Lempriere, Charles (DNB12)

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LEMPRIERE, CHARLES (1818–1901), writer and politician, born at Exeter on 21 Sept. 1818, was second son of John Lempriere, D.D, [q. v.], compiler of the 'Classical Dictionary,' by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Deane of Salisbury. Entering at Merchant Taylors' School in Feb. 1825, he matriculated at St. John's College, Oxford, in 1837, with a scholar-fellowship of the old type. He graduated B.C.L. in 1842 and D.C.L. in 1847, and remained a law fellow of the college until his death.

He was called to the bar from the Inner Temple on 22 Jan. 1844, and for a time did work for (Sir) Alexander James Edmund Cockburn [q. v.], who always remained his friend. Joining the western circuit, he made good progress; but he early fell into the hands of unscrupulous financiers, whose schemes involved him in difficulties which lasted almost till his death. In pursuance of these schemes he travelled for some time in Egypt and the Levant. Meanwhile he interested himself in politics on the conservative side. He had been one of the earlier members of the Conservative Club (1841). From 1860 onwards he was a trusted agent of the conservative party, and engaged actively in political work. When it was resolved in 1859 to oppose Gladstone's election for Oxford University, Lempriere was deputed to approach the marquis of Chandos, afterwards duke of Buckingham, to induoe him to stand. Premature revelation of the position of things by the conservative leaders at Oxford brought grave discredit upon Lempriere, who was really not in fault. The marquis ultimately stood (1 July 1859), and was defeated by 859 to 1060 votes. Two years after, Lempriere was despatched by Sir Moses Montefiore [q. v.] on a private mission to Mexico, then in the midst of civil and financial disturbance, to defend, as for as was possible, the threatened British interests in the country. Travelling by way of the United States, Lempriere recorded his impressions of the position there in the best of his literary productions, 'The American Crisis considered' (1861). Believing as most Englishmen did in the claims of the South to independence, he saw and exposed most vividly the danger to be apprehended from the emancipation of the negro population. There followed his 'Notes on Mexico' (1862). The confused condition of the country is reflected in the traveller's impressions. Vera Cruz had been occupied by the Spaniards, and there were fears that the French might establish permanent control of the country. Brigandage was rampant, and disorder universal. The book was attacked for inaccuracy in statistics and faultiness of style. Yet it is probably the best extant account of Mexican affairs in those days of turmoil.

In 1865 Lempriere was back in England and taking an active part in elections. When in June 1866 John Bonham Carter. liberal member for Winchester, accepted the office of junior lord of the treasury in Lord John Russell's administration, and offered himself for re-election, Lempriere contested the seat to prevent an unopposed return. He only polled 46 votes. In 1867, under Lord Derby's administration, his services were rewarded by the colonial secretaryship of the Bahamas. Political feeling at that time ran high in the islands, and it was not long before Lempriere's strong tory opinions brought him into difficulties. He was accused of interfering in elections, and had to resign. Scenes of great disorder followed; Lempriere's house was plundered and his papers destroyed. Instead of returning to England he proceeded to the United States, where he had previously made the acquaintance of Horace Greeley, who now employed him as a writer for the 'Tribune.' After Greeley's death in 1872 Lempriere entered on the most singular stage of his career. He organised a colony of young Englishmen at Buckhorn in Western Virginia, on the lines of that afterwards attempted at Rugby, Tennessee, by Thomas Hughes, who is vaguely said to have suggested the idea to Lempriere. The 'colony' failed, the colonists were half starved, and in 1879 Lempriere was back in England and again engaged in financial projects. In the pursuit of these he travelled in most countries of Europe. His last undertaking was in connection with the valuation of the great Partagas tobacco estates in Cuba, in which he was employed by a syndicate (1887-9). From that time onwards he remained in England, occasionally residing for some months at a time in Belgium and Luxemburg, where he had many friends. He died at West Kensington on 30 Oct. 1901.

Lempriere's powers were not displayed to best advantage in his literary work. His reputation was that of a persuasive speaker and a brilliant conversationalist. There are oil paintings of him in the Common Room of St. John's College and at the Seigneurie of Rozet in Jersey, with which his family was connected.

[J. Bertram Payne, Monograph of the House of Lempriere, 1862; Robinson, Register of Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 223; Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, and Men at the Bar; Register of St. John's College, Oxford.]

A. T. G.