Thomas Parnell (1679-1718)

[Dr. Parnell;] b. Dublin, son of a ‘republican’ who moved to Ireland at the Restoration, purchasing land there with funds from his Cheshire estate at Congleton; ed TCD [aetat. 13], MA 1700; ordained 1703; minor canon of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, 1704; archdeacon of Clogher, Co. Tyrone, 1706-16; friendly with Swift and other mbrs. of Tory party; lived at Glasnevin in Dublin; contrib. occasional allegorical poems to the Spectator and Guardian, 1712-13; grad. DD, Dublin 1712; travelled frequently to London for literary company; aided Pope with his translation of the Iliad, contributing an introductory Essay on Homer; vicar of Finglas, 1716; pieces incl. The Hermit, and The Fairy Tale, both revised by Pope; collected edn. 1721; also Works, ed. Aldine (1894); according to Ggoldsmith he was ‘unequal in his temper’, and might have suffered bipolar depression aggrevated by drinking - especially after the deather of his wife; d. at Chester, 1717; a collection of his poems was published by Pope in 1721m with an introduction. RR CAB ODNB JMC ODQ DIW DIB OCEL FDA OCIL


  • Poems on Several Occasions (London 1747) [see details].
  • The poetical works of Johnson, Parnell, Gray, and Smollett : with memoirs, critical dissertations, and explanatory notes (Edinburgh: J. Nichol 1855), vii, 254pp. pages)
  • An Essay on Different Styles of Poetry (1713), rep. in Robert Mahony, ed., Different Styles of Poetry, Verse by Lord Roscommon, Thomas Parnell, and Jonathan Swift [Irish Writings from the Age of Swift, Vol. VII] (Dublin: Cadenus Press 1979).
  • Claude Rawson & F. P. Lock, eds., Collected Poems of Thomas Parnell (Delaware UP; Assoc. Univ. Presses 1980), 717pp.

Bibliographical details
Poems on Several Occasions / Written by Dr. Thomas Parnell, Late Arch-Deacon of Clogher, and Published by Mr. Pope [Dignum laude Virum Musa vetat mori. Hor.] To which is added the Life of Zoikus and His Remarks on Homer;s Battle of the Frogs and Mice (London: Printed for H. Lintot, J. & R. Tonson & S. Draper MDCCXLVII [1747]), 279pp. + index. [Copy of George Noble Plunkett in PGIL.]

[ top ]

Oliver Goldsmith, Life of Parnell (1770); “Thomas Parnell”, in Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies, Vol.II [of 2] (London & Dublin 1821), pp.460-62 [see extract]; C. J. Rawson, ‘Swift’s Certificate to Parnell’s Posthumous Works’, in Modern Languages Review, 57 (1962), pp.179-82.


Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent [1801], ed., George Watson (OUP Edn. 1964, 1989), “Glossary” [recte by R. L. Edgeworth]: ‘By the by, Parnell, who shewed himself so deeply “skilled of faerie lore”, was an Irishman; and though he has presented his faeries to the world in the ancient English dress of “Britain’s Isle, and Arthur’s days”, it is probable that his first acquaintance with them began in his native country.’ (p.106.)

Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies, Vol.II [of 2] (London & Dublin 1821)

[...] Three years after he was admitted into priest’s orders; and in 1705, Dr. Ashe, Bishop of Clogher, conferred upon him the arch-deaconry of Clogher. About the same time he married Miss Anne Minchin, by whom he had two sons, who died young, and a daughter who long survived him.

About this period he gave some occasional specimens of his poetical talents; but being partial to the enjoyments of social life, and the company of men of wit and learning; and as this was a taste he could gratify at home in a very small degree, he contrived many excursions to London, where he became a favourite. Goldsmith tells us he was unequal in his temper, and that he was always too much elevated, or too much depressed; and that, when under the influence of spleen, he would fly with all expedition to the remote parts of Ireland, and there receive a gloomy kind of satisfaction in giving hideous descriptions of the solitude to which he retired. Having tried this imaginary remedy for some time, he used to collect his revenues, [460] and set out again for England to enjoy the conversation of his friends, Lord Oxford, Swift, Pope, Arbuthnot, and Gay. With Pope he had a more than usual share of intimacy. Pope highly respected him, and they exchanged opinions on each other’s productions with freedom and candour. He afforded Pope some assistance in his translation of Homer, and wrote the life prefixed to it; but Parnell was a very bad prose-writer, and Pope had more trouble in correcting this life than it would have taken him to write it. Being intimate with all the Scriblerus’ tribe, he contributed the “Origin of the Sciences:” and also wrote the “Life of Zoilus,” as a satire on Dennis aad Theobald, with whom the club had long been at variance; and to the Spectator and Guardian he contributed a few papers of very considerable merit, in the form of “Visions.”

