Winthrop Mackworth Praed was the nephew of Humphrey Mackworth Praed who founded the banking house of Praed and Company and after whom Praed Street in London is named.
He was born in London in 1802, was brought up after the death of his mother in 1810 by his elder sister, Elizabeth, and spent most of his childhood life at Bitton House, the Praed family home in Teignmouth. He suffered from the family tendency to ill-health which haunted him throughout his life.
In 1814 Praed was sent to Eton, where he founded a manuscript periodical called Apis matina. This was succeeded in October 1820 by the Etonian, a paper projected and edited by Praed and Walter Blount, which appeared every month until July 1821 when Praed, the chief editor who signed his contributions “Peregrine Courtenay,” left Eton and the paper died. Before Praed left though he had established, over a shop at Eton, a “boys’ library,” the books of which were later amalgamated in the School Library.
From Eton Winthrop went to Trinity College Cambridge where he had a brilliant career. He gained the Browne medal for Greek verse four times, and the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for English verse twice in 1823 and 1824. He was bracketed third in the classical tripos in 1825, won a fellowship at his college in 1827, and three years later carried off the Seatonian prize. At the Union his speeches were rivalled only by those of Macaulay and of Charles Austin, who subsequently made a great reputation at the parliamentary bar.
Praed began to study law and in 1829 was called to the bar at the Middle Temple but, although his prospects of advancement were bright, his inclination was towards politics and after a year or two he took up political life. Whilst at Cambridge he tended to Whiggism, and up to the end of 1829 he continued to have these sympathies, but during the agitation for parliamentary reform his opinions changed and when he was returned to parliament for St Germans (17 December 1830) his election was due to the Tory party. He sat for that borough until December 1832, and on its extinction contested the borough of St Ives, where the Cornish estates of the Praeds were situated. He subsequently sat for Great Yarmouth and Aylesbury.
He married Helen Bogle in 1835 and died of TB in 1839.
When Winthrop Mackworth Praed was born, Keats was a child of seven, Shelley a boy of ten, and Wordsworth a young man of thirty-two. British gentlemen in those days still considered Pope the poetic paragon of the world; Praed’s father was such a gentleman, who also wrote fluent and correct couplets for family occasions. His early reading was guided by the eighteenth-century taste of his father, yet his best loved authors were Plutarch and Shakespeare.
Judging from Praed’s earliest verses, his chief and strongest poetic impulse came from the old English ballad that the eighteenth century had so lately rediscovered. The bulk of his writing (though not perhaps the best of it) is in the form of narrative poems written in the ballad temper and described as ‘whimsicalized’. It is said that his style is always fluent, airy, melodious yet, despite its colloquialism, it shows the neatness, the polish, the perfect solution of syntax in metre, which are the marks of scholarship in poetry. Its highly individual flavour lies chiefly in the poet’s skill in playing on the repeated word, the humorous catalogue, the unexpected collocation.
He wrote among an artificial people in a highly artificial age, but he wrote with a sincerity and an authentic poetic impulse that makes the result anything but artificial. Of all the English poets, Praed has the best right to be styled “the bard of the ball-room,” but it is a ball-room idealized, its lights curiously interpenetrated with the glamour of romance!
Reviewers accept that he was brilliant, witty, a faithful portrayer of the social and political life of his times and an accomplished versifier with a prodigious talent for rhyming. But was he a poet? Ah, well that depends on what you mean by poetry doesn’t it and the context of poetry at the time. Praed had no place in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury and Quiller-Couch, a little less decided, acknowledges him in the Oxford Book-of English Verse but with just enough space enough for one short specimen, and that one of his least characteristic.
The above has been extracted from the following sources: