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Farmer, Richard

FARMER, RICHARD (1735-1797), Shakespearian commentator, the son of a rich maltster, was born at Leicester on the 28th of August 1735. He was educated at the free grammar school of his native town, and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1757 a senior optime; three years later he proceeded M.A. and became classical tutor, and in 1775 master of his college, in succession to William Richardson, the biographer of the English bishops. In the latter year also he was appointed vice-chancellor, and three years afterwards chief librarian of the university. In 1780 he was appointed to a prebendal stall in Lichfield, and two years later to one at Canterbury; but the second office he exchanged in 1788 for that of a canon residentiary of St Paul's. Cambridge, where he usually resided, was indebted to him for improvements in lighting, paving and watching; but perhaps London and the nation have less reason to be grateful for his zealous advocacy of the custom of erecting monuments to departed worthies in St Paul's. In 1765 he issued a prospectus for a history of the town of Leicester; but this work, based on materials collected by Thomas Staveley, he never even began; it was carried out by the learned printer John Nichols. In 1766 he published his famous Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare, in which he proved that the poet's acquaintance with ancient and modern Continental literature was exclusively derived from translations, of which he copied even the blunders. "Shakespeare," he said, "wanted not the stilts of language to raise him above all other men." "He came out of nature's hand, like Pallas out of Jove's head, at full growth and mature." "One might," he said - by way of ridiculing the Shakespearian criticism of the day - "with equal wisdom, study the Talmud for an exposition of Tristram Shandy." The essay fully justifies the author's description of himself in the preface to the second edition: "I may consider myself as the pioneer of the commentators; I have removed a deal of learned rubbish, and pointed out to them Shakespeare's track in the very pleasant paths of nature." Farmer died at Cambridge on the 8th of September 1797. He was, it appears, twice offered a bishopric by Pitt, but declined the preferment. Farmer was immensely popular in his own college, and loved, it was said, above all other things, old port, old clothes and old books.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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