Henry Man was born in 1747/48 on Prescot Street, Whitechapel, Middlesex, the eldest son of John and Mary (Balchen) Man, and was baptized on 14 February 1747/8 at St. Mary Matfellon, Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel, Middlesex.
Henry married Eleanor Ann Thompson on 17 May 1777 at St Mary Aldermary, Bow Lane (now Queen Victoria Street), London. Henry died on 4 December 1799 while living on Fenchurch Street in London and was buried on 12 December at St. Margaret Patten (in the Church), Rood Lane, London. He left a WILL.
Eleanor Thompson was born on 13 November 1744 in London, the daughter of James and Ann (Easthem) Thompson, and was baptized on 21 November at St. Mary Aldermary. Eleanor died on 13 March 1823 at Maidstone, Kent, and was buried on 21 March at St Margaret Pattens, London.
Henry and Eleanor belong to Generation Three; their children belong to Generation Four and are:
[References: Henry’s birthplace and baptism – FHL Film # 0094693; his marriage and Eleanor’s birth date and baptism – FHL Film # 0374484; his date of death – the introduction to his posthumously published ‘Miscellaneous Works’ (1802); their burials – records obtained at London Metropolitan Archives. Henry’s burial in the church is also on microfilm at the Guildhall Library which keeps the parish records for St Margaret Pattens. Microfilm Number 5287/2 ]
NOTE: St. Gabriel Fenchurch was destroyed in 1666 and and the parish was united with St. Margaret Pattens in 1670. Henry and Eleanor’s children were born in the parish of St. Gabriel Fenchurch, but the ceremonies would have had to have been performed at the church on Rood Lane (St Margaret Pattens).
The proper description to use for the baptisms of Henry’s and Eleanor’s children would be ‘at St. Gabriel Fenchurch w/St Margaret Pattens’ although on this site we use the shorter ‘at St. Gabriel Fenchurch’ etc.
Below the baptismal record for Henry Man at St. Mary Matfellon. His entry appears on the last line: 14 Henry Man Son of John and Mary. Prescott Street.
Henry was Deputy Secretary to the South Sea House, Threadneedle Street, London, (shown below) as well as an author.
His works were gathered up after his death and posthumously published in 1802 in two volumes. These volumes are each over 200 pages and can be accessed from at the end of this page under ‘Bibliography’.
An entry for Henry Man appears in the Dictionary of National Biography and he is recalled in Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s ‘Reminiscences’, as well as in Charles Lamb’s ‘Essays on Elia’. There is also in our possession his letters to a friend (Edward Venn) as well as to his wife Nelly and children. He frequently wrote for the Morning Chronicle using the pseudonym HOMO. However others too used the same pseudonym and Henry was forced to declare that HOMO was used exclusively by him in the Morning Chronicle:
|The Gentleman who lately published some Cursory Thoughts on Learning in this paper, under the signature Homo, desires us to assure our readers that he is not the author of any piece under that name inserted in the other papers; as he confines his imperfect labours to the Morning Chronicle.|
A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WORKS OF HENRY MAN (1747-1799).
Henry Man, as author, never wrote under his own name, as was usual at the time, but as ‘The Trifler’, or as HOMO, or else anonymously. Copies of all of the works listed below are in the possession of David Man and if anyone would like a copy sent them please email email@example.com. Henry Man’s articles ‘Cursory Thoughts on Education’ (<— follow this link) published in the Morning Chronicle as well as some articles using the anonym HOMO.
1771. The muse in miniature, a series of moral miscellanies, humbly attempted by the Trifler. Published in London and printed for the author by E. Moore, No 16, Old Broad Street, Consisting of viii, 146 pages. Verse.
1775. Cloacina; a comi-tragedy. Published in London and printed for George Kearsly, (A dramatic satire on various literary and political figures, including Johnson and Chesterfield). (Note the handwriting on this copy is that of Horace Walpole).
