Banks, John (1709-1751) (DNB00)

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BANKS or BANCKS, JOHN (1709–1751), miscellaneous writer, was born in 1709 at Sonning in Berkshire. Losing his father early he was placed by his mother's brother at a private school, and taught by an ‘anabaptist’ minister. His teacher, jealous, it is said, of his abilities, pronounced him to be hopelessly dull, and his uncle accordingly removed him from school and apprenticed him to a weaver at Reading. Before his apprenticeship was finished an accident disabled him from following that employment, and he removed to London, buying with the proceeds of a small legacy left him by a relative a parcel of old books, and setting up a bookstall in Spitalfields. Stimulated by the patronage which ‘The Thresher’ of that poet of humble life, Stephen Duck, received from Queen Caroline, Banks produced, but without success, ‘The Weaver's Miscellany.’ Giving up his bookstall he entered as journeyman the service of a bookseller and bookbinder, and published by subscription poems, two sets of which, it is said, were ordered by Pope, who, it is also said, praised them and bestowed encouragement on their author. The poems bringing him some money and reputation, Banks became an author by profession. His next work was a large folio ‘Life of Christ.’ In 1739 he published anonymously his best-known book, ‘A Short Critical Review of the Life of Oliver Cromwell, by a Gentleman of the Middle Temple,’ although it does not appear that the author ever went to the bar. Several editions of this volume were called for during his lifetime, and on the title-page of the fifth, issued in 1767, it is described as being ‘by the late John Banks, Esq.’ The book is written with some vigour, and was one of the earliest in which was taken a view on the whole favourable of Cromwell's career and character. In his account of ‘the biographies of Oliver,’ prefixed to his ‘Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches,’ Carlyle notes this peculiarity of Banks's work, which he pronounces to be ‘otherwise of no moment.’ In speaking of Banks as ‘a kind of lawyer and playwright, if I mistake not,’ Carlyle seems to confound him with John Banks the dramatist [q. v.] In 1744, when apprehensions of a landing of the Pretender and of a French invasion were entertained, Banks published a ‘History of the Life and Reign of William III, King of England,’ in tone and tenor strongly anti-Jacobite. In his latest years he is said to have conducted two London newspapers, ‘Old England’ and the ‘Westminster Journal.’

Banks died at his house at Islington on 19 April 1751, and is described as cheerful and good-natured. On the title-page of an edition of his poems in two volumes (London, 1738), his name is spelt Bancks.

[Cibber's Lives of the Poets (1755), v. 310; Gent. Mag. xxi. 187; Banks's Works in Brit. Mus. Libr.]

F. E.