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ONE OF THE VICE-PRESIDENTS OF THE LITERARY FUND.
The subject of this brief memoir was descended from the Desmond branch of the illustrious family of the Fitz-Geralds of Ireland. At the time of the attainder of the great Earl of Desmond, in 1582, the Earl's estates commanded almost four counties: his lands extended a hundred and ten miles, containing 574,638 acres, whereon were many strong castles, and goodly manors and lordships; and five hundred gentlemen of his own name and family were always ready to follow him to the field.
Of this powerful and opulent nobleman, Mr. Fitz-Gerald's father, the late John Anstruther Fitz-Gerald, Esq. was the lineal descendant and representative. He was a Colonel in the service of the States General; and married Henrietta, daughter of Samuel Martin, Esq. of Antigua, and sister of Samuel Martin, Esq., Secretary of the Treasury, whose duel with Wilkes, consequent on a quarrel in the lobby of the House of Commons, made a great noise at the time it was fought. Colonel Fitz-Gerald was so great a favourite with his late Majesty, that, in the year 1763, he and his servants were allowed to carry arms,— a permission which, at that period, was seldom accorded to Catholics.
Mr. Fitz-Gerald was born on the 13th of April, 1759. He received the first part of his education at Greenwich, under the predecessor of Dr. Charles Burney, father of the present learned master of that distinguished school. He was afterwards sent to the Royal College of Navarre, in the University of Paris; and when Mr. Fitz-Gerald left college, his father presented him to the King of France, Louis the Sixteenth, and his lovely Queen. So highly was the Colonel honoured, that he was invited to the balls and private parties of that Court; as was also his son—even to the choice circle at the Petite Trianon.
Upon his return to England, Mr. Fitz-Gerald was entered as a member of the Inner Temple, and became a pupil of the late Sir Vicary Gibbs. The gaiety of his life, however, moving as he did in the first circles of rank and fashion, flattered by the notice of his late Majesty, and frequently invited to the royal parties, indisposed him for that laborious study which is essential to success in the learned, or, indeed, in any other profession.
In the year 1782, through the interest of his uncle, Henry Martin, Esq., Commissioner at Portsmouth, (afterwards Comptroller of the Navy, and created a Baronet in 1791,) and who had adopted him and his then two surviving sisters, Mr. Fitz-Gerald obtained a situation in the Victualling branch of the Navy Pay-office; in which he continued, rising as vacancies occurred, until about twenty-five years since, when he retired upon the allowance usually allotted to such length of service.
Among Mr. Fitz-Gerald's earlier poems are, " The Sturdy Reformer;" "The Tribute of an humble Muse to an unfortunate Captive Queen, Widow of a murdered King;" and "Lines on the Murder of the Queen of France." About the same period, also, Mr. Fitz-Gerald's muse was frequently called on by his theatrical friends, to whom he contributed prologues both for the public stage and private theatres; in which latter Mr. Fitz-Gerald was himself a distinguished performer, more especially in those of the Duke of Richmond, Lord Aidborough, and the Margravine of Anspach. His delineation of Zanga, in Young's celebrated tragedy of the Revenge, when represented at Lord Aldborough's in Stratford-Place, in the year 1793, was peculiarly correct and impressive. He altered the concluding lines in a tone which at once augmented the interest and enhanced the moral of the drama. It is apprebended that, unfortunately, no document of this improvement is extant among his papers. At the representation in question his sister, the late Miss Fitz-Gerald, acquitted herself to the perfect satisfaction of a polished and select audience, in the interesting character of Leonora.
The pieces above mentioned, together with other poems on various occasions, he collected into one volume, and published in 1801.
Mr. Fitz-Gerald was one of the earliest and warmest supporters of the Literary Fund, founded by the late David Williams, for the relief of distressed authors, their widows, and children. Mr. Fitz-Gerald first advocated the cause of that benevolent institution at their anniversary in 1797; and those who heard Mr. Fitz-Gerald recite his own compositions, and witnessed the powerful effect he invariably produced, will agree with us, that at that time he stood unrivalled as a reciter of English verse. After this, for the long period of thirty-two years, Mr. Fitz-Gerald never omitted attending the anniversary of the Literary Fund, and constantly favoured the Society with a poem and recitation. The spirit they infused into the company, and the consequent benefit to the funds of the institution, were generally acknowledged. He wrote twenty-five original poems on the subject; and was considered not only as one of the most active, but also as one of the best friends of genius in distress. He was ever the ready and efficient advocate of the ingenious and gifted, though frequently the irritable and neglected author, when oppressed with misfortune, indigence, and (as is too often the case) absolute pauperism. Mr. Fitz-Gerald was long a constant attendant upon the active but painful duties of the Committee of the Literary Fund ; and for some years last past had been annually elected, by the gratitude of his associates, one of the Vice-Presidents of that interesting institution.
