FYNES (afterwards FYNES CLINTON), Henry (1781-1852), of Welwyn House, Herts. and Dean's Yard, Westminster, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1806 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 14 Jan. 1781, 1st s. of Rev. Charles Fynes, preb. of Westminster and perpetual curate of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, and Emma, da. of Job Brough of Newark, Notts.; bro. of Clinton James Fynes Clinton*. educ. Southwell g.s. 1789-96; Westminster 1796-9; Christ Church, Oxf. 1799-1806; L. Inn 1808. m. (1) 22 June 1809, Harriott (d. 2 Feb. 1810), da. of Rev. Charles Wylde of Nottingham, s.p.; (2) 6 Jan. 1812, Katherine, da. of Rt. Rev. Henry William Majendie, bp. of Bangor, 2s. d.v.p. 9da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. kinsman Isaac Gardiner of Saffron Walden, Essex 1811; fa. 1827, having like him taken the additional name of Clinton by royal lic. 26 Apr. 1821. d. 24 Oct. 1852.

Offices Held

Biography

Fynes, who inherited property in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Middlesex from a relative in 1811, and purchased an estate in Hertfordshire the following year,1 had sat for Aldborough since 1806 as the nominee of another distant kinsman, the 4th duke of Newcastle. However, he had long since abandoned any notion of making a mark in politics, and devoted most of this energy to preparing materials for a major work on Greek and Roman chronologies. As he noted at the end of 1819:

A government office, with duties to be performed in London, would impair my health, waste my spirits and withdraw me from that literature by which I am best able to be useful to myself or others: neither would it ultimately benefit my family, because an increased income would only bring with it an increased expenditure. I have no reason therefore for desiring such an office, were it within my reach. It would give me no pleasure, for I have examined my own mind, and find myself to be destitute of political ambition. As to the temporal welfare of my children, I shall best provide for it by a frugal management of that which I possess.

He allowed himself to be returned for the fifth time for Aldborough in 1820, after a contest, but lamented the fact that ‘I have not looked into a book for this fortnight’, observing that ‘this interruption of my usual literary studies has been prejudicial to me ... without a literary object, my mind preys upon itself’.2

He continued to be an occasional attender who gave general support, when present, to Lord Liverpool’s ministry. He attended the opening of Parliament and on 18 May 1820 presented a petition from the agent of his colleague Antrobus, requesting an extension of the time allowed for proving his property qualification, which had been challenged in a petition. In his only known contribution to debate, 25 May, he explained that Antrobus was in America and moved that his agent be permitted to swear to his qualification; this was agreed the next day. He was in his seat for over 12 hours for the debate on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and voted with government against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He spent most of the remainder of the year at Welwyn, where the superintendence of building work disrupted his studies. On his fortieth birthday, 14 Jan. 1821, he wrote:

I have many causes for thankfulness to Providence ... I still possess better health, and more active powers of exertion, than I had any reason to expect three years ago ... I have good hopes of my chronology [of Greek literature], which proceeds towards a probable conclusion ... It is doubtless good discipline to press forwards ... But with my constitutional tendency to despond, it may be salutary sometimes to survey how much has been executed, that I may not be tempted to throw aside my task in despair.3

He was present for the renewed debates on the queen and voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., because, as he privately noted, he ‘could not agree to the manifest absurdity of giving to this sect that which would enable it to be mischievous again’.4 He voted against a reduction in the army estimates, 11 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May, and Hume’s economy and retrenchment motion, 27 June 1821. He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb. 1822, but attended only sporadically for the remainder of that session. He voted against relieving Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. From June 1822 he spent six tranquil months at Bangor, where he made good progress with his literary projects, which he regarded as a ‘duty’ because they ‘gradually bring me to a better understanding of the word of God’, based ‘not upon trust ... but upon ... reason and conviction’, and because they ‘enable me to become contented with my lot, to look with philosophical indifference upon the vain pursuits of ambition, and to appreciate justly the value of that safe mediocrity of station and fortune in which I am placed’.5 He voted against repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Mar., and the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and against inquiry into the currency, 12 June 1823. In 1824, when the first part of his Fasti Hellenici was published and well received, he divided against parliamentary reform, 26 Feb., and the abolition of flogging in the armed forces, 5 Mar., and mustered to support the aliens bill, 23 Mar. About this time Newcastle, who described Fynes as ‘a man of great learning and abilities’ who ‘would do well in any situation’, tried to secure him a place at one of the public boards, but the prime minister could not oblige. Fynes would have welcomed useful and lucrative employment, but had little difficulty in reconciling himself to the disappointment.6 He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. No further votes have been found in his name, and he made way for his brother Clinton at the dissolution in 1826, when he wrote:

Called to a seat in the House of Commons in my twenty-sixth year, without solicitation, without preparation for it, I am now thrown back on to my original position, without a profession, without occupation, except such as I can create for myself; and at a period of life when it is too late to engage in a profession.

He had been, he reflected, ‘as far as public speaking is concerned, an inefficient Member of Parliament’.7

Yet the biggest disappointment of Fynes’s life was his failure to secure the head librarianship of the British Museum in 1827, when he was passed over in favour of Henry Ellis, the long-serving keeper of printed books.8 A later application by Newcastle on his behalf for the receiver-generalship of Nottinghamshire also came to nothing. He devoted himself after 1826 to his literary work: further instalments of the Fasti Hellenici were published in 1830 and 1834, his Fasti Romani appeared between 1845 and 1850, and the Epitome of the Civil and Literary Chronology of Greece in 1851. Newcastle regarded him as ‘perhaps the best scholar of his day and very deeply read’.9 After his death in October 1852 his work on Roman chronology was completed by his brother Charles, who recalled in the preface to his Literary Remains that the ‘distinctive features of his character’ were ‘an ardent thirst for knowledge, an absence of ambition for worldly honours and distinctions, a profound reverence for the Most High, and an earnest desire to consecrate the labours of his intellect to His honour’. Fynes made provision for his wife and seven surviving daughters and directed that Welwyn be sold.10

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Ibid. 45, 53; PROB 11/1518/23.
  • 2. Fynes Clinton, 141, 147.
  • 3. Ibid. 167-9.
  • 4. Ibid. 26.