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THE REV. DANIEL LYSONS, F.R.S. F.A.S. F.H.S.
This distinguished antiquary and amiable man was born on the 28th of April, 1762. His father, the Rev. Samuel Lysons, was a younger son of a respectable county family, settled for two centuries at Hempstead, in Gloucestershire, and incumbent of Rodmarton, near Cirencester, a living in their gift.
Having completed his early studies at Mr. Morgan's grammar school, in Bath, Mr. Lysons graduated as Bachelor and Master of Arts at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, then under the superintendence of Dr. Nowell, Regius Professor of Modern History. On taking orders in 1784, he commenced his clerical life as curate to his maternal uncle, Mr. Peach, of Mortlake, in Surrey. Shortly afterwards he preached by appointment, and, according to custom, published, the annual sermon for the Colston charity at Bristol. The title-page was embellished with a dolphin, the Colston crest, etched by his younger brother, Samuel Lysons, Esq. (afterwards VicePresident of the Royal Society, and Keeper of the Records in the Tower,) his first attempt in an art in which he was afterwards so eminently successful as an amateur. Thus, the two brothers, so attached to each other through life, and so intimately connected in their subsequent literary reputation, commenced their labours in concert. In early youth both had evinced a zeal and research unusual at their age in the study of medals, coins, and natural history, in which departments each had formed for himself a respectable collection of subjects; thus indicating the taste which so materially influenced their future pursuits. In 1789 Mr. Lysons removed to Putney, as curate to the Rev. Dr. (then Mr.) Hughes, preceptor to the royal family, and afterwards Canon Residentiary of St. Paul's, in whom he found an enlightened and congenial friend. Having conceived the project of writing a topographical work on the environs of London, Mr. Lysons, at that time possessed of a limited income, and unknown to the leading London booksellers, was at first deterred by considerations of risk and expense. Averse to the idea of publishing by subscription, he resolved on accepting the proffered loan of 2001. from Mr. Hughes and another friend ; determining to supply the deficiencies consequent on so small a fund by labour and diligence. In the illustration of his work he was aided by the pencil of his brother Samuel, whose etchings, executed from drawings taken by himself, were remarked for their masterly accuracy. The first edition of “ The Environs of London" was published in the year 1792, and met with the most flattering reception from the public. Its rapid and extensive sale soon enabled the author to repay his friends their timely loan, and to realise a considerable sum to himself.
The zeal with which Mr. Lysons prosecuted this laborious undertaking attracted the notice of Horace, Lord Orford, to whom he was previously unknown, and led to an intimate acquaintance. The countenance and advice of this highlygifted nobleman had no small influence in the ultimate success of the publication. Several of the prints which illustrate “ The Environs of London” were engraved at Lord Orford's own expense, from originals in his possession at Strawberry Hill, where both the brothers enjoyed the advantage of a familiar footing, and the unlimited use of his Lordship's choice and extensive library.
The fatigue and abstraction of mind attendant on a work of varied antiquarian research can be estimated, perhaps, by few, and might seem, at first sight, inconsistent with the clerical duties of a large parish. There are, however, a class of men, gifted by temper and education with a rigid sense of duty, and endowed by nature with a robust constitution, and a singular indifference to all bodily indulgence, of whom it is
familiarly and truly said, that “ the more they do, the more they can do.” Of this description was Mr. Lysons. Without declining the society of a populous neighbourhood, where he was much courted, he suffered nothing to interrupt his habit of strict temperance, early rising, and strong bodily exercise. By these means his literary pursuits were rendered compatible with the duties of his parish, in which he took an affectionate and vital interest, actively promoting all the benevolent plans for the relief of the poor during the years of scarcity, and devoting himself indefatigably to the establishment and instruction of the parochial schools. Before five in the morning he was usually in his study, arranging the materials for his publication, or preparing for those professional duties to which their due precedence was allotted in the order of the day. The greater part of the time which he could fairly call his own, for the purposes of leisure, was spent in walks of ten or twenty miles in search of objects of local investigation; varied sometimes by the employment of standing for two hours nearly knee-deep in a wet crypt to decipher ancient inscriptions. At the close of the evening he would drop in for an hour or two among his friends, untired in spirits, and eager alike to communicate, or extract from others, any point of useful or agreeable information.
