John Horne Tooke

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John Horne Tooke

John Horne Tooke (25 June 1736 – 18 March 1812) was an English politician and philologist.

Early life and work[edit]

He was born in Newport Street, Long Acre, Westminster, the third son of John Horne, a poulterer in Newport Market. As a youth at Eton College, Tooke described his father to friends as a "turkey merchant". Before Eton, he had been at school in Soho Square, in a Kentish village, and from 1744 to 1746 at Westminster School.

On 12 January 1754 he was admitted as sizar at St John's College, Cambridge, and took his degree of B.A. in 1758, as last but one of the senior optimes, Richard Beadon, his lifelong friend, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, being a wrangler in the same year.[1] Horne had been admitted on 9 November 1756, as student at the Inner Temple, becoming friends with John Dunning and Lloyd Kenyon. His father wished him to take orders in the Church of England, and he was ordained deacon on 23 September 1759 and priest on 23 November 1760.

For a few months he was usher (i.e., an assistant teacher) at a boarding school at Blackheath. On 26 September 1760 he became perpetual curate of New Brentford, the incumbency of which his father had purchased for him. Tooke retained this poor living until 1773. During part of this time (1763–1764) he traveled on a tour in France, acting as a "bear-leader" (i.e., a travelling tutor) to a wealthy man.

Political career[edit]

A portrait of John Horne Tooke (right) in discussion with John Glynn and John Wilkes.

The excitement created by the actions of John Wilkes led Horne into politics, and in 1765 he brought out a scathing pamphlet on Bute and Mansfield, entitled "The Petition of an Englishman".

In the autumn of 1765 he escorted another rich young man to Italy. In Paris he met Wilkes, and from Montpellier, in January 1766, addressed a letter to him which began the quarrel between them. In the summer of 1767 Horne returned, and in 1768 secured the return of Wilkes to parliament for Middlesex. With inexhaustible energy he promoted the legal proceedings over the riot in St George's Fields, when a youth named Allen was killed, and exposed the irregularity in the judge's order for the execution of two Spitalfields weavers. His dispute with George Onslow, MP for Surrey, who at first supported and then threw over Wilkes for place, culminated in a civil action, ultimately decided, after the reversal of a verdict which had been obtained through the charge of Lord Mansfield, in Horne's favour, and in the loss by his opponent of his seat in parliament. An influential association, called "The Society for Supporting the Bill of Rights," was founded, mainly through the exertions of Horne, in 1769, but the members were soon divided into two opposite camps, and in 1771 Horne and Wilkes, their respective leaders, broke out into open dispute.

On 1 July 1771 Horne obtained at Cambridge, though not without some opposition from members of both the political parties, his degree of M.A. Earlier in that year he claimed for the public the right of printing an account of parliamentary debates, and after a long struggle, the right was definitely established. In the same year (1771), Horne argued with Junius, and ended in disarming his masked antagonist.

Study of law and personal legal problems[edit]

"Two Pair of Portraits;" – presented to all the unbiassed Electors of Great Britain, an anti-Whig caricature published 1798 by James Gillray showing Fox as the personification of vice next to a portrait of Pitt as the embodiment of honesty, followed by portraits of their fathers, Lord Holland and William Pitt senior displayed below. The title is an allusion to the pamphlet by the same title written by Tooke.

Horne resigned his benefice in 1773 and began the study of the law and philology. An accident, however, occurred at this moment which largely affected his future. His friend William Tooke had purchased a considerable estate, including Purley Lodge, south of the town of Croydon in Surrey. The possession of this property brought about frequent disputes with an adjoining landowner, Thomas de Grey, and, after many actions in the courts, Thomas de Grey's friends endeavoured to obtain, by a bill forced through the houses of parliament, the privileges which the law had not assigned to him (February 1774). Horne, thereupon, by a bold libel on the Speaker, drew public attention to the case, and though he himself was placed for a time in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, the clauses which were injurious to the interest of Tooke were eliminated from the bill. Tooke declared his intention of making Horne the heir to his fortune, and during his lifetime he bestowed upon him large gifts of money.

No sooner had this matter been happily settled than Horne found himself involved in serious trouble. For his conduct in signing the advertisement soliciting subscriptions for the relief of the relatives of the Americans "murdered by the king's troops at Lexington and Concord," he was tried at the Guildhall on 4 July 1777, before Lord Mansfield, found guilty, and committed to the King's Bench Prison in St George's Fields, from which he only emerged after a year's durance, and after a loss in fines and costs amounting to £1200.

