his poor head, and from an honest, painstaking gentleman converted him in imagination into a minotaur.’ Parsons's attempts at retaliation in the ‘Telegraph’ and other London papers were marked by the same puerilities which characterise his verses. He showed his incorrigibility in ‘A Poetical Tour in the years 1784, 1785, and 1786. By a member of the Arcadian Society at Rome,’ London, at the Logographic Press, 1787, in which his traveller's trivialities are eked out by imitations, translations, and complimentary verses to Mrs. Piozzi and Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu. In November 1787 Parsons was elected a member of the Royal Society. His subsequent productions were: 1. ‘Ode to a Boy at Eton,’ London, 1796, 4to, intended to ‘counteract the gloomy conclusions’ of Gray's well-known ‘Ode.’ 2. ‘Fidelity, or Love at First Sight: a Tale [in verse], with other Poems,’ London, 1798, 4to. 3. ‘Travelling Recreations,’ 2 vols. London, 1807, 8vo. Parsons, who, when not on the continent, seems to have resided mainly at Bath, here defines his ambition as ‘merely to be classed among the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease,’ but the ease is nowhere apparent. His earlier effusions are reprinted in nearly all his subsequent volumes.

[Gifford's Baviad and Mæviad, 1797, passim; Literary Memoirs of Living Authors, 1798, ii. 115; Mrs. Piozzi's Autobiography, ed. Hayward, Biographical Dictionary of Living Authors, 1816, p. 264 (where Parsons is described as ‘a gentleman of fortune’); Thompson's Hist. of the Royal Society, app. lx.; British Critic, vii. 548; Brit. Mus. Cat. (where, however, Parsons's share in the Florence Miscellany is erroneously attributed to William Parsons the chronologer).]

T. S.