1775. Mr. Bentley, the rural philosopher: a tale. In two volumes. Published in London and printed for W. Goldsmith. (To read volume one of Mr. Bentley in PDF click (226 pages) CLICK HERE to read volume two in PDF (234 pages) click HERE). This book was also reviewed soon after it was published and the review can be read right at the very end of this page because of its length.
1775. Bentley, der Philosoph auf dem Lande: eine Erzahlung. Published in Leipzig, Germany Bey [By] Weidmanns Erben und Reich, 284 p. (To read ‘der Philosoph’ click HERE (<— PDF)).
1777. Mr. Bentley: or, the rural philosopher. A tale. In two volumes… Published in Dublin and printed for W. Whitestone, (successor to the late Mr. Ewing), 274 Pages.
1780. The elders: A farce in two acts  leaves. (Also in our possession is a photocopy copy of the original handwritten version which was made by the Huntington Library).
1783. The Trifler No I – VI in The Gentleman’s Magazine. [However I have some doubts about this being by HM]
1797. Henry Man is supposed to have had some articles published in Volume One (1797) of the following journal: The Spirit of the public journals: Being an impartial selection of the most exquisite essays and jeux d’esprits, principally prose, that appear in the newspapers and other publications. Published in London, and printed for James Ridgway, Vol. 1 (1797).
(Notes: We do not know which of the various pieces that make up this volume belong to Henry, so the entire volume can be accessed from the above link and we leave it to the reader to decide which pieces are Henry’s.)
A contemporary review of the book appeared in The Poetical Register, and Repository of Fugitive Poetry for 1802 …, 2 January, 1803, Volume 2 as follows: These volumes, it may be presumed, are published by some friend of the late Author. “Heaven defend me from my friends, and I will defend myself from my enemies,” was of old said, and not unjustly. The injudicious kindness of friends has, if possible, a more mischievous tendency than even the harshness of splenetic and interested Critics. Nothing but the very folly of friendship could have thought of calling the attention of the world to Mr. Man’s writings. They may have pleased in a private circle, but they possess none of the requisites which command the public praise. Mr. Man seems to have written upon every occasion, and by that means to have attained a facility of rhyming. His verses have little either of elegance or thought. By no stretch of courtesy can they be dignified with the title of poetry. They have also a worse fault than being trite; they are sometimes indelicate. His Essays are in a strain of common-place thinking.
An Advertisement in the Times March 29, 1800.
The Monthly Magazine Death Notice for Henry.
The reference to the ‘Supplement to the Tobago Gazette’ above has led us to find the piece
in The Spirit of the Public Journals (3 pages) and can be read HERE.
Henry maintained a ‘Pocket Book’ which he unfortunately maintained only fitfully thus leaving many pages blank. This book can be viewed HERE.
The following items are about Henry Man and/or his works.
Charles Lamb has left a short record of Henry Man which he included in his Essays on Elia. Two years after Lamb left Christ’s hospital school, he obtained a temporary appointment in the examiner’s office in the South Sea House, which he held from September, 1791 to February, 1792. This “dignified establishment”, in the unexacting service of which his brother John Lamb spent his life, is described in the first ‘Elia’ essay ‘The South Sea House’. These essays are the foundation of Lamb’s literary fame, for they speak of Lamb’s own thought and life.
Whom next shall we summon from the dusty dead, in whom common qualities become uncommon? Can I forget thee, Henry Man, the wit, the polished man of letters, the author, of the South Sea House? who never enteredst thy office in a morning, or quittedst it in mid-day — (what didst thou in an office ?) — without some quirk that left a sting! Thy gibes and thy jokes are now extinct, or survive but in two forgotten volumes, which I had the good fortune to rescue from a stall in Barbican, not three days ago, and found thee terse, fresh, epigrammatic, as alive. Thy wit is a little gone by in these fastidious days — thy topics are staled by the “new-born gauds” of the time — but great thou used to be in Public Ledgers, and in Chronicles, upon Chatham, and Shelburne, and Rockingham, and Howe, and Burgoyne, and Clinton, and the war which ended in the tearing from Great Britain her rebellious colonies, — and Keppel, and Wilkes, and Sawbridge, and Bull, and Dunning, and Pratt, and Richmond, — and such small politics.
