Benjamin Heath, D.C.L. (Exeter, Devon, England, 10th April 1704 – Exeter, Devon, England, 13th September 1766)
After our sojourn with the disastrous expedition of Guillaume Le Gentil yesterday, we're staying with learned gentlemen today and taking tea with Benjamin Heath. LIke we Gilflurts, Heath was huge fan of the written word and amassed an astonishing collection of books throughout his lifetime.
Born to Elizabeth Kelland and Benjamin Heath, a successful fuller and merchant, the young Heath enjoyed a fine education at Exeter Grammar School and began to collect books early in his teens, already building an impressive collection by the time he left school and joined the Middle Temple. In 1730 Heath the elder died, leaving his son a fortune in inheritance. With £30,000 at his disposal, the young man set out of his grand tour, a decision that would prove life-changing on a person level. Arriving in Geneva in 1732, Heath became smitten with Rose Marie Michelet, the 14 year old daughter of a successful merchant. That same year the couple were married and when Heath returned to England, he brought his young bride with him. Eventually they would have 13 children, with eight reaching adulthood.
Now a gentleman of some means, Heath abandoned his plans to join the legal profession and settled in his home city of Exeter, devoting his time to writing and building his book collection. In 1740 he published his first work, An Essay towards a Demonstrative Proof of the Divine Existence, Unity, and Attributes and was awarded a degree at Oxford, where he became a respected scholar with a particular interest in classical tragedy.
On 23rd March 1752, Heath was elected as town clerk of Exeter, an office he would hold until the day he died. As a cider-producing area, when the government imposed an excise on the drink in 1763, Heath wrote an impassioned piece on the subject that was presented to Lord Bute. In fact, when the duty was repealed in 1766, Heath's pamphlet was considered one of the driving forces behind the change of decision.
Heath continued to collect books and write on the subject of the classics until his death in 1766. He passed his love of learning and literature to his children and two of his sons were headmasters of Eton and Harrow, amassing impressive book collections of their own. No doubt their bibliophile father would have been proud!