Williams, Charles Hanbury (DNB00)
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Williams, Charles Hanbury
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WILLIAMS, Sir CHARLES HANBURY (1708–1759), satirical writer and diplomatist, born probably at Pontypool on 8 Dec. 1708, was the third son of John Hanbury, known as Major Hanbury of Pont y Pool, or Pontypool, near Newport, Monmouthshire.
The father, John Hanbury (1664–1734) [q. v.], descended from Roger de Hanbury (fl. 1150), whose descendants were seated at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire down to the middle of the sixteenth century. Capel Hanbury purchased an estate at Pontypool in 1565, and began developing the ironworks there during the last twenty years of Elizabeth's reign. He resided mainly at Kidderminster, but both he and his son John and his grandson Richard frequently inspected the works at Pontypool, where are several memorials of them. Capel Hanbury (1626–1704), son of the last-mentioned Richard, died and was buried at Kidderminster in January 1704, leaving the Pontypool estate to his son John. By his marriage in 1701 to Albinia, daughter of Sir John Selwyn of Matson (whose rank of ‘major’ was probably obtained in the militia), John Hanbury obtained a fortune, which he decided to expend upon developing his estate at Pontypool and the ironworks. He built a house and took up his residence on the spot, greatly increased the output of iron by means of improvements, and is said to have ‘invented the method of rolling iron plates by means of cylinders, and introduced the art of tinning into England.’ Through the interest of his wife's family he was elected M.P. for Gloucester in 1701, and represented the city in the three succeeding parliaments, but was defeated in 1715. His adhesion to the whig interest was confirmed by his second marriage, in July 1703, to Bridget (d. 1734), eldest daughter and coheiress of Sir Edward Ayscough, knt., of Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, a lady who was high in favour with the Duchess of Marlborough, and who also brought him a fortune (10,000l.) In March 1720 he was chosen M.P. for Monmouthshire, and continued to represent the county until his death. When the South Sea Company was reconstructed after the great crash of 1721, Hanbury was appointed one of the new directors, and on Marlborough's death in June 1722 he acted as one of his executors. He spoke little in parliament, but was chairman of several committees, and was respected for his business capacity. When the schism came in the whig party he opposed Walpole, voted against the Hessian troops in 1730, and the excise bill of 1733. This was one of his last appearances in the house. He died on 14 June 1734, and was buried in Trevethin church, Pontypool (see Pontypool and the Hanbury family in Walkinshaw's Local Register, 1875).
In 1720 he came in for a legacy of 70,000l. by the death of his friend Charles Williams of Caerleon, who had fled from England upon killing Morgan of Penrhos in a duel, and amassed a fortune in Russia. Hanbury smoothed the way for Williams's return to England, and Williams, to show his gratitude, stood godfather to the major's son Charles, and left the bulk of his fortune to his friend, with remainder to his godson, upon the condition that the latter should assume the name of Williams (cf. Chester, Westm. Abbey Registers, p. 300). This condition was fulfilled in 1729, when Charles Hanbury, having attained his majority, assumed the style of Charles Hanbury Williams, and received from his father the estate of Coldbrook Park, which had been purchased out of the Williams bequest.
As the prospective heir to a large estate, Charles was sent in 1720 to Eton, where he numbered among his friends Henry Fox, Thomas Winnington, Lyttelton, Ralph Thicknesse, and Henry Fielding. Fielding, according to Walpole, depended on Williams for a guinea whenever he needed one, and regularly submitted to him his plays. The manuscript of one of these, ‘The Father, or the Good-natured Man,’ was lost by Sir Charles in 1754, and was not actually re- covered until 1778, when it was identified as Fielding's by Garrick (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 364).