The ‘two forgotten volumes’ are The Miscellaneous Works’ referred to above. Among the subscribers being three of the officials named later in Lamb’s essay — John Evans, R. Plumer, and Mr. Tipp, and also Thomas Maynard, who, though assigned to the Stock Exchange, is probably the “childlike, pastoral M—-” of a later paragraph in the Essays of Elia. Small politics are for the most part kept out of Man’s volumes, which are high-spirited rather than witty, but this punning epigram (of which Lamb was an admirer) on Lord Spencer and Lord Sandwich may be quoted:
Two Lords whose names if I should quote,
Some folks might call me sinner:
The one invented “half a coat”,
The other “half a dinner”.
Such lords as these are useful men,
Heaven sends them to console one;
Because there’s now not one in ten,
That can procure a “whole one”.
The following is taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Lamb’s greatest achievements in prose were the essays that he wrote under the pseudonym Elia for London Magazine, which was founded in 1820. The essays are almost wholly autobiographical (though often he appropriated to himself the experiences of others). Many of the best deal with things half a century past: vistas revealed by an imagination looking back down the experiences of a lifetime. The subject of his first essay was the South Sea house, where his elder brother, John, was a clerk. In order to spare his brother’s feelings, Lamb called himself Elia (the name of another clerk at the South Sea house). The persona of Elia predominates in nearly all of the essays. Lamb’s style, therefore, is highly personal and mannered, its function being to “create” and delineate this persona, and the writing, though sometimes simple, is never plain. The essays conjure up, with humour and sometimes with pathos, old acquaintances such as Samuel Salt [& Henry Man]; they recall scenes from childhood and from later life, indulge the author’s sense of playfulness and fancy, and avoid only whatever is urgent or disturbing–politics, suffering, sex, religion. The first essays were published separately in 1823; a second series appeared, as The Last Essays of Elia, in 1833.
Dibdin, Thomas Frognall; Reminiscences of a Literary Life. Published: London J. Major, 1836. (Describes Henry Man as ‘more of a wag than a wit’). Dibdin was a pupil at the school of John Man of Reading and in his reminiscences he recalls John’s brother Henry Man (pp. 54-55) as follows:
My master’s brother, a very original character, Mr. Henry Man1, Secretary of the South Sea House, came and now and then from London to pay us a visit. He used to notice me very much-knowing the peculiarity of my situation; and seeing me fond of drawing, asked me if I should like to have some colours? I jumped with joy at the proposal, and asked for blue, red, and yellow. The first use I made of them was to paint paper flags for my soldiers! But I did not always make this legitimate use of them; for a due portion of cunning and conceit frequently induced me to get sly possession of those books of my schoolfellows which contained prints, and unmercifully to daub and disguise them with the use of these primitive colours.
Footnote: 1 This original character lived in Fenchurch Street. He was rather a wag than a wit-but was very much above the ordinary inhabitants of his locality. He had a small, dark, brilliant eye – what Thomson calls a “roguish twinkling, in each eye” – and a dry, but droll tone of voice. His pen was in constant exercise, upon topics not always connected with matters of the “South Sea.” The speculators in lotteries at a time when Bonaparte was elbowing all the neighbouring potentates used to employ him to write lottery puffs, to be placarded in large letters in the streets. I remember one – singularly quaint and original. Tickets were sixteen guineas each. The author makes sundry suppositions – supposing Bonaparte to defeat, or to be defeated? Again, supposing the Austrians to make an onward, or a retrograde movement? Again, supposing Prussia to be more or less influenced by this forward or backward operation? The reader, wondering what will be the result, is called upon to say “What then will be the price of the lottery ticket? Answer: SIXTEEN GUINEAS.” —- Mr. Henry Man (who was the elder brother) wrote some amusing pieces of poetry, which will be found in two volumes of posthumous works, published in 1802. Among these, a parody upon the song of “Jolly Dick the Lamplighter,” contains a few good hits. It begins thus:
“I’m Billy P-t, the minister, Lord Ch—–m was my dad;
Though both our views were sinister, yet mine were the more sad.”
