Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Manning, Thomas

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MANNING, THOMAS (1772–1840), traveller and friend of Charles Lamb, born at Broome, Norfolk, 8 Nov. 1772, was the second son of the Rev. William Manning, successively rector of Broome and Diss, who died at Diss on 29 Nov. 1810, aged 77, by his wife Elizabeth, only child of the Rev. William Adams, rector of Rollesby in the same county, who died at Diss on 28 Jan. 1782, aged 34. His elder brother, William, was educated at the grammar school, Bury St. Edmunds; but Thomas, through ill-health, was trained for the university in his father's rectory. He matriculated at Caius College, Cambridge, in 1790, where his brother, afterwards a fellow and tutor, had preceded him (Gent. Mag. 1857, pt. i. p. 364), and remained a scholar on the foundation from Michaelmas 1790 to Lady-day 1795, applying himself eagerly to the study of mathematics. But he objected to oaths and tests, and didnot take his degree. He remained at Cambridge as a private tutor for some years, was friendly with Porson, and in the autumn of 1799 made the acquaintance of Charles Lamb, through the introduction of Charles Lloyd [q. v.] Manning is mentioned in the 'Essays of Elia' (in the 'Old and New Schoolmaster ') as 'my friend M., who with great painstaking got me to think I understood the first proposition in Euclid, but gave me over in despair at the second,' While at Cambridge he grew interested in the structure of the Chinese language, and he ardently desired to study the moral and social characteristics of the Chinese. He proceeded to Paris in 1800, and for more than three years studied Chinese under Dr. Hagan and in the National Library. There he became friendly with several scientific inquirers, and especially with Carnot, to whom he communicated many ideas afterwards incorporated by Carnot m his treatises (Biog. Univ. xxvi. 862-4). After the breaking out of war between France and England in 1803, the respect which Carnot and Talleyrand had for anning's plans induced them to solicit Napoleon to grant him leave to return to England, and his passport was the only one which was signed by the emperor, he intended to have proceeded from his own country to Russia, and thence to China if possible by the north, but soon found that ne could not perfect himself in Chinese while in England, and determined, in spite of the appeal of Charles Lamb, to dwell at Canton for that purpose. The theory of medicine had long been familiar to him, and for six months before May 1806 he attended its practice, mainly at the Westminster Hospital. On 31 May 1806 Sir Joseph Bants, as president of the Royal Society, addressed a letter to the court of directors of the East India Company, supporting Manning's application to be allowed to proceed to Canton as a doctor. The court thereupon gave him a free passage, and ordered that he should live in the English factory. Next month he quitted England, when, writes Mary Lamb, 'the loss of Manning made Charles very dull' (W. Hazlitt, Memoirs, i. 138), and in 1807 he arrived at Canton. He made several unsuccessful attempts to penetrate into the interior of China, and with the single exception of a visit to Cochin China, in February 1808, he remained at Canton until 1810. Early in that year he went to Calcutta, with a recommendation from the select committee at Canton to Lord Minto, the governor-general, and after a few months' lionising in a society which was attracted by his flowing beard, his eccentricity of dress and manner, and by his love of banter and paradox, proceeded, without any aid from the government, and with a single Chinese servant, to Rangpur on a journey to Lhasa. He entered Bhutan by the Lakhi Duar in September 1811, and reached Parijong, on the frontier of Tibet, on 20 Oct. where he found a Chinese general with troops, some of whom he cured of illness, and in their company he travelled, as a medical man, to Lhasa (December 1811), being the first, and for many years the sole, Englishman to enter the holy city. He remained in it for some months, but under peremptory orders from Peking was sent back to India, leaving' Lhasa on 19 April 1812, and arriving at Calcutta in the ensuing summer. In this enterprise he displayed great courage and energy, but he was at times 'quick tempered and imprudent.' Manning wrote from India to Dr. Marshman a 'long and interesting narrative' of this journey, which is now lost; but the incidents of the expedition were jotted down by him day by day in a rough notebook, which was copied out fair by his sister and printed by Mr. C. R. Markham, C.B., F.R.S., with an introductory memoir, in 1876. To the officials at Calcutta he declined to give any particulars of the travel, and he proceeded once more to Canton to dwell in the factory. In 1816 Manning consented to accompany Lord Amherst's embassy to Peking as junior secretary and interpreter, but when he joined the party Lord Amherst objected to his flowing as 'incongruous' in a British embassy, though the objection was abandoned on the refusal of Sir George Staunton to go without him. On the termination of the embassy he started homeward in the Alceste, but the ship was wrecked near Sunda on 17 Feb. 1817, and the passengers were taken to St. Helena in the following July, when in very happy language he reminded the fallen emperor of the passport which he had granted him. He returned to England a disappointed man, quitted its shores in August 1827 for a visit of two years to Italy, and then returned to live in strict retirement, first at Bexley in Kent, and afterwards at a cottage called Orange Grove, near Dartford. The house was never furnished, and Manning lived in a vast library of Chinese books, but the charm of his conversation attracted many visitors, including ministers of the crown and the chief men of letters. In 1838 he was afflicted with a paralytic stroke, which disabled his right hand, and to secure better medical attention he removed to Bath; but before leaving his cottage he plucked out the whole of his beard by the roots. He died at Bath of apoplexy on 2 May 1840, and was buried in the Abbey Church on 8 May. Though he never made much progress in colloquial Chinese, he was master of its classical literature, and was considered the first Chinese scholar in Europe (Friend of India, 30 July 1840, p. 482).

Manning wrote 'An Introduction to Arithmetic and Algebra,' Cambridge, 1796; vol. ii. Cambridge, 1798; 'An Investigation of a Differential Series,' included in Maseres's 'Scriptores Logarithmici,' vi. 47-62; and ' A New Method of Computing Logarithms' ('Philos. Trans.' 1806, pp. 327-41). He is said to have revised the proof-sheets of the 'Reports on the Poor Laws,' and on his return in 1817 to have drawn up a paper on the consumption of tea in Bhutan, Tibet, and Tartary. His description of the mode of preparing tea in Tibet is in Samuel Ball's 'Account of Tea in China,' 1848, p. 199. He was familiar with fifteen languages, and his manuscript papers and printed books were given by his brother to the Royal Asiatic Society. The books were to be preserved in a separate case, and a catalogue of them was undertaken by Mr. Samuel Ball (Ann. Reg. May 1841, p. vi). The edition of Charles Lamb's letters by Canon Ainger contains in the text and notes all his letters to Manning, several of which had not been printed before. The ' Dissertation upon Roast Pig ' begins with a reference to a Chinese manuscript, which 'my friend M. was obliging enough to read and explain to me.' Manning was acquainted with Henry Crabb Robinson, and is sometimes mentioned in his 'Diary.'

[Memoir by C. R.Markham, esq.; Gent. Mag. July 1840, pp. 97-100, by A. J. Dunkin; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. x. 143-4, 5th ser. iii. 272; Peter Auber's China, pp. 218-23; Hazlitt's Memoirs of W. Hazlitt, i. 138, 162; Essays of Elia, ed. Ainger, pp. 67, 164, 388; Letters of Lamb, ed. Ainger, i. 324; information from his nephew, the Rev. C. R. Manning of Diss.]

W. P. C.