Thomas Parnell

The Poetry of Thomas Parnell – Volume III

The Poet Thomas Parnell was born in Ireland on 11th September 1679. At school he is said to have distinguished himself by the retentiveness of his memory; often performing the task allotted for days in a few hours, and being able to repeat forty lines in any book of poems, after the first reading. He entered Trinity College Dublin at the unusually early age of thirteen and took the degree of M.A. in 1700. The same year he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Derry.
Three years after, he was ordained a priest; and in 1705, he was made Archdeacon of Clogher. On receipt of the archdeanery, he married Miss Ann Minchin, by whom he had two sons, who tragically, died young, and a daughter, who was to survive both parents. Up to the fall of the Whigs, at the end of Queen Anne's reign, Parnell appears to have been, like his father, a keen supporter. He now switched political allegiance to the Tories and was hailed as a valuable addition to their ranks. Parnell was blessed with great social qualities and soon fell in with the brilliant set of literary figures; Pope, Swift, Gay.
Parnell first visited London in 1706; and from that period till his death, scarcely a year elapsed without his spending some time in the great metropolis. As soon as he had collected his rents, he would travel to London to enjoy himself though he continued to preach and his sermons were popular even if it appears they were more of the ‘showman’ type. As each London furlough expired, he returned to Ireland, jaded and dispirited, and there took delight in nursing his melancholy; in pining for the amusements of what he had left behind; shunning and sneering at the society around him; and in abusing his native bogs and his fellow-countrymen in verse. In 1712 he lost his wife, with whom he appears to have lived as happily as his morbid temperament and mortified feelings would permit. This blow deepened his melancholy, and drove him, it is said, to excessive drinking. In 1714, his hope of London promotion died with Queen Anne; but in 1716, the same generous Archbishop bestowed on him the vicarage of Finglass, in the diocese of Dublin, worth £400 a-year. However Thomas Parnell did not live long enough to enjoy the full benefit. He died at Chester, about to leave for Ireland, on 24 October 1718.
As a poet his legacy was not of the first order but his poems were greatly appreciated as were his skills as essayist and translator and obviously as a clergyman his talents seemed to have ensured promotion but quite how observant he was given his excess is difficult to judge. Parnell's poetry is lyrical and often is written in heroic couplets. It was said of his poetry 'it was in keeping with his character, easy and pleasing, enunciating the common places with felicity and grace.' He was also one of the so-called “Graveyard poets”: his 'A Night-Piece on Death,' widely considered the first “Graveyard School” poem, which was published posthumously in Poems on Several Occasions, collected and edited by his great friend Alexander Pope.
141 printed pages


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