SHARP, Richard (1759-1835), of Fredley Farm, Mickleham, Surr. and 23 Park Lane, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 1759 at St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1st s. of Richard Sharp (d. 1765), an English officer of the garrison and Elizabeth Adams of St. John’s. educ. by Rev. John Fell, dissenting minister, of Thaxted, Essex. unm. d. 30 Mar. 1835.
Dir. Hand in Hand Fire Office 1813
‘Conversation’ Sharp, who was said to talk ‘better than any man in England’, cast a wide spell of charm over his contemporaries. Once a wholesale hatter, whose ‘very dark complexion’ made it look ‘as if the dye of his old trade ... had got engrained in his face’ (‘darkness that may be felt!’ as one wag put it), he became a partner in a prosperous West India firm in London with Samuel Boddington†, George Philips* and his brother-in-law Davis. It was as the host, companion, critic and travel guide of the literati that he made his name: Byron, Coleridge, Sir James Mackintosh*, Moore, Rogers and Wordsworth were among his many friends and admirers. Miss Berry might dismiss him on a fleeting acquaintance as ‘clever, but ... of little real depth of intellect’, but those who knew him better did not doubt his mental powers. Byron thought him ‘a very clever man’; Wordsworth rated him highly; and Francis Horner†, who was captivated by him and stood in awe of his ‘strong and purified understanding’, described him as
a very extraordinary man ... His great subject is criticism, upon which he always appears to me original and profound; what I have not frequently observed in combination, he is both subtle and feeling. Next to literature the powers of his understanding, at once ingenious and plain, show themselves in the judgement of characters ... He has paid much attention to metaphysics also.1
He had taken ‘a very active part in the background’ of Whig politics during his first period in the House, when he was one of the few nonconformist Members, but he never achieved the eminence to which he had originally aspired. Philips believed that ‘he had not moral courage for Parliament’, recalling that ‘he was so awed there that his habitual fluency and correctness forsook him, and he could not speak without long and laborious preparation’. According to this account, Canning discovered Sharp’s secret and on one occasion ‘attacked him on that ground and exposed him to ridicule ... in such a manner as I think stopped his mouth forever afterwards’.2 In 1820 he stood unsuccessfully for the third time at Milborne Port, and offered for the venal borough of Maidstone, where he maintained in his address that he had ‘ever resisted, with equal earnestness, all attempts to disturb the peace of the community, or to innovate on our admirable constitution, by laws at once violent and ineffectual’. He condemned the ‘waste of public money’ and would not consent to any additional taxation ‘before a considerate, but unsparing retrenchment has reduced the public expenditure to the public income’. He said he had witnessed ‘with disgust, the endeavours of the unprincipled to vilify religion’, and declared that his ‘zeal for the support of the Protestant interest has been unfeigned’. He retired after the first day of polling, and a petition against the result was subsequently abandoned. George Tierney, the Whig leader in the Commons, thought Sharp had one of ‘the strongest claims upon anything which party can do’, and hoped he might come in for the surplus seat at Appleby, but the patron Lord Thanet disposed of it elsewhere.3
Mackintosh noted in July 1820 that Sharp seemed ‘very old’, later adding that he ‘grows more and more into the rigidity of age ... characterized by a repetition of the same thoughts and phrases’. Others, including Maria Edgeworth and Thomas Creevey*, recorded similar impressions of him and found his company trying.4 He inherited property at Norwood, Surrey, from his brother and business partner William in 1821, and took over responsibility for their ward Maria Kinnaird, an accomplished singer.5 For the sake of her health he spent some of the next few years in foreign travel. At the general election of 1826 he was returned for Ilchester on Lord Darlington’s interest.6 The only known trace of his parliamentary activity before he and his colleague, the barrister John Williams, were unseated on petition is a silent vote against the Clarence grant, 16 Feb. 1827. Of Lord Goderich’s coalition ministry he observed to Lady Holland that until her husband was in the cabinet, ‘I cannot possibly feel ministerially disposed. I should go to the left hand of the Speaker as usual’. He left Paris for London in October 1828 intent on urging at Brooks’s Club the importance of ‘all men of Kent making a point’ of attending the county meeting got up by the Brunswickers to oppose Catholic relief.7 In his ‘capacity of dry-nurse to rising men of talents’, he held a dinner in honour of Thomas Macaulay* in 1830 and the two became fast friends, with Sharp giving the younger man valuable criticism and advice on his parliamentary oratory. On one occasion Macaulay fell in with him at the Athaneum and they
had a long talk ... about everything and everybody, metaphysics, poetry, politics, scenery and painting. One thing I have observed in Sharp, which is quite peculiar to him among town-wits and diners-out. He never talks scandal. If he can say nothing good of a man he holds his tongue. I do not of course mean that in confidential communication about politics he does not speak freely of public men. But about the foibles of private individuals I do not believe that, much as I have talked with him, I ever heard him utter one word.8
Sharp published nine Epistles in Verse in 1828, followed by Letters and Essays in Prose and Verse in 1834, which enjoyed some success and went quickly to three editions.9 He died in March 1835 and left all his real estate, which included freehold property in Fenchurch Street and his 80-acre retreat at Fredley, to Maria Kinnaird, the residuary legatee. He put his nephew Richard Davis, now Boddington’s active partner, in possession of legacies due to himself as his brother-in-law’s residuary legatee, and made him a joint executor, with power limited to that part of his estate which consisted of his father’s share in the effects of his partnership with Boddington. His personalty was sworn under £140,000, and the value of his entire estate put at ‘upwards of £250,000’.10
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: David R. Fisher / Terry Jenkins
See J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808); P.W. Clayden, Early Life of Samuel Rogers, 122, 277-80, 303, 329, 332-3; C.K.P[aul]., Maria Drummond, 11-16, 29-32, 46.
- 1. Edgeworth Letters, 66; S.J. Reid, Sydney Smith, 314; Smith Letters, i. 172; Scott Jnl. 191, 216-17, 222; A.W. Merivale, Fam. Mems. 210-11; Berry Jnls. ii. 344; Shelley Diary, i. 214; Byron Letters ed. R.E. Protheroe, ii. 341-2; v. 161; Wordsworth Letters ed. A.G. Hill, v. 68; Horner Mems. i. 240, 283.
- 2. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries, i. 118; Wars. RO MI 247, Philips Mems. i. 350.
- 3. Western Flying Post, 6 Mar.; Kentish Chron. 7, 10 Mar.; Add. 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland, 12 Apr. 1820.
- 4. Add. 52444, f. 196; 52445, f. 53; Edgeworth Letters, 439; Creevey Pprs. ii. 275.
- 5. The will was sworn under £12,000 (PROB 8/214; 11/1645/361).
- 6. Western Flying Post, 12 June 1826.
- 7. Add. 51593, Sharp to Lady Holland, 5 Sept. 1827; 51572, Darnley to Holland, 6 Oct. 1828.
- 8. Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 347; Macaulay Letters, i. 272-3; ii. 18, 313 (quoted), 368, 376; vi. 275, 277.
- 9. Brougham mss, Sharp to Brougham, 30 Aug. 1834.
- 10. PROB 9/35 (24 Apr. 1835); 11/1846/263; IR26/1400/378; Gent. Mag. (1835), ii. 96-97.