ROBINSON MORRIS, Matthew (1713-1800), of Horton, nr. Canterbury, Kent.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 6 Apr. 1713, 1st s. of Matthew Robinson of Edgeley and West Layton, Yorks. by Elizabeth, da. of Robert Drake of Cambridge, gd.-da. of Thomas Morris of Horton, Kent. educ. Westminster 1723-9; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1731, fellow 1734-d.; L. Inn 1730. unm. suc. mother in Kentish estates 1746, taking add. name of Morris; fa. 1778; cos. Richard as 2nd Baron Rokeby [I] 10 Oct. 1794.
The Kentish estates which, together with a considerable fortune, Robinson Morris inherited from his mother, gave him an interest at Canterbury. When in 1754 he contested the city he was, according to his sister, Elizabeth Montagu, returned without expense.1 Classed by Dupplin as an Opposition Whig, Morris was thoroughly independent. In Parliament his only reported speech (during the debate of 25 Mar. 1760 on the distilling bill) was a declamation against drunkenness.2
He seems early to have evolved a mode of life which was to establish him as an eccentric. In January 1755 Mrs. Montagu wrote to their sister, Sarah Scott:
Brother Robinson is emulating the great Diogenes and other ... doctors of the stoic fur; he flies the life of London and leads a life of such privacy and seriousness as looks to the beholder like wisdom.
And in August the following year she commented on Matthew’s growing singularity: he now lived upon almost raw meat, never touched bread, considering corn exotic, and for the same reason substituted honey for sugar. When, early in 1761, he presented an address from Canterbury congratulating the King on his accession, Mrs. Montagu reported:
He has made a most astounding appearance at court ... I wish the beefeaters had not let him pass the door. Lord Harry Beauclerk on the buzz his appearance occasioned desired the people to be quiet, that he had never seen the gentleman so well dressed before.3
Apparently because of ill-health, Robinson Morris did not stand again in 1761, but though he no longer played an active part in political life, he had a lively interest in national affairs. Strongly opposed to the American measures of the North Administration, he published several pamphlets setting out his criticisms, and at the same time advocating parliamentary reform.4 He rejoiced at the outbreak of the French Revolution, but disapproved of its subsequent course.
Robinson Morris’s personal appearance and idiosyncracies excited public interest, and an article in the Public Characters of 1798-9 describing his addiction to salt-water baths and long walks and his extreme abstemiousness, declared that his beard formed ‘one of the most conspicuous traits of his person; he is the only peer, and perhaps the only gentleman of Great Britain thus distinguished’. But the Gentleman’s Magazine pointed out in its obituary notice (1800, p. 1219) that he was ‘a man of very vigorous understanding, who thought upon all occasions for himself, and acted with unexampled consistency up to his own principles, which gave him the appearance, and perhaps the reality, of some eccentricities, of which the relating has been so exaggerated as to amount to a tissue of the most gross and ridiculous falsehoods’. And his nephew by marriage, Sir Egerton Brydges, wrote of him:5
The views of Government which his studies and his prejudices had fostered, induced him to set himself up as the champion of the people: and these sentiments unfolded the doors of his hospitable table to the yeomanry as well as to the gentry of the country ... Fools sometimes attempted to take liberties with him, but soon repented their presumption: for he was keen, sarcastic, and powerful in his observations; and prompt, vigorous, and pertinent in his language. His tall, meagre, and ungraceful form, his rude and neglected dress, and his long beard, excited a kind of popular and senseless attraction to his person, to which his best friends regretted that he gave occasion.
He died 30 Nov. 1800.