Soon after his deliverance he applied to be called to the bar, but his application was rejected on the grounds that his orders in the Church were indelible. Horne thereupon tried his fortune, but without success, on farming some land in Huntingdonshire. Two tracts about this time exercised great influence in the country. One of them, Fads Addressed to Landholders, etc. (1780), written by Horne in conjunction with others, criticizing the measures of Lord North's ministry, passed through numerous editions; the other, A Letter on Parliamentary Reform (1782), addressed by him to Dunning, set out a scheme of reform, which he afterwards withdrew in favour of that advocated by William Pitt the Younger.

On his return from Huntingdonshire he became once more a frequent guest at Tooke's house at Purley, and in 1782 assumed the name of Horne Tooke. In 1786 Horne Tooke conferred perpetual fame upon his benefactor's country house by adopting, as a second title of his elaborate philological treatise of "Epea Pteroenta" — the expression ἔπεα πτερόεντα, épea pteróenta (see "Winged words"), comes from Homer — the more popular though misleading title of The Diversions of Purley. The treatise at once attracted attention in England and the Continent. The first part was published in 1786, the second in 1805. The best edition is that which was published in 1829, under the editorship of Richard Taylor, with the additions written in the author's interleaved copy.

Between 1782 and 1790 Tooke gave his support to Pitt, and in the election for Westminster, in 1784, threw all his energies into opposition to Fox. With Fox he was never on terms of friendship, and Samuel Rogers, in his Table Talk, asserts that their antipathy was so pronounced that at a dinner party given by a prominent Whig not the slightest notice was taken by Fox of the presence of Horne Tooke. It was after the election of Westminster in 1788 that Tooke depicted the rival statesmen (Lord Chatham and Lord Holland, William Pitt and Charles James Fox) in his celebrated pamphlet Two Pair of Portraits.

Bids for office[edit]

At the general election of 1790, Horne Tooke came forward as a candidate for that distinguished constituency, in opposition to Fox and Lord Hood, but was defeated; and, at a second attempt in 1796, he was again at the bottom of the poll. In the meantime, the excesses of the French republicans had provoked reaction in England, and the Tory ministry adopted a policy of repression. He was arrested early on the morning of 16 May 1794, and conveyed to the Tower of London. His trial for high treason lasted for six days (17 to 22 November) and ended in his acquittal, the jury taking only eight minutes to settle their verdict.

Horne Tooke's public life after this event was only distinguished by one act of importance. Through the influence of the second Lord Camelford, the fighting peer, he was returned to parliament in 1801 for the pocket borough of Old Sarum. Lord Temple endeavoured to secure his exclusion on the ground that he had taken orders in the Church, and one of James Gillray's caricatures delineates the two politicians, Temple and Camelford, playing at battledore and shuttlecock, with Horne Tooke as the shuttlecock. The ministry of Addington would not support this suggestion, but a bill was at once introduced by them and carried into law, which rendered all persons in holy orders ineligible to sit in the House of Commons, and Horne Tooke sat for only that parliament.

Later years and legacy[edit]

The last years of Tooke's life were spent in retirement, in a house on the west side of Wimbledon Common. The traditions of Tooke's Sunday parties lasted unimpaired up to this point, and the most pleasant pages penned by Tooke's biographer describe the politicians and the men of letters who gathered around Tooke's hospitable board. Tooke's conversational powers rivalled those of Samuel Johnson; and, if more of Tooke's sayings have not been chronicled for the benefit of posterity, the defect is due to the absence of a James Boswell. Through the liberality of Tooke's friends, Tooke's last days were freed from the pressure of poverty, and Tooke was enabled to place his illegitimate son in a position which soon brought him wealth, and to leave a competency to his two illegitimate daughters. Illness seized Tooke early in 1810, and for the next two years his sufferings were acute. He died in his house at Wimbledon, London, and was buried with his mother at Ealing, the tomb which he had prepared in the garden attached to his house at Wimbledon was found unsuitable for the interment. An altar-tomb still stands to his memory in Ealing churchyard. A catalogue of his library was printed in 1813.

Many of Horne Tooke's sayings are preserved in The Table Talk of Samuel Rogers And S. T. Coleridge; The main facts of his life were set out by Thorold Rogers, in his Historical Gleanings, 2nd series. The Life Of Horne Tooke, by Alexander Stephens, was written by an admirer who only knew Horne Tooke as an old man. William Hamilton Reid made a compilation, noticed in the Quarterly Review, June 1812, by John William Ward.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Horne [post Horne Tooke], John (HN754J2)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Hardinge
Sir George Yonge, Bt
Member of Parliament for Old Sarum
with George Hardinge

1801–1802
Succeeded by
Nicholas Vansittart
Henry Alexander