Lawrence, James Henry (DNB00)

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LAWRENCE, JAMES HENRY (1773–1840), miscellaneous writer, born in 1773, was the son of Richard James Lawrence, esq., of Fairfield, Jamaica, whose ancestor, John, younger son of Henry Lawrence (1600–1664) [q. v.], had settled in that island in 1676. He was educated at Eton, where he was Montem poet in 1790, and afterwards in Germany. A precocious author, he produced in 1791 a poem entitled 'The Bosom Friend,' 'which.' says the 'Monthly Review,' 'instead of being a panegyric on friendship, is written in praise of a modern article of a lady's dress.' In 1793 his essay on the peculiar customs of the Nair caste in Malabar, with respect to marriage and inheritance, was inserted by Wieland in his 'Merkur,' and in 1800 Lawrence, who seems to have in the interim lived entirely upon the continent, completed a romance on the subject, also in German, which was published in the 'Journal der Romane' for the following year, under the title of 'Das Paradies der Liebe,' and reprinted as 'Das Reich der Nairen.' The book was subsequently translated into French and English by the author himself, and published in both languages; the English version, entitled 'The Empire of the Nairs,' which did not appear until 1811, is considerably altered from the original, and is preceded by an introduction seriously advocating the introduction of the customs of the Nairs into Europe. The novel, nevertheless, is not licentious, but is unquestionably dull, and owes its preservation from oblivion chiefly to the notice taken of it by Schiller and Shelley. A genuine letter from Shelley to Lawrence, dated Lynmouth, August 1812, appears in the collection of spurious 'Letters of Shelley.' with a preface by Robert Browning (1851). In 1801 Lawrence's poem on 'Love' appeared in a German version in a German magazine entitled 'Irene,' and the original was published at London in the following year. In 1808 Lawrence, happening to be in France with his father, was arrested, along with the other English residents and tourists, and detained for several years at Verdun. Having eventually effected his escape by passing himself off for a German, he published in London 'A Picture of Verdun, or the English detained in France.' 2 vols., 1810, a book of real value for the picture it gives of the deportment of an English colony, mostly consisting of idle and fashionable people, in peculiar and almost unprecedented circumstances. It is full of complaints of official misdemeanors, but the tone adopted towards the French nation is just and liberal, and it even bears reluctant testimony to the capricious magnanimity of Napoleon. Subsequently Lawrence led a roving life, chiefly on the continent, and was apparently always in the enjoyment of easy circumstances. Having been made, as he asserted, a knight of Malta, he assumed the title of Sir James Lawrence, and was frequently known as the Chevalier Lawrence. In 1828 he brought together most of his early writings, with others of a similar description, in a collection entitled 'The Etonian out of Bounds,' and in 1824 he published a book of some value 'On the Nobility of the British Gentry' (4th ed. 1840), intended to establish the proposition that an English gentleman, in the sense in which the author employed the term, is the equal of a foreign nobleman, and protesting against its employment in any other. He died unmarried 26 Sept. 1840, and was interred with his father in the burying-ground of St. John's Wood Chapel.

[Gent. Mag. 1815 ii. 16–17, 1841 i. 205; Lawrence's own writings, passim.]

R. G.