Theaker Wilder

Theaker Wilder

Theaker Wilder (c.1717 – c.1778) was the first Regius Professor of Greek and Senior Register at Trinity College, Dublin] and became famous for being Oliver Goldsmith's tutorThe Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume X. The Age of Johnson: IX Oliver Goldsmith] Washington Irving's The Life of Oliver Goldsmith] .

Early Life and Education

Theaker Wilder was the son of Matthew Wilder of [ Castle Wilder] , Co. Longford. Born circa 1717, he was educated locally by Dr. Elwood and entered Trinity College, Dublin as a pensioner (ordinary student) on July 8, 1734. He was awarded a scholarship in 1736, a B.A. degree in 1738, became a Fellow in 1744Ireland 120 Years Ago by John Edward Walsh, (edition published around 1911 by M.H. Gill & Sons Ltd.)] and was awarded an M.A. degree in 1748. He received a D.Div. degree in 1753. He was appointed Donegal Lecturer in 1759 and Regius Professor of Greek in 1761Alumni Dublinenses, Dublin, Alex. Thom & Co. Ltd., 2 Crown Street, 1935] . He was succeeded in this post by John Stokes in 1764.


He married Letitia Wilder (about 1724 - ) about 1746. His grand-daughter was Letitia Denniston of Cocksheath, Carrigart, Co. Donegal [Mevagh Down the Years by Dr. Leslie W. Lucas. Third Edition, Appletree Press, Belfast, 1983] .

He became rector of Tullyaughnish [Ramelton An illustrated guide to the town by Mary Haggan, 3rd Ed. Revised, 2006] (Ramelton, Co. Donegal) in 1769 and died there in late 1777 or, most likely, early 1778 at Grovehall, Ramelton, Co. Donegal.

Tutor to Goldsmith

Wilder was appointed tutor to the young Oliver Goldsmith when Goldsmith entered Trinity College as a Sizar in 1744. Because both men were from the same locality, it was thought that Wilder would provide wise counsel to Goldsmith. However, according to Irving and others, the relationship was tempestuous. There were several incidents where Goldsmith was disciplined by Wilder for infractions of the college rules culminating in his running away to Cork (en route to the Colonies). When he had spent all his money wiser heads prevailed and, with Goldsmith's brother Henry acting as peacemaker, he was able to return to his academic studies. He was awarded a B.A. degree in February 1749, two years later than normal.

Some extracts from Goldsmith's biographies:

From John Gibson Lockhart -He was, moreover, unfortunate in having for his tutor a Mr. Wilder, noted for savage temper, who had the ungenerosity to treat students of the subordinate class with peculiar harshness. Wilder might, perhaps, have treated Oliver better, had his turn been for mathematics and the scholastic logic, in which alone he himself excelled and delighted: but Oliver never concealed his dislike of these studies, and for his proficiency, to whatever it may have amounted, in the ancient languages and their elegant literature, the tutor cared little or nothing ... The youthful sizar was a poet, and we need not doubt that his passions at this period fermented with sufficient commotion. His father died before he had been two years in college, and from that time, though he received occasional supplies from his uncle Contarine, according to the statement of a companion, "his poverty was generally squalid." ...

The registers of Trinity furnish evidence of many irregularities; and among the rest Goldsmith figures as aiding and abetting a riot of May, 1747, which began with pumping a bailiff at the college cistern — and ended with the students heading the rabble of the town in an attempt to force Newgate and liberate the prisoners. This frolic was a very serious one — the gaoler fired, and three were killed and several wounded. Five of the gowned ringleaders were expelled, and Goldsmith and four others were ordered to be admonished "Quod seditioni favissent et tumultuantibus opem tulissent."

