Stanyan, Abraham (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
Stanyan, Abraham

by Thomas Seccombe
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle Temple Stanyan (d. 1752).

STANYAN, ABRAHAM (1669?–1732), diplomatist, elder son of Laurence Stanyan of Headley, Middlesex, was born about 1669, and entered as a student of the Middle Temple in 1690. He is to be distinguished from the Abraham Stanyan (probably a cousin) who was admitted from Winchester as a scholar of New College, Oxford, on 14 July 1691, and who died of smallpox when a fellow of New College in 1696. Stanyan's ability met with early recognition, and in 1698 he was offered the post of secretary to Sir William Norris [q. v.], who was despatched in that year as king's commissioner to obtain certain privileges from the Mogul emperor, Aurangzíb. After much hesitation he declined the offer, and his refusal was justified in the following year, when he was appointed one of the clerks to the council extraordinary. Some four years later, on 6 Jan. 1702, he was appointed secretary to the Earl of Manchester at Paris, a post which had been recently held by Matthew Prior. He cannot have remained there long, as the war broke out almost immediately; but he was despatched on 8 May 1705, in the place of ‘Mr. Aglionby,’ as envoy to the Swiss cantons, taking with him bills of exchange upon the bankers of Genoa for the allied forces in Italy. His instructions were also to detect and neutralise the artifices of the French minister at Geneva, and to endeavour to obtain a free passage for the allied troops through the Swiss mountain passes. With these objects he caused to be published in 1707, ‘Mémoire de M. de Stanian, envoyé extraordinaire de S. M. la Reine de la Grande Bretagne vers les Louables Cantons Réformés, presenté 25 Juillet.’ Another ‘Mémoire’ printed by Stanyan about the same time had an object of more immediate importance. On 16 June 1607 died at Paris the Duchesse de Nemours, princess of Neufchatel and Valangin. No less than thirteen competitors laid claim to the principality, to rescue which from French influence became a paramount object with the allies. Stanyan at once hastened to Neufchatel, and, joining his influence to that of the Dutch envoy (Runkel), succeeded in obtaining the investiture for the king of Prussia. Louis XIV moved a large force up to the frontier as if with the purpose of invading the territory, but Stanyan's vigilance obtained from the sovereign council at Berne a prompt resolution to defend the principality with all their forces, ‘whereupon the French thought it advisable to lie quiet under their disappointment’ (Boyer, pp. 306–7; State Papers, Dutch, in Add. MS. 5132). In 1708 he found it necessary to issue a letter contradicting a rumour which had been circulated by Louis to the effect that in North Britain the natives were ready to sacrifice everything for ‘James VIII.’ Stanyan returned home in February 1709, but was soon back again in Switzerland, and was in February 1710 entrusted with a secret mission to Piedmont. During the summer of 1712 he was very busy at Milan endeavouring to adjust the differences between the emperor and the Duke of Savoy, and to obtain the adherence of both to the proposed terms of the treaty of Utrecht, upon the conclusion of which in the following year Stanyan returned to England (cf. Stowe MS. 246, ff. 25–8). He now compiled his brochure entitled ‘An Account of Switzerland written in the year 1714,’ destined to enlighten the profound darkness which he found prevailing as to the constitution, religion, and manners of the federated cantons, London, 1714, 8vo (a ‘large paper copy,’ with a dedication to Somers, is extremely rare). The original edition bears no name, and the copy at the Bodleian Library is wrongly attributed to Temple Stanyan (2nd ed. 1756; in French, Amsterdam, 1714 and 1757, 8vo; and translated by Besset de la Chapelle, Fribourg and Paris, 1766, 12mo). A paraphrase entitled ‘L'État de la Suisse’ was added, as a supplementary dissertation, to the second and later editions of Buchat's well-known ‘Délices de la Suisse’ (ed. 1730, vol. ii.). Stanyan's book was used by William Coxe in his ‘Sketches of the Natural, Civil, and Political State of Swisserland’ (1779). It was commended by Lord Chesterfield to his son (Letters, ed. Mahon, i. 68). The Swiss bibliographer G. E. von Haller describes its information as astonishingly accurate (Bibliothek der Schweizer-Geschichte, 1785).

