William Melmoth the younger. Engraving by Nicolo Schiavonetti, 1810. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

William Melmoth the younger (1710 - 13 May 1799) was an English lawyer and man of letters.

Life[edit | edit source]

Youth and education[edit | edit source]

Melmoth was the son of William Melmoth the elder by his 2nd wife, Catherine Rolt. He was born in 1710, most probably in London.[1]

He is reported to have studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (cf. Cole's manuscript Athenæ Cantabr.), and was certainly well educated and a good classical scholar.[1]

Career[edit | edit source]

Bred to the law, Melmoth soon abandoned it in order to seek studious quiet in the country. He left London before 1739, and marrying about the same time, settled near Shrewsbury. There he wrote Letters on Several Subjects, his earliest book (published in 1742, under the pseudonym of Sir Thomas Fitzosborne). His wife, the "Cleora" of the Letters, was Dorothy, daughter of William King, principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford.[1]

He afterwards contributed many fugitive anonymous essays and verse to the World, but he chiefly occupied himself in his retirement in translating Pliny and Cicero. In 1746 appeared his Letters of Pliny the Younger. A 2nd edition was printed in 1747, a 3rd in 1748. [1]

He had meanwhile collected material for a 2nd volume of Fitzosborne's Letters, which he published in 1748 with a translation of the "De Oratoribus" added to the closing letter. Bowyer brought out the 2 volumes of ‘Letters’ together in the same year, in the form that is now familiar.[1]

In 1753 Melmoth published his translation of Cicero's Ad Familiares,[1] with a careful study of Cicero's character in the running comment. His next work — a translation of the De Senectute — appeared in 1773.[2]

In 1756 Sir John Eardley Wilmot had appointed Melmoth a commissioner of bankrupts, and his letter of thanks, dated 6 December 1756, suggests that the office was more welcome than the easy circumstances of his earlier life would warrant (Memoirs of Wilmot, 1802, pp. 9–10). A few years later his wife died, and he broke up his home at Shrewsbury.[2]

In 1769 he had settled in Bath. There shortly afterwards he married Mrs. Ogle, a malicious rumour tracing a scene in Garrick's Irish Widow to the circumstances of the engagement.[2]

The De Senectute was followed in 1777 by the De Amicitia, with a note on Roman friendship. The Travels in Switzerland of William Coxe consist of letters addressed to Melmoth at this period (1776-17799), and in the edition of 1801 Coxe expresses unstinted admiration of the latter as his literary guide (Advert. p. viii).[2]

In 1791 Jacob Bryant, in his learned and foolish attempt to prove that Rome tolerated every religion except the Christian, attacked Melmoth for asserting in his Pliny that the persecution under Trajan was due not to imperial bigotry, but to the principles of the Roman state. Melmoth vindicated himself in a pamphlet published in 1793, comparing his task, not without fitness, to that of Laberius.[2]

His last work was dedicated to his father's memory: the Memoir of a Late Eminent Advocate, published in 1796. His Fitzosborne reached a 10th edition that year, but in a letter to Wilmot, son of his old patron, he speaks of himself as weak, bedridden, and old.[2]

Melmoth was a familiar figure in Bath literary society of the close of the century. Mrs. Thrale described a meeting with him at Mrs. Montagu's in 1780, and drew from Johnson the characteristic snort, ‘From the author of “Fitzosborne's Letters” I cannot think myself in much danger. I met him only once, about thirty years ago, and in some small dispute reduced him to whistle’ (Boswell, Life, ed. G. B. Hill, iii. 422–4, iv. 272 n.)[2]

An interesting reference to Melmoth is in the Notes from the Pocket Book of a late Opium Eater: ‘A lady who had been educated by Melmoth,’ writes De Quincey, ‘told me about 1813 that she had a trunk full of his manuscripts. As an article of literary gossip this may as well be made known, for some author writing a biographical dictionary may be interested in knowing all that can now be known of Melmoth, and may even wish to examine his manuscripts. … For my part I never looked into the Fitzosborne's Letters since my boyhood; but the impression I then derived from them was, that Melmoth was a fribble in literature, and one of the “sons of the feeble.” Accordingly I shrank myself even from the “sad civility” of asking to look at the manuscripts.’[2]

Melmoth was of middle height, spare, with bright, quick eyes, and a deeply lined face.[2]

He died at No. 12 Bladud's Buildings, Bath, on 13 May 1799, and was buried at Batheaston.[2]

Writing[edit | edit source]

Verse[edit | edit source]

Melmoth's daintiest and most finished effort in verse was the ode written to his wife for the 3rd anniversary of their wedding (Fitzosborne's Letters, 35).[1]

Pliny[edit | edit source]

The grace and accuracy of Melmoth's translation of Pliny's Letters are remarkable, and partly explain Birch's extravagant praise. Warton placed it among works that are better than their originals. Even Mathias, in his Pursuits of Literature (ed. 1798, p. 355 and note), has a pleasant word for it.[1]

Recognition[edit | edit source]

There is a Latin epitaph to Melmoth on a tablet in Bath Abbey.[2]

Melmoth had verse anthologized in Dodsley's Collection of Poems in Six Volumes; by several hands and Pearch's Collection of Poems in Six Volumes; by several hands.[3]

Melmoth’s translation of Pliny’s letters was published in the Harvard Classics.[4]

Publications[edit | edit source]

Non-fiction[edit | edit source]

  • Letters on Several Subjects(as "Sir Thomas Fitzosborne"). 1742;[1] London: R. Dodsley, 1749; Dublin: M. Owen / G. Faulkner / W. Brien, 1749; 3rd edition, London: J. Dodsley, 1750; 10th edition, London: J. Dodsley, 1795; New York: Garland, 1971.
  • Fitzosborne's Letters, Vol. ii. 1747.; London: R. Dodsley, 1749.
  • Memoir of a Late Eminent Advocate. London : Printed for T. Cadell, Jun. & W. Davies, (successors to Mr. Cadell) in the Strand, 1796.

Translated[edit | edit source]

  • Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Letters of Pliny the Younger. London: 1746
    • Epistles of Pliny (edited by Clifford H. Moore). Boston: Bibliophile Society, 1925.
    • (revised by F.C.T. Bosanquet); printed with Cicero, Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero: with his Treatises on Friendship and Old Age (translated by E.S. Shuckburgh). New York: Collier, 1909.
  • Cicero, Cato and Lælius: or, essays on old-age and friendship. (2 volumes), London: J. Dodsley, 1777.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at:. Wikisource, Web, Sep. 14, 2020.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Cramb, 225.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Cramb, 226.
  3. William Melmoth, Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive. Web, Sep. 14, 2020.
  4. William Melmoth, Online Library of Liberty. Web, Sep. 14, 2020.
  5. Search results = au: William Melmoth 1799, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 14, 2020.

External links[edit | edit source]

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Books
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Melmoth, William (1710-1799)

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