In the month after this, Oliver, anxious to recover his ground, made a considerable exertion, stood for one of Erasmus Smith's exhibitions, for which, though then producing only thirty shillings a-year, there were numerous competitors, and acquitted himself at the examination so well as to attain his object. Elated with this first and last of his academical distinctions, he invited a party of young people of both sexes to a supper and dance in his chambers. Mr. Wilder, astounded with the noise of the unlawful fiddle, entered the room, expostulated warmly with Goldsmith, and probably receiving an intemperate answer, struck him. Upon his sensitive spirit this unwarrantable violence produced a violent effect. After brooding all night over his disgrace, he sold off his books and quit the university, resolving to embark for America, and never revisit Ireland until he had made a character and fortune for himself in another region. He loitered about Dublin, however, until he had just one shilling left, and then set out for Cork. On this shilling he supported himself, by his own account, for three days, and then, having sold most of his raiment, was reduced to such extremity, that "after fasting twenty-four hours, he thought a handful of grey peas, given him by a girl at a wake, the most comfortable repast he had ever made." Fatigue and famine did what advice would probably have attempted in vain. Reaching the neighbourhood of his brother Henry, he sent him notice of his plight — was kindly received, re-clothed — and at length carried back to college, where his brother effected "a sort of reconciliation" between him and his tutor. [John Gibson Lockhart, "Prior's Life and Works of Goldsmith" Quarterly Review 57 (December 1836) 274-324.]

From Alexander Chalmers - The materials for a life of Dr. Goldsmith are very copious, although, not perhaps uniformly authentic ...

In June 1744, when in his fifteenth year, he was sent to Dublin College, and entered as a sizer, under the rev. Mr. Wilder, one of the fellows, but a man of harsh temper and violent passions, and consequently extremely unfit to win the affections and guide the disposition of a youth, simple, ingenuous, thoughtless and unguarded. His pupil, however, made some progress, although slow, in academical studies. In 1747, he was elected one of the exhibitioners on the foundation of Erasmus Smyth; and in 1749, two years after the regular time, he was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts. His indolence and irregularities may in part account for this tardy advancement to the reputation of a scholar, but much may likewise be attributed to the unfeeling neglect of his tutor, who contended only for the preservation of certain rules of discipline, while he gave himself little trouble with the cultivation of the mind. On one occasion he thought proper to chastise Oliver before a party of young friends of both sexes, whom, with his usual imprudence, he was entertaining with a supper and dance in his rooms. Oliver immediately disposed of his books and clothes, left college, and commenced a wanderer, without any prospect, without friends, and without money. At length, after suffering such extremity of hunger, that a handful of grey peas, which a girl gave him at a wake, appeared a luxurious meal, he contrived to acquaint his brother with his situation, who immediately clothed him and car. vied him back to college, effecting at the same time a reconciliation between him and his tutor, which it may be supposed was more convenient than cordial on either side. [Alexander Chalmers, in Works of the English Poets (1810) 16:479-87.]

From Henry Francis Cary - In June, 1744, he was sent a sizer to Trinity College, Dublin, and placed under the tuition of Mr. Wilder, one of the fellows, who is represented to have been of a temper so morose as to excite the strongest disgust in the mind of his pupil. He did not pass through his academical course without distinction. Dr. Kearney (who was afterwards provost), in a note on Boswell's Life of Johnson, informs us, that Goldsmith gained a premium at the Christmas examination, which, according to Mr. Malone, is more honourable than those obtained at the other examinations, inasmuch as it is the only one that determines the successful candidate to he the first in literary merit. This is enough to disprove what Johnson is reported to have said of him, that he was a plant that flowered late; that there appeared nothing remarkable about him when he was young; though, when he had got in fame, one of his friends began to recollect something of his being distinguished at college. Whether he took a degree is not known. On one occasion he narrowly escaped expulsion for having been concerned in the rescue of a student, who, in violation of the supposed privileges of the University, had been arrested for debt within its precincts: but his superiors contented themselves with passing a public censure on him. [Henry Francis Cary, "Lives of the Poets: Oliver Goldsmith" London Magazine 5 (February 1822) 105-12]

From Sir Walter Scott - An uncle by affinity, the Rev. Thomas Contarine, undertook the expense of affording to so promising a youth the advantages of a scholastic education. He was put to school at Edgeworths-town, and, in June 1744, was sent to Dublin College as a sizer; a situation which subjected him to much discouragement and ill usage, especially as he had the misfortune to fall under the charge of a brutal tutor.

