Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Symmons, Charles

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SYMMONS, CHARLES (1749–1826), man of letters, born at Pembroke in 1749, was the younger son of John Symmons of Llanstinan, Pembrokeshire, M.P. for Cardigan from March 1746 to 1761, and presumably the John Symmons who died in George Street, Hanover Square, London, on 7 Nov. 1771. He was admitted at Westminster school on 14 Jan. 1765, and was even then fond of poetical exercises. In 1767 he was at the university of Glasgow, where he laid the foundation of an ardent friendship with William Windham [q. v.] He went to Cambridge as a ten-year man in 1776, being admitted on 14 Feb. in that year, and graduated B.D. in 1786. He was probably ordained in the English church about 1775, and in 1778 he was appointed to the rectory of Narberth with Robeston in Pembrokeshire. In 1787 he printed a volume of sermons which passed into a second edition in 1789. He was appointed to the prebendal stall of Clydey in St. David's Cathedral on 11 Oct. 1789.

Soon after the trial of William Frend [q. v.] in 1793, Symmons came into residence at Cambridge to keep the exercises for taking the degree of D.D. These involved the preaching of two sermons, one in English and the other in Latin, before the members of the university at St. Mary's. In the former he expressed some whig doctrines which were seized on by his political antagonists at Cambridge. One of them, Thomas Kipling [q. v.], borrowed the manuscript under some pretence and then sent extracts, garbled and detached from the context, to the bishop of St. David's, Windham, and others. Symmons thereupon wrote to Kipling a ‘long and powerful letter’ of reproach, fifty copies of which were printed and distributed by Henry Gunning [q. v.] among members of the university. Under the apprehension that obstacles would be thrown in his way should he attempt to take the higher degree at Cambridge, Symmons was incorporated at Jesus College, Oxford, on 24 March 1794, and proceeded D.D. two days later. In the same year Windham secured for him, after considerable difficulty on account of the whig sermon, the rectory of Lampeter Velfrey in Pembrokeshire, which adjoined Narberth, where he was already beneficed. Narberth and Lampeter are two of the most valuable livings in the diocese of St. David's. Symmons retained these preferments, with his prebend at St. David's, until his death.

Symmons was a good scholar and a man of considerable attainments in literature. He expressed his political views at all times without reserve, and it was thought that but for this freedom he would have risen to a much higher position in the church. For many years he lived at Chiswick, passing his time from early morning in the literary pursuits that he loved. ‘Old age, disease, and death came on in the short space of two months.’ He died at Bath on 27 April 1826. He married in 1779 Elizabeth, daughter of John Foley of Ridgeway, Pembrokeshire, and sister of Sir Thomas Foley [q. v.] They had issue two sons and three daughters. The widow died at Penglan Park, Carmarthenshire, in July 1830.

His works comprise:

  1. ‘Inez,’ a tragedy [anon.], 1796; reissued in 1812 in No. 4 below. It was dedicated to Windham.
  2. ‘Constantia,’ a dramatic poem, 1800.
  3. ‘Life of Milton,’ prefixed to an edition of Milton's prose Works published in 1806, 7 vols.; the life occupied vol. vii. The second edition, with some fresh information supplied by James Bindley [q. v.], was published separately in 1810, and the third in 1822 (Gent. Mag. 1813, i. 25, 326).
  4. ‘Poems by Caroline [his daughter, who died of consumption on 1 June 1803] and Charles Symmons,’ 1812; two impressions, one on small and another on large paper.
  5. ‘The Æneis of Virgil translated,’ 1817. The fourth, sixth, and seventh books in this rhymed translation had been separately printed. A revised edition was published in two volumes in 1820.
  6. ‘Life of Shakespeare, with some remarks upon his dramatic writings,’ prefixed to the edition of Shakespeare in 1826 by Samuel Weller Singer [q. v.]

Symmons published several sermons, the most remarkable being preached in Richmond church on 12 Oct. 1806, on Charles James Fox. He is said to have been the editor of the ‘British Press,’ and to have contributed to the ‘Monthly Review’ (Biogr. Dict. 1816, p. 338).

His son, John Symmons (1781–1842), went to Westminster school, and matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, 11 April 1799, aged 18, when he was elected to a studentship. He graduated B.A. in 1803, M.A. in 1806, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 24 Nov. 1807, going the Welsh circuit. He probably died at Deal in 1842. A translation by him of ‘The Agamemnon of Æschylus’ (1824) was much praised by Professor Wilson (Works, 1857, viii. 390–459). He assisted his father in the 1820 translation of Virgil, and some Greek lines by him, written as he was crossing to Paris, appear in the ‘Monumental Inscriptions, &c., on the Grace Family’ (pp. 10 and 26). Dr. Parr left mourning rings to both father and son, and lauded the son's ‘capacious and retentive memory, various and extensive learning, unassuming manners, and ingenuous temper.’

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Barker and Stenning's Westminster School Register; Gent. Mag. 1805 i. 584, 1826 i. 450, 552, 565–7, 1830 ii. 382; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 322; Gunning's Reminiscences, i. 311–16; Field's Parr, ii. 298–301; John Taylor's Records of my Life, ii. 367–70; Cradock's Memoirs, iv. 532; information from Rev. Dr. Atkinson, Clare College, Cambridge.]

W. P. C.