Burnett, George (c. 1776–1811)

Writer. The son of John Burnett, a farmer, of Huntspill, Somerset. Educated at Balliol College, Oxford (matric. 1793). His varied career included time spent as a student at a dissenting academy in Manchester, pastor to a Unitarian congregation in Great Yarmouth, medical student at the University of Edinburgh, assistant to John Rickman, domestic tutor to the sons of Lord Stanhope, assistant surgeon to a militia regiment, and (in Poland) tutor to the family of Count Stanislaw Kostka Zamoyski (1775–1856), a Polish nobleman, politician and patron of arts, after which Southey referred to him as ‘the Count’. Burnett was also a professional writer, whose works included View of the Present State of Poland (1807; from essays originally published in the Monthly Magazine), Specimens of English Prose Writers (1807; a companion to George Ellis’s Specimens of the Early English Poets) and Extracts from the Prose Works of Milton (1809). Southey met Burnett at Balliol and the two became friends. Burnett was one of the originators of Pantisocracy and in true Pantisocratic spirit proposed to Martha Fricker, who turned him down. In 1795, he shared lodgings with Southey and Coleridge in Bristol. From 1797–1798, he was minister to a Unitarian congregation in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where he also tutored Henry Herbert Southey. Burnett moved in metropolitan literary circles and was friendly with Charles Lamb and John Rickman. His relationship with Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge became deeply ambivalent — by 1803 he was accusing both of treating him badly. Burnett was an opium addict and his last years were probably spent in poverty. He died in the Marylebone Infirmary.

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