On 15th June 1747, Goldsmith obtained his only academical laurel, being an Exhibition on the foundation of Erasmus Smythe, Esq. Some indiscreet frolic induced him soon afterwards to quit the University for a period; and he appears thus early to have commenced that sort of idle strolling life, which has often great charms for youths of genius, because it frees them from every species of subjection, and leaves them full masters of their own time, and their own thoughts; a liberty which they do not feel too dearly bought, at the expense of fatigue, of hunger, and of all the other inconveniences incidental to those who travel without money. Those who can recollect journeys of this kind, with all the shifts, necessities, and petty adventures, which attend them, will not wonder at the attractions which they had for such a youth as Goldsmith. Notwithstanding these erratic expeditions, he was admitted Bachelor of Arts in 1749. [Sir Walter Scott, "Oliver Goldsmith" 1824; Scott, Miscellaneous Prose Works (1829) 3:162-78.]

From Thomas Campbell - He was admitted a sizer or servitor of Trinity college, Dublin, in his sixteenth year, [11th June, 1745] a circumstance which denoted considerable proficiency; and three years afterwards was elected one of the exhibitioners on the foundation of Erasmus Smith. But though he occasionally distinguished himself by his translations from the classics, his general appearance at the university corresponded neither with the former promises, nor future development of his talents. He was, like Johnson, a lounger at the college-gate. He gained neither premiums nor a scholarship, and was not admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts till two years after the regular time. His backwardness, it would appear, was the effect of despair more than of wilful negligence. He had been placed under a savage tutor, named Theaker Wilder, who used to insult him at public examinations, and to treat his delinquencies with a ferocity that broke his spirit. On one occasion, poor Oliver was so imprudent as to invite a company of young people, of both sexes, to a dance and supper in his rooms; on receiving intelligence of which, Theaker grimly repaired to the place of revelry, belaboured him before his guests, and rudely broke up the assembly. The disgrace of this inhuman treatment drove him for a time from the university. He set out from Dublin, intending to sail from Cork for some other country, he knew not whither; but, after wandering about till he was reduced to such famine, that he thought a handful of gray peas, which a girl gave him at a wake, the sweetest repast he had ever tasted, he returned home, like the prodigal son, and matters were adjusted for his being received again at college. [Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 522-26.]

From William Howitt - Trinity College, Dublin, is a noble structure; and, with its spacious courts and extensive gardens, more fittingly deserving the name of parks, one would think a place where the years of studentship might — especially in the heart of such a city — be very agreeably spent. But Goldsmith entered there under circumstances that were irksome to him, and to add to the matter, he met with a brute in his tutor. The family income did not allow him to occupy a higher rank than that of a sizer, or poor scholar, and this was mortifying to his sensitive mind. The sizer wears a black gown of coarse stuff without sleeves, a plain black cloth cap without a tassel, and dines at the fellows' table after they have retired. It was at that period far worse; they wore red caps to distinguish them, and were compelled to perform derogatory offices; to sweep the courts in the morning, carry up the dishes from the kitchen to the fellows' table, and wait in the hall till they had dined. No wonder that a mind like that of Goldsmith's writhed under the degradation! He has recorded his own feelings and opinions on this custom: "Sure pride itself has dictated to the fellows of our colleges the absurd fashion of being attended at meals, and on other public occasions, by those poor men who, willing to be scholars, come in upon some charitable foundation. It implies a contradiction, for men to be at once learning the liberal arts and at the same time treated as slaves; at once studying freedom and practising servitude." A spirited fellow at length caused the abolition of the practice of the sizers acting as waiters, and that, too, on grand occasions before the public, by flinging the dish he was carrying on Trinity Sunday, at the head of a citizen in the crowd, assembled to witness the scene, who made some jeering remarks on the office he had to perform.

