Harley, Edward (1689-1741) (DNB00)

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HARLEY, EDWARD, second Earl of Oxford (1689–1741), born on 2 June 1689, was the only son of Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford (1661–1724) [q. v.], by his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Foley of Witley Court, Worcestershire (Chester, Registers of Westminster Abbey, p. 358). He was educated at Westminster School, and succeeded as second earl on 21 May 1724. Habitual indolence, rather than incapacity, prevented him from taking part in public affairs; nor did he care for general society. He preferred to surround himself with the more distinguished poets and men of letters of the day. Pope was his especial idol, and they regularly corresponded with each other between 1721 and 1739. Swift was his frequent guest. Prior died in his house at Wimpole. He was always ready to lend his amanuensis for the purpose of copying the manuscripts of Pope and Swift, and Pope made the freest use of his great library. He contrived to circulate the second edition of the 'Dunciad' in March and April 1729. In the following November, Pope having brought out another edition of the poem assigned it to Lord Burlington, Harley, and Lord Bathurst, and they assigned it to the publisher Lawton Gilliver. Pope was thus relieved of all responsibility in connection with threatened lawsuits. During the same year Harley allowed Pope to say that the originals of Wycherley's papers were in his library, and to ascribe their publication to him. Harley was a manager of the Society for the Encouragement of Learning. He was a great benefactor to George Vertue. Zachary Grey, too, was often at Wimpole, and wrote an appreciative memoir of the earl and his father, preserved in the British Museum, Addit. MS. 5834, f. 286. Harley proved also of great service to William Oldys when the latter was engaged on the compilation of his 'Life of Sir Walter Ralegh;' he sent him copies of letters from Thomas Baker's collections, and promised him 200/. a year as his secretary (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 141, 144). Both Joseph Ames [q. v.] and Samuel Palmer [q. v.] were allowed unlimited access to his library in furtherance of their black-letter researches. The Harleian MS. 7654 (formerly Addit. MS. 5005) contains memoranda of the births, marriages, deaths, and personal history of the nobility and gentry in the handwriting of Harley, entered on the backs of letters addressed to himself, and chiefly relating to the period between 1734 and 1741. A selection from these memoranda, which were intended apparently as notes on some printed work on the peerage, appeared in 'Notes and Queries,' 2nd ser. i. 325-7. His amusing 'Notes on Biographies' (Harl. MS. 7544) were also printed in 'Notes and Queries,' 2nd ser. ix. 417-21. Other manuscripts by, or relating to, him are abstracts of Latin legends and tales (Addit. MS. 22911, f. 35) ; assignment to Lawton Gilliver of copyright in Pope's 'Dunciad,' 1729 (Egerton MS. 1951, f. 6); catalogue of his books at Wimpole, about 1730 (Addit. MSS. 19746-57) ; catalogue of his pictures, 1741 (Addit. MS. 23089, f. 176) ; letter to Lord Hatton, 1713 (Addit. MS. 29549, f. 125); letters to Dr. John Covell, 1716, 1722, with papers relating to the purchase of the latter's books (Addit. MS. 22911, ff. 198, 281, &c.); letters to Lady Sundon, 1731-5 (Addit. MS. 20104, ff. 83-9) ; letter to the Rev. William Cole, 1734 (Addit. MS. 6401, f. 154) ; letters to him from the Society for the Encouragement of Learning (Addit. MSS. 6185 f. 208, 6190 f. 65); letters to Dr. George Harbin, 1732-5 (Addit. MS. 32096) ; and letters to Dr. Conyers Middleton, 1726-33 (Addit. MS. 32457). He was the means of effecting a reconciliation between Middleton and Dr. Mead (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 267, v. 520). On 18 Feb. 1725 he was chosen a trustee of the Busby Trust (Welch, Alumni Westmon. ed. 1852, pp. 555, 556). He had a passion for building and landscape gardening, and for collecting books, manuscripts, pictures, medals, and miscellaneous curiosities, which he usually bought at prices much beyond their worth. He was generous to the needy, and a prey to adventurers. His embarrassments, which had long been accumulating, reached a crisis in 1738. In 1740 he sold Wimpole to Lord-chancellor Hardwicke to pay off a debt of 100,000l. The sale did not remove his difficulties, and he sought to drown his cares in wine. He made many valuable additions to his father's collection of books and manuscripts [see Harley, Robert, first earl, ad Jfin.], including the library of Dr. John Covel in 1716 (Addit. MS. 22911). Thomas Baker (1656-1740) [q. v.] arranged that after his own death twenty-one volumes of his collections in illustration of a history of the University of Cambridge were to be presented to the Harleian Library (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 662-3).

