JENYNS, Soame (1704-87), of Bottisham, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Jan. 1704, o.s. of Sir Roger Jenyns of Bottisham by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Peter Soame, 2nd Bt., of Hayden, Essex. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1722. m. (1) his cos. Mary (d. 30 July 1753), da. of Col. Soame of Dereham Grange, Norf., s.p.; (2) 26 Feb. 1754, his cos. Elizabeth, da. of Henry Grey of Hackney, s.p. suc. fa. 22 Sept. 1740.
Ld. of Trade 1755-80.
Soame Jenyns led a sheltered orderly existence. His patrons, Lord Montfort and Lord Hardwicke, arranged his elections for him, and the post at the Board of Trade, which he held for 25 years, brought him £1,000 p.a. He supported every Administration in turn, busied himself about Cambridge affairs, and maintained a prolific output of light verse and writings on political, economic and religious subjects. He was bland and amusing, ‘with the most even temper and undisturbed hilarity of all the good companions whom I ever knew’, wrote Richard Cumberland.1 William Cole the antiquary, a close friend, described him as ‘rather of a finical and beauish turn, and not at all made for canvassing and caballing at elections’:
If a person who did not know him was to be asked on seeing him dressed what was his profession, I think it is ten to one but that he would say he was a dancing master. He has the misfortune to be extremely short sighted, a circumstance not unusual with eyes formed as his are, which are very projecting, and though he has a large wen in his neck, which a grave and even no very large wig would cover and hide, yet the predominancy for dress is such that a small little bag or pig-tail wig is preferred, by which means the aforesaid blemish is visible to everyone. Mr. Jenyns is a man of a lively fancy and pleasant turn of wit; very sparkling in conversation, and full of merry conceits and agreeable drollery, which is heightened by his particular inarticulate manner of speaking through his broken teeth, and all this is mixed with the utmost good nature and humanity, having hardly ever heard him severe upon any one.2
In 1747 he had been returned for Cambridgeshire with Philip Yorke, Lord Hardwicke paying half his expenses. There was some discontent in the county at both the representatives being members of the Yorke group, and in 1753 Lord Granby declared himself a candidate. Lord Hardwicke was unwilling to face the ‘monstrous expense’ of a contest on Jenyns’s behalf: ‘he cannot argue or suppose that it is reasonable that things should go on upon the unequal foot they were upon’. Jenyns had to be ‘laid aside’, though assured that he would certainly be taken care of’. When the general election came, Montfort arranged with Newcastle for him to be returned for Sir Jacob Downing’s borough of Dunwich: Jenyns paid £500, and the Treasury found the other £500. He was also given a secret service pension of £600 p.a., presumably until a place could be found for him, and in December 1755 was appointed a lord of Trade. But by 1758 Downing had quarrelled with Newcastle, and wrote to Hardwicke that he was not prepared to re-elect Jenyns. In vain Hardwicke protested to Downing, 22 June 1758:
I took a real pride in thinking that you had brought him in at Dunwich in a great measure as a friend of mine and not of anybody else’s. He had no attachment to the Duke of Newcastle. His dependence is upon me, and to me he owed his place.
Having eased Jenyns out of the county seat, Hardwicke felt it his duty to find him a haven. The opportunity came a month later, when Lord Dupplin, the Member for Cambridge, succeeded his father as Earl of Kinnoull. To Philip Yorke Jenyns wrote, 21 Sept. 1758:
Lord Kinnoull said it was the Duke of Newcastle’s opinion as well as his own that nothing would so firmly establish the interest at Cambridge as my being his successor, and Lord Hardwicke thought that it would be the surest method for me to get an established seat in Parliament and in the end the least expensive.
He accordingly vacated his seat at Dunwich, and was returned unopposed for Cambridge.3
Jenyns made no figure in the House of Commons. His interventions in debate were brief and infrequent, though he was useful to Administration as a pamphleteer. In The Objections to Taxation of our American Colonies considered (1765), he argued neatly against the Chathamite view that Parliament had no right to tax the Americans because they were unrepresented. Jenyns pointed out that the vast majority of Britons were also unrepresented, yet no one suggested they could not be taxed: if the argument of ‘indirect representation’ were brought forward, it applied equally to Britons and Americans. When the Rockinghams came in, he was marked down to be removed from his office, but his friendship with the Yorkes must have saved him. In 1768 he was returned for Cambridge unopposed, but in 1774 there was a strong contest. Canvassing the borough he spent ‘the most disagreeable and fatiguing week I ever passed’, and polling day was worse, with wild rioting. He retired at the general election of 1780, having nearly shared the fate of Cinna the poet; William Cole told Richard Gough, 24 May 1780:
Mr. Soame Jenyns told me that he did not mean to offer his services for the town any more ... all the time I was with him seemed much frightened, as he had escaped being trampled to death by the mob in the Castle-yard ... I observed one side of his face was much bruised by his fall. He is not fit to go among a mob; his age, slight make, and short-sightedness should have warned him against it.4
In the most celebrated of his writings, View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion (1776), Jenyns maintained that the ethics of the New Testament were more pure than any previously enunciated. His mild tone was in keeping with the spirit of the period, and the work went through several editions. His political views were unadventurous. He rejected any suggestion of a reform of Parliament: a House of Commons where there was no ‘attractive influence’ would be quite unmanageable.5 ‘The chief business of a government’, he insisted, ‘is to hinder those who are under its care from doing mischief to themselves.’6 Opposition he regarded as faction—‘a most unpromising school’—and he took care to avoid it.
Jenyns died 18 Dec. 1787.