1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tooke, John Horne

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TOOKE, JOHN HORNE (1736–1812), English politician and philologist, third son of John Horne, a poulterer in Newport Market, whose business the boy when at Eton happily veiled under the title of a “Turkey merchant,” was born in Newport Street, Long Acre, Westminster, on the 25th of June 1736. After passing some time at school in Soho Square, and at a Kentish village, he went from 1744 to 1746 to Westminster School and for the next five or six years was at Eton. On the 12th of January 1754 he was admitted as sizar at St John’s College, Cambridge, and took his degree of B.A. in 1758, as last but one of the senior optimes, Richard Beadon, his lifelong friend, afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells, being a wrangler in the same year. Horne had been admitted on the 9th of November 1756, as student at the Inner Temple, making the friendship of John Dunning and Lloyd Kenyon, but his father wished him to take orders in the English Church, and he was ordained deacon on the 23rd of September 1759 and priest on the 23rd of November 1760. For a few months he was usher at a boarding school at Blackheath, but on the 26th of September 1760 he became perpetual curate of New Brentford, the incumbency of which his father had purchased for him, and he retained its scanty profits until 1773. During a part of this time (1763–1764) he was absent on a tour in France, acting as the bear-leader of a son of the miser Elwes. Under the excitement created by the actions of Wilkes, Horne plunged into politics, and in 1765 brought out a scathing pamphlet on Lords Bute and Mansfield, entitled “The Petition of an Englishman.” In the autumn of 1765 he escorted to Italy the son of a Mr Taylor. In Paris he made the acquaintance of Wilkes, and from Montpellier, in January 1766, addressed a letter to him which sowed the seeds of their personal antipathy. In the summer of 1767 Horne landed again on English soil, and in 1768 secured the return of Wilkes to parliament for Middlesex. With inexhaustible energy he promoted the legal proceedings over the riot in St George’s Fields, when a youth named Allen was killed, and exposed the irregularity in the judge’s order for the execution of two Spitalfields weavers. His dispute with George Onslow, member for Surrey, who at first supported and then threw over Wilkes for place, culminated in a civil action, ultimately decided, after the reversal of a verdict which had been obtained through the charge of Lord Mansfield, in Horne’s favour, and in the loss by his opponent of his seat in parliament. An influential association, called “The Society for Supporting the Bill of Rights,” was founded, mainly through the exertions of Horne, in 1769, but the members were soon divided into two opposite camps, and in 1771 Horne and Wilkes, their respective leaders, broke out into open warfare, to the damage of their cause. On the 1st of July 1771 Horne obtained at Cambridge, though not without some opposition from members of both the political parties, his degree of M.A. Earlier in that year he claimed for the public the right of printing an account of the debates in parliament, and after a protracted struggle between the ministerial majority and the civic authorities, the right was definitely established. The energies of the indefatigable parson knew no bounds. In the same year (1771) he crossed swords with Junius, and ended in disarming his masked antagonist. Up to this time Horne’s fixed income consisted of those scanty emoluments attached to a position which galled him daily. He resigned his benefice in 1773 and betook himself to the study of the law and philology. An accidental circumstance, however, occurred at this moment which largely affected his future. His friend Mr William Tooke had purchased a considerable estate, including Purley Lodge, south of the town of Croydon in Surrey. The possession of this property brought about frequent disputes with an adjoining landowner, Thomas de Grey, and, after many actions in the courts, his friends endeavoured to obtain, by a bill forced through the houses of parliament, the privileges which the law had not assigned to him (February 1774). Horne, thereupon, by a bold libel on the Speaker, drew public attention to the case, and though he himself was placed for a time in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, the clauses which were injurious to the interest of Mr Tooke were eliminated from the bill. Mr Tooke declared his intention of making Horne the heir of his fortune, and, if the design was never carried into effect, during his lifetime he bestowed upon him large gifts of money. No sooner had this matter been happily settled than Horne found himself involved in serious trouble. For his conduct in signing the advertisement soliciting subscriptions for the relief of the relatives of the Americans “murdered by the king’s troops at Lexington and Concord,” he was tried at the Guildhall on the 4th of July 1777, before Lord Mansfield, found guilty, and committed to the King’s Bench prison in St George’s Fields, from which he only emerged after a year’s durance, and after a loss in fines and costs amounting to £1200. Soon after his deliverance he applied to be called to the bar, but his application was negatived on the ground that his orders in the Church were indelible. Horne thereupon tried his fortune, but without success, on farming some land in Huntingdonshire. Two tracts about this time exercised great influence in the country. One of them, Facts Addressed to Landholders, &c. (1780), written by Horne in conjunction with others, criticizing the measures of Lord North’s ministry, passed through numerous editions; the other, A Letter on Parliamentary Reform (1782), addressed by him to Dunning, set out a scheme of reform, which he afterwards withdrew in favour of that advocated by Pitt. On his return from Huntingdonshire he became once more a frequent guest at Mr Tooke’s house at Purley, and in 1782 assumed the name of Horne Tooke. In 1786 Horne Tooke conferred perpetual fame upon his benefactor’s country house by adopting, as a second title of his elaborate philological treatise of Ἔπεα πτερόεντα, the more popular though misleading title of The Diversions of Purley. The treatise at once attracted attention in England and the Continent. The first part was published in 1786, the second in 1805. The best edition is that which was published in 1829, under the editorship of Richard Taylor, with the additions written in the author’s interleaved copy.