His tutor, a great brute — let his name be known — it was Wilder, proceeded sometimes to actual corporal castigation; and with Oliver's natural tendency to poetry, rather than to dry classical and mathematical studies, like many other poets, including Scott and Byron, he cut no great figure at college; and, like the latter, detested it. Amongst his contemporaries at the college was Edmund Burke, but they appear to have known little of each other. To add to Goldsmith's uncomfortable position, there occurred a riot of the students, who hearing that one of their body had been arrested in Fleet-street, rushed to the rescue, seized the bailiffs, dragged them to the college, and pumped them soundly in the old cistern. They next attempted to break open Newgate, and make a general jail delivery, but failed for want of cannon. In the subsequent inquiry Goldsmith came in, not for any severe punishment, but for a college censure. Feeling his self-respect deeply wounded by his brutal tutor entering his chambers, on one occasion when he had a party of merry comrades there, and in their presence inflicting personal chastisement upon him, he quit college, selling his books, and set off to Cork to embark for some foreign country. But his money failed, he was compelled to sell his clothes from his back, and, brought to the utmost condition of misery and starvation, he thus reached his brother's house., who again clothed him, and brought him back to college, endeavouring to propitiate the brutal tutor. His father dying, he was reduced to the deepest distress. His generous uncle, Contarine, helped him all he could, but, with Oliver's careless habits, he was still often reduced to the utmost straits, He was sometimes compelled to pawn his books, and borrow others to study from. His condition became that of squalid poverty, and, at length, he was driven to the extremity of writing street ballads, which he found a ready sale for at five shillings a copy, at a shop known as the sign of the Reindeer, in Mountrath-street. Eventually obtaining the degree of B.A. he quitthe university, and, as we have seen, retreated to his own native neighbourhood and friends. [William Howitt, "Oliver Goldsmith" Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847) 1:286-336.]

From The Cambridge History of English and American Literature At this date, he must have been between fourteen and fifteen; and, whatever his ability, it seems to have been decided that he should follow his elder brother Henry to Trinity college, Dublin, though not with the same advantages. Henry Goldsmith, who was five or six years his brother’s senior, had gone as a pensioner and obtained a scholarship. For Oliver, this was impracticable. His father, a poor man, had, from family pride, further crippled himself by undertaking to portion his second daughter, Catherine, who had clandestinely married the son of a rich neighbour. In these circumstances, nothing was open to Goldsmith but to obtain his university education as a poor scholar, a semi-menial condition which, to one already morbidly sensitive, could not fail to be distasteful. For a long time, he fought doggedly against his fate; but, at length, yielding to the persuasions of a friendly uncle Contarine, who had himself gone through the same ordeal, he was admitted to Trinity college as a sizar on 11 June, 1744, taking up his abode in one of the garrets of what was then the eastern side of Parliament square.

The academic career thus inauspiciously begun was not worshipful. From the outset, he was dispirited and disappointed, and, consequently, without energy or enthusiasm. Moreover, he was unfortunate in his tutor, a clergyman named Theaker Wilder, who, "though his bad qualities may have been exaggerated, was certainly harsh and unsympathetic" (emphasis added). His forte, too, was mathematics, which Goldsmith, like Swift, like Gray, like Johnson, detested as cordially as he detested the arid logic of “Dutch Burgersdyck” and Polish Smiglesius. According to Stubbs’s History of the University of Dublin, Oliver Goldsmith is recorded on one or two occasions as being remarkably diligent at Morning Lecture; again, as cautioned for bad answering at Morning and Greek Lectures; and finally, as put down into the next class for neglect of his studies.

