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Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839)

This article was written by Lesie Stephen and was published in 1896

Winthrop Mackworth Praed, poet, third son of William Mackworth Praed, of Bitton House, Teignmouth, Devonshire, serjeant-at-law, and for many years chairman of the audit board, was born on 26 July 1802 at 35 John Street, Bedford Row, London. His father was the grandson of William Mackworth, second son of Sir Humphry Mackworth, who took the additional name of Praed upon his marriage about 1730 to Martha, daughter and heir of John Praed of Trevethow in Cornwall. The maiden name of the poet's mother was Winthrop. The Winthrops of New England are a branch of the same family.

Winthrop Praed was a delicate and precocious child. His mother died a year after his birth, and his earliest education was superintended by an elder sister, to whom he was tenderly attached; she died in 1830. He gave up pressing occupations in order to attend her in her last illness. In 1810 he was placed at Langley Broom school, near Colnbrook, under a Mr. Atkins. He read Plutarch and Shakespeare, and became a good chess-player. He wrote dramas and sent poems home, which were carefully criticised by his father. On 28 March 1814 he entered Eton in the house of F. J. Plumtre, afterwards a fellow of Eton College. An elder brother helped him in his studies; and Plumtre gave prizes for English verse, which were generally divided between Praed and George William Frederick Howard (afterwards seventh Earl of Carlisle).

In 1820 he started a manuscript journal, the ‘Apis Matina,’ of which he wrote about half. It was succeeded by the ‘Etonian,’ the most famous of school journals. Walter Blount was Praed's colleague as editor. Some of his contributors were already at college. Among the chief writers were H. N. Coleridge, Sidney Walker, C. H. Townshend, and John Moultrie, who describes Praed in his ‘Dream of Life’. Praed signed his articles as ‘Peregrine Courtenay,’ the imaginary president of the ‘King of Clubs,’ supposed to conduct the paper. Charles Knight (1791-1873) published the ‘Etonian,’ which lasted for ten months. Praed was a member of the debating society during his last year at school, and helped to found the boys' library. He acted in private theatricals; was chosen by his senior schoolfellow, Edward Bouverie Pusey, as a worthy competitor in chess; and, though too delicate for rougher exercises, was the best fives-player in the school.

In October 1821 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, with a high reputation, and read classics with Macaulay, who was two years his senior. He cared little for mathematics, and only just avoided the ‘wooden spoon.’ He failed, though he only just failed, to win the university scholarship; but he won the Sir William Browne medals for Greek ode in 1822 and 1823, and for epigrams in 1822 and 1824. He won the college declamation prize in 1823, and chancellor's medal for English poem in 1823 (‘Australasia’) and 1824 (‘Athens’). He was bracketed third in the classical tripos for 1825. His classical verses, specimens of which are preserved in the ‘Musæ Etonenses’ (Series Nova, tom. ii. 1869), show, besides good scholarship, unusual facility and poetic feeling. Praed was especially distinguished at the union, where his seniors, Macaulay and Charles Austin, were then conspicuous and his only superiors. He generally took the radical side in opposition to Macaulay.

In the autumn of 1822 Knight started and edited his ‘Quarterly Magazine,’ to which Praed was the chief contributor. Macaulay and some of the old contributors to the ‘Etonian’ also wrote. Praed's contributions were in the first three or four numbers; and he took no part in a continuation afterwards attempted. In 1823 he published, through Charles Knight, ‘Lillian, a Fairy Tale,’ a jeu d'esprit written at Trinity in October 1822. In 1826 Knight started, with Praed's help, a weekly paper called ‘The Brazen Head,’ which lasted only for four numbers. After graduating B.A. in 1825, Praed became private tutor at Eton to Lord Ernest Bruce, younger son of the Marquis of Ailesbury. He read for a fellowship at Trinity, to which he was elected in 1827, and in 1830 he won the Seatonian prize-poem. He finally left Eton at the end of 1827.

