Thomas Rymer

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Not to be confused with Thomas the Rhymer, a 13th-century Scots laird.

Thomas Rymer (c. 1643 – 14 December 1713) [1] was an English poet, critic, antiquary and historian. His most lasting contribution was to compile and publish 16 volumes of the first edition of Foedera, a work in 20 volumes containing agreements made between The Crown of England and foreign powers since 1101. He held the office of English Historiographer Royal from 1692 to 1714. He is credited with coining the phrase "poetic justice".


Early life and education

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where Rymer studied Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, July 2010 (04).JPG
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where Rymer studied

Thomas Rymer was born at Appleton Wiske, near Northallerton in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1643, [2] or possibly at Yafforth. He was the younger son of Ralph Rymer, lord of the manor of Brafferton in Yorkshire, described by Clarendon as possessed of a good estate. The son studied at Northallerton Grammar School, where he was a classmate of George Hickes. [2] There he studied for eight years under Thomas Smelt, a noted Royalist. [3] Aged 16, he went to study at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, matriculating on 29 April 1659. [3]

Although Rymer was still at Cambridge in 1662 when he contributed Latin verses to a university volume celebrating the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, there is no record of his taking a degree. This may have been owing to the financial problems his father was suffering at the time, or to his father's arrest on 13 October 1663 – he was executed the following year for involvement in the Farnley Wood Plot, an intended uprising in Yorkshire against Charles II. Although Thomas's elder brother Ralph was also arrested and imprisoned, Thomas himself was not implicated. On 2 May 1666 he became a member of Gray's Inn. He was called to the bar on 16 June 1673. [4]


Rymer's first appearance in print [lower-alpha 1] was as translator of René Rapin's Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesie (1674), [8] to which he added a preface in defence of the classic rules for unity in drama. [lower-alpha 2] Following the principles set there, he composed a tragedy in verse, licensed on 13 September 1677, called Edgar, or the English Monarch, which was a failure. It was printed in 1678, [4] with a second edition in 1693. [9] Rymer's views on drama were again given to the world in a printed letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, the friend of Matthew Prior, entitled The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider'd (1678). Here, in discussing Rollo Duke of Normandy by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and George Chapman, Rymer coined the term "poetical justice". [10] [11]

To Ovid's Epistles Translated by Several Hands (1680), with a preface by Dryden, Rymer contributed Penelope to Ulysses. [lower-alpha 3] He was also one of those who Englished the so-called 'Dryden's Plutarch' of 1683–1686 (5 vols.): the life of Nicias fell to his share. [12] Rymer wrote a preface to Whitelocke's Memorials of English Affairs (1682), [13] and in 1681 A General Draught and Prospect of the Government of Europe, reprinted in 1689 and 1714 as Of the Antiquity, Power, and Decay of Parliaments, [14] where ignorant of the future dignity that would be his, the critic had the misfortune to observe, "You are not to expect truth from an historiographer royal."

Monument to Edmund Waller with poetical inscriptions by Rymer in Beaconsfield churchyard Tomb of Edmund
Monument to Edmund Waller with poetical inscriptions by Rymer in Beaconsfield churchyard

Rymer contributed three pieces to the collection of Poems to the Memory of Edmund Waller (1688) [15] [lower-alpha 4] (afterwards reprinted in Dryden's Miscellany Poems), [17] [lower-alpha 5] and wrote the Latin inscription on all four sides of Edmund Waller's monument in Beaconsfield churchyard. [18]

The preface ("Lectori salutem") to the posthumous Historia Ecclesiastica (1688) [19] of Thomas Hobbes seems to have been written by Rymer. [lower-alpha 6] An English translation was published in 1722. [22] The Life of Hobbes (1681) sometimes ascribed to him was written by Richard Blackburne. [lower-alpha 7] He produced a congratulatory poem upon the arrival of Queen Mary in Westminster with William III on 12 February 1689. [4] [lower-alpha 8]

Rymer's next piece of authorship was to translate the sixth elegy of the third book of Ovid's Tristia for Dryden's Poetical Miscellanies. The only version to contain Rymer's rendering seems to be the 2nd edition of the Second Part of the Miscellanies, subtitled Silvae (1692). [23] [lower-alpha 9]

On the death of Thomas Shadwell in 1692, Rymer received the appointment of historiographer royal at a yearly salary of £200. [4] Immediately after this, there appeared his much-discussed A Short View of Tragedy (1693), [30] criticising Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, which gave rise to The Impartial Critick (1693) of John Dennis, the epigram of Dryden. [31]


