I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.
This article was written by Leslie Stephen and was published in 1898
John Horne-Tooke, a politician and philologist, was born in Newport Street, Westminster, on 25 June 1736. He was the third of the seven children of John Horne, poulterer. Two brothers, both his elders, became tradesmen. Of his four sisters, one married Thomas Wildman, a friend of Wilkes, and another was second wife of Stephen Charles Triboudet Demainbray, once tutor to George III and afterwards astronomer at Kew. The elder Horne had a lawsuit with Frederick, prince of Wales, whose servants had made a passage from Leicester House through his premises. After establishing his legal rights Horne gave leave for the use of the passage. Frederick showed his sense of this handsome conduct by appointing Horne poulterer to his household. The result was that the prince, at his death, owed several thousand pounds to the poulterer, who never recovered the money. The younger Horne, according to his own notes, was sent in 1736 to the ‘Soho Square Academy,’ in 1744 to Westminster, in 1746 to Eton, and afterwards to private tutors at Sevenoaks (1753) and at Ravenstone, Northamptonshire (1754).
He was from the first an ‘original.’ He cared nothing for games, and yet did not distinguish himself in lessons. He lost the sight of his right eye in a fight with a schoolfellow who had a knife in his hand, and ran away from his tutor in Kent, defending himself to his father on the ground of the tutor's ignorance of grammar. ‘He never was a boy,’ said an old lady who had known him as a child. In 1754 he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, and was ‘senior optime’ in the tripos of 1758, graduating B.A. in that year. He had a strong natural inclination for a legal career, and in 1756 he entered the Inner Temple. He kept some terms, and was intimate with Dunning (afterwards Lord Ashburton) and Kenyon. His father, however, insisted upon his taking orders, and bought for him the right of presentation to the chapel of ease at New Brentford, worth £200 or £300 a year.
After graduating Horne was for a time usher in a school at Blackheath, and while there was ordained deacon. He was ordained priest on 23 November 1760, and began his clerical duties at Brentford. He is said to have delivered good practical sermons, and to have been often asked to preach for charities in London. He also studied medicine, and established a dispensary for the good of his parishioners. He was, however, accused of being too fond of cards and society. His creed, if he had one, was of the vaguest, and he was no doubt glad of a reason for leaving his duties to a curate. In 1763 he became travelling tutor to the son of John Elwes, the famous miser, and made a year's tour in France. Through the influence of his brother-in-law, Demainbray, Elwes, and other friends, he had a promise of a chaplaincy to the king and some hopes of preferment.
On his return to England, however, he threw himself into the political excitement of the time. He published an anonymous pamphlet, called The Petition of an Englishman (1765), defending Wilkes in violent language and challenging prosecution. He promised the publisher to give up his name if a prosecution took place. The authorities, however, refrained, because, as his biographer surmises, they did not wish to attract attention to Horne's insinuations about Bute's relations to the king's mother ingeniously conveyed by a plan of their houses at Kew. In any case Horne escaped, and in 1765 made another tour with the son of a Mr. Taylor. On landing in France he dropped his clerical dress. At Calais he made the acquaintance of Thomas Sheridan (1719-1788) and his wife, and at Paris was first introduced to Wilkes. Wilkes welcomed him as the author of the pamphlet just mentioned and the brother-in-law of Wildman. They became intimate and agreed to correspond. Horne visited Voltaire at Ferney, met Sterne at Lyons, travelled in Italy, and afterwards went to Montpellier. Thence, on 3 January 1766, he wrote an unlucky letter to Wilkes, apologising for having had the ‘infectious hand of a bishop waved over him,’ but declaring that the usual results had not followed, for the devil of hypocrisy had not entered his heart. He was afterwards in Paris, and did not return to England till May 1767, when he left with Wilkes five very unclerical suits of clothes, intending to return and use them in a few months. He resumed his functions at Brentford until the return of Wilkes and the famous Middlesex election of 1768.
