Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morley, John (1656-1732)

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MORLEY, JOHN (1656–1732), known as 'Merchant Morley,' agent and land jobber, born at Halstead in Essex on 8 Feb. 1655-6, was originally a butcher, but rose by sheer business capacity to be one of the largest land jobbers, or agents for the disposing of land, in the kingdom. It is commonly stated that in honour of his first trade he annually killed a pig in Halstead market, and received a groat for the job. When he applied for a grant of arms in 1722, he assumed for his crest the figure of a butcher holding a poleaxe bend-wise. He became a sort of business agent for the Harleys, and in 1713, to the great contentment of Robert Harley, he negotiated the marriage between Edward Harley, afterwards second earl of Oxford [q. v.], and Lady Henrietta Holles, only daughter and heiress of the fourth Duke of Newcastle. He received a two and half per cent, commission on the dowry, or, in other words, 10,000l. Swift formed a low estimate of him. Writing to Barber in 1738, he said: 'I remember a rascally butcher, one Morley, a great land jobber and knave, who was his lordship's manager, and has been the principal cause of my lord's wrong conduct.' A vivacious sketch of Morley's character forms the staple of Matt Prior's diverting ballad of 'Down Hall,' 1723. The jobber is probably the 'hearty Morley' of Gay's 'Welcome.' Pope, to whom he occasionally sent presents of oysters and eringo roots, was most friendly with him, and when he was seriously ill during 1725-6, sent him a sympathetic and caressing letter. Morley bought about 1700 the messuage and house of Munchensies, in his native parish of Halstead; he rebuilt the house in 1713, and he died there on 20 Jan. 1732. He was buried beneath an altar-tomb in Halstead church, the arms of the Butchers' Company being blazoned above. Though so long 'dry nurse to estates and minors,' he seems to have behaved generously to his native place; and possessing the patronage of Gestringthorpe in Essex, he shortly before his death united with the rector, Moses Cooke, to augment the living by adding 200l. to Queen Anne's Bounty. Prior was a frequent visitor at Munchensies, and at Morley's request commemorated in verse the rebuilding of Halstead steeple. Morley married the 'Thalestris' of the 'Rape of the Lock,' a daughter of Sir George Brown of Berkshire (Sir Plume). Both a son and a grandson bore his name. The latter, a physician, who was owner of Munchensies in 1768 (Morant), is separately noticed. A portrait of the 'land jobber' was painted by Kneller, and was engraved by Simon.

[Elwin's Pope, v. 177, viii. 216, x. 247-9; Morant's Essex, ii. 257; Wright's Essex, i. 467; Hist. of Essex, by a Gentleman, Chelmsford, 1769, ii. 63; W. J. Evans's Old and New Halstead, p. 22; Prior's Miscellaneous Works; Prior's Selected Poems, 1889, p. 93; Noble's Continuation of Granger, 1806, iii. 261-4; Swift's Works, ed. Scott, xix. 258; Swift's Journal to Stella, Letter xxxiv. (8 Nov. 1711); Southey's Commonplace Book, iv. 288; information kindly given by Miss C. Fell Smith.]

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