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JOHN HENLEY (1692-1759)

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Originally appearing in Volume V13, Page 270 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN HENLEY (1692-1759), English clergyman, commonly known as `; Orator Henley," was born on the 3rd of August 1692 at Melton-Mowbray, where his father was vicar. After attending the grammar schools of Melton and Oakham, he entered St John's College, Cambridge, and while still an under-graduate he addressed in February 1712, under the pseudonym of Peter de Quir, a letter, to the Spectator displaying no small wit and humour. After graduating B.A., he became assistant and then headmaster of the grammar school of his native town, uniting to these duties those of assistant curate. His abundant energy found still further expression in a poem entitled Esther, Queen of Persia (1714), and in the compilation of a grammar of ten languages entitled The Complete Linguist (2 vols., London, 1719-1721). He then decided to go to London, where he obtained the appointment of assistant preacher in the chapels of Ormond Street and Bloomsbury. In 1723 he was presented to the rectory of Chelmondiston in Suffolk; but residence being insisted on, he resigned both his appointments, and on the 3rd of July 1726 opened what he called an oratory " in Newport Market, which he licensed under the Toleration Act. In 1729 he transferred the scene of his operations to Lincoln's In Fields. Into his services he introduced many peculiar alterations: he drew up a " Primitive Liturgy," in which he substituted for the Nicene and Athanasian creeds two creeds taken from the Apostolical Constitutions; for his " Primitive Eucharist " he made use of unleavened bread and mixed wine; he distributed at the price of one shilling medals of admission to his oratory, with the device of a sun rising to the meridian, with the motto Ad summa, and the words Inveniam viam aut faciam below. But the most original element in the services was Henley himself, who is described by Pope in the Dunciad as " Preacher at once and zany of his age." He possessed some oratorical ability and adopted a very theatrical style of elocution, " tuning his voice and balancing his hands "; and his addresses were a strange medley of solemnity and buffoonery, of clever wit and the wildest absurdity, of able and original disquisition and the worst artifices of the oratorical charlatan. His services were much frequented by the " free-thinkers," and he himself expressed his determination " to die a rational." Besides his Sunday sermons, he delivered Wednesday lectures on social and political subjects; and he also projected a scheme for connecting with the " oratory " a university on quite a utopian plan. For some time he edited the Hyp Doctor, a weekly paper established in opposition to the Crafts-man, and for this service he enjoyed a pension of £loo a year from Sir Robert Walpole. At first the orations of Henley drew great crowds, but, although he never discontinued his services, .his audience latterly dwindled almost entirely away. He died on the 13th of October 1759. Henley is the subject of several of Hogarth's prints. His life, professedly written by A. Welstede, but in all probability by himself, was inserted by him in his Oratory Transactions. See J. B. Nichols, History of Leicestershire; I. Disraeli, Calamities of Authors.visited his contributor in hospital and took Robert Louis Steven-son, another recruit of the Cornhill, with him. The meeting between Stevenson and Henley, and the friendship of which it was the beginning, form one of the best-known episodes in recent literature (see especially Stevenson's letter to Mrs Sitwell, Jan. 1875, and Henley's poems " An Apparition " and " Envoy to Charles Baxter "). In 1877 Henley went to London and began his editorial career by editing London, a journal of a type more usual in Paris than London, written for the sake of its contributors rather than of the public. Among other distinctions it first gave to the world The New Arabian Nights of Stevenson. Henley himself contributed to his journal a series of verses chiefly in old French forms. He had been writing poetry since 1872, but (so he told the world in his " advertisement " to his collected Poems, 1898) he " found himself about 1877 so utterly unmarketable that he had to own himself beaten in art and to addict himself to journalism for the next ten years." After the decease of London, he edited the Magazine of Art from 1882 to •1886. At the end of that period he came before the public as a poet. In 1887 Mr Gleeson White made for the popular series of Canterbury Poets (edited by Mr William Sharp) a selection of poems in old French forms. In his selection Mr Gleeson White included a considerable number of pieces from London, and only after he had completed the selection did he discover that the verses were all by one hand, that of Henley. In the following year, Mr H. B. Donkin in his volume Voluntaries, done for an East End hospital, included Henley's unrhymed rhythms quintessentializing the poet's memories of the old Edinburgh Infirmary. Mr Alfred Nutt read these, and asked for more; and in 1888 his firm published A Book of Verse. Henley was by this time well known in a restricted literary circle, and tin publication of this volume determined for them his fame as a poet, which rapidly outgrew these limits, two new editions of this volume being called for within three years. In this same year (1888) Mr Fitzroy Bell started the Scots Observer in Edinburgh, with Henley as literary editor, and early in 1889 Mr Bell left the conduct of the paper to him. It was a weekly review somewhat on the lines of the old Saturday Review, but inspired in every paragraph by the vigorous and combative personality of the editor. It was transferred soon after to London as the National Observer, and remained under Henley's editorship until 1893. Though, as Henley confessed, the paper had almost as many writers as readers, and its fame was mainly confined to the literary class, it was a lively and not uninfluential feature of the literary life of its time. Henley had the editor's great gift of discerning promise, and the " Men of the Scots Observer," as Henley affectionately and characteristically called his band of contributors, in most instances justified his insight. The paper found utterance for the growing imperialism of its day, and among other services to literature gave to the world Mr Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads. In 1890 Henley published Views and Reviews, a volume of notable criticisms, described by himself as "less a book than a mosiac of scraps and shreds recovered from the shot rubbish of some fourteen years of journalism." The criticisms, covering a wide range of authors (except Heine and Tolstoy, all English and French), though wilful and often one-sided were terse, trenchant and picturesque, and remarkable for insight and gusto. In 1892 he published a second volume of poetry, named after the first poem, The Song of the Sword, but on the issue of the second edition (1893) re-christened London Voluntaries after another section. Stevenson wrote that he had not received the same thrill of poetry since Mr Meredith's- " Joy of Earth " and " Love in the Valley," and he did not know that that was so intimate and so deep. " I did not guess you were so great a magician. These are new tunes; this is an undertone of the true Apollo. These are not verse; they are poetry." In 1892 Henley published also three plays written with Stevenson—Beau Austin, Deacon Brodie and Admiral Guinea. In 1895 followed Macaire, afterwards published in a volume with the other plays. Deacon Brodie was produced in Edinburgh in 1884 and later in London. Beerbohm Tree produced Beau Austin at the Haymarket on the 3rd of November 18go
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