To this, he added other enormities. He was noted, as was Johnson at Oxford, for much “lounging about the college gate”; and for his skill on that solace to melancholy and laborum dulce lenimen, the German flute, of which, as readily as his own “Man in Black,” he had apparently mastered the “Ambusheer.” He became involved in various scrapes, notably a college riot, including that ducking of a bailiff afterwards referred to in the first version of The Double Transformation, on which occasion he was publicly admonished quod seditioni favisset et tumultuantibus opem tulisset. Recovering a little from the stigma of this disgrace by gaining a small (Smythe) exhibition, he was imprudent enough to celebrate his success by a mixed entertainment, in what only by courtesy could be called his “apartments.” On these festivities, the exasperated Wilder made irruption, knocking down the unfortunate host, who, after forthwith selling his books, ran away, vaguely bound, as on subsequent occasions, for America. But a reconciliation with his tutor was patched up by Oliver’s brother Henry; and he returned to his college to enjoy the half-peace of the half-pardoned. His father was now dead; and he was miserably poor. He managed, however, to take his B.A. degree on 27 February, 1749, and quit the university without regret, leaving behind him a scratched signature on a window pane (still preserved), an old lexicon scored with “promises to pay” and a reputation for supplementing his scanty means by the ballads (unluckily not preserved) which he was accustomed to write and afterwards sell for five shillings a head at the Reindeer in Mountrath court, stealing out at nightfall—so runs the tradition—to “snatch the fearful joy” of hearing them sung. It must have been the memory of these things which, years after, at Sir William Chambers’s, made him fling down his cards, and rush hurriedly into the street to succor a poor ballad-woman, who had apparently, like Rubini, "les larmes dans la voix". [The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21)., Volume X. The Age of Johnson: IX. Oliver Goldsmith., Section 4 and 5]

Wilder was fairly eccentric, as described in Ireland 120 Years Ago by John Edward Walsh:

The gownsmen were then a formidable body, and, from a strong "esprit de corps", were ready, on short notice, to issue forth in a mass to avenge any insult offered to an individual of their party who complained of it. They converted the keys of their rooms into formidable weapons. They procured them as large and heavy as possible, and slinging them in the sleeves or tails of their gowns, or pocket-handkerchiefs, gave with them mortal blows. Even the fellows participated in this "esprit de corps". The interior of the college was considered a sanctuary for debtors; and woe to the unfortunate bailiff who violated its precincts. There stood, at that time, a wooden pump in the centre of the front court to which delinquents in this way were dragged the moment they were detected, and all but smothered. One of the then fellows, Dr. Wilder, [Rev. Theaker Wilder, a good mathematical scholar was tutor to Oliver Goldsmith. He was elected Fellow in 1744; and died in 1777] was a man of very eccentric habits, and possessed little of the gravity and decorum that distinguish the exemplary fellows of Trinity at the present day. He once met a young lady in one of the crossings, where she could not pass him without walking in the mud He stopped opposite her; and, gazing for a moment on her face he laid his hands on each side and kissed her. He then nodded familiarly at the astonished and offended girl and saying, "Take that, miss, for being so handsome" stepped out of the way and let her pass. He was going through the college courts on one occasion when a bailiff was under discipline; he pretended to interfere for the man and called out - "Gentlemen, gentlemen, for the love of God, don't be so cruel as to nail his ears to the pump." The hint was immediately taken; a hammer and nail were sent for, and an ear was fastened with a tenpenny nail; the lads dispersed, and the wretched man remained for a considerable time bleeding, and shrieking with pain, before he was released.