After Eton Williams made the grand tour, and on 1 July 1732 married, at St. James's, Westminster, Frances (1709–1781), youngest daughter and eventually sole heiress of Thomas Coningsby of Hampton Court, Herefordshire (he was created Earl Coningsby on 30 April 1719), by his second wife, Frances, daughter and coheiress of Richard Jones, earl of Ranelagh. Williams was elected M.P. for Monmouthshire upon the death of his father in 1734, and continued to represent the county down to 1747. He seconded the address in 1736, voted for the convention in 1739, and held office under Walpole as paymaster of the marine forces from November 1739 until 1742. He was lord lieutenant of Herefordshire from February 1742 down to July 1747, and was created a knight of the Bath on 20 Oct. 1744. He sat for Leominster from 1754 to 1759, having contested it unsuccessfully in 1747. In the house he was a staunch adherent of Sir Robert Walpole, but he was known less as a politician than as a wit and conversationalist; and he was ‘the soul of the celebrated coterie of which the most conspicuous members were Lord Hervey, Thomas Winnington, Horace Walpole, Stephen Fox, and Henry Fox, Lord Holland, with whom in particular he lived in the strictest habits of intimacy and friendship’ (Coxe).
He was from an early date an assiduous student of Pope, and a story is told of a high compliment that he paid to the potency of his satire. He was rowing down the Thames on 3 June 1744 while Pope's body lay at Twickenham previous to burial two days later. Williams pointed to the house, and said to his companion in the words of Falstaff, ‘I am afraid of the gunpowder, Percy, tho' he be dead.’ He began experiments on his own account in light satirical verse about 1739. During that and the following year were privately circulated his amorous songs to ‘Lovely Peggy,’ ‘To Mrs. Woffington,’ and ‘On Mrs. Woffington,’ and his lines to Sir Hans Sloane, who saved his life. In 1740 also appeared his charming occasional verses, entitled ‘Isabella: or the Morning,’ describing a morning call paid by well-known beaux of the day upon the beautiful Duchess of Manchester, and containing a delightful vignette of the superannuated General Churchill, with his interminable story about Oudenarde. During the next two years appeared the series of satires upon Bubb Dodington, and upon various leaders of the opposition to Walpole, but more especially directed against Pulteney. The coarse ode entitled ‘The Country Girl’ (June 1742) wounded Bath to the quick, and fully avenged, in the opinion of Horace Walpole, the attacks which Pulteney had directed against his father (Sir Robert) through the medium of the ‘Craftsman.’ The two ‘Chapters of the Book of Preferment,’ which appeared in 1742 under the title of ‘Lessons for the Day,’ though included afterwards in Williams's collected works, were most probably written, or at least suggested in outline, by Horace Walpole; but to Williams may safely be ascribed the ribald parody entitled ‘Old England's Te Deum,’ addressed to the king, to whom ‘Carteret and Bath continually do cry,’ and continuing ‘The Holy Bench of Bishops throughout the land doth acknowledge thee. Thine honourable true and steady son. Also my Lady Yarmouth the Comforter.’ The satirist's most productive year was probably 1743. In January appeared the very diverting ‘Letter to Mr. Dodsley, Bookseller in Pall Mall,’ proposing a humorous emendation in Young's ‘Night Thoughts’ (ii. 28) at the expense of Lord Wilmington, a model of elegant badinage. This was followed by ‘The Merry Campaign,’ to the tune of ‘Chevy Chase,’ ‘Plain Thoughts in Plain Language,’ and the exceedingly droll dialogue held in ‘Solomon's Porch’ between Samuel Sandys and Edmund Waller (February), followed by ‘Sandys and Jekyll: a New Ballad’ (April), and ‘Peter and My Lord Quidam’ (August), a trenchant satire on legacy-hunters. During 1743 also was handed about his coarse ‘Ode upon the Marriage of the Duchess of Manchester to Edward Hussey’ (afterwards Lord Beaulieu). This was indiscreetly published in 1746, and, though ‘Mr. Hussey bore the severe attack with great forbearance, the Hibernian spirit was roused by the illiberal satire’ conveyed in the lines:
Nature indeed denies them sense;
But gives them legs and impudence
That beats all understanding.
To avoid a succession of duels, Williams prudently retired into Monmouthshire under a well-directed fire of counter lampoons. Years afterwards, when Lord Beaulieu was on a visit to Strawberry, Horace Walpole was disconcerted by the black looks that he cast upon the portrait of his old friend Hanbury Williams in his black-and-gold frame.