Rymer's most lasting contribution to scholarship was the Foedera, a collection of "all the leagues, treaties, alliances, capitulations, and confederacies, which have at any time been made between the Crown of England and any other kingdoms, princes and states." [32] Documents were presented in Latin with summaries in English. [32] Begun under a royal warrant in 1693, it was "an immense labour of research and transcription on which he spent the last twenty years of his life". [33] [34]

The first edition of the Foedera consisted of 20 volumes dated 1704–1735. Sixteen were prepared by Rymer, of which the last two were published posthumously by his assistant Robert Sanderson, who himself compiled the remaining volumes, the last three being supplementary. [34]

George Holmes revised the first 17 volumes, published from 1727 to 1735, and a single folio in 1730 of corrections to the first edition. [34] [35]

The "Hague edition" was published from 1737 to 1745 in "ten closely-printed folio volumes". [34] [lower-alpha 10] The first nine reprinted the London edition, with the tenth combining Paul de Rapin's French-language synopsis and an index to the Foedera. [34] [35] Rapin's text had been translated into English in 1733. [37]

The Record Commission in 1800 proposed a "Supplement and Continuation" to the Foedera; in 1809 it decided instead to make a complete revision. [34] Seven parts were prepared before the project was abandoned due to dissatisfaction with the editing by Dr Adam Clarke and others. [34] [35] Six parts in three volumes were published from 1816 to 1830, and the seventh in 1869, along with miscellaneous notes. [lower-alpha 11] The work was thus revised up to the year 1383. [34] [35] A three-volume English-language summary and index of the complete Foedera by Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy followed. [39] The Victoria County History recommends citing the Record Commission (RC) edition where available and the Hague edition otherwise. [40]


Rymer died on 14 December 1713 and was buried four days later in St Clement Danes Church in the Strand. [2] He appears not to have left any immediate family. [4]