It seems probable that he had an ambition to rise by political interest. When the Whigs were ejected, at the end of Queen Anne’s reign, he was persuaded to change his party, not without much censure from those whom he forsook, and was received by the Earl of Oxford and the new ministry as a valuable reinforcement. When Oxford was told that Dr. Parnell waited among the croud [sic] in the outer room, he went, by the persuasion of Swift, with his treasurer’s staff in his hand, to inquire for him, and to bid him welcome; and, as may be inferred from Pope’s dedication, admitted him as a favourite companion to his convivial hours; but it does not appear that all this cordiality was followed by any preferment. Parnell also, conceiving himself qualified to become a popular preacher, displayed his elocution with great success in the pulpits of London; but the Queen’s death putting an end to his expectations, abated his diligence, and from that time be fell into a habit of intemperance, which greatly injured his health; The death of his wife is said to have first driven him to this miserable resource. [...]

A collection of his poems was published in 1721, by Pope, with an elegant epistle to the Earl of Oxford. “His praise,” says Dr. Johnson, “must be derived from the easy sweetness of his diction; in his verses there is more happiness than pains: he is sprightly without effort, and always delights, though he never ravishes: every thing is proper, yet every thing seems casual.”

See full-text copy in RICORSO > Library > Criticism > History > Legacy - via index or as attached.

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1984), notes that Thomas Parnell, archdeacon and friend of Pope, helped the latter with preliminary research for his Iliad, and wrote the introductory essay “On the Life and Writings and Learning of Homer” for Pope’s Iliad, producing a translation of his own for the pseudo-Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice [165]. On Pope’s debt to Parnell, see M. Mack, et al. eds., The Poems of Alexander Pope (London 1667), vii-x; also H. J. Zimmermann, Zur Alexander Popes Noten zu Homer (Heidelberg 1966).

Maurice Craig, review of An Essay on Different Styles of Poetry (1713), rep. in Different Styles of Poetry, Verse by Lord Roscommon, Thomas Parnell, and Jonathan Swift, ed. Robert Mahony (Cadenus 1979), remarking that essay was not included in 1721-22 edition of his poems or the 1758 posthumous works; further, ‘it is easy to see why [...] not very inspired and spoiled by [...] political propaganda’.

[ top ]

Oxford Book of 18th Century Verse gives “A Hymn to Contentment”, “Song” [‘... so strangely you dazzle my eye!’]; “A Night Piece on Death”, from Poems on Several Occasions [p. 155ff].

Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985), notes that Swift secured his promotion to Finglas archdeanery; Poems on Several Occasions (1772), and The Hermit (rpt. 1894) were long popular. Wrote intro. to Pope’s Iliad. Justin McCarthy, Irish Lit., gives extracts from ‘A Night Piece on Death’ and ‘A Hymn to Contentment’. Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles cites introductory essay to Iliad, ‘Night Piece on Death’; ‘Hymn to Contentment’; and ‘The Hermit’. See also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica: Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, pp.460-62.

Oxford Companion to English Literature (ed. Margaret Drabble), cites Goldsmith’s Life of Parnell (1770) and mentions that most of his works were published posthumously by Pope.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, selects “Song” [‘When thy Beauty appears / In its Graces and Airs, / All bright as an Angel new dropt from the Sky / At distance I gaze, and am aw’d by my Fears, / So strangely you dazzle my eye! / ..your Love ... darts from your Eyes pants in your Heart / then I know you’re a Woman again ... she reply’d ... Still an Angel appear to each Lover beside, / But still be a Woman to you’, from Poems on Several Occasions, 467; BIOG, 497, Parnell frequently visted Swift in London and was elected to the Scriblerus Club; Pope edited his poems, and Goldsmith wrote a life published with his poems in an edition of 1770. [Life & Bibl. as supra.]

A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), gives “Song” [119]; “Song” (‘When thy beauty appears ...’) [120]; “A Night-Piece on Death” [120].

[ top ]