In January 1746 Williams's great friend Thomas Winnington died; and by way of distraction he undertook a mission as envoy to the court of Dresden, a step which his enemies did not fail to attribute to cowardice. The satirist, however, surprised his friends by penning excellent despatches, and was soon marked out for promotion in the diplomatic service. Henry Fox demanded for him the post of envoy at Turin in place of Villettes. Several of his letters to Fox 1747–8 are printed in his collected works, and contain well-written and entertaining pictures of the court life in the smaller German principalities, the fair of Leipzig, and the feud between Saxe-Gotha and Meiningen. In July 1749 he was commissioned along with John Anstis the younger [q. v.], Garter-at-arms, to carry the order to the margrave of Anspach, and early in 1750, at the repeated instance of Henry Fox, he was named envoy-extraordinary at Berlin in succession to Legge. His extreme acuteness in scenting out bribes displeased Frederick, and, as he said in a letter to Fox, ‘it were vain to contend with so mighty a prince.’ The king of Prussia demanded his recall with some acerbity, and in February 1751 Sir Charles was ordered to proceed to Dresden to the court of Augustus III, elector of Saxony and king of Poland (see Droysen, v. iv. 241; Tuttle, Hist. of Prussia, ii. 186 sq.) Stopping at Hanover, en route, he was despatched by George II to Warsaw, where the king of Poland was holding his diet, his object being to engage the king's vote for the Archduke Joseph in view of the election of a king of the Romans (for his correspondence with Newcastle on this subject, see Addit. MS. 32829 passim).
In 1753 he left Dresden and was sent to Vienna to demand the assistance of that court in case Prussia should proceed to extremities after stopping the Silesian loan. In his triple capacity as minister, courtier, and poet, he composed an epigrammatic distich in Latin upon the Empress Maria Theresa, which went the round of Europe and was magnified into a great diplomatic coup. Walpole said that Williams was better at squibs than compliments; but Voltaire praised the writer as a most elegant Ciceronian. Sir Charles had met the great French wit at Berlin in September 1750, and had adroitly flattered him. ‘L'envoyé d'Angleterre m'a fait de très-beaux vers anglais,’ wrote Voltaire to d'Argental (Berlin, 23 Sept. Œuvres, 1875–85, xxxvii. 181). After a visit to England at the close of 1753, Sir Charles was again appointed to Dresden, and attended the king of Poland in 1754 to Warsaw, where, upon espousing very warmly the interests of the Poniatowskis in respect to the disposition of the Ostrog, he came to an open rupture with the Saxon minister, Count Brühl (see his correspondence of September 1754 in Addit. MS. 32859 ad fin., Newcastle Papers).
This event terminated his mission to the court of Dresden, but early in 1755 he was despatched to St. Petersburg with the idea of forwarding the design of a triple alliance between Great Britain, Austria, and Russia. His correspondence with Lord Holderness from St. Petersburg, dated September and October 1755, is in Stowe MS. 253, and contains details of the large bribes which Sir Charles administered to the great chancellor, the vice-chancellor, the secretaries of the college for foreign affairs, and other minor officials, and extraordinary particulars relating to the Empress Elizabeth. As successor to the dull and inefficient Guy Dickens, and as a brilliant courtier as well as a lavish dispenser of bribes, Williams at first carried all before him, and he wrote to Holderness that he was resolved to employ well the honeymoon of his embassy. So rapid in fact was his success that on 30 Sept. 1755 (within seven weeks of his arrival) a treaty was signed at St. Petersburg providing for fifty-five thousand Russian troops to enter English pay. Unfortunately in the interval Frederick, thoroughly alarmed, had secretly offered terms to England, while Maria Theresa had drawn back. In place of the praise which he had expected, Williams's efforts were coldly acknowledged, and he was ordered to reverse his policy. This unjust treatment, weighing upon a too sanguine and perhaps vain temperament, unhinged his mind. He lingered on at St. Petersburg, amid humiliations of all kinds, until the summer of 1757. He then set out for home, but broke down completely at Hamburg, and, after a partial recovery, consequent upon his return to Coldbrook, relapsed once more into a state bordering upon insanity, and died by his own hand on 2 Nov. 1759.