Between 1782 and 1790 Tooke gave his support to Pitt, and in the election for Westminster, in 1784, threw all his energies into opposition to Fox. With Fox he was never on terms of friendship, and Samuel Rogers, in his Table Talk, asserts that their antipathy was so pronounced that at a dinner party given by a prominent Whig not the slightest notice was taken by Fox of the presence of Horne Tooke. It was after the election of Westminster in 1788 that Tooke depicted the rival statesmen (Lord Chatham and Lord Holland, William Pitt and C. J. Fox) in his celebrated pamphlet of Two Pair of Portraits. At the general election of 1790 he came forward as a candidate for that distinguished constituency, in opposition to Fox and Lord Hood, but was defeated; and, at a second trial in 1796, he was again at the bottom of the poll. Meantime the excesses of the French republicans had provoked reaction in England, and the Tory ministry adopted a policy of repression. Horne Tooke was arrested early on the morning of the 16th of May 1794, and conveyed to the Tower. His trial for high treason lasted for six days (17th to 22nd of November) and ended in his acquittal, the jury only taking eight minutes to settle their verdict. His public life after this event was only distinguished by one act of importance. Through the influence of the second Lord Camelford, the fighting peer, he was returned to parliament in 1801 for the pocket borough of Old Sarum. Lord Temple endeavoured to secure his exclusion on the ground that he had taken orders in the Church, and one of Gilray’s caricatures delineates the two politicians, Temple and Camelford, playing at battledore and shuttlecock, with Horne Tooke as the shuttlecock. The ministry of Addington would not support this suggestion, but a bill was at once introduced by them and carried into law, which rendered all persons in holy orders ineligible to sit in the House of Commons, and Horne Tooke sat for that parliament only.

The last years of Tooke’s life were spent in retirement in a house on the west side of Wimbledon Common. The traditions of his Sunday parties have lasted unimpaired to this day, and the most pleasant pages penned by his biographer describe the politicians and the men of letters who gathered round his hospitable board. His conversational powers rivalled those of Dr Johnson; and, if more of his sayings have not been chronicled for the benefit of posterity, the defect is due to the absence of a Boswell. Through the liberality of his friends, his last days were freed from the pressure of poverty, and he was enabled to place his illegitimate son in a position which soon brought him wealth, and to leave a competency to his two illegitimate daughters. Illness seized him early in 1810, and for the next two years his sufferings were acute. He died in his house at Wimbledon on the 18th of March 1812, and his body was buried with that of his mother at Ealing, the tomb which he had prepared in the garden attached to his house at Wimbledon being found unsuitable for the interment. An altar-tomb still stands to his memory in Ealing churchyard. A catalogue of his library was printed in 1813.

The Life of Horne Tooke, by Alexander Stephens, is written in an unattractive style and was the work of an admirer only admitted to his acquaintance at the close of his days. The notice in the Quarterly Review, June 1812, of W. Hamilton Reid’s compilation, is by J. W. Ward, Lord Dudley. The main facts of his life are set out by Mr J. E. Thorold Rogers, in his Historical Gleanings, 2nd series. Many of Horne Tooke’s wittiest sayings are preserved in the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers and S. T. Coleridge. (W. P. C.)