After the accession of George I, Stanyan was on 16 July 1716 appointed envoy extraordinary to the emperor. To enable him to support his diplomatic expenses he was added to the admiralty board, and held office there until April 1717. He had been returned to parliament for Buckingham in 1715, and on his return from Vienna he was in November 1717 appointed one of the clerks in ordinary to the privy council, a post which he resigned in 1719 upon his appointment as ambassador extraordinary to the Porte. At Constantinople he succeeded Edward Wortley Montagu [see Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley]. He seems to have returned to England early in 1720, when he was succeeded by Sir Everard Fawkener [q. v.], and was soon appointed to one of the clerkships in the privy seal office. Though a whig of old standing and a member of the Kit-Cat Club, Stanyan was on friendly terms with Pope and his circle. He was a subscriber to Pope's ‘Iliad,’ and when he went out to Vienna in the autumn of 1716 he bore a letter from the poet to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. He died at his seat near Buckingham on 11 Sept. 1732. The fine Kit-Cat by Kneller was engraved by Faber in 1733 and by Cook in 1786 (prefixed to vol. v. of the ‘Tatler,’ ed. Nichols).

Abraham's younger brother, Temple Stanyan (d. 1752), entered Westminster School as a queen's scholar in 1691, and was elected in 1695 to Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 18 June, aged eighteen, but, like his brother, he does not appear to have taken a degree. He was appointed secretary under Viscount Townshend ‘in the room of Horace Walpole, esq.,’ on 15 Oct. 1715, and continued in his under-secretaryship by Addison on 20 April 1717. On 5 Feb. 1719 he was appointed clerk in ordinary to the privy council in the room of his brother (Hist. Reg. Chronol. Diary, p. 8). Numerous diplomatic letters addressed to him from Paris during the embassy of Sir Luke Schaub [q. v.] are in Add. MS. 22521 passim. He was a good scholar, and in 1735 wrote the Latin inscriptions for the statue of George II at Greenwich Hospital (Lysons, Environs, iv. 441); but he is best known for ‘The Grecian History’ down to the death of Philip of Macedon (London, 1739, 2 vols. 8vo; several editions, and a French translation by Diderot, Paris, 1743, 3 vols. 12mo), a compilation which held the field for educational purposes until the appearance of the much larger history by William Mitford the younger [q. v.] Temple Stanyan died at his seat of Rawlins, Oxfordshire, on 25 March 1752. He married as his second wife, on 28 April 1726, a ‘Mrs. Pauncefort.’ He left an only daughter Catherine (she died on 19 Feb. 1801, aged 75), who married Admiral Sir Charles Hardy the younger [q. v.]

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714 (the two Abraham Stanyans are here confused); note from the Warden of New College, Oxford; Gent. Mag. 1732 p. 979, 1752 p. 144; Hist. Reg. 1732, Chronol. Diary, p. 37; Welch's Alumni Westmon. p. 229; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, iv. 454, 518, 524; Boyer's Queen Anne, 1735, pp. 179, 306, 336, 400, 602; Add. MSS. 31130, 31134 (letters to Lord Raby, 1700–1706); Memoirs of Celebrated Persons composing the Kit-Cat Club, 1821, p. 207; Marlborough's Despatches, ed. Murray, vol. iv.; Noble's Contin. of Granger, iii. 180–1; Lady M. W. Montagu's Works; Coolidge's Swiss Travel and Guide Books, 1889, pp. 169–71; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, iv. 488, ix. 357, 364; Quérard's France Littéraire, ix. 256; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vol. i. passim; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 299.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.257
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
88 i 9-10 Stanyan, Abraham: omit (the original edition
10  after 8vo, insert (‘a large paper copy’
11  for rare; it read rare). The original edition