Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Young, Matthew
YOUNG, MATTHEW (1750–1800), bishop of Clonfert, was born on 3 Oct. 1750 at Castlerea in the county of Roscommon, and was the fourth son of Owen Young of that town, and grandson of Owen Young, a gentleman of Yorkshire extraction, who had settled at Castlerea in 1706, and became ancestor of the Youngs of Harristown, still resident in the county. His mother was Olivia Maria Bell. He matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1766, obtained a scholarship in 1769, became B.A. in 1772, and M.A. in 1774, in which year he had the suffrages of the majority of senior fellows for a fellowship, but the election was overruled by the provost. He was, however, elected fellow in 1775. He appears to have resided in Dublin, and to have devoted himself for several years entirely to the work of the college. In 1784 he published in London ‘An Enquiry into the Principal Phænomena of Sounds and Musical Strings,’ an endeavour, he says, ‘to vindicate Prop. 47, Book 2, of Newton's “Principia” from the objections which have been made against it, as it appears to me to be the only true principle on which the phænomena of the pulses of air can be explained.’ ‘The phænomena,’ he adds, ‘of musical strings are also accounted for by a theory which is at least plausible; and, though it is not proposed as a rigid demonstration, yet the great variety of experiments which conspire to confirm its truth will probably be looked on as settling it far above conjecture.’ The British Museum copy of the book has numerous manuscript notes, anonymous, but evidently made by a highly competent person, who frequently draws attention to the novelty of Young's views and experiments. In 1786 the degree of D.D. was conferred upon him, and he was elected professor of natural philosophy in Trinity College. A compendium of his lectures was published in 1800, under the title of ‘An Analysis of the Principles of Natural Philosophy’ (Dublin, 8vo), and is remarkable for extreme precision of statement, notwithstanding the wide range of subjects covered. Young exerted himself to promote private research in the college by founding in 1777 a society for the study of Syriac and theology, as well as a philosophical society which became the germ of the Royal Irish Academy. To the transactions of this body Young contributed several papers, chiefly on scientific subjects, but including one upon ancient Gaelic poetry, in which he took much interest.
In 1790 Young appeared as a pamphleteer on a question affecting the government of the college, being the author of an anonymous tract entitled ‘An Enquiry how far the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, is vested with a negative upon the Proceedings of the Senior Fellows.’ The question arose from the claim of the provost, John Hely Hutchinson [q. v.], from which Young himself had suffered, to overrule elections of fellows even against a clear majority of the electors, which, resting upon no better foundation than a usurpation by Provost Richard Baldwin [q. v.], was decided against him by Lord Clare in the following year. In February 1798 Young was raised to the see of Clonfert on the recommendation of the lord lieutenant's principal secretary, who, on being asked by his chief who ought to be promoted, replied that Young was ‘the most distinguished literary character in the kingdom.’ Such was also the opinion of Bennett, bishop of Cloyne, who described Young in 1800 as ‘the ablest man I have seen in the country, with a keen and logical mind, united to exquisite taste. He has the playfulness and ingenuousness of a schoolboy. The church will have a severe loss in him.’ When this was written Young was dying of a cancer in the mouth, which terminated his life at Whitworth in Lancashire on 28 Nov. 1800. His remains were brought to Dublin and interred in the chapel of Trinity College. He married Anne, daughter of Captain Bennet Cuthbertson, and left several children. A pension of 500l. was conferred upon his widow.
Young was a man of extraordinary powers, almost as versatile as his more celebrated namesake, Thomas Young, and only needed longer life to have left a great name. Besides his scientific and theological attainments, he was an amateur in landscape-painting and an enthusiastic botanist. After his elevation to the episcopal bench he prosecuted the study of Syriac with especial reference to an amended version of the Psalms which he had undertaken, and which after being printed in his lifetime as far as Psalm cxli., with annotations, disappeared, and was never seen again until in 1831 William Hamilton Drummond [q. v.] bought a copy (without title-page), now in the British Museum, at an auction in Dublin, and annotated on the flyleaf: ‘This work was printed at the college press, but never published. The bishop died before the work was completed, and, it is said, the present members of the university took all the care they could to prevent any copy from seeing the light, on account of its supposed heterodoxy.’ The imputation may have been grounded upon Young's opinion, expressed in his preface, that ‘the most probable means to ascertain the true meaning is to endeavour to discover the primitive and original sense, without mixing or confounding it with that which is merely secondary or figurative;’ also, perhaps, on his denial that Psalms xxii. and xl. can be interpreted as prophetic of Christ. He was none the less a firm believer in Christianity, and at the time of his death was preparing an essay on ‘Sophisms,’ illustrated by examples from antichristian writers. A more important work in preparation, which must have been of great value, was his ‘Method of Prime and Ultimate Ratios, illustrated by a Comment on the “Principia,”’ in Latin. Its publication was expected after his death, but it never appeared. Two portraits of Young are in the provost's house at Trinity College, Dublin, and a bust is preserved in the library.[Mant's Hist. of the Church of Ireland, ii. 742–5; Gent. Mag. December 1800; Funeral Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Elrington; Memoirs of Sydney, Lady Morgan; private information from the Rev. W. Ball Wright.]