1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Huddlestone Wynne

Charles Edward Wynne (son), "Account of Mr. John Huddlestone Wynne" Monthly Magazine 22 (August 1806) 16-20.



Your Correspondent Philomathus having last month requested an account of the late John Huddlestone Wynne, — and being, not without reason, dissatisfied with what has already been published respecting that author, — agreeably to his wish, as his eldest and only surviving son, I hasten to give the best information I can on the subject. I am sorry, however, to say, that I am wholly unable to furnish a list of his works, and shall therefore feel obliged by any additional information on this subject other contributors to your Miscellany may supply. Some authentic particulars of his life I have here educed; but with extreme regret I have to observe, their complexion is such, that, though they may tend to inform, they are not likely to amuse; for indeed the most accurate detail of Mr. Wynne's life would be little more than a summary of misfortunes from his birth to his death. By some it will be imagined a part of the following account should have been omitted, namely, the unhappy differences between my parents which occasioned their separation; but as this is perhaps the only reason to be assigned for the indigent state in which they were involved, I have therefore mentioned it. For myself, I have ever to lament that such disputes occurred, as from this source I account for my having been, at their death, turned adrift on the world, without a possession, uneducated, destitute, and friendless. I would, however, be wronging the memory of my deceased father to omit mentioning, that it is perhaps chiefly owing to the sound principles of morality imbibed during the short intervals I had of listening to his admonitions, that I have been enabled to steer through life, and to avoid those temptations to vice by which so many, similarly situated, have fallen victims. Having thus far premised, I proceed to give the best account I am at present enabled to furnish of the life of my deceased father.

I am, Sir, &c.

Charles Edward Wynne.

June 20, 1806.

A Sketch of the Life of Mr. John Huddlestone Wynne.

Edward Wynne, Richard Wynne, and Thomas Wynne, were sons of a gentleman of Welsh extraction, who gave them respectively a liberal education. Edward enjoyed a situation under Government, and resided on a small estate in Southampton. Richard had a classical education, obtained the degree of master of arts, became afterwards chaplain to the Earl of Dunmore, and rector of St. Alphage, London; was author of An Universal Grammar of the Learned Languages, Letters on Education, and several other productions. And Thomas held a situation in the office of the Duke of Bedford. Edward was considered handsome, and had a good address. He married thrice, and had portions with all his wives. By the first of these ladies he had one son only, who was christened John Huddlestone, the subject of the present memoir. — Mr. John-Huddlestone Wynne, a character pretty generally known in the literary world, was born in the year 1743, and flourished between the years 1760 and 1786.

Being an only child, his mother was particularly solicitous for his safety; and as it generally happens that the impressions received in childhood are retained, and pervade our ideas the rest of our lives, so it happened with the subject of the present essay, who imbibed some eccentricities from his too indulgent mother, of which he never afterwards became entirely divested. Her anxiety for his health and preservation kept her in a perpetual state of alarm. He was encompassed with flannels winter and summer, and bled and physicked for the most trifling indisposition. And calling him to her bed-side, when on the point of death, she made him solemnly promise that he would attend her injunctions, which, among several others, were, to shun horses, never to go into a boat, or enter a belfry. Had not these cautions been too much heeded, and occasioned a peculiarity of manner in his conduct, which seemed unaccountable, these circumstances would not have been noticed. But though the care and attention he experience from his mother during her life-time plainly indicated he was a great favourite with her, yet it seems he was in no high estimation with his father and other of his relations, who, as appears by their conduct to him, rather envied or strove to suppress his dawning genius, than used any endeavour to foster it. Taught by his father early to contemn mechanical employments, and expecting he should be bred to some liberal profession, he was much disappointed by being, contrary to his expectations, prematurely apprenticed, at the age of thirteen, as a compositor to a letter-press printer. His education was by no means finished: he had been initiated in Latin at St. Paul's School: the progress he afterwards made in classical knowledge must have been attained during his leisure hours, when the business of the day was over, undirected by any, and the sole result of his own exertions. Very early in life he evinced his poetical talent, having, when scarcely eight years of age, written a poem, which he afterwards declared would not have disgraced his riper years. During his apprenticeship he sent many of his effusions to different periodical publications, where they obtained a ready insertion, and were generally approved by those who read them. Shortly after completing his term, not choosing to follow the business of a printer, he obtained a lieutenancy in the East-India service, whither he went; but, on account of some unhappy controversy with a superior officer, and from a disgust he had taken to some unfair proceedings in that hemisphere, he in less than two years from his departure returned to England, and, being received coldly by his relations, who were not pleased at his quick return, he resolved the expedient of trying his success as an author. He got accordingly introduced to several booksellers of that day, among whom were Kearsley, Riley, Bell, Evans, and Wilkie, who gladly availed themselves of his literary talents. Mr. Wheble engaged him to conduct the Lady's Magazine, for which he received a regular monthly stipend; nor had he any reason to complain of their liberality for his labours, as it is certain several of these gentlemen were great friends to him in future life. Many of Mr. Wynne's poetical productions are to be found in a publication intituled, The British Magazine and Review. Some of these appeared in his own name, others under the fictitious signature of "George Osborne, esq." Mr. Wynne also wrote The History of England in Verse, which has not yet appeared in print.