On 29 May 1829 he was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, and joined the Norfolk circuit. His ambition, however, was for parliamentary life. He was no longer a liberal, though in 1829 he was on the committee of William Cavendish (afterwards seventh Duke of Devonshire) when the latter was the whig candidate for Cambridge University. The statesman whom he most admired was his fellow Etonian, Canning. After Canning's death in 1827 he became alarmed at the democratic tendencies of the reformers; and his fastidious and scholarly temperament made contempt for demagogues more congenial than popular enthusiasm. At an earlier period he had been strongly in favour of Roman catholic emancipation; but when that question was settled, his political sympathies were completely conservative. Overtures were made to him to accept a seat in the House of Commons with a view to opposing him to Macaulay, who had recently entered parliament. Praed said that he would not accept a post which involved ‘personal collision with any man;’ but was otherwise ready to support the conservative government. The negotiation dropped; but in December 1830 he bought the seat of St. Germans for two years for £1,000. He made a successful maiden speech on the cotton duties; and though his next speech, on the Reform Bill, brought some disappointment, he improved as a debater. He proposed an amendment in favour of ‘minority representation,’ according to which each constituent was to vote for two candidates only when three places were to be filled. Another amendment, providing that freeholds in a borough should give votes for the borough and not for the county, was proposed by him in a very successful speech, and led to friendly attentions from Sir Robert Peel. St. Germans was disfranchised by the Reform Bill, and Praed stood, unsuccessfully, for St. Ives, Cornwall, near which a branch of the Praeds lived in the family seat of Trevethow. He published, at Penzance, anonymously, in 1833, ‘Trash dedicated without respect to James Halse, esq., M.P.,’ his successful rival. Praed remained out of parliament till 1834; and during this period wrote much prose and verse in the ‘Morning Post,’ which became the leading conservative paper, a result attributed to his contributions. In 1833 the Duke of Wellington furnished him with materials for a series of articles in opposition to some changes in the ordnance department, and subsequently requested Praed to defend him in the ‘Morning Post’ against an attack in the ‘Times.’ The duke invited Praed to Walmer Castle, and treated him with great confidence.

At the general election at the end of 1834 Praed was returned for Great Yarmouth, and was appointed secretary to the board of control by Peel during his short administration. His father died in 1835, and in the same summer he married Helen, daughter of George Bogle. His later parliamentary career was not conspicuous. He retired from Great Yarmouth in 1837, and was elected for Aylesbury. In 1838 he was much occupied with his friend Derwent Coleridge and others in agitating for an improvement of national education, which led to the introduction of the national system under the committee of council on education in 1839. He was deputy high steward to the university of Cambridge during his later years. His health, which had never been strong, began to break in 1838, and he died of a rapid consumption, at Chester Square, on 15 July 1839. He was buried at Kensal Green. He left two daughters, Helen Adeline Mackworth and Elizabeth Lilian Mackworth. His widow died in 1863.

A portrait, showing a very refined head, is prefixed to the ‘Poems’ of 1864. He wrote, according to Charles Knight, a singularly beautiful hand. Praed's best poetry shows very remarkable grace and lightness of touch. His political squibs would perhaps have been more effective had they been more brutal; but Praed could not cease to be a gentleman even as a politician. The delicacy of feeling, with a dash of acid though never coarse satire, gives a pleasant flavour to his work; and in such work as the ‘Red Fisherman’ he shows an imaginative power which tempts a regret for the diffidence which limited his aspirations. Probably, however, he judged rightly that his powers were best fitted for the lighter kinds of verse.

Praed had continued to write occasional poems in keepsakes and elsewhere. The first collection of his poems, edited by R. W. Griswold, appeared at New York in 1844; an enlarged edition of the same appeared in 1850. Another (American), edited by W. A. Whitmore, appeared in 1859. An authorised edition, edited by Derwent Coleridge, with the assistance of Praed's sister, Lady Young, and his nephew, Sir George Young, appeared in 1864; ‘Selections,’ by Sir George Young, were published in 1866; and ‘Political and Occasional Poems,’ edited with notes by the same, in 1888. Those in the first part appeared in the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ the ‘Brazen Head,’ the ‘Sphynx’ (a paper edited by James Silk Buckingham), the ‘Times,’ and elsewhere down to 1831. Those in the second part appeared in the ‘Albion,’ a morning paper, from 1830 to 1832, and the rest in the ‘Morning Post’ 1832 to 1834. The third part consists of three satires, written in 1838-9, previously unpublished. Praed's essays — that is to say, his contributions in prose to the ‘Etonian,’ ‘Knight's Quarterly,’ and the ‘London Magazine’ — were collected in a volume of Henry Morley's ‘Universal Library’ in 1887; selections of his poems also appeared in Moxon's ‘Miniature Library’ (1885), and in the ‘Canterbury Poets,’ ed. Frederick Cooper (1886).

The Whitmore edition erroneously ascribed to Praed some poems by Edward Marlborough Fitzgerald, omitted in Derwent Coleridge's edition. Fitzgerald was a friend and imitator of Praed; and for some time they used the same signature ‘—.’ Praed corrected some of Fitzgerald's poems.

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