Martin Farquhar Tupper

(July 17, 1810 - November 1889 / London)

Biography of Martin Farquhar Tupper

Martin Farquhar Tupper (July 17, 1810 in London - November 1889 in Albury, Surrey) was an English writer, and poet, and the author of Proverbial Philosophy.

He was the eldest son of Dr. Martin Tupper (1780 - 1844), a medical man highly esteemed in his day who came from an old Guernsey family, by his wife Ellin Devis Marris (d. 1847), only child of Robert Marris (1749 - 1827), a landscape painter (by his wife Frances, daughter of the artist Arthur Devis).

Martin Tupper received his early education at the Charterhouse. In due course of time he was transferred to Christ Church, Oxford where he took his degree of B.A. in 1832, of M.A. in 1835 and of DCL in 1847. At Christ Church, as a member of the Aristotle Class, he was a fellow student of many distinguished men, the Marquess of Dalhousie, the Earl of Elgin, William Ewart Gladstone and Francis Hastings Doyle.

Having taken his degree of M.A., Tupper became a student at Lincoln's Inn and was called to the Bar in the Michaelmas Term, 1835. He did not, however ever practice as a barrister. In the same year he married his first cousin once-removed Isabella Devis, daughter of Arthur William Devis, by whom he was to have four sons and four daughters. About the same period commenced Tupper's literary career. He contributed to the periodicals of the day, but his first important essay in literature was a small volume entitled Sacra Poesis.

In 1837 appeared the first series of Proverbial Philosophy, long series of didactic moralisings composed in a lawyer's chambers in Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, during part of the previous year. A typical example is: "Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech". His work, which spread its author's name far and wide, was met at first with moderate success in England, while in the United States it was almost a total failure. It slowly picked up steam, however, and within thirty years it had passed through forty large editions in England by 1867, while nearly a million copies were sold in the United States. The commonplace character of Tupper's reflections is indubitable, and his blank verse is only prose cut up into suitable lengths; but the Proverbial Philosophy was full of a perfectly genuine moral and religious feeling, and contained many apt and striking expressions. By these qualities it appealed to a large and uncritical section of the public.

In 1839, Tupper published A Modern Pyramid to commemorate a Septuagint of Worthies, being sonnets and essays on seventy famous men and women; in 1841 An Author's Mind containing skeletons of thirty unpublished books; in 1844, The Crock of Gold, The Twins, and Heart tales illustrative of social vices, and which passed through numerous editions; in 1847, Probabilities, an Aid to Faith, giving a new view of Christian evidences; A Thousand Lines, Hactenus, Geraldine, Lyrics, Ballads for the Times, Things to Come, A Dirge for Wellington, Church Ballads, White Slavery Ballads, American Ballads, Rifle Ballads, King Alfred, a patriotic play; King Alfred's poems, translated from Anglo-Saxon into corresponding English metres. In 1856, Paterfamilia's Diary of Everybody's Tour, The Rides and Reveries of Æsop Smith, and Stephan Langton a biographical novel, which sought, with much graphic painting to delineate England in the time of King John. He also published Cithara, a collection of Lyrics; Three Hundred Sonnets, A Phrophetic Ode and many other fugitive pieces, both verse and prose which appeared in various newspapers and magazines. In 1886 he published My Life as an Author.

In 1845 Tupper was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He received the gold medal for science and literature from the King of Prussia.

A genial, warm-hearted man, Tupper's humane instincts prompted him to espouse many reforming movements; he was an early supporter of the Student Volunteer Movement, and did much to promote good relations between Britain and America. He tried to encourage African literature and was also a mechanical inventor in a small way. Critic Kwame Anthony Appiah, however, has used a quote from Martin Tupper's ballad "The Anglo-Saxon Race" 1850 as an example of the predominant understanding of "race" in the nineteenth century. Tupper's ballad appeared in the journal The Anglo-Saxon containing the lines: "Break forth and spread over every place/The world is a world for the Anglo Saxon race!"

At the end of his life he vanished into obscurity and nowadays his work is forgotten, despite the words on his grave-stone: "Although he is dead, he will speak."

Tupper survives if at all as a second-rate, puffed up poet whose success was only possible in a literary market where "philistines" might be able to approve of his platitudes. However, he also survives as a worthy target for a better poet: Sir William Schwenk Gilbert in his Bab Ballads. In the poem Ferdinando and Elvira, or, The Gentle Pieman, Gilbert is describing how two lovers are trying to find out who has been putting mottos into "paper crackers" (a sort of 19th Century "fortune cookie"). Gilbert builds up to the following lines, eventually coming up with a spoof of Tupper's own style from Proverbial Philosophy:

"Tell me, Henry Wadsworth, Alfred, Poet Close, or Mister Tupper,

Do you write the bonbon mottoes my Elvira pulls at supper?"

"But Henry Wadsworth smiled, and said he had not had that honour;

And Alfred, too disclaimed the words that told so much upon her."

"Mister Martin Tupper, Poet Close, I beg of you inform us";

But my question seemed to throw them both into a rage enormous."

"Mister Close expressed a wish that he could only get anight to me.

And Mr. Martin Tupper sent the following reply to me:--"

"A fool is bent upon a twig, but wise men dread a bandit."

Which I think must have been clever, for I didn't understand it."

The three other references are also recognizable (the Bab Ballad was from 1869 or so). They are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Lord Tennyson (both still read and remembered) and "Poet" John Close, a well meaning scribbler of the mid-Victorian period who wrote hackwork to honor local events (some samples are in the classic volume of bad verse, The Stuffed Owl, as is a good sample of Tupper's own work).

He was also one of the worthies mentioned in the "Heavy Dragoon" song in Gilbert's libretto for the Savoy Opera "Patience":

"Tupper and Tennyson, Daniel Defoe"

PoemHunter.com Updates

A Common Sorrow

O thousands, who have never found your mates,
But pine in secret for their love unknown,
O thousands, whom perverse and bitter fates
Force, evilly-mated, still to dwell alone,-
O multitude, mismatch'd for loves and hates!
Would God, some gracious amnesty were given,
Some general goal-delivery of minds,
Freed from these bonds of earth, unblest by heaven,
Bursting the chain that cankers while it binds

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