George Canning by Richard Evans - detail

George Canning (1770-1827). Portrait by Richard Evans (1784-1871), circa 1825 (detail). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

George Canning (11 April 1770 - 8 August 1827) was an English poet and British politician, who served as Prime Minister of Britain.


Youth and educationEdit

Canning was born in London 11 April 1770. His father, also George Canning, was the eldest of 3 brothers, who had been disinherited by his father, and in 1757 came to London where he was called to the bar, wrote for the papers, and published a translation of the Anti-Lucretius (1766) and a collection of poems (1767). In 1768 he married Mary Anne Costello, a young lady of great beauty, but without any fortune, and had 2 children.[1]

Canning's father died in 11 April 1771. After her husband's death his widow became an actress, and was twice married. She never achieved any great success in her profession.[1]

When Canning was 8,[1] an Irish actor named Moody took him to his uncle in London, Stratford Canning, who adopted him and sent him to Eton, where he distinguished himself for his wit and literary talent. With his friends John and Robert Smith, John Hookham Frere, and Charles Ellis, he published a school magazine called The Microcosm, which attracted so much attention that Knight the publisher paid Canning £50 for the copyright. It was modeled on the Spectator, ridiculed modes and customs, and was a unique specimen of juvenile essay-writing. A 5th edition of the Microcosm was published in 1825.[2]

Subsequently Canning studied at Oxford.[2]

Political careerEdit

Canning became a friend of William Pitt in 1793, entered the House of Commons in 1794, and was made Under-Secretary of State in 1796.[2]

It was not until 1798 that he obtained his great reputation as a statesman and orator. Everyone agreed that his literary eloquence, wit, beauty of imagery, taste, and clearness of reasoning, were extraordinary. Lord Byron calls him “a genius — almost a universal one; an orator, a wit, a poet, and a statesman.” As a public speaker, we may picture him from Lord Dalling’s description:

Every day, indeed, leaves us fewer of those who remember the clearly chiseled countenance, which the slouched hat only slightly concealed; the lip satirically curled; the penetrating eye, peering along the Opposition benches, of the old Parliamentary leader in the House of Commons. It is but here and there that we find a survivor of the old days to speak to us of the singularly mellifluous and sonorous voice, the classical language,— now pointed with epigram, now elevated into poetry, now burning with passion, now rich with humor,— which curbed into still attention a willing and long-broken audience.[2]

Like every English politician not born to a title, however, he was ferociously abused as a mere mercenary adventurer because his livelihood came from serving the public.[2]

Canning was Treasurer of the Navy from 1804 to 1806, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1807 till 1809, Ambassador to Lisbon from 1814 to 1816, again at the head of foreign affairs in 1822, and was made Premier in 1827, dying under the labor of forming his Cabinet.[2]

Literary careerEdit

Canning's dominant taste was literary. Bell says of him:—

Canning’s passion for literature entered into all his pursuits. It colored his whole life. Every moment of leisure was given up to books. He and Pitt were passionately fond of the classics, and we find them together of an evening after a dinner at Pitt’s, poring over some old Grecian in a corner of the drawing-room while the rest of the company are dispersed in conversation…. In English writings his judgment was pure and strict; and no man was a more perfect master of all the varieties of composition. He was the first English Minister who banished the French language from our diplomatic correspondence and indicated before Europe the copiousness and dignity of our native tongue.[2]

From September 1797 to July 1798 he contributed to the Anti-Jacobin or Weekly Examiner, with Ellis, Frere, the Smiths, Lord Wellesley, Lord Carlisle, and even Pitt. Canning himself, it is said, never directly acknowledged the authorship of any of the pieces attributed to him. But we may safely assert that the "Needy Knife-grinder," the lines on Mrs. Brownrigg, the "New Morality," the song on Captain Jean Bon André, the lament of Rogero, and Erskine's speech to the Whig Club, were almost exclusively his. The paper was perhaps the most brilliant success of its kind on record. The intention of it was to make the revolutionary party ridiculous. Previously it had been the upholders of law and order, the ‘Dons,’ the ‘Bigwigs,’ who had been favourite objects of popular satire. Now, perhaps for the 1st time, it was their assailants who were covered with contempt; and such was the success of the experiment, that we can only wonder that it was discontinued so soon. The paper came out in September 1797, and stopped in the following July.[3]

