Thomas Russell - Encyclopedia


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THOMAS RUSSELL (1762-1788), English poet, was born at Beaminster, early in 1762. He was the son of John Russell, an attorney at Bridport, in Dorsetshire, and his mother was Miss Virtue Brickle, of Shaftesbury. He was educated at the grammar school of Bridport, and in 1777 proceeded to Winchester, where he stayed three years, under Dr Joseph Warton, and Thomas Warton, the professor of poetry. In 1780 Russell became a member of New College, Oxford. He graduated B.A. in 1784 and was ordained priest in 1786. During his residence at the university he devoted himself to French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Provencal and even German literature. His health, however, broke down, and he retired to Bristol hot wells to drink the waters; but in vain, for he died there on the 31st of July 1788. He was buried in Powerstock churchyard, Dorset. In 1789 was published a thin volume, containing his Sonnets and Miscellaneous Poems, now a very rare book. It contained twenty-three sonnets, of regular form, and a few paraphrases and original lyrics. The sonnets are the best, and it is by right of these that Russell takes his place as one of the most interesting precursors of the romantic school. "War, Love, the Wizard, and the Fay he sung"- in other words, he rejected entirely the narrow circle of subjects laid down for 18th-century poets. In this he was certainly influenced both by Chatterton and by Collins. But he was still more clearly the disciple of Petrarch, of Boccaccio and of Camoens, each of whom he had carefully and enthusiastically studied. His sonnet, "Suppos'd to be written at Lemnos," is his masterpiece, and is unquestionably the greatest English sonnet of the 18th century.

The anonymous editor of Russell's solitary volume is said to have been William Howley (1766-1848), long afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, who was a youthful bachelor of New College when Russell, who had been his tutor, died. His memoir of the poet is very perfunctory, and the fullest account of Russell is that published in 1897 by T. Seccombe.

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