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Morell, Thomas
(b Eton, 18 March 1703; d Turnham Green, Middx, 19 Feb
1784). English classicist, clergyman, author and librettist. His
widowed mother worked as a boarding house dame for Eton
College, and Morell was a foundation scholar there before
matriculating at its sister foundation, Kings College, Cambridge, in
1722. He was ordained in 1725, and graduated BA in 1726, MA
(Oxon) in 1730 and DD (Cantab) in 1743. He left Cambridge in
1726 for a curacy at Kelvedon, Essex. His subsequent church
appointments were as sub-curate of the Chapel of St Anne, Kew
Green (from about 1730), where he served unofficially as curate
173345, and as rector of Buckland, Hertfordshire (a Kings
College living), from 1737 (from 1741 in absentia). From 1776 to
1782 he was chaplain to the Portsmouth garrison. At Kew he was
mortified to be replaced in Queen Carolines regard and as
preacher by the ignorant thresher poet Stephen Duck, whose
verse he had praised. In 1738 he married Anne Barker of The
Grove, Chiswick; his occasional verses (US-NHub) testify to his
affection for her. They had no children. He never prospered, which,
according to one contemporary, was because he kept low
company, especially with musicians, and was irremediably
improvident. But he was respected as a scholar and a preacher
and held in affection by his friends, who included James Thomson,
David Garrick and William Hogarth (he contributed to Hogarths
aesthetic treatise, The Analysis of Beauty, London, 1753). He also
had contact with the Burlington family and with Frederick, Prince of
Wales, to whose patriot opposition cause he attached himself as
early as 1731 with some deft verses in the Gentlemans Magazine.
At Queen Carolines suggestion he wrote a commentary on John
Lockes Essay on Human Understanding (published
posthumously, 1794). In 1737 he became a Fellow of the Society
of Antiquaries and in 1768 both its secretary responsible for
publications and foreign correspondence, and a Fellow of the
Royal Society. In his lifetime he was chiefly known and esteemed
as a classicist. He edited and translated plays by Aeschylus,
Sophocles and Euripides, translated Senecas epistles, produced a
lexicon of Greek prosody that remained in use into the 19th
century, and, aged 70, revised Ainsworths Latin dictionary. A letter
in the archives of Kings College on Sophocless versification
proves his sensitivity to metrical variation and other details of aural
effect. As his manuscript verses show, Morell was a lifelong
natural versifier, practising a wide range of styles and moods and
engaging with political issues of his time. His religious verse
publications contribute to the contemporary defence of orthodox
Christianity against freethinking and shed interesting light on his
oratorio librettos for Handel. According to his own account of their
collaboration, Morell began writing for Handel in response to a
request from the composer backed by the Prince of Wales. He
provided the librettos for Judas Maccabaeus (dedicated to the
Duke of Cumberland in celebration of his suppression of the 1745
rebellion), Alexander Balus, Theodora, Jephtha, The Choice of
Hercules and probably the translation and new text required
for The Triumph of Time and Truth. Handel bequeathed him 200.
He subsequently confected oratorio librettos to existing music by
Handel, Nabal (1764) and Gideon (1769). He was reputedly a
good organist, and his portrait (1762) by his friend Hogarth,
capturing his raffish liveliness, depicts an organ as background
(reproduced in J. Simon, ed.: Handel: A Celebration of his Life and
Times, London, 1985, p.211). Morells manuscripts in the British
Library include his commonplace-book (Add.28846) and
annotations in Greek and English copies of the New Testament
(3006.t.6, 1219.m.3).

Bibliography

DNB (R. Smith)


W. Dean: Handels Dramatic Oratorios and Masques (London, 1959)

R. Paulson: Hogarth: his Life, Art, and Times, ii (New Haven, CT, 1971), 86, 15051, 157, 163, 184, 292, 511

S. Parks: The Osborn Collection: a Fourth Biennial Report, Yale University Library Gazette, l (19756), 164
187, esp. 182

R. Smith: Handels Oratorios and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Cambridge, 1995)

K. Nott: Heroick Virtue: Handel and Morells Jephtha in the Light of Biblical Commentary and Other
Sources, ML, lxxvii (1996), 194208

M. Channon: Handels Early Performances of Judas Maccabaeus: Some New Evidence and
Interpretations, ML, lxxvii (1996), 499526

R.G. King: John Christopher Smiths Pasticcio Oratorios, ML, lxxix (1998), 190218

R. Smith: Thomas Morell and his Letter about Handel, JRMA, cxxvii (2002), 191225

R.G. King: Who Wrote the Texts for Handels Alceste?, MT, cl (2009), 936

R. Smith: Morell, Thomas, The Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia,


ed. A. Landgraf and D. Vickers (Cambridge, 2009)

R. Smith: Why Does Jephtha Misunderstand his own Vow?, Handel Studies: a Gedenkschrift for Howard
Serwer, ed. R.G. King (Hillsdale, NY, 2009), 5985

Ruth Smith