Townley, James

, a learned master of Merchant Taylors’ school, was the second son of a merchant, and born in London in 1715. He was educated at that school over which he afterwards presided, whence he was elected to St. John’s college, Oxford. Soon after taking orders, he was chosen morning preacher at Lincoln’s-inn chapel, and lecturer of St. Dunstan’s in the East. He married, in 1740, Miss Jane Bonnin of Windsor, descended from the Poyntz family, and related to the late dowager lady Spencer, through whose patronage Mr. Townley obtained the living of St. Bennett, Gracechurch-street, London. He afterwards became grammar-master to Christ’s hospital; and in 1759 was chosen high master of the Merchant Taylors’ school, in which office he died July 15, 1778, having been presented in 1777 to a living in Wales, by bishop Shipley, to whom he was chaplain. He was the close intimate of Garrick, from whom he held for some years the valuable vicarage of Hendon, in Middlesex; and it has been supposed that many of Garrick’s best productions and revisals partook of Mr. Townley’s assisting hand. He was the long- concealed author of the celebrated farce of “High Life below Stairs,” anno 1759, a piece which has held its constant place on the stage, against all the variations of dramatic taste and literary caprice. He also produced, in 1764, “False Concord,” a farce, for his friend Woodward’s benefit; and, in 1765, the “Tutor,” a farce, under Mr. Column’s protection, at Drury-lane, but which, from the juvenile characters, did not succeed. It is to be remarked, that “False Concord” contains three characters of lord Lavender, Mr. Suds, an enriched soap-boiler, and a pert valet, who are not only the exact lord Ogleby, Mr. Sterling, and Brush, of the “Clandestine Marriage,” brought out in 1767 by Garrick and Colman conjointly; but that part of the dialogue is nearly verbatim. We leave the application of the inference to the reader.

Mr. Townley also (with Dr. Morell) materially assisted his friend Hogarth in his “Analysis of Beauty,” as. Mr. Hogarth’s erudition was wholly of the pencil. Although bestowing so much attention on the business of the stage, he is said to have been much admired as a divine. “His manner of delivery was graceful, impressive, and energetic. The style of his discourses was correct, yet unstudied, and (what is the highest praise of sacred oratory) adapted to the understanding of a general auditory. Some single sermons | only are in print.” When chosen head master of Merchant Taylors* school, the first improvement which he suggested in the system of education, was the introduction of mathematical learning, for which he had acquired a taste at Christ’s hospital, but this he was not able to accomplish. He was more successful, however, in substituting, instead of the old practice of declaiming, repetitions, every three or four months, of select passages in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English, which first took place in February 1761. In the following year, his partiality to theatrical representations induced him to request permission from the company of Merchant Taylors for the boys to perform a Latin play. This was at first granted, and plays were performed for two seasons, but the company finally disapproved of them, and we cannot help thinking, very justly, as likely to draw the attention of the scholars from more useful pursuits, and more important acquirements. In other respects, he appears occasionally to have di tiered from the guardians of the school, but was upon the whole a diligent master, and many of his pupils are now filling the highest stations in the three professions of divinity, law, and medicine. 1


Gent. Mag. LXXV.—Wilson’s Hist. of Merchant Taylors’ School.