Part of the time that Canning was Foreign Secretary, Chateaubriand held the like post for France, and Canning devoted much attention to giving his diplomatic correspondence a literary polish which has made these national documents famous. He also formed an intimate friendship with Sir Walter Scott, founding with him and Ellis the Quarterly Review.[2] It does not seem, however, that Canning contributed anything to its pages, except a humorous article on the bullion question, the joint work of himself and Ellis, which appeared in October 1811.[3]


Canning died 8 August 1827, at Chiswick (the residence of the Duke of Devonshire), in the same room and at the same age as Charles James Fox, and under similar circumstances. He was buried in Westminster Abbey by the side of William Pitt.[2]


Canning had 3 sons and a daughter. His eldest son (born 25 April 1801) died 31 March 1820. The 2nd son, William Pitt, a captain in the navy, was drowned at Madeira 25 Sept. 1828. The third son, Charles John, was afterwards Earl Canning. Canning's widow was created Viscountess Canning 22 January 1828, with remainder to Canning's heirs male. She died 15 March 1837, and was succeeded by her only surviving son, Charles John. The daughter, Harriett (died 8 January 1876), married Ulick John, 1st marquis of Clanricarde.[4]


The Anti-JacobinEdit

Canning takes his place in literature from his association with the Anti-Jacobin, a newspaper established in 1797 under the secret auspices of Pitt as a literary organ to express the policy of the administration, but more especially to oppose revolutionary sentiment and ridicule the persons who sympathized with it. The house of Wright, its publisher in Piccadilly, soon became the resort of the friends of the Ministry and the staff, which included William Gifford (author of the Baviad and Mæviad), John Hookham Frere, George Ellis, Canning, Mr. Jenkinson (afterward earl of Liverpool), Lord Clare, Lord Mornington (afterward Lord Wellesley), Lord Morpeth (afterward Earl of Carlisle), and William Pitt, who contributed papers on finance.[2]

The Anti-Jacobin lived through 36 weekly numbers, ending July 16th, 1796. Its essays and poetry have little significance to-day except for those who can imagine the stormy political atmosphere of the Reign of Terror, which threatened to extend its rule over the whole of Europe. Hence the torrents of abuse and the violent attacks upon anyone tainted with the slightest Sans-culottic tone may be understood.[2]

The greater number of poems in the Anti-Jacobin are parodies, but not exclusively political ones. The "Loves of the Triangles" is a parody on Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s Loves of the Plants, and contains an amusing contest between Parabola, Hyperbola, and Ellipsis for the love of the Phœnician Cone; the "Progress of Man' is a parody of Payne Knight’s Progress of Civil Society; the "Inscription for the Cell of Mrs. Brownrigg" a parody of Southey; and The Rovers is a burlesque on the German dramas then in fashion. This was written by Canning, Ellis, Frere, and Gifford, and the play was given at Covent Garden in 1811 with great success, especially the song of the captive Rogero. "The Needy Knife-Grinder," a parody of Southey’s Sapphics, is by Canning and Frere.[2]

The poetry of the Anti-Jacobin was collected and published by Charles Edmonds (London, 1854), in a volume that contains also the original verses which are exposed to ridicule. Canning’s public speeches, edited by R. Therry, were published in 1828.[2]


At Oxford Canning won the chancellor's prize for Latin verse in 1789, for "The Pilgrimage to Mecca."[5]