His literary and professional merit soon afforded him an unsought introduction to persons well calculated to appreciate both, and whose intimacy was in itself a flattering distinction to a young man. Among these were the late Earl Spencer, Dr. Porteus (at that time Bishop of London), Mrs. Hannah More, and Sir Joseph Banks, besides other leading characters in the world of science and letters. In 1790, Mr. Lysons was admitted Fellow of the Antiquarian Society; in 1797, of the Royal Society; and in 1798, of the Linnean Society: of which latter body his botanical knowledge rendered him an efficient member, His contributions to periodical works were at this time frequent.
In the year 1800 Mr. Lysons, on account of his father's declining health, resigned the cure of Putney, and undertook that of Rodmarton and Cherenton. The affectionate esteem of his neighbours for their minister was evinced by the present of a handsome silver cup and cover, with a suitable inscription; and many subsequent testimonies of a pleasing nature proved that the feeling of all ranks was unabated by time and distance.
In 1804 the death of his respected father put Mr. Lysons in possession of the living of Rodmarton, as well as the family property of Hempstead, inherited from an elder uncle. The increase of means and leisure soon suggested to his mind the commencement of a project which, in concert with his brother Samuel, he had entertained since the publication of “ The Environs of London,” and for which, during four years, they had made the necessary collections. This work, which it is almost needless to describe as “ The Magna Britannia," comprised in its design the topographical history of the several counties of England in alphabetical order. In the arrangement of the different departments of this voluminous. undertaking, the great mass of necessary correspondence fell on the elder brother; and the whole of the general, parochial, and family history was also furnished by him.
No sheet, however, was printed without being subjected to the joint revision of the brothers. The first part of the Britannia, comprising Bedfordshire, was published in 1806.
To the antiquary and genealogist, the quantity of interesting information brought together in this work would argue the impossibility of its being completed in its full extent by any thing less than a society of men of letters. The mere labour and difficulty of the undertaking did not, however, deter the brothers; both in the prime of their mental and bodily strength, indefatigable in spirit, and relying on their own powers of severe application. The experience, however, which they gained in their progress through the first few counties forced upon them a reluctant doubt as to the final completion of their project.
In the year 1819 Mr. Lysons sustained a severe blow in the death of his brother Samuel. The work had now reached, in-alphabetical order, the county of Devon, every parish of which the two brothers had personally visited in order to complete their materials; and the article on the Roman roads was already in the hands of the compositor. Considering himself pledged to the completion of this volume, Mr. Lysons persevered so far in a task rendered irksome to him by distressing recollections, but abandoned all idea of carrying his project farther. In his brother, warmly attached to him from childhood, and associated in all his plans and feelings, he had lost a coadjutor and friend not to be replaced ; and the infirmities of middle age, aggravated perhaps by mental and bodily exertion, had begun to tell on a frame and spirits originally robust. The future prosecution of the work was therefore abandoned for less fatiguing but more important duties: each county, however, of the Britannia may be considered as a separate topographical history in itself, and is in fact sold as a separate work.
In 1812 Mr. Lysons published a history of the origin and progress of the meeting of the three choirs of Gloucester, Worcester, and Hereford, and of the charity connected with it. Being himself one of the stewards in 1811, on which occasion he preached the sermon for the benefit of the fund, the thought suggested itself that such a work might benefit the charity by its sale, and diffuse the knowledge of its objects. To impart to his publication more than a merely local interest, he prefixed to it a history of the parochial clergy from the earliest times, containing much valuable information; and which was, at the desire of his friends, reprinted and sold as a separate work.
Having always admired the piety and excellence of Jeremy Taylor's style, but considering it ill adapted to general perusal, Mr. Lysons undertook, in 1818, a selection of sermons from the works of that divine, containing those passages peculiarly marked by beauty of thought and expression, and omitting whatever seemed unsuitable to the present day. To the volume in question were prefixed three sermons of his own, preached on different public occasions.
Mr. Lysons was twice married. The surviving children