At page 208 of vol. ii. there is a short poem upon “Delicacy,” which is, in parts, as original as it is sweet and tender.
Hogan, Beecher Charles. The London Stage 1660-1880, Part 5, 1776-1880. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. Some Account of the English Stage from the Restoration in 1660 to 1830. Vol. VI. Pages 149-150, E. Carrington, Bath. (refers to Cloacina)
Prance, Claude A (1983) Companion to Charles Lamb: A Guide to people and places 1760-1847. Mansell publishing, New York. Letter No. 343 from Charles Lamb to Sarah Hutchinson January 20, 1825.
The English Novel (1740-1850): A catalogue including prose, romances, short stories, and translations of foreign fiction, by Andrew Block (1961). Published by Dawsons, London.
Location Register of English Literary Manuscripts and letters: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Volume II, K-Z. Edited by David C. Sutton. Published by the British Library, 1995. Pages 624-625. (Refers to two letters from Henry Man to William Pitt the Younger and one to Walter Sterling held by the Public Records Office in London (PRO 30/8/155/2/172-175). Copies of these may be got through the PRO). We have not got a hold of these yet.
Biographia Dramatica; or, a companion to the playhouse: containing historical and critical memoirs, and original anecdotes of British and Irish dramatic writers … Vol. 1, Part 1 (Reprinted by AMS Press of New York in 1966) pages 451-452. Contains quite a detailed description of the Man himself, his life and works.
CLOACINA. A Comi-Trag. Anonym. [We believe, Henry Man.] 4to. 1775. This piece (as every reader will suppose from its title) was not intended for exhibition. It contains, however, some pleasant satire on the caprice of managers, and the bad taste displayed by our modern writers of tragedy. The whole is interspersed with pleasant but severe strokes of ridicule on particular characters; among which that of an eminent patriotic speaker is delineated in the following couplet;
The specious B — ke, who talks without design,
As Indians paint, because their tints are fine.
We do not think our author’s censure is absolutely just on the present occasion; but yet, if the orator be such a one as he describes, the comparison in the second line is at once new, happy, and judicious.
[There then follows a fairly long sequence taken directly from the play]
We should not have given so considerable a quotation, but that the book (howsoever it happens) is now very rarely met with.
America in English Fiction (1760-1800): The influence of the American revolution. By Robert Bechtold Heilman. Published in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by the Louisiana State University Press, 1937. (This work makes brief references to Edward Niklin’s ‘The History of Sir Geoffrey Restless …’ and ‘Flights of Inflatus’ which are wrongly attributed to Henry Man. It is somewhat abstract and scholarly. Pages 267 and pages 411- 414.
A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors: living and deceased… Vol. II. By S. Austin Allibone. Published by J. B. Lippincot & Co. of Philadelphia, 1872 and republished by The Gale Research Company, Detroit (1965).
Works attributed to Henry Man but are NOT by him.
The following are attributed to Henry Man but in fact were written by Edward Nicklin. The British Library (and many others) catalog ‘The Trifler’ and the other works listed below as by Henry Man, but they are all the product of another writer, Edward Nicklin. To read a rational of why these are not be Henry Man click here.
1775. The trifler: or, a ramble among the wilds of fancy, the works of nature, and the manners of men … Vols. 1 and 2. Published in London and printed for R. Baldwin, 1775-77. (Note: ‘The Critical Review or Annals of Literature by A Society of Gentlemen’, London, Volume 44, 1777, contains an anonymous review of ‘The Trifler: or a ramble among the Wilds of Fancy …’ page 64.)
