Thornton, Bonnell

, a miscellaneous writer of genuine humour, and the colleague of Mr. Colman in many of his literary labours, was the son of an apothecary, and born in Maiden-lane, London, in 1724. After the usual course of education at Westminster school, he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1743. The first publication in which he was concerned, was “The Student, or the Oxford Monthly Misrellany;” afterwards altered to “The Student, or Oxford and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany.” This entertaining medley appeared in monthly numbers, printed at Oxford, for Mr. Newbery, in St. Paul’s churchyard. Smart was the principal conductor, but Thornton and other >wits of both universities occasionally assisted. Thornton’s first attempt appeared in the first number, “The Comforts of a Retired Life,” an elegy in imitation of Tibullus. Mr. Thomas Warton was also a writer in the poetical department; and Dr. Johnson, probably at Mr. Newbery’s request, wrote his “Life of Cheynel,” in one of the latter numbers. The whole were afterwards collected and published in 1748, 2 vols. 8vo. In 1752 he began a periodical work entitled “Have at ye all, or the Drury Lane Journal,” in opposition to Fielding’s “Coventgarden Journal.” It contains some humorous remarks on reigning follies, but with too frequent mixture of personal ridicule. How long it lasted is uncertain. The copy before us contains only twelve numbers.

Our author took his degree of M. A. on April 7, 1750, and as his father wished him to make physic his profession, he took the degree of bachelor in that faculty, May 18, 1754 but his bent, like that of Colman, was not to the severer studies, and they about this time “clubbed their wits” to establish the periodical paper entitled “The Connoisseur.| As they did not distinguish their respective papers by any mark, Thornton’s share cannot now be ascertained, but it is believed to be less than that of his partner. His habits were early relaxed, and although not naturally indolent, he was easily led from regular pursuits, and was consequently not remarkable for punctuality in his periodical supplies. Of this we have the following instance: when the Connoisseur, No. 101, came to town for publication, Colman, who happened to be in London, saw it at the publisher’s, and found it contained the production of a correspondent of very inferior merit, which Thornton had sent to press to save himself the trouble of writing one. But as the day for the appearance of this paper was the first of January, Colman was enraged at this carelessness and inattention to so remarkable an opportunity for a good essay, and came to Mr. Say’s printing-office late at night to inquire if it was possible to have a paper printed in time for next day’s publication. Being told that it was barely possible, he immediately sat down in his publisher (Mr. R. Baldwin’s) parlour, and wrote the paper which now stands as the 101st, cancelling the other.*


Dr. Kenrick who hated Colman, and every theatrical manager who rejected his dramas, relates this story in a very differfnt manner, as if Colman had transcribed Thornton’s paper to make it pass for his own; with him too, it is not a paper in the Connois seur, but a letter intended for the St. James’s Chronicle: London Review, vol. III. We prefer, however, the authority of the late Isaac Reed, and the late Henry Baldwin, esq. of Kingston, who well knew the circumstance.

As an occasional writer, however, unfettered by times and seasons, Mr. Thornton was profuse in his contributions to magazines and newspapers. Scarce any popular topic offered of whatever kind, which did not afford him a subject for a pamphlet, an essay, a piece of poetry, or some whimsical paragraphs for the newspapers. His contributions to the Public Advertiser were very considerable, and when the St. James’s Chronicle was projected (and the first thought of it was imparted to him) he became a proprietor, and a valuable contributor. A collection of the best pieces of the first year of that paper was published at the close of it, under the title of “The Yearly Chronicle for 1761; or a collection of the most interesting and striking essays, &c. with a diary of events,” &c. This was handsomely printed in an octavo volume, but notwithstanding the convenience of the plan, and the popularity of the contents, it did not succeed so well as to encourage a continuation. | About this time our author had it in contemplation to treat with Mr. Rich for the patent of Covent-gardeii theatre, but the negociation proved abortive. Ho had now given up all thoughts of the employment to which he was bred, and became an author by profession, and a general satirist, oor was it with his pen only that he exercised his humour. He projected an exhibition of sign paintings, a scheme which at first appeared preposterous, beyond all hopes of encouragement, but which actually took place at his house in Bow-street, Covent-garden. The object was to convey satire on temporary events, objects, and persons, and for some time it had considerable success. It was, however, one of those odd schemes which could not be expected to last, or to be repeated, and which the public, at a less good-humoured period, might in all probability be disposed to consider as an insult.