Harley died in Dover Street, London, on 16 June 1741, and was buried on the 25th in the Duke of Newcastle's vault in Westminster Abbey. He married on 31 Oct. 1713 Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holies, only daughter and heiress of John, fourth earl of Clare, created duke of Newcastle, by Lady Margaret Cavendish, third daughter and co-heiress of Henry, second duke of Newcastle. Of 500,000l. which his wife brought him, 400,000l. is said to have been sacrificed to 'indolence, good-nature, and want of worldly wisdom.' A dull, worthy woman, the countess disliked most of the wits who surrounded her husband, and she 'hated' Pope. She was, however, a favourite with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (cf. the latter's Letters, ed. Wharncliffe and Thomas, i. 94, ii. 92, 93, 128). Her correspondence with Lady Sundon, extending from 1731 to 1735, is in Addit. MS. 20104, ff. 90-8. She passed her widowhood at Welbeck, where she spent 40,000l. in improvements, and occupied herself in arranging the ancestral portraits and attaching inscriptions to them, and in gathering together all the other memorials she could discover of the various 'great families which centred in herself' (Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham, iii. 32). She employed Vertue, the proofs of whose works the earl had zealousy collected, to catalogue all the pictures and portraits left to her by her husband (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv.286), but she retained few of the earl's treasures. The miscellaneous curiosities, with the coins, medals, and portraits, were sold by auction in March 1742, and the books, including about 50,000 printed books, 41,000 prints, and 350,000 pamphlets, were bought the same year by Thomas Osborne, the bookseller of Gray's Inn, for 13,000l., which was several thousand pounds less than the cost of binding. Osborne found his purchase a heavy investment. The sale catalogue of the coins was compiled by George North, F.S.A. ; that of the library partly by William Oldys, in five volumes 8vo, London, 1743-5, while Johnson contributed an introduction ('Catalogus Bibliothecæ Harleianæ in locos communes distributus cum Indice Auctorum'). Under the title of the 'Harleian Miscellany' a selection of scarce pamphlets and tracts found in the library was made by Oldys and printed in eight volumes 8vo, London, 1744-6, with a preface by Johnson. The best edition is that by Thomas Park, in ten volumes 4to, London, 1808-13. A 'Collection of Voyages and Travels,' compiled from the same source, appeared in two volumes fol., London, 1745.

That the manuscripts might not be dispersed, Lady Oxford parted with them in 1753 to the nation for the insignificant sum of 10,000l. (26 Geo. II, c. 22, sec. 3). They now form the Harleian collection in the British Museum, and consist of 7,639 volumes, besides 14,236 original rolls, charters, deeds, and other legal documents. A catalogue of the contents of the manuscript volumes (exclusive of the charters, &c.) was published in two volumes fol., London, 1759-63, the compilation of H. Wanley, D. Casley, and W. Hocker; another, the work of R. Nares, Sir H. Ellis, and T. H. Horne, in four volumes fol., London, 1808-12. A manuscript catalogue of the charters, in the handwriting of Samuel Ayscough [q. v.], is now in use at the British Museum. A new index is in preparation.

Lady Oxford died on 9 Dec. 1755, aged 62, and was buried with her husband on the 26th. Their only surviving child, Margaret Cavendish (1715-1785), who married, on 11 June 1734, William Bentinck, second duke of Portland, was the 'noble, lovely little Peggy,' celebrated by Prior. Harley's portrait by Mahl was engraved by Vertue. In 1731 Thomas Gent [q.v.] addressed to him epistles in prose and verse respecting a proposed supplement to Walton's Polyglott Bible.

[Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vol. viii., which contains the correspondence of Pope and Harley; Nichols's Lit. Anecd.; Collins's Collections of Noble Families, pp. 212-13; Collins's Peerage (Brydges), iv. 80-1; Edwards's Memoirs of Libraries, vol. i.; Walpole Letters (Cunningham), i. 139, 145, and elsewhere; Chester's Registers of Westminster Abbey; Welch's Alumni Westmon. 1852, pp. 544, 555; Swift's Works (Scott).]

G. G.