1777 The trifler: or, a ramble … Vols. 3 and 4. Published in London and printed for R. Baldwin.
1779. The trifler: or, a ramble among the wilds of fancy, the works of nature, and the manners of men. Published in Dublin and printed for W. Colles, G. Burnet, T. Walker, C. Jenkin, W. Hallhead, W. Gilbert, L. L. Flin, and J. Beatty. 322 pages.
1791. The history of Sir Geoffrey Restless, and his brother Charles. By the author of the Trifler. Published in Birmingham and printed by E. Piercy, for W. Lowndes, London.
1791. Flights of Inflatus; or, the sallies, stories, and adventures of a wild-goose philosopher. By the author of The trifler. Published in London and printed for C. Stalker and sold by J. Holl, & W. Smart, Worcester; Sharp, Warwick; Walford, Stratford; Luckman, Coventry; Sandford, Shrewsbury; and Swinney, Birmingham, Two Volumes.
Among those listed as subscribers to Henry Man’s posthumous ‘Miscellaneous Works’ were David Ricardo and his brother Nicholas; the former being one of the great economic thinkers of the eighteenth century. Since Henry Man’s obituary lists him as a ‘Stockbroker’, as were the Ricardo brothers, it is safe to assume that the Ricardos knew Henry from the exchange. See also the exchange of letters between Henry’s cousin George Cumberland and David Ricardo. The letters can be read here.
NOTE: Although Henry’s children were baptized at St. Gabriel, Fenchurch between the years 1778 to 1788, it must be kept in mind that during The Great Fire of London in 1666, St. Gabriel’s was destroyed and never rebuilt. The explanation for this apparent discrepancy is probably that after the Great Fire many of the City of London churches that were not rebuilt were combined with adjacent parishes. The parish of St Gabriel Fenchurch was combined with St Margaret Pattens in 1670. In many cases such combined parishes continued to use either two separate registers, or one register with two separate sections for the parishioners of each part of the combined parish. Obviously with time the practice was discontinued but this would depend on the individual church and incumbent as to when this happened.
Thus Henry, who resided at Fenchurch Street, was a parishioner of a parish without a church and although his children’s baptisms took place in the church of St Margaret Pattens they were recorded in the registry of St. Gabriel.
HENRY MAN’S WILL
I Henry Man of the South Sea House, London, Gent., make this my last Will and Testament. I leave to MrJohn Morrice of Clark House, East Malling, Gent., all my Property of every denomination or description in Trust to apply the same for the eventual Benefit of my Wife Eleanor Man, my two Sons Peter and Harry Stoe Man, and my Daughters Emma, Sarah and Ann Man in such way as himself and my Wifes ffriends shall deem most advisable, hereby revoking all former Wills by me made at any time whatever and I hereby appoint the aforesd John Morrice my sole Executor for the due execution hereof. Witness my Hand this twentieth day of ffebruary in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety eight. Henry Man Signed in the presence of Thomas Travis & James Towson, South Sea House.
This Will was proved at London the thirtieth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seventy hundred and ninety nine before the Worshipful John Jewell, Doctor of Laws, and Surrogate of the Right Honorable Sir William Wynne, Knight, and also Doctor of Laws, master Keeper or Commissary of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, lawfully constituted by the Oath of John Morrice, the sole Executor named in the said Will to whom Administration was granted of all and singular the Goods, Chattels and Credits of the said deceased having been first sworn duly to administer.
REVIEW OF MR BENTLEY
From: The Critical review, or, Annals of literature, Volume 39
Mr. Bentley, the Rural Philosopher: A Tale. In Two Vols, Small 8vo. 5s, sewed. Printed for W. Goldsmith, 1775.