Though Mr. Wynne excelled as a poet, his prose productions are likewise numerous. It was by the advice of Dr. Goldsmith, who was his contemporary, that he first began the History of Ireland, which he afterwards dedicated to the Duke of Northumberland. The Doctor jocosely observed, "that it would be better to relinquish the draggle-tail Muses; as, for his part, he found productions in prose were more sought after and better paid for." Mr. W's reputation as an author soon became established; and had his economy kept pace with his success, it is certain he might have passed through life, if not in affluence, at least above indigence. But want of economy was his prevailing fault. Possessing a sanguine imagination, and having the highest sense of honour and rectitude himself, he was easily imposed upon; and while he had money, he considered but little the value of it; yet, wanting it, perhaps none suffered more from the poignancy of poverty than he did. His acquaintances, knowing his failings, took advantage of his unsuspecting benevolent disposition, by soliciting him to become surety for a person, of the name of Stevenson, which he did, for goods to a considerable amount, which were to be disposed of in India, whence Stevenson was to remit the value at a stated period; but, through change of climate, and inebriety, Stevenson died, no remittances came from India, and his security, unable to pay the demand, was forced to prison; where he remained, in great distress, for a considerable time, until, by the assistance of his uncle Edward, the debt was paid, and he obtained his discharge.

In the beginning of the year 1770 he married the daughter of an eminent mason of Lambeth, who had at his death bequeathed a thousand pounds to each of his daughters; but the brother, being principal executor to the will of his father, applied his sisters' fortune to his own use in trade; and, through his ill success, not a guinea of Mrs. W's portion was ever paid. This lady, however, had received a good education, possessed an agreeable person, and was not more than seventeen when she was married. She was accomplished, and had an excellent understanding, which became afterwards materially improved by her connexion. Before she was eighteen the fruit of their union was the writer of this memoir.

From the great number of acquaintances Mr. W. at this time had, some of whom were persons of wit and erudition, it was almost impossible for a man of his ardent imagination to avoid on every occasion sacrificing too freely at the shrine of Bacchus; and it frequently happened that it was one or two o'clock in the morning that he returned home. This occasioned an unquiet house; and his bride, being very abstemious herself, often admonished him in strong terms on the impropriety of his conduct; but, notwithstanding such remonstrances, he was too frequently led to err in the same way; and though gentle means would probably have brought him to reform, harsh treatment had a contrary effect. Had his wife's good sense led her to adopt those endearing methods of persuasion which some few women of discernment know how to employ with such great effect, she would have ultimately succeeded; but alas! in this respect she only copied the generality of her sex. Repeated brawls at home not suiting her husband's irritable disposition, and tending to disturb his studies, constrained him at length to seek an asylum elsewhere, so that the remainder of his life passed more like a single than a married man. Nor can it occasion much surprize that a man of literary pursuits should, under such circumstances, abandon his home, especially when it is so well known that a Xantippe was never a friend to the students in philosophy, or the suitors of the Muses. Mr. Wynne was editor of the Gazetteer a considerable time, and was a well-known speaker at the Robin Hood and Coachmakers Hall debating societies; but being unhappily a staunch supporter of an Administration whose measures were extremely unpopular, he got little good by his political speculations. In those days such topics were freely discussed, and often agitated with much warmth. Mr. Wynne in this respect acted the part of a champion, and undertook to defend the Ministry in their war with America, and other ruinous measures. This was done in the most disinterested and ingenious manner possible, as he acted purely from the dictates of his own opinion. On his return from these heated debates, way-laid by some of the opposite party, many an unmerciful drubbing has he suffered, and once was so cruelly beaten that his life was endangered. It was in one of the rencounters that the lachrymal vessels of his right eye became confused, and occasioned him to undergo at times the most excruciating agonies, to alleviate which he frequently had recourse to large doses of opium.

But the most fatal accident happened at the time he was in the zenith of his fame, about the year 1778, when, crossing Snow-hill on a dark night, he was run-over by a hackney-coach, and his leg broken in three places. Surgeon Young reduced the fracture as well as he could, being loth to amputate the limb; but, owing to the terrible manner in which it was shattered, sixteen weeks elapsed ere it was judged proper to shift the leg from the cradle that encompassed it. The limb, from remaining so long in one posture, became constricted, and an instrument was obliged to be had to enable him to walk, and by degrees to reduce the contraction of the sinew, which in time it nearly effected. It was during this confinement (although obliged to remain nearly in a horizontal position) that he wrote the Elegy on the Death of Garrick, published by Mr. Harrison. This accident was severely felt by his family, and occasioned himself much pain and anxiety. After writing many volumes, of which the writer of this article can give no satisfactory account, an asthmatic complaint, with which he had long been afflicted, occasioned his death, Nov. 1788, in the 45th year of his age. His wife survived him but a few days, leaving three children totally unprovided for, the eldest of whom alone survives, and has now a wife and six children of his own.

Mr. Thomas Wynne died at an advanced age. The Rev. Richard Wynne lived till the year 1793, being more than eighty years of age when he died. The whole of his fortune he left to an only daughter.

Mr. John Huddlestone Wynne was below the middle size, (about five feet four inches in height,) of a clear complexion, dark hair, a sanguine temperament, irritable and nervous. Previous to his lameness, though he always took short steps, yet he walked remarkably fast. In his youth he acquired a bad habit of stooping, which his subsequent infirmities tended to increase. His eyes were piercing; his brow remarkably fine, and had the appearance of being pencilled; his nose aquiline, which, as Lavater well observes, always indicates a good arrangement of features. He certainly had many peculiarities, was very absent and negligent in his external appearance, and the dress worn when himself a youth he seemed always to prefer, and would probably have done the same had he lived in affluence.

He spoke and read with wonderful facility, yet with accuracy and taste. When speaking in public, which he was much in the habit of, his delivery was flowing, animated, and eloquent, and almost forced conviction on his hearers. His reading must have been multifarious, and his memory very retentive, for, without the advantages of a classical education, or being taught any language than the Latin, he nevertheless by his own exertions attained a perfect knowledge of the French, and a cursory one of the Greek and Hebrew. Nor was he ignorant of the elements of physic, astronomy, mathematics, and navigation, and in theological and philosophical subjects in general he stood high in repute. But his chief delight was poetry; and to his friends it is well known that he has sometimes composed a poem with as much facility as a merchant would write a letter on the ordinary concerns of his business; so that many of his productions may be considered as mere extempore effusions. Yet with these uncommon abilities he was modest and diffident; and far better would it have been for himself and his family had he duly appreciated his own merit, been less prodigal and abstracted in his ideas, and made men and manners more his study.