Massey, William Nathaniel (DNB00)

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MASSEY, WILLIAM NATHANIEL (1809–1881), member of parliament and historian, son of William Massey, was born in 1809, and was a member of the Clarina family. He was called to the bar in 1844, and became recorder of Portsmouth in 1852 and of Plymouth in 1855. In the same year he was returned to parliament in the liberal interest as member for Newport in the Isle of Wight, and sat for that borough until 1857, when the moderate liberal party in Manchester, while inviting Mr. Robert Lowe to oppose Gibson and Bright in that city, extended a similar invitation to Massey to contest Salford against Sir Elkanah Armitage. Massey, wiser than Lowe, responded to the summons, and gained the seat with an ease astonishing to all who were not acquainted with the personal unpopularity of his opponent. His return for so important a borough made him a person of consequence; he was already under-secretary for the home department, and although he lost this appointment on Lord Palmerston's resignation in 1858, he was elected chairman of committees after the dissolution of the following year. He continued to sit for Salford until 1863, when he succeeded Mr. Samuel Laing as financial member of the government of India, a position which he held until 1868. He possessed high qualifications for this important post, but his efficiency in it, as well as in the chair of the house in committee, was thought to be impaired by his constitutional indolence. He was made a privy-councillor on his return to England, was elected for Tiverton in 1872, and sat until his death, but took no prominent part in politics, and did not again hold office. He died in Chester Square on 25 Oct. 1881. He was a devoted follower of Lord Palmerston, and both by conviction and temperament averse to political innovation. He was personally popular both in the house and among his constituents; his abilities were considerable, his legal and financial knowledge extensive, but he lacked energy and ambition. He wrote an essay on legal reform entitled 'Common Sense versus Common Law;' but his only important literary performance is an unfinished history of the reign of George III, extending to the peace of Amiens, 4 vols. London, 1855-1863 (2nd edit. 1865). In writing this book he had the assistance of the extensive materials collected by Mr. E. H. Locker for his intended biography of George II; his style is lucid, and his general treatment of the subject sensible and impartial; but he is devoid of all distinctive characteristics, and exhibits the qualities neither of a picturesque nor of a philosophic historian.

[Annual Register, 1881; Times, 27 Oct. 1881; private information.]

R. G.