We never fail to recommend to the public the works of those authors who endeavour with any tolerable degree of success, to inculcate a detestation of vice; and are ever sparing of censure when we meet with unsuccessful endeavours for that purpose. There are so many snares laid in the paths of virtue, and so many temptations to draw the inexperienced aside, that he who takes pains to caution the unwary of their danger is certainly entitled to thanks. This is the case with the author of the Rural Philosopher, who, although in some instances his sentiments are singular, and his opinions ill founded, holds forth to observation many useful lessons for the conduct! of life.
‘In a small Welch village,’ says our author, ‘delightfully situated near Carmarthen, undebauched by the maxims of polished life, the rude barbarity of courts, the pride of cloisters, or the artifice of trade, lived a plain son of simplicity, educated in the school of nature, whom we shalt beg leave to introduce to the reader under the name of Bentley.’
To the ear of a philosopher the rude barbarity of courts is, perhaps, no uncouth expression, however a courtier might deem him a barbarian who adopted it; but if we are not to look for polished life in courts, from which our author separates it, we should be glad he would inform us where it is to be found.
‘He was happily possessed of a large benevolent, humble heart, a quick susceptible understanding; he dedicated his genius to the service of his fellow-creatures; he said heaven would reward him for it.’
A man of this character, who had early quitted the busy world, and neglected temporal interest, might truly be styled a philosopher, whose history, when care has been taken to throw in his way motives for putting his principles in practice, may be productive of much beneficial information. Those who read these volumes in expectation of finding such information will not be disappointed.
Our readers may, perhaps, have curiosity to be informed of some of Mr. Bentley’s opinions. Part of these we shall extract from an answer which he writes to an invitation he received to reside in London; though we cannot, on this occasion, help remarking, that the author has been extremely negligent of his style, where the least attention would have enabled him to make it correct.
‘Mr. Bentley observed to his old friend, that he had received an invitation from London, to pass a few weeks in that city ; and, says he, I will shew you the answer I have sent to it. He writes to me like a man of this world who has no notion of another’
If Mr. Bentley observed, the succeeding passage ought to have been, and said he, I will shew you. And in the phrase he writes to me, the relative he has no antecedent; for no writer has been spoken of. But to proceed:
‘The wisdom,’ says Mr. Bentley, that is taught in seminaries and schools of science, may feed the avarice of the mind for knowledge, but seldom benefits the heart; and the confusion of opinions with which the libraries of the learned abound, either tend to confine men’s prejudices to objects of little moment, or to keep the more liberal in a constant fluctuation of sentiments, and make them sceptics in the very worst fense of the word.’
Yet, in our opinion, Scepticism is preferable to Ignorance, which blindly takes up opinions upon trust, and submits to the impositions of artful and interested impostors.
‘We are strange self-deceivers, we greedily pass the cheat upon ourselves, and are no longer happy than while fancy is flattered by extravagant delusions, or the judgment is weakened by powerful appeals to the pailions. Hence we find both sexes of all ages, all degrees of sense, crowding each night to the playhouse. The brilliant figures in the boxes, the bewitching charms of music, the air of delight that is spread over every feature, the wanton attitude of the actresses, and many other attractions unite to call off the mind from more rational speculations, inflame the bosoms of youth with licentious wishes, and fix the attention of grey age to the follies of past times, when they should be betterengaged in preparing, for the happiness of the future. I remember when I was a young man, and fond of romance, the theatre was my constant theme, my prevailing infatuation; the rhapsody of bombast was power the whining of the lover was charmingly affecting and pathetic, the richness of their dresses [theirs, quere-whose?] was grandeur in the extreme, and the clinking of chains in Bajazet and Pierre, I considered the very pinnacle of perfection. But I remember too I never went into a theatre with a vicious view, nor never came out of it without many. The poet and the player might both be innocent, but the theatre collectively considered, the company, and the glare, spread the poison which is so often fatal to the morals of the youth of both sexes. I remember the worst follies of my life took their rife from that quarter, and that the vagrant connection which so long embittered my days, was first made at the playhouse.’
It would not, we believe, be impossible to justify the stage against the censure here passed on it.
