Courtenay, John (DNB00)

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COURTENAY, JOHN (1741–1816), politician, son of William Courtenay, by Lady Jane Stuart, second daughter of the Earl of Bute, was born in Ireland in 1741. He entered political life under the auspices of Viscount Townshend, who, while lord-lieutenant of Ireland, 1767–1772, made him his private secretary. In this capacity he accompanied Townshend to the ordnance office in 1772. As Townshend's nominee he was returned to parliament in 1780 as member for Tamworth. In 1783 Townshend appointed him surveyor-general of the ordnance. This vacated his seat, but he was re-elected (23 April). In parliament he spoke much and with considerable effect. In a speech of elaborate irony he supported, while feigning to oppose, Fox's bill for the repeal of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act in 1781; he advocated the renunciation of the right of legislation on Irish matters in 1782; and spoke in favour of Fox's India Bill in 1783. He retained his seat for Tamworth at the election of May 1784. In a debate on navy bills in this year (6 Aug.) he somewhat startled the house by apostrophising Rose, the secretary to the treasury, who was conspicuous by his silence when he ought to have been defending the government, in the lines:—

Quid lates dudum, Rosa? Delicatum
Effer e terris caput, o tepentis
Filia cœli.

Rose being ignorant of the Latin tongue did not reply. In 1785 a proposal to levy a tax on domestic servants furnished him with the occasion for a very humorous speech. He opposed Pitt's Irish commercial policy, averring that if carried out it would be equivalent to a re-enactment of Poynings's act. He supported the proceedings against Hastings in a speech which, according to Wraxall, stood ‘alone in the annals of the House of Commons, exhibiting a violation of every form or principle which have always been held sacred within those halls. The insult offered to Lord Hood at its commencement (referring to his services as a spectator of Lord Rodney's glorious victory of 12 April 1782) became eclipsed in the studied indecorum of the allusions that followed, reflecting on the personal infirmities or the licentious productions of the member for Middlesex (Wilkes). His invectives against Hastings, however violent, might seem to derive some justification from the example held out by Burke, Sheridan, and Francis, but the insinuation levelled at the king (of having taken bribes from Hastings) with which Courtenay concluded, and the mention of the bulse, unquestionably demanded the interference of the chair’ (Post. Mem. ii. 312). For the insult to Hood Courtenay afterwards apologised. Courtenay gave a steady support to Wilberforce in his efforts to arouse the public conscience to a sense of the iniquity of the slave trade, opposed the suspension of the habeas corpus in 1794, and gave an ironical support to the ‘bill for the better observation of Sunday’ (1795). He lost his seat for Tamworth at the election of 1796, but was returned for Appleby. He voted with the minority in favour of the reform of the House of Commons in 1797, and opposed the renewal of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act in 1798. In 1802 he ironically opposed the bill for putting down bull-baiting. In 1806 he was appointed commissioner of the treasury. Unseated in 1807, he was returned again for Appleby in 1812, but accepted the Chiltern Hundreds the same year. He died on 24 March 1816. In his speeches Courtenay, who appears to have been well read in both classical and modern literature, was fond of quoting Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and other philosophers, as well as the poets. He expressed ardent sympathy with the French revolutionists. Of his various literary productions, none of which are of great merit, the following are the principal: 1. ‘Select Essays from the Batchelor, or Speculations of Jeffry Wagstaffe, esq., Dublin,’ 1772, 12mo. 2. ‘The Rape of Pomona; an elegiac epistle,’ 1773, 4to. 3. ‘Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Character of Dr. Samuel Johnson,’ 1786, 4to. 4. ‘Philosophical Reflections on the late Revolution in France,’ 1790, 8vo (an ironical letter addressed to Dr. Priestley, which went through three editions). 5. ‘Poetical and Philosophical Essay on the French Revolution addressed to Mr. Burke,’ 1793, 8vo. 6. ‘The Present State of the Manners, Arts, and Politics of France and Italy, in a series of Poetical Epistles from Paris, Rome, and Naples, in 1792 and 1793,’ London, 1794, second edition revised and augmented same year. 7. An elegy on the death of his son prefixed to an edition of his poems, 1795, 8vo. 8. ‘Characteristic Sketches of some of the most distinguished Speakers in the House of Commons since 1780,’ 1808, 8vo. 9. ‘Verses addressed to H.R.H. the Prince Regent,’ 1811, 8vo. 10. ‘Elegiac Verses to the memory of Lady E. Loftus,’ 1811, 8vo.

[Collins's Peerage (Brydges), ii. 575, vi. 267; Parl. Hist. xxi. 783, xxii. 387, xxiii. 32, xxiv. 59, 789, 1293, xxv. 571, xxvi. 1113, xxviii. 91, xxix. 1162, xxxi. 567, 1430, xxxii. 679, 1004, 1162, xxxiii. 734, xxxiv. 111, xxxvi. 841; Parl. Debates, ix. xxiv.; Commons' Journals, lxviii. 81; Gill (1816), pp. 375, 467; Wraxall's Post. Mem. i. 141–2, ii. 312, 326; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. vi. 719; Parr's Works (Johnstone), viii. 520.]

J. M. R.