Davenant, Charles (DNB00)
|←Davall, Edmund||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14
DAVENANT, CHARLES, LL.D. (1656–1714), political economist, eldest son of Sir William D'Avenant, the poet [q. v.], was born in London in 1656. He was educated at the grammar school, Cheam, Surrey, and entered Balliol College in 1671. He left the university without graduating, but some years afterwards, having obtained the degree of LL.D. by ‘favour and money’ (where is not quite certain; Wood says Cambridge or Dublin, but Davenant's name does not appear in the list of graduates of either university), he practised at Doctors' Commons. He had already, when only nineteen, written a play, ‘Circe, a tragedy acted at his Royal Highness the Duke of York's Theatre, 1677.’ Davenant inherited some interest in the theatre from his father, and the play, though poor, went through three editions.
Davenant sat for St. Ives, Cornwall, in the first parliament of James II, and was appointed, along with the master of the revels, to license plays. He was also commissioner of the excise (1678–89), which had formerly been farmed, but was now directly managed by government. The manner in which the changes thus rendered necessary were carried out he explains in his ‘Discourses on the Publick Revenues and of the Trade of England,’ 1698 (part i.; to this was added Xenophon's ‘Discourse upon Improving the Revenue of the State of Athens,’ translated by Walter Moyle. Part ii. of the Discourses, ‘which more immediately treat of the Foreign Traffick of this Kingdom,’ was published the same year). He also took occasion in these remarks to animadvert upon the conduct of his successors. His strictures were answered in ‘Remarks upon some wrong Confutations and Conclusions contained in a late tract entitled Discourses, &c.,’ 1698. In the parliaments of King William he sat for Great Bedwin in 1698 and also in 1700. Though sufficiently loyal to the new government he was not employed by it. He wrote a large number of political tracts, in which he attacked with some bitterness various ministerial abuses. Much of what he said was in sympathy with popular feeling, and excited considerable notice. In 1701 he published a work entitled ‘Essays upon the Ballance of Power; the Right of Making War, Peace, and Alliances; Universal Monarchy. To which is added an Appendix, containing the Records referred to in the second Essay.’ On page 40 he thus attacked the clergy: ‘Are not a great many of us able to point out to several persons, whom nothing has recommended to places of the highest trust, and often to rich benefices and dignities, but the open enmity which they have almost from their cradle professed to the divinity of Christ?’ This passage was discussed in the upper house of convocation, and a paper was ordered to be affixed to ‘several doors in Westminster Abbey,’ in which it was desired ‘that the author himself, whoever he may be, or any one of the great many to whom he refers, would point out to the particular persons whom he or they know to be liable to that charge, that they may be proceeded against in a judicial way, which will be esteemed a great service to the church; otherwise the above-mentioned passage must be looked upon as a publick scandal.’ Davenant seems to have taken no notice of this, and the passage was left untouched in the collected edition of his works (1771). When on the accession of Queen Anne commissioners were appointed to treat for a union with Scotland, Davenant, in a letter to Lord-treasurer Godolphin (Add. MS. 29588, f. 177), applied to be appointed their secretary, and he was successful in this application. During Anne's reign he continued the writing of political and economical tracts. His tone was now altered, however, and he was appointed in 1705 inspector-general of the exports and imports. This office he held till his death, 6 Nov. 1714. He was buried in the church of St. Bride's, Fleet Street, in the same vault with his mother (Gent. Mag. 1850, ii. 367). Davenant was married and had a family.
His other writings were: 1. ‘An Essay upon Ways and Means of Supplying the War,’ 1695, viz. the war with France concluded by the peace of Ryswick in 1697. In this he argued against the government practice of borrowing large sums of money, and urged that ‘excises seem the most proper ways and means to support the government in a long war’ (p. 62), and that it ‘were expedient to let land breathe a little’ (p. 80). 2. ‘An Essay on the East India Trade,’ 1697, in the form of a letter to the Marquis of Normanby. The East India trade in silk and cotton stuffs was growing in importance. Those who felt themselves injured by this endeavoured to obtain parliamentary measures to crush it. Their arguments were the usual arguments of the upholders of the mercantile system. Davenant, though he did not question the principles on which that system rested, yet believed that the traffic was of advantage to England. How it was so he pointed out in the ‘Essay.’ The question was a keenly debated one, and the pamphlet called forth various replies. A brief account of the controversy, with a list of the chief works on it, is given in McCulloch's ‘Literature of Political Economy;’ see also various references in ‘Brit. Mus. Cat.’ under ‘Davenant.’ 3. ‘An Essay upon the Probable Methods of Making the People Gainers in the Ballance of Trade,’ 1699. 4. ‘A Discourse upon Grants and Resumptions, showing how our ancestors have proceeded with such ministers as have procured to themselves grants of the Crown Revenue, and that the Forfeited Estates ought to be applied towards the Payment of Publick Debts,’ 1700. This was a protest against the policy by which a great quantity of forfeited lands had been gifted away by the crown. Precedents were quoted from the ‘History of England’ to show that such grants might be resumed. This treatise was replied to in ‘Jus Regium, or the King's Right to grant Forfeitures and other Revenues of the Crown, fully set forth and traced from the beginning,’ 1701. 5. ‘The True Picture of a Modern Whig in Two Parts,’ 1701–2; this is a bitter attack in the form of a dialogue on a section of the whig party, who have turned, he says, the revolution to their own interests. It is written in a very lively manner and contains incidental but graphic pictures of life and manners of the time. It was answered in pamphlets which attempted to imitate the style. It was continued in somewhat of the same strain in ‘New Dialogues upon the present posture of affairs, the species of money, national debts, public revenues, bank and East India Company, and the trade now carried on between France and Holland,’ 2 vols., 1710. 6. ‘Essays upon Peace at Home and War Abroad,’ 1704; this was written, it is said, at the request of Lord Halifax, and is dedicated to Queen Anne. It urged the necessity of all parties in the state uniting to carry on the great continental war in which England was then engaged. On account of Davenant's alleged change of sentiments he was attacked by many who had formerly supported him. He had been a keen party man, they complained, till he obtained something, and then he immediately urged that party warfare should cease (among other attacks see ‘Tom Double against Dr. D-v-n-t,’ 1704, p. 7). 7. ‘Reflections upon the Constitution and Management of the Trade to Africa, through the whole Course and Progress thereof, from the beginning of the last Century to this Time; wherein the Nature and Uncommon Circumstances of that Trade are particularly considered, and all the Arguments urged alternately by the two contending parties here, touching the different methods now proposed by them for carrying on the same to a national advantage, impartially stated and considered,’ Dr. D. (anonymously, three parts, 1709). 8. ‘A Report to the Honourable the Commissioners for putting in execution the Act, intituled an Act for the Taking, Examining, and Stating the Publick Accounts of the Kingdom (two parts, 1710, 1712). ‘The design of both is to give a general account of the trade of the kingdom from 1663 to 1711.’ The collected works of Davenant, edited by Charles Whitworth, M.P., were published in 1771.[Biographia Britannica, ed. Kippis, iv. 647; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. col. 476. A number of minor references are collected in Musgrave's Obituary Notices, No. 15; Add. MS. 5730. A considerable amount of Davenant's correspondence is preserved in the British Museum MS. Ayscough, 4291, f. 3; Add. MSS. 7121 f. 19, 17767, 28055 f. 13, 29588 ff. 70, 177, 210, 238, 29597 f. 24; see also some scattered references in the State Papers of the period.]