‘At my time I remember in very many chapels and churches about the metropolis, common sense was violently deposed, and poetry reigned in its stead. We had the climax of Tully instead of the great Deliverer’s sermon on the mount; we had figure and metaphor, and extracts from polished poets, because the language of base fishermen was not so well adapted to amuse the croud. To amuse the crowd! yes, for look to your evening lectures delivered in spruce wigs and starched bands, and tell me if the audience is not to the full as polite as it is pious, tell me if moral philosophy, such as the poor heathen Epictetus taught, is not all you hear, and whether that deficient morality for this day is not the most inconsiderable part of this lecture. Where is sober reasoning? Where are the bold appeals to the consciences of callous men? Where is the honest zeal of the ambassadors of heaven? All is lost, all is forgotten, all is sacrificed to sound and pleasant period. Like men who have a certain business to execute in a shorter time, they lose all in sharpening their tools. If a charity sermon is to be preached; how much is trusted to a pathetic picture? A deserted orphan, helpless, forlorn, abandoned to the wide uncharitable world, are so many commonplace figures of rhetoric to make old gentlewomen and simple virgins subscribe to the plate at the door; and as if Christians were to be entertained by a discourse in a church, as by a lecture in a coffee-room, death, hell, judgment, and futurity, are not touched upon at all, or else only at a distance.’
Our readers will smile at the philosopher’s opinion, and probably recommend to him the raving harangues at the Tabernacle, where he may indulge in his favourite subjects of death, hell, and damnation, without being troubled with Epictetus or morality.
The manner in which our philosopher employed himself is the subject of great part of the first volume. The Adventures of his Son, with Episodical Narratives, furnish matter for the remainder of the work. A few improbable circumstances ocur in the course of it; but as it is on whole instructive and entertaining, we recommend it to the perusal of our young readers of both sexes.
The monthly review, or, literary journal, Volume 52Mr. Bentley; The Rural Philosopher: A Tale. i2mo. 2 Vols. 6 s. Goldsmith. In the midst of the endless variety of love-stories which our office calls us to peruse, it is a great relief and pleasure to us, sometimes to meet with a novel writer, who ventures out of the beaten track, and employs narrative and fiction, for other purposes than merely to cherish the flame, which nature is sufficiently able to kindle and keep alive without the help of art. Soon discovering, that ‘the author of the Rural Philosopher belongs to this higher class of novelists, and observing from his preface, that he introduces himself to the world with great modesty and diffidence, we undertook the perusal of the work with very favourable expectations. The writer (who acknowledges himself ” indifferent about acquiring literary fame,” and declares, that he by no means expects the approbation of the learned, but trusts to the candour of his peers, and that he is prepared to submit to any candid strictures that may be opposed to. his opinions) will therefore, at least, acquit us from the charge of prejudice against his work, if we give our judgment concerning it with our usual freedom,
We observe through the whole work, a strong sense of the obligations of morality and religion, and a generous indignation against vice, which leaves us no room to doubt that the author was induced to appear in public by the molt laudable motives. We find many just and seasonable observations on men and things, that well deserve she attention of an age, which seems ambitious of distinguishing itself by those vices which are the offspring of dissipation and luxury. We admire the picture which the Rural Philosopher draws of his quiet retreat, and the tranquil pleasures that bless his humble cottage: we listen with satisfaction to his lessons of religion, benevolence, and prudence; and we are charmed with the tenderness and generosity with which the good man and his children employ their little store, in relieving the distresses of their neighbours. We are sensible, that there is too much grounds for many of the censures which Mr. Bentley passes on the manners of the times. But we cannot help regretting, that with just moral reflections, he has sometimes mixed ideas of life which seem incompatible with the present condition of human nature; and that his satire in some instances degenerates into acrimony, and a cynical contempt of the world.
