Item of the Day: Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard (1823)

Full Title: Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard, the Philanthropist; Compiled from his own Diary, in the Possession of his Family, his Confidential Letters; the Communications of his Surviving Relatives and Friends; and Other Authentic Sources of Information. By James Baldwin Brown, Esq. LL.D of the Inner Temple, Barrister at Law. Second Edition. London: Printed for Thomas and George Underwood, 32, Fleet Street; Thomas Tegg, Cheapside; and F. Westley, Stationers’ Court, 1823.

CHAPTER I.

FROM HIS BIRTH, TO THE DEATH OF HIS FIRST WIFE, 1727-1755.

IT has been a source of deep regret to the bipgrapher, that the events of the earlier years of men, distinguished for the splendour of their talents, or the greatness of their actions, have often been involved in doubt and obscurity. It may, however, reasonably be questioned, whether, could the blank in the page of their history be accurately filled up, the information obtained would not rather tend to gratify our curiosity, than be productive of any practical good? For, after all that can be said, on the influence of education, and the force of early habit, in forming the future character of the man — there are springs of human action — there are burst of energy in the human mind — which set at defiance all the cool, calculating rules that philosophy has devised for estimating the regular gradation of causes, in producing one grand and unlooked-for effect. Hence, it has not unfrequently happened, that the dull or the idle school-boy, the thoughtless and dissipated young man, and even the listless saunterer of maturer life, when roused to action by some sudden and unexpected impetus, have called forth latent talents to adorn the period in which they lived, and to please, and to instruct, in ages then unborn. And might we not even point to those men of yet superior mould, whose splendid achievements, or whose public virtues, have excited the admiration of the world, and ask, whether the most exact detail of every occurrence of their earlier years, would afford us equal instruction or delight, with that which we should derive from a similar history of many of their associates, the vices, the follies, or the utter uselessness of whose manhood, belied the opening virtues, and blasted the fairest promise of their youth? Such at least, there is every reason to conclude, was the case with one of the brightest characters that ever attracted the admiration, or merited the esteem of his fellow men. For so noiseless and so even was the tenor of his way, until he had reached, or even passed the meridian of his days, that of the man, who, by the common consent of the civilized world, is distinguished by an appelation more honourable than sage ever assumed, or hero ever won, — neither the place, nor the year of his birth, can now be acertained with any certainty.

John Howard, empahtically and deservedly styled The Philanthopist, appears, from the best information that can be obtained upon the subject, to have been born about the year 1727, at Clapton, in the parish of Hackney, a populous village immediately¬†adjoining to London. To this place his father seems to have removed, but a short time before, from a somewhat more distant retreat at Enfield, to which he had retired from the pursuit of his business, as an upholsterer and carpet warehouseman, in Long Lane, Smithfield, where he had acquired a considerable fortune. The house in which he then resided, and where his son was born, is described, in a sketch of that son’s life written some years since, as being his own freehold, “a venerable mansion, situated on the western side of the street, but now much decayed, and lately disfigured.” Soon after his birth he was sent to Cardington, near Beford, to be nursed by a cottager residing there upon a small farm, which was all the property his father ever possessed in that village, afterwards so celebrated as the favourite residence of the son, when, by large purchases, he had considerably increased this little patrimonial inheritance, in a county, which from the tradition, now reduced to a certainty, of his having spent some of the earliest, as he undoubtedly passed some of the happiest years of his life there, has, though very erroneously, been supposed to have been the place of his birth. . . .

 

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Filed under 1820's, Biography, Culture, Eighteenth century, England, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Reform

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