Never was there a muse more truly English than that of this gentleman. The early impressions of a French education, which too often gives a bias to the mind that is seldom effaced, never tainted his opinions with Gallic partiality. On the contrary, his pen seized every opportunity of proving that his heart was as loyal as his principles were constitutional. Indeed, this patriotic warmth of feeling marks all his poetry. In his Addresses to the Literary Fund, he seldom omitted powerfully to contrast the tyranny of the French rulers, and particularly Buonaparte, and their hatred of liberty, more especially the liberty of the press, with the amiable qualities of our late and present good and gracious sovereigns, and the mild spirit of British liberty and British law.
At the breaking out of the last war he wrote a poetical exhortation, beginning with
Britons, to arms! of apathy beware!"
which, together with his "Address to every loyal Briton on the threatened Invasion," was widely circulated, and produced a powerful effect.
In 1798 he published a poem called "Nelson's Triumph, or the Battle of the Nile ;" and in 1806, "Nelson's Tomb, a Poem," 4,to.; to which he added, "An Address to England, on her Nelson's Death." In 1802, « The Tears of Hibernia dispelled by the Union," 4to.
On all other public occasions Mr. Fitz-Gerald's pen was ever ready: witness his Tribute to the Memory of Mr. Pitt; his Address to the Spanish Patriots; Ode for the Jubilee; Lines on the Battles of Barossa, Albuera, Salamanca, Vittoria, and Waterloo; Addresses to the Marquis of Wellington; to the French Nation; to the Emperor of Russia; and Lines on the Princess Charlotte. Most of these were inserted in the daily papers; especially in the " Morning Post."
In 1814, Mr. Fitz-Gerald collected the passages from his various poems relative to Buonaparte, and published them under the title of " The Tyrant's Downfall;" "Napoleonics;" and the " White Cockade." In the preface to this publication Mr. Fitz-Gerald deservedly takes credit to himself for "consistency of character; a devoted love to his country, unbiassed by party considerations; and an undeviating detestation of the greatest and basest tyrant that was ever permitted to desolate the earth."
In private life Mr. Fitz-Gerald was deservedly esteemed; his manners were social, and his heart was warm and generous: these, aided by his convivial talents, made his society coveted by a large circle of friends, who now lament his loss. His punctuality and delicacy in pecuniary transactions were carried to such an extent, that he would never wear any clothes which had been sent home for him by his tailor until he had paid the bill. So nice, indeed, was his sense of honour, that some years ago, on the death of a near relation, he liquidated her debts, to the amount of several thousands of pounds, although in no way legally liable for them. He was proud of his descent. Being one day asked by a gentleman if he did not belong to the Duke of Leinster's family, his answer was, —" No, Sir, the Duke of Leinster belongs to my family."
Among the personal friends in whose society Mr. FitzGerald took the greatest pleasure (which they doubtless reciprocated) were Mr. Penn of Stoke Park, his cousin William Penn, and the accomplished Mr. Sinclair, eldest son of the venerable Sir John. It may be said that in this instance, in congenial soul, as in high descent, the feudal houses of Orkney and Pennsylvania harmonised with that of Desmond:
"The general favourite as the general friend!
Such life there was ; and who could wish its end?"
Mr. Fitz-Gerald had the happiness of living for many years in the strictest intimacy with the late Lord Viscount Dudley and Ward. His Lordship was much devoted to music, and used to entertain, at his hospitable board at Himley, during the autumnal and winter months, the most celebrated musical professors of the day; and in these delightful parties Mr. Fitz-Gerald was a constant associate. But what still more redounds to his Lordship's credit was his ready, though unostentatious charity. His Lordship's amiable qualities were pleasingly commemorated by Mr. Fitz-Gerald, on a board fixed against an old yew-tree near the mansion at Himley. Viscount Dudley dying without a will, his kind intentions were fulfilled with singular munificence by the present Earl.