Borlase, William

, a learned English antiquary, was born at Pendeen, in the parish of St. Just, Cornwall, February 2, 1695-6. The family of that name, from which he was descended, had been settled at the place from whence they derived it (Borlase), from the time of king William Rufus. Our author was the second son of John Borlase, esq. of Pendeen, in the parish before mentioned, by Lydia, the youngest daughter of Christopher Harris, esq. of Hayne in the county of Devon; and was put early to school at Penzance, from which he was removed, in. 1709, to the care of the rev. Mr. Bedford, then a learned school-master at Plymouth. Having completed his grammatical education, he was entered of Exeter college, Oxford, in March 1712-13; where, on the 1st of June 1719, he took the degree of master of arts. In the same year, Mr. Borlase was admitted to deacon’s orders, and ordained priest in 1720. On the 22d of. April, 1722, he was instituted, by Dr. Weston, bishop of Exeter, to the rectory of Ludgvan in Cornwall, to which he had been presented by Charles Duke of Bolton .*


This was not precisely the case. His father purchased for him, of the rev. Mr. Charles Wroughton, then proprietor of the next turn, as well as incumbent, the next presentation to the rectory of Ludgvan; but the then grantor, Charles duke of Bolton, original proprietor of the church of Ludgvan, dying before the grantee, the purchase was void. Mr. Wroughton died soon after (viz. Mar. 1721); and by the application of his father, then deputy recorder of St. Ives, strengthened by a recommendation of sir John Hobart, bart. afterwards earl of Buckingham, added to that of the corporation of St. Ives, W. B. was presented by Charles, the subsequent duke of Bolton, to the rectory of Ludgvan.—ms account by Dr. Borlase.

On the 28th of July, 1724, he was married in the church of Illuggan, by his elder brother, Dr. Borlase of Castlehorneck, to Anne, eldest surviving daughter and coheir of William Smith, M. A. rector of the parishes of Camborn and Illuggan. In 1732, the lord chancellor King, by the recommendation of sir William Morice, bart. presented Mr. Borlase to the vicarage of St. Just, his native parish, and where his father had a considerable property. This vicarage and the rectory of Ludgvan were the only preferments he ever received.

When Mr. Borlase was fixed at Ludgvan, which was a retired, but delightful situation, he soon recommended | himself as a pastor, a gentleman, and a man of learning. The duties of his profession he discharged with the most rigid punctuality and exemplary dignity. He was esteemed and respected by the principal gentry of Cornwall, and lived on the most friendly and social terms with those of his neighbourhood. In the pursuit of general knowledge he was active and vigorous; and his mind being of an inquisitive turn, he could not survey with inattention or indifference the peculiar objects which his situation pointed to his view. There were in the parish of Ludgvan rich copper works, belonging to the late earl of Godolphin. These abounded with mineral and metallic fossils, which Mr. Borlase collected from time to time; and his collection increasing by degrees, he was encouraged to study at large the natural history of his native county. While he was engaged in this design, he could not avoid being struck with the numerous m’onuments of remote antiquity that are to be met with in several parts of Cornwall; and which had hitherto been passed over with far less examination than they deserved. Enlarging, therefore, his plan, he determined to gain as accurate an acquaintance as possible with the Druid learning, and with the religion and customs of the ancient Britons, before their conversion to Christianity. To this undertaking he was encouraged by several gentlemen of his neighbourhood, who were men of literature and lovers of British antiquities; and particularly by sir John St. Aubyn, ancestor of the present baronet of that family, and the late rev. Edward Collins, vicar of St. Earth. In the year 1748, Mr. Borlase, happening to attend the ordination of his eldest son at Exeter, commenced an acquaintance with the Rev. Dr. Charles Lyttelton, late bishop of Carlisle, then come to be installed into the deanry, and the Rev. Dr. Milles, the late dean, two eminent antiquaries, who, in succession, have so ably presided over the society of antiquaries in London. Our author’s correspondence with these gentlemen was a great encouragement to the prosecution of his studies; and he has acknowledged his obligations to them, in several parts of his works. In 1750, being at London, he was admitted a fellow of the royal society, into which he had been chosen the year before, after having communicated an ingenious Essay on the Cornish Crystals. Mr. Borlase having completed, in 1753, his manuscript of the Antiof Cornwall, carried it to Oxford, where he finished | the whole impression, in folio, in the February following. A second edition of it, in the same form, was published at London, in 1769. Our author’s next publication was, “Observations on the ancient and present state of the Islands of Scilly, and their importance to the trade of Great Britain, in a letter to the reverend Charles Lyttelton, LL. D. dean of Exeter, and F. R. S.” This work, which was printed likewise at Oxford, and appeared in 1756, in quarto, was an extension of a paper that had been read before the royal society, on the 8th of February 1753, entitled, “An Account of the great Alterations which the Islands of Scilly have undergone, since the time of the ancients, who mention them, as to their number, extent, and position.” It was at the request of Dr. Lyttelton, that this account was enlarged into a distinct treatise. In 1757, Mr. Borlase again employed the Oxford press, in printing his “Natural History of Cornwall,” for which he had been many years making collections, and which was published in April 1758. After this, he sent a variety of fossils, and remains of antiquity, which he 'had described in his works, to be placed in the Ashmolean museum; and to the same repository he continued to send every thing curious which fell into his hands. For these benefactions he received the thanks of the university, in a letter from the vice-chancellor, dated November 18, 1758; and in March, 1766, that learned body conferred on him the degree of doctor of laws, by diploma, the highest academical honour.

