Langton, Bennet (DNB00)

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LANGTON, BENNET (1737–1801), friend of Dr. Johnson, son of George Langton, by his wife Diana, daughter of Edmund Turner of Stoke Rochford, Lincolnshire, and descendant of the old family of the Langtons of Langton, near Spilsby in Lincolnshire, was born apparently in the early part of 1737. Johnson calls him twenty-one on 9 Jan. 1759 (Boswell, Hill, i. 324), and he was twenty at his matriculation on 7 July 1767 (Foster, Alumni Oxonienses). While still a lad he was so much interested by the 'Rambler' (1750–2) that he obtained an introduction to Johnson, who at once took a liking to him. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, where he became intimate with Topham Beauclerk [q. v.], and where in the summer of 1759 he received a long visit from Johnson. He took the degrees of M.A. in 1769 and D.C.L. 1790. The two youths took Johnson afterwards for his famous 'frisk' to Billingsgate. Johnson visited the Langtons in 1764, and declined the offer of a good living from Langton's father. Langton was an original member of the Literary Club (about 1764). Johnson, however, was provoked to the laughter which echoed from Fleet Ditch to Temple Bar by Langton's will in 1773, and soon afterwards caused a quarrel, which apparently lasted for some months, by censuring Langton for introducing religious questions in a mixed company. Langton became a captain, and ultimately major, in the Lincolnshire militia. Johnson visited him in camp at Warley Common in 1778, and in 1783 at Rochester, where Langton was quartered for some time. Johnson once requested Langton to tell him in what his life was faulty, and was a good deal vexed when Langton brought him some texts enjoining mildness of speech. His permanent feeling, however, was expressed in the words, 'Sit anima mea cum Langtono' (Bosswell, iv. 280). During Johnson's last illness Langton came to attend his friend; Johnson left him a book, and Langton undertook to pay an annuity to Barber, Johnson's black servant, in consideration of a sum of 750/. left in his hands. Langton was famous for his Greek scholarship, but wrote nothing except some anecdotes about Johnson, published in 'Boswell under the year 1780.' Johnson and Boswell frequently discussed his incapacity for properly managing his estates. He was too indolent, it appears, to keep accounts, in spite of exhortations from his mentor. His gentle and amiable nature made him universally popular. He was a favourite at the 'blue-stocking' meetings, where, according to Burke, the ladies gathered round him like maids round a maypole (ib. v. 32, n. 3). He was very tall and thin, and is compared by Best to the stork on one leg in Raphael's cartoon of the miraculous draught of fishes. He was appointed in April 1788 to succeed Johnson as professor ot ancient literature at the Royal Academy. He died at Southampton 18 Dec. 1801. A portrait by Reynolds was in 1867 the property of J. H. Holloway, esq.

On 24 May 1770 (Annual Register, p. 180) he married Mary, widow of John, eighth earl of Rothes, by whom he had four sons and five daughters. According to Johnson, he rather spoilt them (D'Arblay, Diary, i. 73). His eldest son, George, succeeded him in his estate; Peregrine, the second, married Miss Massingberd of Gunby, and took her name. His second daughter, Jane (Boswell, iii. 210), was Johnson's goddaughter. Johnson wrote her a letter in May 1784, which she showed to Croker in 1847. She died 12 Aug. 1854, in her seventy-ninth year, having always worn a 'beautiful miniature' of Johnson (Gent. Mag. 1854, ii. 403).

[Boswell's Johnson; Birkbeck Hill's Dr. Johnson, his Friends and his Critics, pp. 248–79 (where all the anecdotes are collected); Best's Memorials, 1829, pp. 62–8; Miss Hawkins's Memoirs, Ancedotes, &c. 1824, i. 144, 276; Hayward's Pozzi, ii. 203; Gent. Mag. 1801. ii. 1207; Burke's Landed Gentry, Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 434; pedigree in J. H. Hill's History of Langton, p. 18.]

L. S.