Henley, John

, better known by the appellation of “Orator Henley,” has furnished the world with memorials | of himself, in a work entitled “Oratory Transactions,” which are in some respects worth preserving. He was born Tit. Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, Aug. 3, 1692. His father, the rev. Simon Henley, and his grandfather by his mother’s side (John Dowel, M. A.) were both vicars of that parish. His grandfather by his father’s side, John Henley, M. A. was likewise a clergyman, rector of Salmonby and Thetford in Lincolnshire. % He was educated among the dissenters, and conformed at the restoration. Henley was bred up first in the free-school of Melton, under Mr. Daffy, a diligent and expert grammarian. From this school he was removed to that of Okeham in Rutland, under Mr. Wright, eminent for his knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages. About 1709 he entered of St. John’s-college, Cambridge; where, on his examination by Dr. Gower then master, Dr. Lambert, Dr. Edmundson, and others, he was, he tells us, particularly approved. While an undergraduate at St. John’s, he wrote a letter to the “Spectator,” dated from that college, Feb. 3, 1712, signed Peter de Quir, abounding with quaintness and local wit. He began here to be very soon uneasy; he was more inclined to dispute than to assent to any points of doctrine, and already fancied himself able to reform the whole system of academical education.

After he had commenced bachelor of arts, he was first desired by the trustees of the school in Melton to assist in, and then to take the direction of, that school; which he increased and raised from a declining to a flourishing condition. He established here, he tells us, a practice of improving elocution, by the public speaking of passages in the classics, morning and afternoon, as well as orations, &c. Here he was invited by a letter from the rev. Mr. Newcome, to be a candidate for a fellowship in St. John’s; but as he had long been absent, and therefore lessened his personal interest, he declined appearing for it. Here likewise he began his “Universal Grammar,” and finished ten languages, with dissertations prefixed, as the most ready introduction to any tongue whatever. In the beginning of this interval he wrote a poem on “Esther,” which, was approved by the town, and well received, as indeed it amply deserved. It is preceded by a learned preface, in which he discovers an intimate knowledge of Oriental studies, and some learned etymologies from the Persic, Hebrew, and Greek, concerning the name and person of | Abasuerus, whom he makes to be Xerxes. On the occasion of his “Grammars,” Dr. Hutchinson wrote him a complimentary letter. He was ordained a deacon by Dr. Wake, then bishop of Lincoln; and after having taken his degree of M. A. was admitted to priest’s orders by Dr. Gibson, his successor in that see. He did not long consent to rest in the country, but, impatient to obtain wealth and fame in London, resigned his offices of master and curate, and entered upon his new career.

In town, he produced several publications; as, a translation of Pliny’s “Epistles,” of several works of abbe Vertot, of Montfaucon’s “Italian Travels” in folio, and many other books. His principal patron was the earl of Macclesfield, who gave him a benefice in the country, the value of which to a resident would have been above 80/ a year; he had likewise a lecture in the city; and, according to his own account, preached more chanty-sermons about town, was more numerously followed, and raised more for the poor children, than any other preacher, however dignified or distinguished. This popularity, with his enterprising spirit, and introducing regular action into the pulpit, were “the true causes,” he says, “why some obstructed his rising in town, from envy, jealousy, and a disrelish of those who are not qualified to be complete spaniels. For there was no objection to his being tossed into a ‘country benefice by the way of the sea, as far as Galilee of the Gentiles (like a pendulum swinging one way as far as the other.)” Not being able to obtain preferment in London, and not choosing to return into the country, he struck out the plan of his Lectures, or Orations, which he puffed with an astonishing vulgarity of arrogance, as may be seen in the following specimen:

That he should have the assurance to frame a plan, which no mortal ever thought of; that he should singly execute what would sprain a dozen of modern doctors of the tribe of Issachar that he should have success against all opposition challenge his adversaries to fair disputations, without any offering to dispute with him write, read, and study 12 hours a day, and yet appear as untouched by the yoke, as if he never wore it; compose three dissertations each week, on all subjects, however uncommon, treated in all lights and manners by himself, without assistance, as some would detract from him teach in one year, what schools and universities teach in five | offer to learn to speak and to read; not be terrified by cabals, or menaces, or insults, or the grave nonsense of one, or the frothy satire of another; that he should still proceed and mature this bold scheme, and put the church, and all that, in danger; This man must be a a a &c.

