services grammar assistant
HENLEY, JOHN (1692-1759), an eccentric clergyman of the last century, commonly known as "Orator Henley," was born August 3, 1692, at Melton-Mowbray, where his father was vicar. After attending the grammar schools of Melton and Oakham, he in his seventeenth year entered St John's College, Cambridge, and while still an undergraduate he addressed in February 1712, under the pseadonyin of Peter de Quir, a letter to the Spectator displaying no small wit and humour. After graduating B. A. he became assistant and then head-master of the grammar school of his native town, uniting to these duties those also of assistant curate. His superabundant energy was not, however, fully consumed by this plurality of offices, for besides publishing in 1714 a poem entitled _Esther, Queen of Persia, containing many vigorous and eloquent passages, he also devoted his attention to the compilation of a grammar of ten languages entitled The Complete Linguist (2 vols., London, 1719-21). In his school he is said to have introduced many new methods of study, but whether it was that his innovations were not sufficiently appreciated, or that he desired a wider sphere for the exercise of his exceptional abilities, he resolved to place his services at the disposal of the metropolis, where he arrived with thirty recommendatory letters from some of the most influential persons of his native county. He succeeded in obtaining the appointment of assistant preacher in the chapels of Ormond Street and Bloomsbury, and in 1723 was presented to the rectory of Chehnondiston in Suffolk ; but residence being insisted on, he resigned both his appointments, and on July 3, 1726, opened what he called an " oratory " in Newport Market, which he licensed under the Toleration Act. Into his services he introduced many peculiar alterations he drew up a " Primitive Liturgy," in which he substituted for the Nicene and Athanasian creeds two creeds taken from the apostolical constitutions ; for his " Primitive Eucharist " he made use of unleavened bread and mixed wine ; he distributed at the price of one shilling medals of admission to his oratory, with the device of a sun rising to the meridian, with the motto Ad summa, and the words Inveniam viam ant faciam below. But the most original element in the services was Henley himself, who is described by Pope in the Dauciad as " Preacher at once and zany of his age."
He possessed some oratorical ability and adopted a very theatrical style of elocution, " tuning his voice and balancing his hands ;" and his addresses were a strange medley of solemnity and buffoonery, of clever wit and the wildest absurdity, of able and original disquisition and the worst artifices of the oratorical charlatan. His services were much frequented by the "freethinkers," and he himself expressed his determination " to die a rational." Besides his sermons on Sunday he delivered on Wednesday lectures chiefly on social and political subjects ; and he also projected a scheme for connecting with the " oratory " a university on quite a novel plan, and intended to be, in a sense too utopian to be realized, the foster-mother of the arts and sciences. For some time he edited the Hyp Doctor, a weekly paper established in opposition to the Craftsman, and for this service he enjoyed a pension of £100 a year from Sir Robert Walpole. At first the orations of Henley drew great crowds, but, although he never discontinued his services, his audience latterly dwindled almost entirely away. He died 13th October 1759.
Henley is the subject of several of Hogarth's prints. His life, professedly written by A. Welstede, but in all probability by himself, was inserted by him in his Oratorical Transactions. See Nichol's History of Leicestershire, and Disraeli's Calamities of Authors.