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LIFE OF SOAME JENYNS,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
This elegant and ingenious writer was born in Great Ormond Street, London, at twelve o'clock at night, 1703—4. The day of his birth he could not ascertain, and, considering himself at liberty to choose his birth-day, he fixed it on new year's day.
His father, sir Roger Jenyns, knt. was descended from the ancient family of the Jenyns's, of Churchill, in Somersetshire. His country residence was at Ely; where his useful labours as a magistrate, and his loyal principles, procured him the honour of knighthood from king William. He afterwards removed to Bottisham Hall, which he had purchased, a seat not far from Cambridge. Our author's mother was one of the daughters of sir Peter Soame, of Hayden, in the county of Essex, baronet; a lady of great beauty, and highly esteemed for her piety, understanding, and elegance of manners.
Mr. Jenyns received the first part of his education at home, under the care of the rev. Mr. Hill, and afterwards of the rev. Stephen White, who became rector of Holton, in Suffolk. In the year 1722, he was removed to Cambridge, and admitted as a fellowcommoner of St. John's, under Dr. Edmondson, at that time one of the principal tutors of the college. Here he pursued his studies, with great industry, for three years, and found so much satisfaction in the regular discipline and employments of a college life, that he was often heard to say, he accounted the days he had lived there among the happiest in his life.
He left the university, however, without taking a degree, in consequence, probably, of his marriage, which took place when he was very young. His first wife was the natural daughter of his uncle, colonel Soame, of Deerham Grange, in Norfolk. With this lady he received a very considerable fortune ; but in all other respects the union was unhappy. After some years, she eloped from him with a Leicestershire gentleman; and a separation being agreed upon in form, Mr. Jenyns consented to allow her a maintenance, which was regularly paid until her death, in 1753',
This affair, it may be conjectured, interrupted the plan of life he had formed after leaving Cambridge. If we may judge from his poetical efforts, his turn was gay, lively
i Cole's MSS. in Brit, Mus. ' c.
and satirical. His songs, and other amatory pieces, were probably written when young, and bespeak a mind sufficiently at ease to trifle with the passions, and not always attentive to delicacy where it interfered with wit. His first publication, and perhaps his best, was The Art of Dancing ; printed in 1730, and inscribed to lady Fanny Fielding, one of the daughters of the earl of Denbigh, and afterwards countess of Winchelsea. He did not put his name to this poem; but, when discovered, it was considered as the prelude to greater performances. It must be confessed there is an ease and elegance in the versification, which brought him near to the most favourite poets of his day. In 1735, he wrote the Epistlé to Lord Lovelace; and this was followed by other pieces of poetry which he contributed to Dodsley's collection, and afterwards printed in a volume, in 1752. He wrote also some occasional essays on political topics, the precise dates of which cannot now be ascertained, as he never put his name to any of bis works. They have, however, been since collected by Mr. Cole, in that edition of his works which was published in four volumes, 8vo. 1790, and again in 1793.
Soon after his father's death, at the general election in 1742, he was unanimously chosen one of the representatives for the county of Cambridge. From this time he continued to sit in parliament, either for the county or borough of Cambridge, until the year 1780, except on the call of a new parliament in 1754, when he was returned for thie borough of Dunwich. In 1755, he was appointed one of the lords commissiouers of the board of trade and plantations, at which he sat during all changes of administration, until the business of the board, which was not great, 'was removed into another department. At the time of its abolition, it consisted of our author, tlie present earl of Carlisle, the late lord Auckland, and Gibbon, the historian, Mr. Cumberland, the wellknown dramatic poet, was secretary.
His parliamentary conduct was more uniform than is supposed to be consistent with freedom of opinion, or the usual attachments of party. When he was first elected a member, he found sir Robert Walpole on the eve of being dismissed from the confidence of the house of commons; and he had the courage, unassisted and unknown, to give his support to the falling minister, as far as he could without contributing his eloquence, for Mr. Jenyns seldom spoke, and only in reply to a personal question. He was conscious that he could make vo figure as a public speaker, and early desisted from the attempt. After the dismissal of sir Robert Walpole, he constantly ranked among the friends of government. Without giving a public assent to every measure of the minister for the day, he contrived to give him no offence, and seems very early to have conceived an abhorrence of systematic oppositions. What his opinions were on great constitutional questions may be found in his writings, where, however, they are not laid down with much precision, and seem at no time of his life to have been steady. In his attendance at the board of trade, he was very assiduous, and bestowed much attention on the commercial interests of his country. He has not left any thing in print expressly on this subject, but his biographer has given some of his private opinions, which are liberal and manly.
In 1737, he published his Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil, which brought him into notice, as one of the most elegant writers of English prose that had appeared since the days of Addison. But the charms of style could not protect this singular work from objections of the most serious kind. It produced from Dr. Johnson, who was then editor of The Literary Magazine, a critical dissertation, or review, which