Friday, February 13, 2009

Jr. (part two)

In an earlier entry I wrote about Thomas Sutherland, Jr.’s (1797-1880) seemingly unsuccessful efforts to establish a career in Edinburgh. The narrative passed down in the family is that he “had been a professor of languages at Edinburgh University.” Yet a search of the university’s archives—conducted by very kind and diligent archivists—reveals no trace of a corresponding faculty member with this name. What the archives do contain, however, is a rather sparse record of a Thomas Sutherland, born Midlothian, who entered the university in 1811, with the intention of studying literature. The name, approximate age, and place of birth make TS, Jr. a possible candidate. And while no record of this student graduating exists, that in and of itself is not unusual: at the time students often simply attended classes without an end goal of certification.

Considering the academic accomplishments ascribed to TS, Jr., it is possible he continued his studies elsewhere before his next documented appearance in 1825. Given the connection of the Sutherlands to the Talfourd and John Ruskin, who had links to Oxford, that university seems a possibility. While a search of Oxford alumni records (as well as Cambridge ones) does not find a student by the name of TS, a literary Thomas Sutherland does turn up in some academic histories, namely those of the very famous debate of November 26, 1829:

“At Oxford in 1829 Arthur Hallam, Richard Monckton Milnes, and Thomas Sutherland of the Cambridge Union Society debated the issue of Shelley's superiority as a poet to Byron with Members with members of the Oxford Union Society. Although these Cambridge Apostles pressed their advantage—they had read Shelley and their opponents had not - the vote went in favor of Byron.”

Unfortunately, this appears to be Thomas Sunderland (1808-1867), considered by Lord Houghton (the aforementioned Milnes) to be “the greatest speaker he ever heard.” (Sunderland also has the unfortunate distinction of inspiring Tennyson’s “A Character.”)

As suggested above, Sutherland’s non-appearance in the graduate rolls of any university to date does not preclude his participation in university life or endeavors. This is certainly the case of Joseph Biddle, a neighbor of TS, Jr. in the new world who would also become his brother-in-law. While there is no mention of Biddle in the Oxford alumni records, a visitor to the settlement reported on his meeting with Mr. Biddle, whom he had known at Oxford. Sadly, he makes no such illuminating comments about TS, Jr.

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