Jennings, Henry Constantine (DNB00)

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JENNINGS, HENRY CONSTANTINE (1731–1819), virtuoso, the only son of James Jennings, was born in 1731 at his father's estate at Shiplake in Oxfordshire. He was educated at Westminster School, and at the age of seventeen became an ensign in the 1st foot-guards. Resigning his commission soon after, he went abroad. He spent eight years in Italy (three of them in Rome), and subsequently visited Sicily. In Italy he became acquainted with the Marquis of Blandford, and is said (Faulkner, Hist. of Chelsea) to have suggested to him the formation of the cabinet of ‘Marlborough Gems.’ While in Rome he purchased antiquities of Cavaceppi, the sculptor and art-dealer. In an obscure street in that city he discovered amid the rubbish of a statuary's workshop the marble figure of a crouching dog, an antique which he purchased on the spot for four hundred scudi. The purchase-money and cost of carriage for the dog amounted to 80l. This dog was highly praised by Walpole (Works, ii. 463) and others, was talked about by Johnson and Burke at the Literary Club (Boswell, Johnson, under 3 April 1778), and gained its owner the nickname of ‘Dog’ Jennings. ‘A fine dog it was,’ he said, ‘and a lucky dog was I to purchase it.’ It was sold by Jennings at Christie's, on 4 April 1778 (Annual Reg. xxi. 174; Michaelis, Anc. Marbles in Great Brit.), for one thousand guineas, to Mr. Charles Duncombe, M.P., and is now in the hall of Duncombe Park, Helmsley, Yorkshire, the seat of Lord Feversham. A critic in the ‘Athenæum’ for 11 Sept. 1880, p. 345, says it resembles the well-known statue in the Uffizi, Florence (to which Waagen preferred it), and that it is not tailless, though Jennings had named it the ‘dog of Alcibiades’ (for descriptions, see Michaelis, op. cit. pp. 294, 295, where Winckelmann and Waagen are referred to). On his return to England (about 1756?) Jennings passed a country-gentleman's life on his estate at Shiplake, but, taking to horse-racing, he lost largely, and was compelled in 1778 to sell his collections and the famous dog. In 1777–8 he was a prisoner in the King's Bench, where he made the acquaintance of Horne Tooke. Soon after he settled in Essex and collected objects of vertu. He was afterwards a prisoner for debt in Chelmsford gaol. He had borrowed (and never repaid) 1,600l. from Mr. Chase Price, receiver-general of South Wales, who died indebted to the crown, and an ‘extent in aid’ was issued by the crown against Jennings. He was at this time forced to sell his new collections at a loss. About 1792 Jennings came to London, where he resided in the first house on the east side of Lindsey Row, Chelsea. Here he amused himself with writing and with forming a new collection until about 1816, when, his health beginning to decline and his resources to be exhausted by his lavish expenditure as a collector, he had ‘to bargain for a room in the state-house of the King's Bench’ (Wilson, Wonderful Characters). His collections still, however, remained unsold, and he is said to have been in the receipt of 800l. from his West Indian property, which he never would mortgage or encumber. He died, aged 88, on 17 Feb. 1819, at his lodgings in Belvidere Place, St. George's Fields, within the rules of the King's Bench (Gent. Mag. 1819, vol. lxxxix. pt. i. p. 189). At the time of his death he had before the House of Lords a claim for a barony in abeyance. The collection formed by Jennings while in Chelsea comprised (according to Faulkner, Hist. of Chelsea) a complete series of shells, as well as minerals, precious stones, intaglios, stuffed birds, prints, books, portraits, gold and silver ‘medals’ [coins?], &c. The shells and the most valuable objects were sold by auction by Phillips in Bond Street, London, in 1820, the birds and the remaining specimens being sold, with the furniture, at Lindsey Row.

Among Jennings's publications may be mentioned: 1. ‘A Free Enquiry into the Enormous Increase of Attornies,’ 1785, 8vo, and the following, all published in 1798, 8vo, but without date: 2. ‘Cursory Remarks on Infancy and Education.’ 3. ‘Observations on the Advantages attending an Elevated and Dry Situation.’ 4. ‘A Physical Enquiry into the Powers and Properties of Spirit.’ 5. ‘Thoughts on the Rise and Decline of the Polite Arts.’

A portrait of Jennings, engraved by R. Cooper, is given in Wilson's ‘Wonderful Characters’ (ii. 350). He was short, thin, and in old age much bent. His dress was singular, and when walking he attracted notice by striking his stick loudly on the stones. Faulkner (Hist. of Chelsea) says he was a man of ‘careless and unsuspicious character,’ and J. T. Smith (Book for a Rainy Day, under date 1818), that he was an accomplished and entertaining companion. He was eccentric in his habits, and was believed by his friends to keep an oven in his house for the cremation of his body. At bedtime and on rising he exercised himself with his ‘broadsword,’ a long and ponderous instrument of wood, capped with lead; he then mounted his chaise-horse, composed of leather and inflated like a pair of bellows, and took ‘exactly one thousand gallops.’ Jennings married, first, about 1760, Juliana Atkinson, who died in 1761, and by whom he had a son, John Henry; secondly, a daughter of Roger Newell of Bobins Place, Kent (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 65, 6th ser. viii. 8). In his later years he took the name of Noel (or Nowell) on receiving a legacy. His old friend Nollekens calls him ‘Nowell Jennings,’ but he appears to have been generally known as Jennings.

[Faulkner's Hist. of Chelsea, 1829, i. 87–9; H. Wilson's Wonderful Characters, ii. 350 f.; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 353–4; Michaelis's Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, § 54, pp. 294, 295; Rose's Biog. Dict.; Smith's Nollekens, i. 292; Brit. Mus. Cat.; authorities cited above.]

W. W.