Canning's collected poems were issued with a memoir in 1823. His speeches, edited by R. Therry, were published in 6 volumes in 1828. A French translation in 2 volumes appeared in 1832.[6]

Places named after CanningEdit


  • The Canning Club, a gentlemen's club in central London. Founded in 1911 as the Argentine Club for expatriate businessmen, it was renamed in 1948 as the club extended its remit to the rest of Latin America, in honour of Canning's strong ties to the region. The club currently shares the premises of the Naval and Military Club in St. James's Square.[7]
  • Canning House in Belgravia is the seat of the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council. It houses a research library and is used for a range of cultural and educational events.[8]
  • There are pubs (public houses) named after him. One in Brixton, on the corner of Effra Road and Brixton Water Lane, bore his name until it became the Hobgoblin in the late 1990s and the Hootenanny in 2008. Another in Camberwell, on Grove Lane near Denmark Hill station, is still called the George Canning.
  • Canning Circus is an area at the top of Zion Hill in Nottingham. Canning Terrace was erected as almshouses and a gatehouse to the adjacent cemetery.
  • Canning is a district of Liverpool also known as the Georgian Quarter and includes Canning Street. Canning Place in Liverpool One was the site of the Liverpool Sailors' Home. Canning Dock and Canning Half Tide Dock on the River Mersey are also named after Canning.
  • Canning Street in Belfast is named after George Canning.


  • The Canning River in Western Australia, which flows into the Swan River south of Perth. A number of districts on its banks are named after the river, rather than Canning himself; for example Cannington and Canning Vale.
  • In Queensland, Canning Creek (the watercourse, the locality and the pastoral run) were all named after him.[9]
  • There is a also a street in Melbourne, Australia, named after him.


  • The village of Canning in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia
  • Cannington, Ontario, a small village in Brock Township

South AmericaEdit

  • In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a street has been on-and-off named after Canning since 1893, changing away from the name in 1985. There is also a neighbourhood in southwestern Buenos Aires named after Canning, it started as a station and today is occupied by many 'country clubs' where richer persons live.
  • In Montevideo, Uruguay, there is a street named Jorge (Spanish for George) Canning, the location of the British Residence.
  • There is also a street named after him in the district of Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • In Santiago, Chile there are 2 streets called Jorge Canning, in the commune of San Joaquin and the commune of Ñuñoa.


  • A square in downtown Athens, Greece, is named after Canning (Πλατεία Κάνιγγος, Plateía Kánningos, Canning Square), in appreciation of his supportive stance toward the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830).

See alsoEdit


  • Dixon, Peter. George Canning: Politician and Statesman (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976).
  • Hinde, Wendy. George Canning (London: Purnell Books Services, 1973).
  • Hunt, Giles. The Duel: Castlereagh, Canning and Deadly Cabinet Rivalry (London, I.B. Tauris, 2008).
  • PD-icon.svg Kebbel, Thomas Edward (1885–1900) "Canning, George" Dictionary of National Biography London: Smith, Elder, pp. 420-431 . Wikisource, Web, Apr. 2, 2020.
  • Lee, Stephen M. George Canning and Liberal Toryism, 1801–1827 (Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2008).
  • Marshall, Dorothy. The Rise of George Canning (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1938).
  • Muir, Rory. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon (London: Yale University Press, 1996).
  • Perkins, Bradford. "George Canning, Great Britain, and the United States, 1807–1809," American Historical Review (1957) 63#1 pp. 1–22 in JSTOR


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kebbel, 420.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 George Canning: Critical and biographical introduction, Library of the World's Best Literature (New York: Warner Library, 1917)., Web, Apr. 2, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kebbel, 423.
  4. Kebbel, 430.
  5. Kebbel, 420-421.
  6. Kebbel, 431.
  7. "The Canning Club". Naval and Military Club. 
  8. Hispaninc and Luso-Brazilian Council. "Canning House/About us/History". Archived from the original on 10 August 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  9. Template:Cite QPN

External linksEdit

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