Rev. James Dallaway, F.S.A. (1763 - 1834)

by Mark Antony Lower, M.A., F.S.A. in his book 'The Worthies of Sussex' published in 1865

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Mr. DALLAWAY was born of a gentle family, originally of Warwickshire, who settled in the early part of the eighteenth century in Gloucestershire. His uncle, William Dallaway of Brimscombe, Esq. was high-sheriff of that county in 1766. His father, Mr. James Dallaway, was a banker at Stroud, and married Martha, daughter of Richard Hopton, Esq. of Worcester, a scion of the ancient Hoptons of Shropshire. Mr. Dallaway was born in the parish of St. Philip and St. James in Bristol 20th February, 1763. He received his primary education at the grammar-school of Cirencester, of which at that time the Rev. Jas. Washborne was head master. He became a scholar on the foundation of Trinity College, Oxford. “Here he made himself well-known for his English poetry, some of which was characterized by great sweetness and facility of versification, but the same talent, when mingled with a dangerous tinge of satire, was destined to become fatal to his early prospects. When his time had arrived to be elected Fellow, his name was passed over without any reason assigned; but the cause was generally supposed to have been some satirical verses which he had written upon an influential member of the society.”[1]

Then, with blighted prospects, he left the University (not however until he had taken his M.A. degree 3rd December, 1784) and accepted a curacy near Stroud. Thence he removed to Gloucester, and, possessing a great love for antiquities, was for many years employed as editor of Bigland's well-known “Collections for Gloucestershire.” His first publication was “Letters of the late Dr. Rundle, Bishop of Derry, to Mrs. Sandys, with introductory Memoirs,” in two volumes octavo, 1789. In the same year he was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. In 1792 he published a quarto volume – “Inquiries into the Origin and Progress of Heraldry in England, with observations on Armorial Ensigns.” Mr. Moule, speaking of this work says, “Nothing had caused Heraldry to be so much disregarded as the confused and affected style of some of the writers who had enquired into its origin and history. Mr. Dallaway has here, with the pen of a Tacitus, accurately defined in a most comprehensive manner, its rise and progress, from the earliest, through the most interesting, periods of British history, accommodating the study to modern system.”[2] This work was indeed the first attempt in the English language to detach a most interesting and valuable science from the whims and absurdities with which the heraldrists of the three preceding centuries had incrusted it. However modern radicals and utilitarians may affect to despise armorial distinctions, I maintain with an eloquent French writer[3], “that for him who can decipher it, Heraldry is an algebra, a language; and that much of the history of the second half of the middle ages is written in blazon, as that of the preceding period is in the symbolism of the Roman church.” Later writers, following in Dallaway's footsteps. have done much to reinstate heraldry in the good opinion of historical enquirers.

This work was dedicated to Charles, Duke of Norfolk and Earl-Marshal, the hereditary patron of the science which it illustrates. The Duke thenceforward became his warm and constant friend. He obtained for him the posts of chaplain and physician to the British embassy at Constantinople, he having previously taken the degree of Bachelor of Medicine at Oxford in 1794. After his return to England he published, under the auspices of the Marquis of Bute, “Constantinople, ancient and modern, with excursions to the shores and islands of the Archipelago, and to the Troad, 1797,” which was pronounced by an eminent traveller, Dr. E. D. Clarke, to be the best book written on the subject. He also contemplated a History of the Ottoman Empire from 1452, in continuation of Gibbon; but this he did not carry out. In 1802 he communicated to the Society of Antiquaries “an Account of the Walls of Constantinople,” which was published with four folio plates in aquatint, in the fourteenth volume of the Archaeologia.

[1] Gent. Mag., Spt. 1834

[2] Bibliotheca Heraldica, page 472

[3] Victor Hugo

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