« PreviousContinue »
PHILIP WITHERS, D. D. was a writer of considerable distinction in the last century; he was a native of Westbury, in the county of Wilts, at which place his father carried on the business of a clothier. The period of his birth is not mentioned, but we find that he received the rudiments of education at a school near Westbury. Being designed for business, he was sent up to London (his father having died when he was only twelve years of age): this plan, however, proving, disagreeable to him, he went some time after to the grammar-school at Hull, of which the late Rev. Mr. Milner was the master: he made such rapid progress in his studies, that he was admitted a member of Trinity College at Cambridge in the year 1777. Here he continued about one year and a half, when he removed to Queen's College (where Mr. Milner's brother was tutor), and he is said to have attained great proficiency in the Greek and Latin languages.
About this time proposals appeared for a splendid edition of the Table of Ceres, with plates and notes, to be published by some gen
tlemen of the university of Cambridge, for the benefit of the sons of the clergy. Withers, who was one of the editors, or perhaps sole editor (for he never made known any coadjutors), waited upon Archbishop Cornwallis with the prospectus of the work, to solicit his patronage. The dignified prelate received him with great civility, but is said to have declined giving any answer, until he had made some inquiries respecting the talents and character of Withers. The author subsequently published new proposals, with the Archbishop's name affixed as the patron of the intended work; but from some misunderstanding among the parties concerned, the work never made its appearance.
Shortly after the failure of this undertaking, our Author left Cambridge, and repaired to London, in which city (viz. in St. Mary Axe), he received a few young gentlemen upon liberal terms of remuneration to prepare them for the University, and in the ensuing year he obtained the Lectureship of St. Clement, Eastcheap. In 1783 he resided at Paddington, and rented Bentinck Chapel. About the same time he began his literary career, by publishing a letter to the Rev. Samuel Dennis, D. D. Vice Chancellor of Oxford, in reply to one signed Vindex. Conceiving that letter to have been directed against his own character, he endeavoured to vindicate himself from the charge of ignorance and methodism, which it contained; and, like Ajax of old, boldly confident in himself, he stepped forward and threw the intellectual gauntlet, by challen
ging any member of the university of Oxford to a trial of critical skill in the Greek language. This pamphlet is thus characterized in the Monthly Review for that year:-" We have not lately perused a better written performance. The language is spirited and elegant; the sentiments are candid, liberal, and modestly advanced, and the whole bespeaks the writer a gentleman and a scholar." In 1787 he published a pamphlet under the title of Cassandra; and in 1789 produced his Aristarchus, or the Principles of Composition, which is beyond question the most valuable of all his productions, and may justly entitle him to rank among the first of the philosophical philologists in this or any other country. Mr. Horne Tooke having published in 1786 his learned work, entitled Winged Words, or the Diversions of Purley, it is highly probable that this circumstance induced Withers to write his Aristarchus, which is every way worthy to become its Vade-mecum: in this work, he has every claim to originality; his style is elegant, perspicuous, and powerful; his explanations of the alphabet, description of symbols, and of the circle, are beyond all praise. The same year, he signalized himself by writing several pamphlets on the subject of the King's indisposition, the Regency, and the supposed matrimonial connexion between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert. He also published a work entitled Nemesis, but of which he was not the author: he received the manuscript from a person unknown, at the time he was
writing against the supposed marriage of Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales. For publishing Nemesis he was prosecuted and convicted. When brought up to receive judgment, his conduct was indiscreet in the extreme, and tended in no small degree to exaggerate his punishment, which was, that he should pay a fine of fifty pounds, and be imprisoned in Newgate for the space of twelve calendar months: during this term of his confinement, he died in consequence of a fever occasioned by overheating himself at a game of fives. This event took place in July, 1790, when he was buried at Chelsea, near London.
P. S. His widow, and a son and daughters, are still living, but they are wholly unconcerned in the publication of this work (although it was, upon the death of the Author in 1790, published for their benefit): indeed, we were not aware of their existence until after it came from the press. We insert these remarks at the request of Mr. Withers.