Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jennens, Charles

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JENNENS, CHARLES (1700–1773), friend of Handel, born in 1700, was only surviving son of Charles Jennens of Gopsall, Leicestershire, by his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Burdett, bart., of Bramcott, Warwickshire (Nichols, Leicestershire, vol. iv. pt. ii. p. 859). He matriculated from Balliol College, Oxford, on 16 Feb. 1715–16, but being a nonjuror did not graduate (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, ii. 750). In 1747 he succeeded to the estate at Gopsall, and built the present mansion there. In the grounds he erected an Ionic temple in memory of his friend Edward Holdsworth [q. v.], who left him his papers on Virgil. He lived in such princely state that he was nicknamed by his neighbours ‘Solyman the Magnificent.’ From his town house in Great Ormond Street, Bloomsbury, he is said to have constantly driven to the house of his printer in Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, only a few minutes' walk, with four horses, and attended by four footmen. It was his custom to surround himself with an army of sycophants, who extolled his literary and musical talents, and contrived to keep him in ignorance of the opinion of the outside world. His obstinacy was equal to his vanity. But Jennens was profusely liberal to those who in his opinion deserved help, especially to nonjurors. His friendship for Handel was warmly reciprocated. He defended Handel from the attacks of his enemies, and faithfully supported him amid his severest trials. In 1740 he arranged for Handel Milton's ‘L'Allegro’ and ‘Il Penseroso,’ and added a third part, ‘Il Moderato.’ He also wrote the words for Handel's ‘Saul’ (1735), ‘Messiah’ (1742), and ‘Belshazzar’ (1745). Handel at his death bequeathed to him two pictures by Denner, now at Gopsall (cf. art. Handel).

Jennens died unmarried on 20 Nov. 1773, and was buried on the 27th in the family vault at Nether Whitacre, Warwickshire, where there is a monument to him. He bequeathed his library and a large collection of works of art to his relatives, William Penn Assheton Curzon (an ancestor of Earl Howe) and the Earl of Aylesford. The former inherited the well-known portrait of Handel by Hudson, still hanging at Gopsall, as well as a collection of Shakespeareana which was sold by the fourth Earl Howe in Dec. 1907. To Lord Aylesford fell the music, including autographs of Handel, and complete scores, transcribed by J. C. Smith, which were removed to Packington, with an organ on which Handel played when at Gopsall, and his correspondence with Jennens (Rockstro, Life of Handel, pp. 196–7, 372).

Jennens printed some of Shakespeare's tragedies, the text of which he preferred to have ‘collated with the old and modern editions,’ so as to enable every reader to become his own critic; but being himself no scholar, he drew together from worthless copies the most obvious typographical errors. ‘King Lear’ appeared in 1770, ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Macbeth,’ and ‘Othello’ in 1773, and ‘Julius Cæsar’ after his death, in 1774. George Steevens sneered at him unmercifully both in reviews and newspapers (cf. his articles in Critical Review, xxxiv. 475, xxxv. 230). One letter by Steevens in the ‘Public Advertiser’ of 26 Jan. 1771 called forth an answer in the same paper of 14 Feb., by a writer who respected Jennens for his benevolence. Jennens had charged all his predecessors, in his preface and notes to ‘King Lear,’ with negligence and infidelity, and he made his position still worse by a silly squib, entitled ‘The Tragedy of King Lear, as lately published, vindicated from the abuse of the Critical Reviewers, and the wonderful genius and abilities of those gentlemen for criticism set forth, celebrated, and extolled, by the Editor of King Lear,’ 8vo, London, 1772.

[Nichols's Leicestershire, vol. iv. pt. ii. pp. 856–857; Baker's Biog. Dram. (1812), i. 396–7; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 506, iii. 26, 68–9, vi. 91; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. v. 451; Eliza Clarke's Handel (World's Workers Ser.), pp. 89, 121, 124; Townsend's Visit of Handel to Dublin, p. 118; London and its Environs described (1761), v. 76–97; Dodd's Connoisseur's Repertory; Young's Six Months' Tour, iv. 120–6; Rockstro's Handel, 195–7, 372.]

G. G.