Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rutt, John Towill

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RUTT, JOHN TOWILL (1760–1841), politician and man of letters, born in London on 4 April 1760, was only son of George Rutt, at first a druggist in Friday Street, Cheapside, and afterwards a wholesale merchant in drugs in Upper Thames Street, who married Elizabeth Towill. In early boyhood he was placed for some time under the care of Dr. Toulmin at Taunton (Rutt, Life of Priestley, i. 154), and on 1 July 1771 he was admitted at St. Paul's School, London, under Dr. Richard Roberts. The headmaster recommended his parents to send him to the university, but they were strict nonconformists, and would not accept the advice. The lad went into his father's business, and did not wholly withdraw from mercantile pursuits until near the end of his days. But for his literary taste and public zeal he would have died a man of great wealth.

Rutt joined in 1780 the Society for Constitutional Information, which was founded mainly by Major Cartwright (cf. Life of Cartwright, i. 134, ii. 295). Under the spell of the French revolution he became an original and active member of the ‘Society of the Friends of the People,’ to which Lord Grey, Erskine, and other prominent whigs belonged. The sufferings of the Scottish reformers, Muir, Palmer, and Skirving, excited his warmest sympathy; he visited the convicts on board the hulks, when awaiting orders to sail, and sent papers and pamphlets to them in New South Wales (Belsham, Memoirs of T. Lindsey, p. 524). His religious convictions gradually became unitarian, and by 1796 he was a leading member of the Gravel Pit congregation at Hackney, of which Belsham was the pastor. With Priestley and Gilbert Wakefield he was on the closest terms of friendship. He rendered good service to the former after the riots at Birmingham, and he was one of Wakefield's bail, and smoothed his lot after his incarceration in Dorchester gaol. Another intimate friend was Henry Crabb Robinson [q. v.]

On his partial withdrawal from business about 1800 Rutt dwelt for some years at Whitegate House, near Witham in Essex, afterwards alternately at Clapton and Bromley by Bow, and finally settled at Bexley. He aided in founding the ‘Monthly Repository,’ was a regular contributor to its columns, and occasionally acted as its editor (Aspland, Memoir of Robert Aspland, pp. 191, 566). He also wrote in the ‘Christian Reformer,’ the other journal of the unitarians. In 1802 he edited for that religious body a ‘Collection of Prayers, Psalms, and Hymns.’ As a member of the Clothworkers' he worked energetically in the administration of the company's charities, and he laid the first stone of the Domestic Society's school and chapel in Spicer Street, Spitalfields. His public speaking was vigorous, his conversation was animated, and his verses showed facility and playful humour. He died at Bexley on 3 March 1841. He married, in June 1786, Rachel, second daughter of Joseph Pattisson of Maldon, Essex. They had thirteen children, seven of whom, with his widow, survived him. Rachel, the eldest daughter, married Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd [q. v.]

Rutt was the author of a small volume of poetry, entitled ‘The Sympathy of Priests. Addressed to T. F. Palmer, at Port Jackson. With Odes,’ 1792. In conjunction with Arnold Wainewright, he published in 1804 an enlarged edition, brought down to the date of death, of the ‘Memoirs of Gilbert Wakefield,’ originally published by Wakefield in 1792. The years between 1817 and 1831 were chiefly spent in editing the ‘Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Dr. Priestley’ in twenty-five volumes, portions of which were subsequently issued separately. The first volume Rutt separately issued as ‘Life and Correspondence of Joseph Priestley,’ 1831–2, 2 vols. Rutt also edited with ample notes, historical and biographical, the ‘Diary of Thomas Burton, M.P., 1656 to 1659’ (1828), ‘Calamy's Historical Account of my own Life, 1671–1731’ (1830), and ‘The Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys. With a Narrative of his Voyage to Tangier’ (1841) (cf. Macray, Bodleian Library, 2nd ed., pp. 236–7). He contributed several articles to the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana,’ including that on the history of Greece.

[Memorials of J. T. Rutt, for private circulation, 1845; Gent. Mag. 1841, i. 437–8; Gardiner's St. Paul's School, p. 151; Crabb Robinson's Diary, passim; Christian Reformer, 1841, pp. 122, 261–2.]

W. P. C.