Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hyde, Henry (1710-1753)

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HYDE, HENRY, Viscount Cornbury, and afterwards Lord Hyde in his own right (1710-1753), was the eldest son of Henry Hyde, fourth and last earl of Clarendon and second and last earl of Rochester of the Hyde family, and his wife Jane [q. v.] His grandfather was Laurence, first earl of Rochester [q. v.] Born in November 1710, he was offered, on his return from a continental tour early in 1732, a `very handsome' pension, which had been obtained for him through his brother-in-law, the Earl of Essex, but which he refused with the words: 'How could you tell that I was to be sold? or, at least, how could you know my price so exactly?' (Spence in Pope's Works, iii. 322; cf. Imitations of Horace, bk. i. ep. vi. l. 61). In 1732 Lord Cornbury was chosen M.P. for the university of Oxford, on account partly of his high character and attainments, partly of his Jacobite leanings. Though Bowles's description of him as a nonjuror (Pope, Works, ix. 331 n.) is, of course, absurd, he was suspected of dealings with the Pretender during his travels abroad (ib. iii. 322 n.); hence Mr. Elwin's characteristic description of him as a 'perjured traitor' (ib. vii. 261 n.) His sympathies were undoubtedly with the high tory party, and with the political notions at that time fostered by Bolingbroke. But he held aloof from the factious attempt of the opposition in the session of 1740-1 to upset Sir Robert Walpole (cf. his speech, 13 Feb. 1741, summarised in Coxe's Walpole, ed. 1816, iv. 179-81). He is almost certainly the 'C——' of Pope's satire, ' 1740,' who ' hopes and candidly sits still ' (see Pope, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iii. 495 n., x. 163). Re-elected to the parliament which met in December 1741, and which speedily saw the downfall of Walpole, he remained in opposition, and was one of the small minority which, 19 Dec. 1745, declined at the very crisis of the rebellion to join in a vote of thanks to the king for ordering six thousand Hessians into Scotland (Letters of Horace Walpole, i. 412-13). In 1747 he was once more returned to the House of Commons, but quitted it in 1750 on being called up to the lords as Baron Hyde.

Much of his time in these years seems to have been spent abroad—at Spa, whither he went for his health in 1738 and 1740 (Pope, Works, ix. 176, x. 256), and in France, to which he paid repeated visits in his last years, taking much interest in its affairs. At home he resided chiefly at Cornbury, and at his London house ' by Oxford Chapel,' at both of which places Pope was his guest (ib. ix. 142-3, 157, x. 237). In 1735 he had addressed to the poet a set of verses concerning his authorship of the 'Essay on Man,' which were printed by Pope in 1739 in a new edition of the volume of his 'Works' containing the ' Essay ' (cf. ib. viii. 372, 374; cf. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Works, ii. 237-8). But the friendship of Bolingbroke, who returned finally to England in 1743, a year before Pope's death, was probably the chief intellectual interest of Cornbury's life. As early as 1735, Bolingbroke, on becoming once more an 'exile,' had addressed to him, from Chanteloup in Touraine, his ' Letters on the Study and Use of History.' Soon afterwards he wrote the letter 'On the Spirit of Patriotism' (not published till 1749), which, according to Horace Walpole (Letters, ii. 158), was first addressed to Lord Cornbury (see, however, Macknight, p.630). In 1746 Bolingbroke was at Cornbury, surrounded by his favourite younger politicians (ib. p. 673). When, on Bolingbroke's death (December 1751), Lord Hyde learnt that his philosopher and friend had left Mallet his literary executor, he eagerly intervened to prevent the publication of that portion of the ' Letters on the Study of History ' which dealt in a spirit of free criticism with the question of the authenticity of Old Testament history. Mallet declined to bow to authority, and there followed an elaborate correspondence, which was published (ib. pp. 694-7 ; cf. Lord Cornbury, Letter to David Mallet, Esq., on the intended publication of Lord Bolingbroke 's MSS.)

Cornbury, who had remained unmarried, was killed by a fall from his horse at Paris, 26 April 1753, about eight months before the death of his father. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu condescended to lament his death as untimely: `He had certainly a very good heart; I have often thought it great pity it was not under direction of a better head.' At the same time she naturally, in connection with his will, which contained no legacy to his sister, the Duchess of Queensberry, revived an ancient scandal against his mother (Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ed. Lord Wharncliffe, ii. 237-8). Lord Cornbury was clearly a man of conversational ability and wit (cf. Letters of Horace Walpole, ii. 88, 236), as well as of character, and not undeserving of the praises lavished on him by the wits, from Thomson (Seasons: Summer, ed. Bell, ii. 108), Pope, and Swift to Sir Charles Hanbury Williams and Horace Walpole. In addition to the pieces already mentioned, he wrote a few pamphlets, including one entitled 'Common Sense, or the Englishman's Journal' (1737), and a comedy called by Genest (iv. 44) 'sensible, but dull,' 'The Mistakes, or the Happy Resentment,' printed by subscription in 1758 for the benefit of the actress Mrs. Porter, with 'a little preface by Horace Walpole' (see his Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, ed. 1759, ii. 150). He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

[Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, 1871-89; Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Cunningham, 1886; Macknight's Life of Bolingbroke, 1863; Lady Theresa Lewis's Descriptive Catalogue of the Portraits at the Grove, in Lives of Friends and Contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon illustrative of Portraits in his Gallery, 1852, iii. 422-3.]

A. W. W.