Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hervey, Thomas (1698-1775)

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HERVEY, THOMAS (1698–1775), eccentric pamphleteer, born 20 Jan. 1698–9, was second son of John Hervey, first earl of Bristol [q. v.], by his second wife, Elizabeth, sole daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Felton. Hervey was sent to Christ Church, Oxford, but did not take a degree. He was taken away from Oxford to study law at Lincoln's Inn. He was thus denied what he desired, a post in the army; and gave himself up to drink, with the result that, as his allowance from his father was only 120l. per annum, he ‘many, many times wanted a dinner.’ At an early age he was engaged in two duels, and was nearly involved in a third. His ill-health was chronic. For eleven years he was unable to lie in his bed ‘one single night from night to morning;’ he was racked by a ‘constant fever, for which in 17 or 18 years he had been blooded more than 100 times,’ and before he was of age his mind was ‘unhinged.’ Hervey was placed in parliament on 29 June 1733 for one of the seats for the family borough of Bury St. Edmunds, and continued to sit until 1747. His first appointment was that of equerry to Queen Caroline, wife of George II, which he held from July 1728 until he resigned it in 1737, and in 1733 he was created vice-chamberlain of the queen's household. On 23 May 1738 he was appointed superintendent of the gardens at the royal palaces. In spite of great disparity in their ages, Sir Thomas Hanmer [q. v.] married in 1725 Elizabeth Folkes, and after a few years she eloped with Hervey, who for the rest of his days made Hanmer the constant subject of attack. Though Hervey's mother disinherited him for his refusal to separate himself from Colonel Thomas Norton, his colleague in the representation of Bury St. Edmunds, his income through his places and the property which he acquired from Lady Hanmer amounted to 2,000l. per annum. By this woman he had a natural son, Thomas, an officer in the first regiment of foot-guards, who, on 26 Feb. 1774, had leave to drop the name of Hanmer and to use the name and arms of Hervey. She died on 24 March 1741, and Hervey married (it is said in the Fleet prison in 1744) Anne, daughter of Francis Coghlan, a counsellor-at-law in Ireland, after she had lived with him for some time, and their son, William Thomas, aide-de-camp to General Shirley, was killed at Ticonderoga. It is erroneously stated that she died in Bond Street, London, 27 Dec. 1761, and that he married again. Hervey himself died in Bond Street on 16 Jan. 1775. Two years before he endeavoured by appeals to the court of delegates to set aside his marriage, but after a full hearing failed. On his deathbed he sent for his wife, and acknowledged the validity of their union.

Hervey was always scribbling. He printed: 1. ‘A Letter to Sir Thomas Hanmer, Bart.,’ n.d. [1741], in which he complained of the baronet's sale to others of the wood on the estate in Wales vested in him in reversion, and offered to sell his interest therein for about 3,000l. In this whimsical production he speaks of ‘our wife (for, in Heaven, whose wife shall she be?),’ and naïvely says of her: ‘She was plain, you know.’ Shenstone, writing to Jago in 1741 (Works, iii. 37, ed. 1769), says: ‘What is now read by the whole world and the world's wife is Mr. Hervey's letter to Sir T. Hanmer. I own my taste is gratified in it … though people say (I think idly) he is mad.’ This provoked ‘A Proper Reply to a late very Extraordinary Letter. By a Lady,’ 1742, which was assigned to the Duchess of Queensberry, and Hervey's pamphlet was defended in a counter-production, ‘Measure for Measure, or a Proper Reply to a late scurrilous Pamphlet entitled “A Proper Reply to a Letter.”’ 2. ‘A Letter to William Pitt concerning the fifteen new Regiments lately voted by Parliament’ [anon.], 1746. Hervey was opposed to their formation. 3. ‘Mr. Hervey's Letter to the Rev. Sir William Bunbury, Bart., together with a short preface by the author,’ n.d. [1753], complaining that the baronet had injured the child of Lady Hanmer. Of this piece Horace Walpole writes: ‘Hervey, who always obliges the town with a quarrel in the dead season, has published a letter to Bunbury full of madness and wit.’ 4. ‘A Letter to the late King’ [dated 1755], to which is prefixed one to the Duke of Newcastle, 1763, the objects of which were to secure the payment of ‘a civil list arrear of long standing, to the amount of two thousand pounds,’ and to obtain a fresh grant of 200l. per annum for his wife. Of this letter Walpole wrote: ‘It beats everything for madness, horrid indecency, and folly, and yet has some charming and striking passages.’ 5. ‘A Complaint on the part of the Hon. Thomas Hervey concerning an undue Proceeding at Court. Set forth in two Letters to the Princess of Brunswick,’ 1766; 3rd edit., much expanded, 1767. To this last edition was prefixed a ferocious declaration of enmity against his nephews, the then Earl of Bristol and Augustus Hervey, and to it were added two letters to Miss Anne Coghlan, apparently love-letters before marriage. The ‘Complaint’ was that some part of the pension payable to him by the government had been appropriated for the support of his wife and son. He had previously published in the daily papers the following advertisement: ‘Whereas Mrs. Hervey has been three times from home last year and at least as often the year before without either my leave or privity, and has encouraged her son to persist in the like rebellious practices, I hereby declare that I neither am nor will be accountable for any future debts of hers whatever. She is now keeping forcible possession of my house, to which I never did invite or thought of inviting her in all my life. Tho. Hervey.’ A letter from his wife to George Selwyn respecting one of these insults is in Jesse's ‘Selwyn,’ i. 220–3. 6. ‘An Elegy upon the Death of the late Earl Granville’ [by Hon. T. H.], 1767. 7. ‘Mr. Hervey's Answer to a Letter he received from Dr. Samuel Johnson to dissuade him from parting with his Supposed Wife,’ 1772, ‘but first printed and written in 1763,’ according to note on the copy of the work at the British Museum. In this he makes frequent references to his wife's violence of temper. Hervey had been attacked in a pamphlet, written, as it was thought, by Sir Charles Hanbury Williams. Johnson, who was introduced to Hervey by his brother, Henry Hervey, afterwards Aston, an officer in the army quartered at Lichfield, wrote a defence. This was not printed, as the assailant proved to be a garreteer, but in consideration of Johnson's services Hervey sent him 50l. in a letter, to which he added: ‘P.S. I am going to part with my wife.’ Johnson sent a reply of expostulation, and when Hervey died, gave as his epitaph, ‘Tom Hervey, though a vicious man, was one of the genteelest men that ever lived.’ A whimsical letter of remonstrance, dated 5 Dec. 1762, from Hervey to Pitt on the latter's political action is in the ‘Chatham Correspondence,’ ii. 197–9. Eight lines by him ‘on a pencil sent to his wife,’ are printed in Nichols's ‘Collection of Poems,’ vi. 56.

[Boswell's Johnson (Hill), ii. 32–3; Walpole's Letters, i. 101, ii. 342, 447, iv. 78, vi. 182; Hervey's Suffolk Visitation (Howard), ii. 198; Gent. Mag. 1775, p. 47; Jesse's Selwyn, i. 220–227, 408; Hanmer's Life, p. 79.]

W. P. C.