Horne then took up Wilkes's cause with enthusiasm. He pledged himself to the full value of his means in order to secure the two best inns at Brentford for Wilkes's supporters. He made speeches, in one of which he was reported to have said that in such a cause he would ‘dye his black coat red.’ He addressed a series of fierce letters to one of the ministerial candidates, Sir W. B. Proctor, which again escaped prosecution, and he took an active part in the subsequent agitation. He made himself conspicuous by his efforts to obtain the conviction for murder of a soldier who during the St. George's Fields riots (10 May 1768) had by mistake shot an innocent spectator. He promoted the prosecution of one Quirk, who, during the next election at Brentford (8 December 1768), when Serjeant Glynn became Wilkes's colleague, had killed a man by a blow on the head with a bludgeon. In 1769 he successfully opposed (4 September) the Duke of Bedford in the election of the mayor and bailiffs of the town of Bedford, where Horne happened to have an interest. ‘Junius’ taunted the duke upon his defeat. Horne also attacked George Onslow (1731-1792), who, after defending Wilkes, had become a lord of the treasury (11 July 1769). Horne accused him in the Public Advertiser of selling an office at his disposal. He repeated the charge in answer to an indignant reply from Onslow, who then brought an action, which was tried at Kingston before Blackstone. The prosecutor was nonsuited upon a technical point. Another trial, however, took place before Lord Mansfield at the next assizes. Horne was then indicted for words applied to Onslow at a meeting of Surrey freeholders. A verdict was given against him, with £400 damages. Horne appealed against this judgment on the ground that the words used were not actionable, and the verdict was finally set aside in the court of common pleas (17 April 1771). Horne's accusation was apparently unfounded; but the lawsuit is said to have cost Onslow £1,500 while Horne spent only £200. As Horne was known to have himself suggested the successful line of argument to his counsel, his triumph over Mansfield brought him great reputation. The repeated expulsions of Wilkes in 1769 led to the formation of the Society for supporting the Bill of Rights. Subscriptions had already been proposed for the payment of Wilkes's debts; but as the sums raised were insufficient, the society was formed on 20 February 1769. It met at the London Tavern, included all the prominent city agitators, and raised considerable sums to discharge Wilkes's liabilities and to provide for election expenses. Horne was also supposed to be author, in part at least, of the address presented to the king by the city on 14 March 1770, and the sole author of the address on 23 May. He is credited with having composed the so-called impromptu reply made by Beckford to the king's answer to the last address. This claim, however, is very doubtful; it was made by Horne long afterwards, and his memory may well have been treacherous. In an account given to the newspapers Horne said that on the first address the king ‘burst out laughing,’ and added that ‘Nero fiddled while Rome was burning.’ On describing the second, he apologised ironically by admitting that ‘Nero did not fiddle while Rome was burning.’
Before long Horne fell out with his associates. According to his own account he had supported Wilkes purely on public grounds, and had long since ceased to respect his private character. He now thought that the society was being carried on to support Wilkes personally, instead of being used in defence of the political cause. A printer named Bingley, concerned in reprinting the North Briton, had refused to answer certain interrogatories, and had been committed by Lord Mansfield for contempt of court on 7 November 1768. He was still in prison in 1771, when (22 January) the society voted that its funds should be first applied to the payment of Wilkes's debt. On 12 February Horne carried a motion that £500 should be raised for the benefit of Bingley, who had, he said, suffered and deserved nearly as much as Wilkes. On 26 February another meeting was held, at which it was carried by a small majority that no new subscriptions should be opened until all Wilkes's debts should have been discharged. Horne and Wilkes had afterwards a violent altercation, when Horne moved that the society should be dissolved. The motion was rejected by a majority of twenty-six to twenty-four. The minority immediately withdrew and formed the Constitutional Society, which was to carry on the agitation without regard to Wilkes's private interests. The dispute produced a correspondence between Horne and Wilkes in the Public Advertiser. Horne had already replied (14 Jan. 1771) in that paper to some charges of misapplying the funds of the society made against him by Wilkes's friends, and probably with Wilkes's approval. A long and angry controversy now followed. Wilkes had shown to his friends the letter addressed to him by Horne from Montpellier. Horne retorted by a story insinuating that the smart suits which he had left with Wilkes at Paris had been pawned by his friend. He went into a number of details to show that Wilkes had been extravagant, and incurred new debts as fast as the old ones had been paid off by his supporters. He also gave the history of the proceedings of the supporters of the Bill of Rights; but the petty personalities, to which Wilkes made more or less satisfactory answers, injured his case. He was thought to be moved by personal malignity, and to be deserting the popular cause. In the following election of sheriffs for the city Horne supported Richard Oliver who had seceded from the society with him against Wilkes. Horne was hereupon accused by Junius of having gone over to the government. He replied with spirit, and was the most successful antagonist of his formidable enemy. He lost all his popularity, however. Oliver, on the poll (1 July), was hopelessly beaten both by Wilkes and the government candidates. Horne was burnt in effigy by the mob and was for the time equally unpleasing to the patriots and to the tories.