Henley lectured, in this style, on Sundays upon theological matters, and on Wednesdays upon all other sciences. He declaimed some years against the greatest persons, and occasionally, says Warburton, did Pope that honour. The poet retorts upon him in the well-known lines:

"But where each science lifts its modern type,

History her pot, Divinity his pipe,

While proud Philosophy repines to show.

Dishonest sight his breeches rent below;

Imbrown’d with native bronze, lo Henley stands," &c. &c.

This strange man struck medals, which he dispersed as tickets to his subscribers: a star rising to the meridian, with this motto, “ad summa;” and below, *’ Inveniam viam, aut faciam.“Each audkor paid Is. His audience was generally composed of the lowest ranks; and it is well known, that he once collected a vast number of shoemakers, by announcing that he could teach them a speedy mode of operation in their business, which proved only to be, the making of shoes bv cutting off the tops of readymade boots. His motto on this occasion was,” Onine majus continet in se minus.“He was author of a weekly paper of unintelligible nonsense, called” The Hyp Doctor,“for which secret service he had 100l. a year given him, and which was intended to counteract the effect of the” Craftsman,“a proof how little his patron sir Robert Walpole knew of literary assistance. Henley used, every Saturday, to print an advertisement in” The Daily Advertiser," containing an account of the subjects on which he intended to discourse in the ensuing evening, at his Oratory near Lincoln’s-inn-fields. The advertisement had a sort of motto before it, which was generally a sneer at some public transaction of the preceding week .*


Dr. Cobden, one of George II.'s chaplains, having, in 1748, preached a sermon at St. James’s, from these words: “Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness;” it gave so much displeasure, that the doctor was struck out of the list of chaplains; and the next Saturday, the following parody of his text appeared as a motto to Henley’s advertisement: "Away with the wicked before the king, And away with the wicked behind him;

His throne it will bless

With righteousness,

And we shall know where to find him."

Henley | died Oct. 14, 1756. In his account of himself he assumes the credit of considerable learning, and a strong zeal for knowledge, which at one time certainly was the case, but his talents became miserably perverted, if we may judge from the specimens we have seen of his compositions. Both his style and his thoughts are low; vanity and censoriousness are the most conspicuous qualities, and his manners, become gross and ferocious, corresponded with his writings.

Orator Henley is a principal figure in two very humorous plates of Hogarth; in one of which he is “christening a child;” in the other, called “The Oratory,” he is represented on a scaffold, a monkey (over whom is written Amen) by his side a box of pills, and “The Hyp Doctor,” lying beside him. Over his head “The Oratory Inveniam viam, aut faciam.” Over the door, “Ingredere ut proficias.A parson receiving the money for admission. Under him, “The Treasury.A butcher stands as porter. On the left hand, Modesty in a cloud; Folly in a coach; and a gibbet prepared for Merit; people laughing. One marked “The Scout,” introducing a puritan divine.*


This description is taken from Mr. Nichols’s “Biographical Aoecdotes of Hogarth; and was written by Mr. Steevens; who doubts, however, whether ” The Oratory" be a genuine production of Hogarth.

Henley, says a late judicious reviewer of his life, “was a scholar of great acquirements, and of no mean genius; hardy and inventive; eloquent and witty; he might have been an ornament to literature, which he made ridiculous; and the pride of the pulpit, which he so egregiously disgraced; but having blunted and worn out that interior feeling, which is the instinct of the good man, and the wisdom of the wise, there was no balance in his passions, and the decorum of life was sacrificed to its selfishness. He condescended to live on the follies of the people, and his sordid nature had changed him till he crept ‘ licking the dust with the serpent’.1


D’Israeli’s Calamities. Nichols’s Hist of Leicestershire, art. Melton Mowbray, &c. &c.