Wright, Ichabod Charles (DNB00)

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WRIGHT, ICHABOD CHARLES (1795–1871), translator of Dante, was born at Mapperley Hall, Nottinghamshire, on 11 April 1795. His father, Ichabod Wright (1767–1862), a descendant of the old Suffolk family of Wright, was a grandson of Ichabod Wright (1700–1777), who was originally an ‘ironmonger’ of Nottingham, but subsequently, in 1761, founded the bank in Long Row in that town. The younger Ichabod, who took an active part in all local matters, was admitted a freeman of the town in 1791, was commandant of the South Nottinghamshire yeomanry when it was enrolled in 1794, and many years later presented the ‘Mapperley Cup’ as a prize for the best marksman of the Robin Hood volunteers. He married, on 28 Jan. 1794, Harriett Maria (d. 1843), daughter of Benjamin Day of Yarmouth and Norwich, and died at his seat of Mapperley on 14 Nov. 1862, leaving three sons and ten daughters.

The eldest son, Ichabod Charles, was educated at Eton (1808–14) and at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 22 April 1814. He graduated B.A. (with second-class honours) in 1817 and M.A. in 1820, and held an open fellowship at Magdalen, 1819–25. He became a joint manager of the bank at Nottingham in 1825, and on 21 Dec. in the same year he married Theodosia, daughter of Thomas Denman, first lord Denman [q.v.] . His best energies were devoted henceforth to his business and to the theory of banking, in connection with which he published some pamphlets. Between 1830 and 1840, however, he gave his leisure to the study of Italian literature, and produced a metrical translation of the ‘Divina Commedia’ which entitles him to a high place among the popularisers of Dante in England. A few years before his father's death he moved from Bramcote, near Nottingham, to Stapleford Hall, Derbyshire. He died on 14 Oct. 1871 at Heathfield Hall, Burwash, Sussex, the residence of his eldest son, Charles Ichabod Wright, lieutenant-colonel of the Robin Hood rifles and M.P. for Nottingham 1868–9. His widow died on 20 May 1895.

Wright's version of the ‘Divina Commedia’ was issued originally in three instalments, dedicated respectively to Lord Brougham, Archbishop Howley, and Lord Denman, ‘all ardent admirers of Dante’ (the translator further acknowledged special encouragement and help from Panizzi and from Count Marioni). The first instalment, ‘The Inferno of Dante translated into English Rhyme: with an Introduction and Notes’ (London, 1833, 8vo, and 1841), was commended by the ‘Athenæum,’ and the ‘Edinburgh’ entreated Wright to proceed; but the ‘Quarterly,’ ‘with every disposition to encourage any gentleman in an elegant pursuit,’ conceived it to be its duty to ask ‘how far (Cary's volumes being in every collection) it was worth Mr. Wright's while to undertake a new version of Dante.’ What little advantage, concludes the reviewer, Wright may have gained as to manner is counterbalanced by losses on the side of matter (July 1833). ‘The Purgatorio, translated into English Rhyme’ (1837 and 1840), was, however, generally thought to have increased Wright's reputation, and it was followed in 1840 by ‘The Paradise.’ The three portions were published together in 1845 as ‘The Vision and Life of Dante,’ and reissued in Bohn's Illustrated Library (1854 and 1861), with thirty-four illustrations on steel after Flaxman. Wright's version, which derived much benefit from the commentary (1826) of Gabriele Rossetti, is generally admitted to be accurate and scholarly, but the stanza which the translator adopted, in preference to essaying the terza rima, must be held to detract considerably from the effect.

After an interval of nineteen years Wright issued the first part of his ‘The Iliad of Homer, translated into English Blank Verse’ (Cambridge, 1859, 8vo; the last portion down to the end of book xiv. appeared in December 1864). The blank verse was good without being striking, and Matthew Arnold wrote in his ‘Lectures on translating Homer’ (1861) that Wright's version, repeating in the main the merits and defects of Cowper's version, as Sotheby's repeated those of Pope's version, had, ‘if he might be pardoned for saying so, no proper reason for existing.’ This drew from the translator ‘A Letter to the Dean of Canterbury on the Homeric Lectures of Matthew Arnold, Esq., Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford’ (Cambridge, 1861, 8vo). Wright poked fun, not unsuccessfully, at the professor of poetry's ex cathedra English hexameters, and this reflection upon the chair of poetry at the ancient university elicited from Arnold (in the preface to ‘Essays in Criticism’) his notable apostrophe to Oxford, ‘adorable dreamer,’ and his appeal to Wright to pardon a vivacity doomed to be silenced in the imminent future by the ‘magnificent roaring of the young lions of the “Daily Telegraph”.’

In addition to his versions of Dante and Homer, by which alone he is remembered, Wright published ‘Thoughts on the Currency’ (1841), ‘The Evils of the Currency’ (1847), an exposition of Sir Robert Peel's Bank Charter Act of 1844 (a valuable contribution to its subject, which reached a sixth edition in 1855), and ‘The War and our Resources’ (with an abstract of the lords' report on commercial distress in 1848), 1855.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Gent. Mag. 1863, i. 518; Burke's Landed Gentry; Stapylton's Eton Lists, pp. 60, 66; Bailey's Annals of Nottingham; Wylie's Old and New Nottingham, p. 203; Nottingham Daily Guardian, 18 and 21 Oct. 1871; Times, 18 and 23 Oct. 1871; Men of the Time, 1868; Men of the Reign; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.