Though Dr. Borlase, when he had completed his three principal works, was become more than sixty years of age, he continued to exert his usual diligence and vigour in quiet attention to his pastoral duty, and the study of the Scriptures. In the course of this study, he drew up paraphrases on the books of Job, and the books of Solomon, and wrote some other pieces of a religious kind, rather, however, for his private improvement, than with a view to publication. His amusements abroad were, to superintend the care of his parish, and particularly the forming and reforming of its roads, which were more numerous than in any parish of Cornwall. His amusements at home were the belles lettres, and especially painting; and the correction and enlargement of his “Antiquities of Cornwall,” for a second edition, engaged some part of his time; and when this business was completed, he applied his attention to a | minute revision of nis “Natural History.” Alter this, he prepared for the press a treatise he had composed some years before, concerning the Creation and Deluge. But a violent illness, in January 1771, and the apprehensions of entangling himself in so long and close an attention as the correcting of the sheets, solely, and at such a distance from London, would require, induced him to drop his design, and to recal the manuscript from his bookseller, when only a few pages of it had been printed. From the time of his illness, he began sensibly to decline, the infirmities of old age came fast upon him; and it was visible to all his friends that his dissolution was approaching. This expected event happened on the 3 1st of August, 1772, in the 77th year of his age, when he was lamented as a kind father, an affectionate brother, a sincere friend, an instructive pastor, and a man of erudition. He was buried within’the communion rails in Ludgvan church, by the side of Mrs. Borlase, who had been dead above three years.

The Doctor had by his lady six sons, two of whom alone survived him, the rev. Mr. John Borlase, and the rev. Mr. George Borlase, who was Casuistical Professor and Registrar of the university of Cambridge, and died in 1809.

Besides Dr. Borlase’s literary connections with Dr. Lyttelton and Dr. Milles, before mentioned, he corresponded with most of the ingenious men of his time. He had a particular intercourse of this kind with Mr. Pope; and there is still existing a large collection of letters, written by that celebrated poet to our author. He furnished Mr. Pope with the greatest part of the materials for forming his grotto at Twickenham, consisting of such curious fossils as the county of Cornwall abounds with: and there might have been seen, before the destruction of that curiosity, Dr. Borlase’s name in capitals, composed of crystals, in the grotto. On. this occasion a very handsome letter was written to the Doctor by Mr. Pope, in which he says, “I am much obliged to you for your valuable collection of Cornish diamonds. I have placed them where they may best represent yourself, in a shade, but shining;” alluding to the obscurity of Dr. Borlase’s situation, and the brilliancy of his talents. The papers which he communicated at different times to the Royal Society are numerous and curious. 1


Biog. Brit, corrected by a ms. account written by himself and inserted in Nichols’s Bowyer, vol. V. auH Qeut. Mag. 1803. Son’s death, ibid. 1809.