In this light, we consider his severe censure of the clergy, whom he accuses of “sacrificing sense and orthodoxy, zeal and sincerity, to elegance of language, and a polished delivery, and of deposing common sense, that poetry may reign in its stead.” The contempt which he often expresses for learning,—particularly, when he inconsistently enough makes his Philosopher say, (speaking of his library) philosophy and science find no harbour there, for alas! I have little or no respect for worldly wisdom,—there are few of his readers who will not be so uncharitable, as to impute either to ignorance or to enthusiasm. To some such cause, they will probably ascribe his injudicious censure of the study of the ancient languages as of ‘no other use, than to enable ” schoolmen and lawyers to (how their pedantry, physicians to disguise their prescriptions, and apothecaries to scrawl labels upon gallypots:” and his illiberal reflection upon our great Philosopher, when he says, that Newton’s Principia has perhaps rather informed the world than served it.” For it is obvious to reply, in a few words, to all his objections against modern learning, that though virtue is the first it is not the only accomplishment; that learning by improving taste, and the sciences by exercising and enlarging the understanding, refine and elevate human nature, extend the circle of innocent pleasures, and contribute largely to the happiness of individuals and of society; and therefore, that to inform the world is to serve it.
His picture of the tables of the polite is surely drawn with the sombre pencil. “When you are invited to the tables of the polite, expect nothing but unsocial ceremonies, unmeaning professions, contemptible forms, and a stupid confinement of behaviour. The great art to make yourself agreeable, is merely to toast beauties you never saw, and great men you never heard of; to admire something n the mistress of the house, and to gratify the vanity of her daughter you may say as much as you please without thinking; but, depend upon it, if you adhere to truth and propriety, you will be disqualified altogether.”
His remarks upon the education and manners of the fair sex are unreasonably severe; and he pathetically laments, that” the generality of them are not sufficiently political in improving the advantages of their persons, by the more lasting accomplishments of the mind. Speaking of ladies in polite life, he fays, ” Can you believe, that they encourage every insipidity of address from the men; that they are satisfied with professions without truth, delicacy without sense, and politeness without a meaning? Can you conceive, that their conversation is altogether confined to trifles; that their education is without wisdom, their examples without prudence, and their conduct without consistency?”
On the whole, though our Author appears to us to be a zealous friend to the interests of virtue, we apprehend, the methods which he takes to serve them are not very judiciously chosen, or likely to be attended with much success: for we cannot think, that ignorance is the parent of virtue, or that the way to prepare men for another world is to put them out of humour with this.
With respect to the Author’s merit as a writer, we observe many traces of a lively imagination, and no inconsiderable ability in describing natural objects, and delineating human characters. He has introduced into the story a singular character in low life, with’ the design and execution of which we are much pleased; and we apprehend, that in this walk of writing he might employ himself with no inconsiderable degree of success. But in his narrative, there are, we think, several improbabilities ; such as, that a young man in. love with the daughter of his father’s friend, should conceal his passion till it throws him into a fever; that the lovers should both faint on receiving the news of a short separation, occasioned by an intended journey of the young man to London.—That a man, with such ideas of the town as Mr. Bentley, should form a design of sending his own son, and his friend’s, to reside in it for some time; that a young man so educated and principled as young Bentley, should be able, in the space of six months, so entirely to banish every opinion, and every principle, imbibed in his childhood, as not only to run into all the excesses of the most debauched veterans, but become capable of perpetrating a deliberate rape, attended with many shocking circumstances of barbarity; and lastly, that the friend, to whose care the young adventurers were entrusted, should neglect so long after he must have discovered an unhappy change in their manners, to send them back to their parents.
In the expression, we have remarked several inaccuracies; and we have observed a greater number of material errors of the press, than usually occur in two small volumes: such as, he respectively pressed her hand — the divine attitudes, &c.
We should not have noticed these defects so minutely, had we not discerned marks of understanding and ability, which place this writer above the vulgar walk of novel-writers, and encourage us to expect, that when he has habituated himself to think with greater precision, and to write more correctly, he will be able very agreeably to entertain the public under the character of a philosophical novelist.
From The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 24 October 1923: