Bellew, John Chippendall Montesquieu (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 04
Bellew, John Chippendall Montesquieu

by William Charles Mark Kent

BELLEW, JOHN CHIPPENDALL MONTESQUIEU (1823–1874), author, preacher, and public reader, was born at Lancaster 3 Aug. 1823. He was the only child of an infantry officer, Captain Robert Higgin, of H. M. 12th regiment. His mother, who towards the close of 1822, had married Captain Higgin, was the daughter of John Bellew, of Castle Bellew, county Galway, and cousin of Lord Bellew. She was co-heiress under the will of her uncle, Major-general Bellew, heir-at-law of the O'Briens, earls of Thomond.

Educated during his earlier years in the grammar school of his birth-place, Lancaster, young Higgin, while yet a stripling, was entered in 1842 as a student at St. Mary's Hall, Oxford. On attaining his majority in the autumn of 1844 he assumed his mother's maiden name, and thenceforth entirely dropped his patronymic. He was induced to do this by the circumstance of his being descended maternally from the senior branch of the O'Briens, and thus a descendant from Teige the second brother of Donough, the fourth earl (commonly spoken of as the great earl in Irish history), brother of Daniel, the first Viscount Clare. Not long after entering the university, and before he had yet come to be known there as Bellew, he became a frequent and, almost from the outset, a singularly effective speaker at the Union. His great natural aptitude for oratory was from the first apparent. It helped to guide him even then to the selection of a clerical career.

Ordained in 1848, he was appointed at once a curate of St. Andrews in Worcester. Thence, in 1850, he was transferred to a curacy at Prescot. In the following year he went to the East Indies. There, almost immediately upon his arrival in 1851 at Calcutta, he was nominated chaplain in that city of St. John's Cathedral. That position he held for four years during part of which interval besides writing for the 'Morning Post,' edited the 'Bengal Hurkaru.' At length, in 1865, he returned to England, and before the year ran out was appointed assistant minister of St. Philip's, Regent Street. In 1857 he assumed the sole charge of St. Mark's Hamilton Terrace, Marylebone. That office he held for five years; in 1862 he became incumbent of Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury. During the twelve years which elapsed between 1855 and 1867 he held his ground in the metropolis as one of the most popular of the London preachers. It was said of him quite truly that no preacher of his time had greater oratorical gifts by nature, and that no man had taken greater pains than he to improve and cultivate them. In 1868, however, after nearly twenty years of clerical life, during which he had published several volumes of sermons, and enjoyed a high degree of popularity as a pulpit orator, he not only resigned his position as a clergyman, but became a convert to Catholicism, to which creed his mother had all along belonged. His sincerity in thus acting was attested by the circumstance that in so doing he gave up what brought him in, at a moderate computation, 1,000l. a year. Thenceforth, so far as the outer world was concerned, his time was devoted by turns to public readings and to literature. As a public reader in particular he was preeminently successful. His fame as a reader was such that his name was brought into honourable juxtaposition with those of Charles Dickens and Fanny Kemble. His powers as an elocutionist were undoubtedly great, and they were cultivated, through many years of assiduous application, to the highest pitch of excellence. But they were grievously overtaxed in the end. Two expeditions to America, undertaken in too rapid sequence, completely prostrated his vital energies at last. He died in London at 16 Circus Road, St. John's Wood, on 19 June 1874, in his fifty-first year.

Besides the volumes of sermons already referred to as having been issued from the press while he was still a protestant clergy- man, and a work of a kindred character entitled 'The Seven Churches of Asia Minor,' Bellew published in 1863 a book on 'Shakespeare's Home at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, being a history of the Great House built in the reign of King Henry VII by Sir Hugh Clopton, Knight, and subsequently the property of William Shakespere, Gent., wherein he lived and died,' 8vo, pp. 380; in 1865 a novel in three volumes, called 'Blount Tempest,' and in 1868 a carefully selected, annotated English anthology, from Chaucer to Aytoun. not inaptly designated 'Poet's Corner, a Manual far Students in English Poetry, with biographical Sketches of the Authors, by J. C. M. Bellew,' 6vo, pp. 920.

Whenever he stepped upon the platform as a public reader, he brought to his audience a letter of recommendation in his animated presence and handsome features crowned with a shock of hair prematurely whitened.

[Men of the Time. 8th edition, p. 80; Tablet, 27 June 1874, p. 815; Weekly Register. same date, p. 76; Athenæum, same date, p. 852.]

C. K.