Soame Jenyns

Soame Jenyns (1704-1787). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Soame Jenyns (1 January 1704 - 18 December 1787) was an English writer.

Life Edit

Jenyns, son of Sir Roger Jenyns, kt., of Bottisham Hall, near Cambridge, was born in London on 1 January 1704. His mother was a daughter of Sir Peter Soame, bart., of Haydon, Essex.[1]

In 1722 he was entered at St John's College, Cambridge, as a fellow-commoner, He left the university without a degree in 1725.[1]

At the general election in 1742 he was chosen a member for the the county of Cambridge, and he continued to represent the county or borough of Cambridge until 1780 (except at the call of a new parliament in 1754, when he was returned for Dunwich). He was appointed in 1755 one of the commissioners of the board of trade and plantations.[2]

He married Mary, sole daughter of Colonel Soame of Dereham, Norfolk; then Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Grey, esq.; but left no issue by either marriage.[2]

Richard Cumberland, who knew him well, declares that "he was the man who bore his part in all societies with the most even temper and undisturbed hilarity of all the good companions whom I ever knew," and that he "gave a zest to every company he came into."[2]

Though he was a good-natured man and free from malice, he strongly resented the attack made on him by Dr. Johnson. Shortly after Johnson's death he had the bad taste to print a poor epitaph, in which occur the lines:—

Boswell and Thrale, retailers of his wit,
Will tell you how he wrote, and talk'd, and cough'd, and spit.

This was the only indiscretion into which he allowed himself to be betrayed, and Boswell retaliated with sufficient severity.[2]

Jenyns died of a fever, 18 December 1787, at his house in Tilney Street, Audley Square, London.[2]


His earliest publication was The Art of Dancing: A poem, issued anonymously in 1727, with a dedication to Lady Fanny Fielding. It was followed in 1735 by An Epistle to Lord Lovelace (verse); and in 1752 appeared a collection of Jenyns's Poems,[1] chiefly reprinted from ‘Dodsley's Miscellany.[2]

In 1757 appeared his Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil, which attracted much notice. Dr. Johnson wrote a brilliant and slashing review of it in the Literary Magazine. The Enquiry and the poems were republished in 1761, 2 vols. Miscellanies, 1770, 1 vol., comprised the poems, essays contributed to the World, the Enquiry (5th edition, with an additional preface and explanatory notes), Reflections on several Subjects, Short but serious Reasons for a National Militia. Written in the year 1757, The Objections to the Taxation of our American Colonies by the Legislature of Great Britain briefly considered, 1765, and Thoughts on the Causes and Consequences of the present High Price of Provisions, 1767.[2]

In 1776 appeared View of the internal Evidence of the Christian Religion, which reached a 10th edition in 1798, and was translated into several foreign languages. Dr. Johnson remarked that it was "a pretty book, not very theological, indeed; and there seems to be an affectation of ease and carelessness, as it were not suitable to his character to be very serious about the matter." Hannah More knew "a philosophical infidel" who was converted to Christianity by a study of the View;’ but she thought that Jenyns "perhaps brings rather too much ingenuity into his religion." A long controversy was waged over the book, and many writers pressed forward to attack and defend the author. Some divines rejoiced that Jenyns had discarded his early scepticism and embraced orthodoxy; others questioned his sincerity and disliked his ingenious paradoxes.[2]

In 1782 appeared Disquisitions on several Subjects, and in 1784 Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform.[2]

Jenyns's Works in verse and prose were collected in 1790, 4 vols. 8vo, by his literary executor, Charles Nalson Cole, who prefixed a brief memoir; the collection was reissued in 1793, 4 vols. The poems, which are of little value, are included in Anderson's and Chalmers's collections.[2]

A neat edition of the Disquisitions on several Subjects was published by Charles Baldwyn in 1822. In the Retrospective Review, 1820, ii. 291–304, there is a very laudatory notice of the Disquisitions.’[2]

Jenyns's prose style was regarded by his contemporaries as a model of ease and elegance. It was highly commended by Burke, and Boswell allowed that "Jenyns was possessed of lively talents … and could very happily play with a light subject." His metaphysical speculations were not profound, and his political views were short-sighted; but he wrote some agreeable essays (though Charles Lamb entered his works on the list of "books which are no books").[2]

His poetical works, The Art of Dancing (1727) and Miscellanies (1770), contain many passages graceful and lively though occasionally verging on licence.[3]


His poetry was included in Dodsley's Collection of Poems in Six Volumes; by several hands and G. Pearch's Collection of Poems in Four Volumes; by several hands.[4]



  • The Art of Dancing: A poem, in three cantos. London: W.P., for J. Roberts, 1729; London: M. Cooper, 1743.
  • An Epistle from SJ Esq. in the Country to Lord Lovelace in Town. London: 1735;[1] Banholt: Bonnefant Press, 1986.
  • The Modern Fine Gentleman. London: M. Cooper, 1746.
  • The Modern Fine Lady. London: M. Cooper, 1746.
  • The first epistle of the second book of Horace, imitated. London: R. Dodsley, 1749.
  • Poems. London: R. Dodsley, 1752.
  • Miscellanies. 1770.
  • Poetical Works. London: Cadell & Davies / Samuel Bagster, 1807.
  • The Poems of Jenyns, Wilkie, and Graeme (with James Graeme & William wilkie). Chiswick, UK: Press of C. Whittingham, 1822.


  • A Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil. London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1757.
  • Miscellaneous Pieces. (2 volumes), London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1761.
  • The objections to the taxation of our American colonies by the legislature of Great Britain, briefly consider'd. London: J. Wilkie, 1765.
  • A View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion. London: J. Dodsley, 1776.
  • Disquisitions on Several Subjects. Richmond, VA: Dixon & Holt, 1787.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Miscellaneous Pieces; in verse and prose. (2 volumes), London: J. Dodsley, 1770.
  • Works. (4 volumes), London: T. Cadell, 1790; Dublin: P. Wogan, 1790; Farnborough, UK: Gregg, 1969.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Bullen, Arthur Henry (1892) "Jenyns, Soame" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 29 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 332-333 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Bullen, 332.
  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 Bullen, 333.
  3. PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Jenyns, Soame". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 321. 
  4. Soame Jenyns, Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive. Web, Aug. 2, 2020.
  5. Search results = au:Soame Jenyns, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 2, 2020.

External linksEdit


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Jenyns, Soame

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