Thomas Purnell (critic)

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Thomas Purnell (1834–1889) was a British author, best known as a dramatic critic writing as "Q".


The son of Robert Purnell, he was born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, in 1834. He matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1852, but then went to London and became a journalist.[1]

In 1862 Purnell was recommended by Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy as assistant-secretary and librarian of the Archæological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and he retained the post until 1866. In 1870–1 he contributed to the Athenæum, under the signature "Q.", a series of dramatic criticisms which attracted notice by their style and slashing censures. Charles Reade and Tom Taylor published replies.

Purnell founded a small literary club, the "Decemviri", which included A. C. Swinburne, Whistler, Robert Edward Francillon, and Joseph Knight. He came to know Giuseppe Mazzini, to whom he introduced Swinburne and others. He died at Lloyd Square, Pentonville, London, where his sister kept house for him, on 17 December 1889, after a long illness.


In 1871 Purnell edited Charles Lamb's Correspondence and Works, and organised the Charles Lamb centenary dinner. He was the author of:

  • Literature and its Professors, London, 1867.
  • Dramatists of the Present Day (reprinted from the Athenæum), by Q., London, 1871.
  • To London and elsewhere, London, 1881.
  • The Lady Drusilla: a Psychological Romance, London, 1886.
  • Dust and Diamonds: Essays, London, 1888.

Purnell also edited John Herd's Historia Quatuor Regum Angliæ for the Roxburghe Club, 1868.


  1. ^  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1896). "Purnell, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1896). "Purnell, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co.