Mason, John Monck (DNB00)

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MASON, JOHN MONCK (1726–1809), Shakespearean commentator, born in Dublin in 1726, was eldest son of Robert Mason of Mason-Brook, co. Galway, by Sarah, eldest daughter of George Monck of St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. On 12 Aug. 1741 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated B.A. in 1746, M.A. in 1761 (college registers). In 1752 he was called to the Irish bar. He sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Blessington, co. Wicklow, in 1761 and 1769, and for St. Canice, otherwise Irishtown, co. Kilkenny, in 1776, 1783, 1790, and 1798. In parliament he was a fluent, a frequent, and a good speaker. He showed his independence by introducing in 1761 a bill to enable catholics to invest money in mortgages upon land, which was carried by a majority of twelve. It was, however, rejected by the English privy council. In the next session a similar bill, being strongly opposed by the government, was rejected by 138 to 53. The government made a bid for his support by appointing him in August 1771 a commissioner of barracks and public works, Dublin (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. Append. x. p. 308), and in 1772 a commissioner of revenue, an office which he held until 1793. Greatly to the anger of Lord Charlemont and the other leaders of the opposition, Mason became thenceforth a supporter of the government. Again his favourite measure was introduced by him in 1772 and again unsuccessfully. When, however, Lord Harcourt's government, in 1773, wished to do something in favour of the catholics, Mason and Sir Hercules Langrishe [q. v.] were requested to bring in the very same bill, together with another permitting catholics to take leases for lives of lands, but both were suddenly dropped (Hardy, Memoirs of Lord Charlemont, 2nd edit., i. 321). During the free trade agitation of 1779 Mason made himself very unpopular. On 16 Nov. he writes to the speaker (Pery) that as he cannot venture to go down to the house ‘without the manifest danger of his life’ he must request him to appoint some other person ‘more agreeable than I am to the present ruling powers’ to take the chair in the committee of accounts (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. p. 205). He was consoled by being made a privy councillor, and in the last Irish parliament he voted for the union.

Mason died in Dublin in 1809. In 1766 he married Catherine, second daughter of Henry Mitchell of Glasnevin, co. Dublin, but left no issue. He sold Mason-Brook to the Right Hon. Denis Daly.

In 1779 Mason published at London, in 4 vols. 8vo, an edition of the ‘Dramatick Works of Philip Massinger,’ which he complacently assured his readers would be found to be absolutely free from error. It proved to be rather worse than the discreditable reprint of Coxeter (1761). Mason afterwards tried to make some anonymous person responsible for its imperfections (Preface to Comments on Shakespeare, edit. 1785, p. x). He next busied himself in preparing an edition of ‘Shakespeare;’ but finding, to his ‘no little mortification,’ that most of his ‘amendments and explanations’ were anticipated in Isaac Reed's edition of 1785, he had to content himself with printing his manuscript in an abridged form as ‘Comments on the last Edition of Shakespeare's Plays,’ 8vo, London, 1785, with an appendix of ‘Additional Comments.’ Another edition, entitled ‘Comments on the several Editions of Shakespeare's Plays, extended to those of Malone and Steevens,’ appeared at Dublin in 1807. George Steevens, who inserted many of Mason's notes in his editions of ‘Shakespeare,’ allowed that ‘with all his extravagances he was a man of thinking and erudition’ (Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. vii. 3). Mason also published ‘Comments on the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher; with an Appendix containing some further Observations on Shakespeare,’ 8vo, London, 1798, dedicated to George Steevens; and ‘An Oration commemorative of the late Major-General Hamilton,’ 8vo, 1804.

His portrait, engraved after J. Harding, by Knight, is in ‘Shakespeare Illustrated,’ 1791.

[Information from the Rev. John W. Stubbs, D.D., and the Rev. Thomas E. Hackett; Life of Henry Joseph Monck Mason, prefixed to his Essay on Parliaments in Ireland, ed. O'Hanlon, Dublin, 1891; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland (Archdall), iii. 177–8; Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century, iv. 459–60; Sketches of Irish Political Characters of the Present Day (by Henry m'Dougall), 1799, pt. ii. p. 146; Journals of the Irish House of Commons; Lists of Members of Parliament, Official Return; Todd's Cat. of Dublin Graduates, 1869, p. 376; Gifford's Preface to Massinger's Dramatic Works, 1805; Mason's Works; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 226.]

G. G.