Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wiffen, Jeremiah Holmes
WIFFEN, JEREMIAH HOLMES (1792–1836), translator of Tasso, eldest son of John Wiffen, ironmonger, by his wife Elizabeth (Pattison), was born at Woburn, Bedfordshire, on 30 Dec. 1792. Both his parents were members of old quaker families. His father died early, leaving six children to the mother's care. His younger brother, Benjamin Barron Wiffen [q. v.], is separately noticed; his youngest sister, Priscilla, married Alaric Alexander Watts [q. v.] At the age of ten Jeremiah entered the Friends' school at Ackworth, Yorkshire, where he improved a taste for poetry and acquired some skill in wood engraving. His linguistic attainments were due to his own later study. At fourteen he became apprenticed to Isaac Payne, schoolmaster, at Epping, Essex. His first appearance in print was in the ‘European Magazine’ (October 1807, p. 308) with an ‘Address to the Evening Star,’ versified from Ossian. His first contribution on an archæological subject was an account of Broxbourne church, Hertfordshire, with an etching by himself (Gent. Mag. 1808, i. 408). In 1811 he returned to Woburn and opened a school in Leighton Road. A hard student, he made himself at home in classics and Hebrew, French, and Italian, and later, Spanish and Welsh. In conjunction with James Baldwin Brown the elder [q. v.] and Thomas Raffles [q. v.] he published ‘Poems by Three Friends’ (1813, 8vo); the joint authorship was acknowledged in the second edition (1815, 12mo). With his brother he published ‘Elegiac Lines’ (1818, 8vo) commemorating William Thompson, quaker schoolmaster of Penketh, Lancashire. His earliest independent volume was ‘Aonian Hours’ (1819, 8vo, dedicated to his brother; 2nd ed. 1820, 8vo). On a visit to the lakes with his brother in the summer of 1819 he made the acquaintance of Southey and of Wordsworth, whose ‘white pantaloons’ and ‘hawk's nose’ are described in his diary. His next book was ‘Julia Alpinula … and other Poems’ (1820, 12mo, dedicated to Alaric A. Watts; 2nd ed. 1820, 12mo). In the summer of 1821 he was appointed librarian at Woburn Abbey to John Russell, sixth duke of Bedford.
In 1821 he issued his ‘Proposals’ for publishing by subscription a new translation of Tasso in Spenserian verse. As a specimen, the fourth book of the ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ was published in 1821, 8vo, with a dissertation on existing translations. His next essay in verse was a translation of ‘The Works of Garcilasso de la Vega,’ 1823, 8vo, dedicated to the Duke of Bedford, with a life of Garcia Lasso de la Vega, and an essay on Spanish poetry. The publication of the completed version of ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ was delayed by a fire in the printing office (which destroyed the sheets of a quarto edition, nearly printed off); it appeared in 1824, dedicated to the Duchess of Bedford, with a life of Tasso and a list of English crusaders (2 vols. 8vo; another edition same year, 3 vols. 8vo; reprinted 1830, 2 vols. 12mo; and in Bohn's series, 1854, 1 vol. 12mo, in addition to several American editions). Hogg, in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ,’ refers to Wiffen as ‘the best scholar among a' the quakers’ and ‘a capital translator, Sir Walter tells me, o' poets wi' foreign tongues, sic as Tasso, and wi' original vein, too.’ The ‘Quarterly’ in an able article concludes that Wiffen, as a translator of Tasso, though he has fairly distanced Hoole and Hunt, cannot hope to contend successfully with Fairfax (June 1826; see also art. Turberville or Turbervile, George). Wiffen declined the degree of LL.D. from Aberdeen in 1827. His ‘Verses … on the Alameda,’ 1827, 4to; ‘Appeal for the Injured African,’ Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1833, 8vo; and ‘Verses … at Woburn Abbey, on … the statues of Locke and Erskine,’ 1836, 4to, complete his poetical publications.
Eight years were spent in the compilation of his ‘Historical Memoirs of the House of Russell,’ 1833, 2 vols. (portrait and plates) in three sizes—atlas folio (thirty-two copies), royal 8vo, and demy 8vo. For the production of this handsome work he made researches during a four months' tour in Normandy.
His death was sudden, at Froxfield, near Woburn, on 2 May 1836; he was buried on 8 May in the Friends' graveyard, Woburn Sands, Buckinghamshire; his portrait (1824) is prefixed to ‘The Brothers Wiffen,’ 1880. He married, on 28 Nov. 1828, at the Friends' meeting-house, Leeds, Mary Whitehead ‘descended from the line of Holinshed the chronicler,’ and had three daughters. Besides the works above noted, he published a ‘Geographical Primer’ (1812), 12mo, and edited ‘Thoughts on the Creation, Fall, and Regeneration,’ 1826, 12mo, by John Humbles, ‘a Bedfordshire peasant.’ A selection of his poems and ballads is given in ‘The Brothers Wiffen.’[Life, by his daughter, Mary Isaline W. Wiffen, in the Brothers Wiffen, 1880, edited by S. R. Pattison; Doeg's Ackworth School Catalogue, 1831; Gent. Mag. 1836, ii. 212; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books, 1867; Biographical Catalogue of Portraits at Devonshire House, 1888, p. 725; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit. and Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), s.v. ‘Tasso.’]