Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Flower, Benjamin

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FLOWER, BENJAMIN (1755–1829), political writer, born in London in 1755, was the son of a prosperous tradesman, to a share of whose business he succeeded. Edward Fordham Flower [q. v.] was his nephew. Through unfortunate speculations, however, described with much candour by himself in a ‘Statement of Facts,’ he soon found himself greatly embarrassed, and ultimately, in 1785, accepted an engagement to travel in business on the continent for half the year, spending the other half in the service of a firm at Tiverton. He thus had opportunities of visiting Holland, Germany, and Switzerland, and spent six months in France in 1791, ‘the most innocent part of the revolution.’ The impressions thus imbibed inspired his work on the French constitution (1792), which is, however, much less an account of the French constitution than an attack on the alleged defects of the English, and is too discursive and irrelevant to be of much value for either purpose. It contributed to his being about this time selected to edit the ‘Cambridge Intelligencer,’ which his brother Richard, a farmer and staunch liberal, had a considerable share in establishing. It was almost the only provincial newspaper in the kingdom which denounced the war with France as ‘absurd and wicked,’ and advocated the removal of the grievances of the dissenters on the broad grounds of religious liberty. It thus attracted attention out of all proportion to its ability. Flower's hostility to the war was vigorously expressed in his ‘National Sins Considered,’ 1796; but here again he is exceedingly digressive. In 1799 he was summoned before the House of Lords for an alleged libel upon Bishop Watson, whose political conduct he had censured, and after a very short hearing was adjudged guilty of a breach of privilege, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in Newgate, and a fine of 100l. The proceedings seem to have been of a very arbitrary nature; but Flower's attempts to obtain their revision by application to the court of king's bench were unsuccessful. His captivity was alleviated by the visits of Miss Eliza Gould, a young lady who had herself suffered for her liberal opinions. Shortly after his release he married her, and, relinquishing his newspaper, established himself in business as a printer at Harlow in Essex, where he printed the works of his favourite divine, Robert Robinson, and carried on a monthly magazine, entitled ‘The Political Register,’ from 1807 to 1811. His other publications were the ‘Life of Robinson’ accompanying the latter's works, a preface to his brother Richard's ‘Letters from Illinois,’ and some pamphlets on family affairs. His wife died in 1810, leaving him two highly gifted daughters [see Adams, Sarah Flower; Flower, Eliza]. In his latter years he retired to Dalston, where he died on 17 Feb. 1829. Circumstances have given him a more important place in the history of English journalism than his literary or political abilities could have procured him. His style has the warmth imparted by conscientious conviction, but he has no great argumentative power. As a man he is entitled to honour for his disinterested consistency, and his independence of thought preserved him from some of the extremes to which the vehemence of his temper might have inclined him. Though an advocate of the French republic, he was not a republican at home, and in religion he belonged to the most conservative school of English unitarianism.

[The principal authority for Flower's life up to 1808 is the Statement of Facts published by him in that year on occasion of a lawsuit for defamation, in which he recovered damages. See also an obituary notice, probably by W. J. Fox, in the Monthly Repository, new ser. vol. iii.]

R. G.