The “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day,” above mentioned, was another effort of the burlesque kind, from Mr. Thornton’s sportive muse, and afforded much entertainment. The sternest muscles must relax where it is read. It was professedly adapted to “the ancient British music,” viz. the salt-box, the Jew’s harp, the marrow-bones and cleavers, the hum-strum or hurdy-gurdy, &c. Dr. Johnson praised its humour, and seemed much diverted with it; nor could it be less diverting to hear him repeat the following passage, which he frequently did:

"In strains more exalted the salt-box shall join,

And clattering and battering and clapping combine

With a rap and a tap, while the hollow side sounds,

Up and down leaps the flap, and with rattling rebounds *."

In such compositions Mr. Thornton’s imagination was particularly original and fertile, and so various that no writer has ever excelled in so many species of wit, both of the superior and inferior kinds, although his inclination and sometimes his subjects led him more frequently to the latter. What reputation this might have conferred, however,


Boswell’s Life of Johnson. In a note on the last edition of this work, Dr. Burney informs us that he set this pice to music. It wis performed at Ranelagh in masks, to a very crowded andience. Beard sung the salt-box song, which was admirably accompanied on that instrument by Brent the fencing-master, and father of miss Brent the celebrated singer: Skeggs, on the broom-stick, as bassoon; and a remarkable performer on the Jew’sharp. Cleavers were cast in bell metal for this entertainment. All the performers of the “Old Woman’s Oratory” employed by Foote, were employed at Ranelagh on this occasion.

| has been in a great measure lost, from his writing anonymously, and upon subjects that had no permanent interest with the public, and from no collection having been made of his pieces when they could be ascertained, and attributed to the proper author. Mr. Colman once announced to his friends, a design to collect all his partner’s works, but neglected it until his other engagements rendered it impracticable. In 1766 Thornton published two volumes, afterwards completed in five, of a translation of “Plautus,” in blank verse, assisted by Warner and Colman; a work, which, although not very successful, was generally approved, and Warburton said “he never read so just a translation in so pure and elegant a style.” In 1767 he published “The battle of the Wigs,” as an additional canto to Garth’s “Dispensary,” the subject of which was the dispute then subsisting between the fellows and licentiates of the college of physicians. This was followed by his “City Latin^” in ridicule of the inscription on Blackfriars Bridge. Besides these publications, he is said to have written the papers in the “Adventurer,” marked A.

In 1764, Mr. Thornton married Miss Sylvia Brathwaite, youngest daughter of colonel Brathwaite, who was governor of Cape Coast Castle in Africa, and who, when the ship in which he was returning to England, was taken by a Spanish privateer, fell under a treacherous blow by one of the sailors, who had observed a valuable brilliant on his finger. With this lady, Mr. Thornton appears to have enjoyed the highest domestic felicity, for which he^ was eminently qualified by a most affectionate heart, until his prospects were closed by bad health, which hurried him to his grave in the forty-fourth year of his age, May 9, 1768. He left a widow, a daughter and two sons, of whom Dr. Thornton, physician, is the only survivor.

His character may be taken from the epitaph written in Latin by his friend Dr. Joseph Warton, and placed on his monument in the cloisters of Westminster-abbey. “His genius, cultivated most happily by every kind of polite literature, was accompanied and recommended by manners open, sincere, and candid. In his writings and conversation he had a wonderful liveliness, with a vein of pleasantry peculiarly his own. In ridiculing the failings of men, without bitterness, and with much humour, he was singularly happy as a companion he was delightful.1


British Essayists, vol. XXX. Preface.