Later life

He became rector of Tullyaughnish [The Parish of Tullyaughnish, Ramelton by Rev. Brian Smeaton] (Ramelton, Co. Donegal) in 1769 and died there in early 1778 (probably late January) at Grove Hall, Ramelton, Co. Donegal. The living of Tullyaughnish was in the gift of Trinity College at that time. His death was reported in the first issue of the Dublin Evening Journal [The Dublin Evening Journal, Issue No 1, Feb 3th, 1778] and a few days later in The Londonderry Journal [The Londonderry Journal of Feb 6th, 1778] . According to one account - "It is interesting to know that Mr. Theaker Wilder was killed in a drunken riot, just at the time when Goldsmith's social success was at its height" [Novels and Novelists from Elizabeth to Victoria by John Cordy Jeaffreson, Hurst & Brackett, London 1858] - but this cannot be true since Goldsmith had already been dead for almost four years by the time Wilder died. Another source ascribes his death to an accident sustained when arriving home late from a local hostelry. In any event, his widow took steps to secure his assets. Advertisements to this effect appeared in the Londonderry Journal for several weeks after his death [The Londonderry Journal and The General Advertiser, February 17, 1778 and various dates thereafter up to at least May 8th, 1778] .

The notice of his death in the Dublin Evening Journal reads:

DeathsNear Rathmelton, the Rev. Dr. Wilder, formerly afellow of Trinity College, Dublin.

The notices in the Londonderry Journal read:

The Inhabitants of Tully and Aughnish, in theCounty of Donegal, who are indebted to theHeirs of the late Dr. Wilder for Rent, Tythes,&c. are desired to pay the same immediatelyto Mr. John Delap of Rathmelton.

- 16th Feb 1778

Letitia Wilder


A Caution

Those who are indebted to the Rev. Dr. Theaker Wilder,of Grovehall, near Rathmelton, in the County of Donegal,deceased, by Bond, Note or otherwise, are desired notto pay any Person but me, his Widow, who purposesto administer immediately, or to myLawful Attorney; and those who can give informationof any of his Effects that may be secreted to Mr.Smyth, No. 8, William-street, Dublin, or to me atMr Robert Nesbet's, Rathmelton, shall be rewarded.

Given under my hand this 1st Day of February, 1778

Letitia Wilder


Wilder published a translation of Newton's [ Universal arithmetick] to which he contributed notes. The book was published in London in 1769. It was begun by Wilder's colleague in Trinity College, Dublin, James Maguire, but was unfinished at the time of Maguire's death. The enterprise was undertaken by Wilder at the behest of Maguire's family -

... John and Bridget, the Brother and Sister of the Author James Maguire: And to the Use of his Representatives, the Profits (if any) of this Work are by Deed conveyed; the Losses, if any, are to be sustained solely by me.

The Library of Congress citation reads:

LC Control No.: 01003431

Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)

Personal Name: Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727.

Main Title: Universal arithmetick: or, A treatise of arithmetical composition and resolution. Written in Latin by Sir Isaac Newton. Translated by the late Mr. Ralphson; and rev. and cor. by Mr. Cunn. To which is added, a treatise upon the measures of ratios, by James Maguire, A.M. The whole illustrated and explained, in a series of notes, by the Rev. Theaker Wilder ...

Published/Created: London, Printed for W. Johnston, 1769.

Related Names: Cunn, Mr. (Samuel), ed. Raphson (sic), Joseph, d. 1715 or 16, tr. Wilder, Theaker.

Description: 2 v. in 1. VIII fold. diagr. 21 cm.

Notes: Paged continuously. "Of the methods by which you may approximate to the roots of numeral equations", By Colin MacLaurin: p. [505] -536.

Subjects: Algebra--Early works to 1800.

LC Classification: QA35 .N564

Language Code: englat ______________________________

CALL NUMBER: QA35 .N564 Copy 1

-- Request in: Jefferson or Adams Bldg General or Area Studies Reading Rms-- Status: Not Charged

The publication is also mentioned in Allibone ["Dictionary of British and American Authors", Philadelphia, 1859 by S.A. Allibone] . In addition to Newton's first edition, there were several other editions of this book - Latin editions of 1722, 1732, 1761 and Ralphson's English editions of 1720 and 1728 before Wilder and Maguire's contributions.

External links

* " [ Oliver Goldsmith: A Biography] " by Washington Irving from Project Gutenberg
* " [ Goldsmith (English Men of Letters series)] " by William Black from Project Gutenberg


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