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  1. A 1688 translation into English of William Bellenden's Ciceronis Princeps (first published anonymously in Paris in 1608) [5] sometimes said to be Thomas Rymer's first publication, has been shown by Curt Zimansky to be the work of Thomas Ross (1620–1675), courtier, poet and tutor to the first Duke of Monmouth. [6] [7]
  2. "Thomas Rymer: Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesie: The Preface of the Translator". English Poetry 1579-1830: Spenser and the Tradition. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
    This page includes the thoughts of other critics about Rymer, expressed in George Saintsbury (1911) History of English Criticism, pp. 133–134; Herbert E. Cory (1911) Critics of Edmund Spenser, pp. 120–121; Harko Gerrit De Maar (1924), History of Modern English Romanticism, p. 34; and H. T. Swedenberg (1944), Theory of the Epic in England, p. 47.
  3. This work went through numerous, increasingly expanded editions: e. g. Ovid; Rymer, Thomas (1776). "Penelope to Ulysses". In Dryden, John (preface) (ed.). Ovid's Epistles: with his Amours. Translated into English Verse by the Most Eminent Hands. London: Printed for T. Davies, W. Strahan, W. Clarke, et al.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. The poems are: On Mr. Waller. T. Rymer (p. 4); Monsieur St. Euremon. 1684 (In French). In English, by T. R. (p. 10); To Mr. Riley, Drawing Mr. Waller's Picture . T. R. (p. 26).
    "It is not improbable that the initials T. R., signed to several of the pieces, are those of Thomas Rymer, who is believed to have edited the volume and who signed one of the poems in full." [16]
  5. The poems are again On Mr. Waller By Mr. T. Rymer (pp. 223–225); Monsieur St. Euremon. 1684. In English, by T. R. (p. 234); To Mr. Riley, Drawing Mr. Waller's Picture. By Mr. T. Rymer (p. 267).
    The attribution of the Riley poem is 'By Mr. Rymer', rather than 'T. R.' in the 1688 version.
  6. William Molesworth, in his 1845 edition of Hobbes [20] says that the preface is by Rymer, and that the original title page and motto must be attributed to him. Patricia Springborg also says the introduction is by Rymer. [21]
  7. See Blackburne, Richard by Arthur Henry Grant in DNB, Volume 5: "Dr. Blackburne certainly wrote a Latin supplement to the short "Life", entitled "Vitae Hobbianie Auctarium", the first sentence of which supplies the chief evidence of his authorship of the "Life". Both these works would seem to have been derived from a larger and fuller "Life" in manuscript, written in English by John Aubrey and used with the knowledge and consent of the latter, and possibly with the assistance of Hobbes himself."
  8. (Rymer 1689). Rymer compares Mary to Pyhrra, Deucalion's bride: according to Ovid, after the Deluge the couple threw rocks over their shoulders, which metamorphosed into babies who grew up and re-populated the world.
  9. Dryden and Jacob Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies has a somewhat involved publishing history of numerous editions with various titles, reprints and bindings. [24] The second edition of the Second Part (1692) seems to be the only one to contain Rymer's translation, and was apparently only published bound up with some copies of the second edition of the First Part (also 1692). [25] The first edition of the Second Part was published as Sylvæ: or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies (1685). [26] A second edition of Sylvae was published in 1692 and was bound with the second edition of Part One of the Miscellany Poems (1692) (Part One, 1st ed. published 1684, reissued 1685). This second edition of the First and Second Parts was published in 1692 (Dryden 1692). This seems to be the only version to contain Rymer's translation. There are online copies, or text-only versions, but none seem to be freely available. In addition, some copies of the first edition of Sylvæ (not containing Rymer's Ovid) were bound up with the second edition of the Miscellany Poems.
    Rymer's Ovid does not seem to appear in the third edition of the First Part of the Miscellany Poems (1702) [27] or in the fourth edition of the Second Part of the Miscellany Poems. [28] The third part (or volume) is Examen Poeticum (1693). [29]
  10. All volumes are scanned at the Internet Archive. [36] Volumes 8 to 12 (of 20, covering 1397 to 1502) are available at British History Online. [32]
  11. All volumes are scanned at HathiTrust. [38]
  1. Sherbo 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 Riordan 2000, p. 10.
  3. 1 2 "Rymer, Thomas (RMR659T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Lee 1897.
  5. T. R. 1688.
  6. Bond 2009, pp. 588–604.
  7. Zimansky 1956, p. 284.
  8. Rapin 1674.
  9. Rymer 1693a.
  10. Rymer 1678, pp. 23, 25, 26, 37.
  11. Day & Lynch 2015, pp. 1055-1060, 1242, 1125.
  12. Plutarch 1693, pp. 411–471.
  13. Rymer 1853, pp. iii–xi.
  14. Rymer 1714.
  15. Rymer 1688, pp. 4,10,26.
  16. (Oppenheimer 1940, p. 1083) Source: notes to "Poems to the memory of that incomparable poet Edmond Waller Esquire". WorldCat. OCLC   15877645.
  17. Dryden 1716, pp. 223–225, 234, 267.
  18. Rymer 1690, p. [110].
  19. Rymer 1688a, pp. i-ix.
  20. Molesworth 1845, p. 342.
  21. Springborg 1994, p. 555n, 558.
  22. Hobbes 1722, pp. [i-vi].
  23. Dryden 1692, p. 148.
  24. Wheatley 1907–21.
  25. Dryden 1692.
  26. Sylvæ: or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies (1685). (Text-only, EEBO).
  27. The First Part of the Miscellany Poems, 3rd ed.
  28. The Second Part of the Miscellany Poems, 4th ed.
  29. Examen Poeticum, the Third Part of the Miscellany Poems
  30. Rymer 1693.
  31. Dennis 1909, pp. 148–197.
  32. 1 2 3 "Rymer's Foedera". British History Online. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  33. Zimansky 1956 , pp. xvii–xx. The quote is from page xviii.
  34. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "The Record Commission; No. III; II. Rhymer's Fœdera. Three Volumes". The Gentleman's Magazine. Edinburgh: F. Jefferies: 23–30 : 27–30. July 1834. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  35. 1 2 3 4 Tedder 1911.
  36. Foedera (Hague edition), Internet Archive: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5, Vol 6, Vol 7, Vol 8, Vol 9, Vol 10.
  37. Whatley 1733.
  38. Vols 1 to 3 (parts 1 to 6); Vol. 4 (part 7); Appendices.
  39. Hardy 1869, Hardy 1873, Hardy 1885.
  40. "Writing for the VCH » Style guidelines » Rymer's Foedera". Victoria County History. Retrieved 25 May 2017.


Further reading

Preceded by
Thomas Shadwell
English Historiographer Royal
Succeeded by
Thomas Madox