Williams was buried in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey on 10 Nov. His will was proved on 12 Nov. 1759 by his brother, George Hanbury, to whom Coldbrook and the greater portion of the real estate reverted. He assumed the name of Williams, and died in 1764, leaving issue, whence the present family of Coldbrook are descended (Burke, Landed Gentry). The remainder of his estate Sir Charles left in trust for his daughters Frances and Charlotte. The elder daughter visited Strawberry Hill in July 1754, and charmed Horace Walpole by a sketch of the castle, which she made unasked and submitted to his approbation. ‘She is to be married to Lord Essex in a week,’ he wrote. Her marriage to William Anne Capel, fourth earl of Essex, took place on 1 Aug., and she died five years later in childbirth. The second daughter married Robert, son of Henry Boyle, earl of Shannon [q. v.], a commodore in the navy, who was drowned in the West Indies in 1779. Sir Charles's widow survived him twenty-two years, and was buried in St. Erasmus's Chapel in Westminster Abbey on 29 Dec. 1781. Her large estates passed to her grandson George, fifth earl of Essex, who assumed the name of Coningsby (Collins, Peerage, iii. 378).
Hanbury Williams was notorious for his gallantries in town, and in the country, at Coldbrook, for festivities which, on a smaller scale, rivalled those of Houghton. Burke alluded to him as ‘the polished courtier, the votary of wit and pleasure.’ Walpole regarded him as a model for the gilded youth of his day. Johnson, according to Boswell, spoke contemptuously of ‘our lively and elegant though too licentious lyrick bard, Hanbury Williams, and said he had no fame but from boys who drank with him.’ Johnson himself had once prepared a reply to a satire upon Hervey, which was attributed to Williams, but when the real author was proved to be the garreteer who wrote ‘The Fool,’ the Johnsonian missile was not discharged. His occasional verse forms a not unworthy link between Prior and Gay, and Cowper and Canning. Yet the writings of Hanbury Williams were not thought to come up to the sparkle of his conversation, of which some idea may perhaps be gathered from the earlier letters of his friend Horace Walpole. He was a great hand at badinage. Upon the circumstance, once admitted by his cousin George Selwyn, that he had attended a certain public execution, he gradually reared a superstructure of fable with which he kept the company at White's in roars of laughter; Selwyn was too good-humoured to interrupt such a rich stream of grotesque anecdote, and the stories were passed round and re-edited until they were half believed to be true (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 200). In addition to White's, Sir Charles was one of the original members of the Society of Dilettanti (Cust, History, p. 16).
A large number of his pieces, especially the political satires, appeared first in an ephemeral form, either as ballads or in periodicals. Only four of his separately issued ‘Odes’ are in the British Museum—‘An Ode to S. Poyntz, Esq.’ (1746, 7 pp. fol.), ‘An Ode to the Author of the Conquered Duchess,’ ‘An Ode on the Marriage of the D. … of M. …,’ and ‘The Unembarrassed Countenance,’ a satire on William Pitt, doubtfully ascribed to Williams (all in folio, 1746). The first attempt at a collective issue of his verses was made in ‘A Collection of Poems. Principally consisting of the most Celebrated Pieces of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, Kt. of the Bath’ (London, 1763, 8vo). The British Museum has a copy with some valuable annotations by Horace Walpole. The satirical pieces in this volume reappear in the later (1822) issue of Williams's ‘Works,’ but according to Walpole, who had excellent means of knowing, the following are certainly not by him: ‘What Good Lord Bath, prim patriot now,’ ‘Orpheus and Hecate,’ ‘A Marlborough Duchess's Ghost to Orator Pitt,’ ‘The Unembarrassed Countenance,’ ‘Short Verses,’ and ‘Tar Water.’ Coarse though the last piece is, it is surpassed in this respect by some which are undoubtedly by Sir Charles, e.g. ‘O Lincoln, Joy of Womankind,’ or ‘General Churchill's Address to Venus.’ The admirable anapæstic stanzas, called ‘The Statesman’ (the Earl of Bath), containing the lines:
Leave a blank here and there in each page
To enrol the fair deeds of his youth!
When you mention the acts of his age,
Leave a blank for his honour and truth!
Walpole strongly inclines to regard as by Williams, though he had heard that they were written by Dr. William King of Oxford.
