Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Venables, George Stovin

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VENABLES, GEORGE STOVIN (1810–1888), barrister and writer, born on 18 June 1810, was the second son of Richard Venables of Llysdinam Hall, Brecknockshire, archdeacon of Carmarthen, and for twenty-five years chairman of the Radnorshire quarter sessions. His mother was Sophia, daughter of George Lister of Girsby, Lincolnshire. He was educated at the Charterhouse at the same time as William Makepeace Thackeray [q. v.], whose nose was broken in a fight between them. He proceeded to Jesus College, Cambridge, and in 1831 won the chancellor's medal for English verse, the subject being the ‘North-West Passage.’ He graduated B.A. in 1832 and M.A. in 1835, was elected a fellow of Jesus College, and for some years acted as tutor.

Venables was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in May 1836, and joined the Oxford circuit, but eventually devoted himself to parliamentary practice, being made a queen's counsel in 1863. He is described as a cogent rather than a brilliant advocate, but capable on occasion of expressing himself with the most vigorous emphasis. His memory was so remarkable that he never made a note. He retired from practice with a considerable fortune in 1882. He died on 6 Oct. 1888.

The public work of his life was anonymous journalism. He was one of the original contributors to the ‘Saturday Review,’ in the first number of which (1 Nov. 1855) he wrote the first leading article. From that date until very shortly before his death he contributed an article or two to that paper almost every week, and he probably did more than any other writer of his time to establish and maintain the best and strongest current style, and the highest type of political thought, in journalism. For at least twenty-five consecutive years from 1857 he wrote the summary of events which took the place of leading articles in the ‘Times’ on the last day of each year.

The impression made by Venables upon many of the most distinguished of his contemporaries was that he was almost without an equal in the extraordinary force and charm of his character. A year before his death some of his friends erected a window as a memorial of Venables and his two brothers (the Rev. Richard Venables of Llysdinam Hall, and Joseph Henry Venables, 1813–1866, barrister-at-law) in the church at Llysdinam, which he had built and endowed. It is inscribed ‘Conditori hujus ecclesiæ amicissimi quidam.’ Upon this occasion Sir James Fitzjames Stephen [q. v.], in a letter of warm eulogy, saluted Venables as ‘a sort of spiritual uncle or elder brother.’ Thackeray is alleged to have founded upon Venables the character of George Warrington in ‘Pendennis.’ Lord Tennyson accepted from him a line in ‘The Princess,’ which is dedicated to Venables's most intimate friend, Henry Lushington. The fourth book begins:

There sinks the nebulous star we call the Sun,
If that hypothesis of theirs be sound.

The cautious second line was both suggested and composed by Venables.

The only work published with Venables's name is his memoir of Henry Lushington, printed as a preface to Lushington's ‘Italian War’ (1859). He also printed privately in 1848, in conjunction with Henry Lushington, a volume of poems called ‘Joint Compositions.’

A portrait of him by the Hon. John Collier is at Llysdinam, Newbridge-on-Wye.

[Personal recollections; Saturday Review, 13 Oct. 1888; Leslie Stephen's Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, pp. 151, 467; Burke's Landed Gentry; Tennyson's Memoir of Tennyson, 1897, i. 123, ii. 346.]

H. S.-n.