‘The Odes of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, Knight of the Bath,’ edited by J. Ritson in 1775 (London, 1780, 12mo; 1784, 12mo), is little more than a reprint of the ‘Collection’ of 1763. In March 1786 the committee of the Dilettanti Society had in contemplation to publish some inedited poems by Hanbury Williams; but ‘no resolution was ever arrived at’ in the matter. The only fairly complete edition of Hanbury Williams is that issued in three volumes, small octavo, in 1822, as ‘The Works of the Right Honourable Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, K.B., … from the Originals in the Possession of his Grandson, the Right Hon. the Earl of Essex, with Notes by Horace Walpole … with Portraits’ (London, 8vo). Unfortunately the performance of this work does not come up to the promise. It was miserably edited by the bookseller, Edward Jeffery of Pall Mall, who had on 21 June 1822 to publish an apology to Lord Essex for having connected his name with the publication, denounced by the ‘Quarterly’ as containing ‘specimens of obscenity and blasphemy more horrible than we have before seen collected into one publication.’ Carlyle subsequently spoke of the perusal of these volumes as an exercise in ‘swimming in the slop-pails of an extinct generation.’ When occasion offered, it is true that Williams was not averse from license as gross as Wycherley ever indulged in, but such denunciations as these are absurdly beside the mark, and the ‘Quarterly’ is a much better critic when it remarks (in April 1857) that Hanbury Williams had ‘the real vein for writing squibs—he had gaiety—the quality which is found in the lighter verses of Congreve, or the playful pages of the “Twopenny Post Bag.”’ The three volumes of 1822 include a quantity of miscellaneous letters and prose pieces by Williams, including his ‘Sketch of the History of Poland down to 1382,’ written in four letters to Henry Fox. These were written mainly to divert Fox during the long evenings at Holland House, and not as a serious contribution to historical knowledge. The writer's best essay in prose (not included in the collected ‘Works’) was his paper to the ‘World’ (September 1754, No. 37) describing the daily martyrdom of a lady-companion to a fashionable dame. Nichols describes it as the longest and probably the best of the periodical essays of the day.
An oil portrait of Williams by Anton Rafael Mengs was presented to the National Portrait Gallery in November 1873 by the widow of General C. R. Fox (cf. Cat. Second Loan Exhib. Nos. 275, 288, 415). Coxe describes two portraits at the house which Sir Charles built for himself at Coldbrook, a few miles south of Abergavenny. One in full dress, with the insignia of the Bath, painted in 1744 (engraved for the ‘Works’ of 1822, and also for Coxe's ‘Tour’); another smaller portrait, representing him leaning his cheek upon his right hand and holding in his left the poem ‘Isabella’ (Walpole's was a replica of this). At Coldbrook, also, are portraits of Major Hanbury, copied from those at Pontypool. A view of Coldbrook was engraved by W. Byrne after Sir Richard Hoare.[The sole trustworthy account of Hanbury Williams is that given by William Coxe in his Historical Tour in Monmouthshire (London, 1801, 4to). This is supplemented in important particulars by Williams's own Works, by the Letters of Horace Walpole, and by Williams's Diplomatic Correspondence in the British Museum (Stowe MSS. 253, 256 and Addit. MSS. 6806, 6811–13, 15872, 23825–6, 32710, 32717, 32733, 32828–36, 32850–1). Transcripts from his letters forming 102 pages 4to ‘full of interesting information and anecdotes of the court of St. Petersburg’ were among the Earl of Ashburnham's manuscripts (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. p. 14 b). See also Creasy's Eminent Etonians, p. 279; Williams's Parl. Hist. of Wales, 1895, pp. 128–9; Hutchinson's Herefordshire Biographies, 1890, App. p. 23; Williams's Monmouthshire; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, v. 268; Jesse's George Selwyn, 1882, i. 65–8; Wortley Montagu's Letters, iii. 160; Fielding's Novels, ed. Stephen, introd.; Walpole's Memoirs of George II; Chesterfield's Letters, 1892; Waddington's Guerre de Sept Ans, 1899, 197 sq.; Carlyle's Frederick the Great, vi. 245, 251, vii. 23, 24, 27, 29, 242; Tuttle's Hist. of Prussia, 1888, ii. 175–8, 201, 202, 235–6, 264, 280; Wright's Caricature Hist. of the Georges; Quarterly Review, October 1822; Edinburgh Review, October 1833; Smyth's Lectures in Modern Hist. vol. xxviii.; Elliott's Witty and Humorous Side of English Poetry, 1880; Brit. Mus. Cat.]