In 1771 Horne applied for the degree of M.A. at Cambridge, and, though Paley objected on account of the remarks upon bishops in the letter to Wilkes, the grace for the degree was passed by a large majority. According to his biographers, Horne both suggested the publication of the debates which led to the famous struggle between the House of Commons and the city authorities and prompted the course of action adopted by Wilkes, Crosby, and Oliver. Whether Horne was really at the bottom of this affair may be doubtful. In any case, the credit went to the more conspicuous actors. By this time he had sufficiently destroyed any chances of church preferment, and had lost his popularity as a politician. He had, however, shown his abilities in legal warfare, and resolved to be called to the bar. Some of his city friends guaranteed him an annuity of £400 until he should be called; but, though he accepted their promise, he never took the money. In 1773 he resigned his living, but continued to live in the neighbourhood of Brentford, and, besides continuing his legal studies, began to take up philology.
One of his political supporters, William Tooke, had bought an estate at Purley, near Croydon. In 1774 an enclosure bill had been brought into the House of Commons which affected Tooke's interests at this place. Finding that it would probably be passed, he applied to Horne for help. Horne thought that a direct opposition was too late to succeed, but suggested another scheme. He wrote a violent attack in the Public Advertiser upon the speaker, Sir Fletcher Norton, attributing to him the grossest partiality in regard to the treatment of petitions in this case, and charging him with ‘wilful falsehood and premeditated trick.’ The house summoned the printer, Woodfall, to the bar, and, upon his giving up Horne's name, summoned Horne himself. Horne declined to inculpate himself, and the evidence of his authorship was held to be insufficient. After some sharp debates both printer and author escaped. Horne was discharged from custody, and Woodfall set free after a few days' imprisonment. Meanwhile sufficient notice had been attracted to the ‘obnoxious clauses’ of the enclosure bill, and they were withdrawn. Fox in these debates took a strong part against Horne, and is said to have incurred his lasting dislike.
The Wilkes agitation was dying out, but the Constitutional Society had continued its meetings and found a new opportunity. On 7 June 1775 some of the members passed a resolution which was published in the newspapers. It directed that a subscription should be raised on behalf of ‘our beloved American fellow subjects’ who had ‘preferred death to slavery,’ and ‘were for that reason only inhumanly murdered by the king's troops’ at the Lexington skirmish (19 April 1775). Horne was to pay the money to Franklin. No notice was immediately taken, but in 1776 some of the printers of the newspapers were fined, and in the next year Horne was himself tried before Lord Mansfield (4 July 1777). Horne defended himself, as usual, with immense vigour and pertinacity, disputing points of law, referring to his former victory over Mansfield, and justifying the assertions in the advertisement. He was, however, convicted, and afterwards sentenced to a fine of £200 and imprisonment for a year. In 1778 he brought a writ of error in parliament, but the judgment was finally affirmed.
Horne was now confined in the king's bench prison. He was allowed to occupy a house ‘within the rules,’ was visited by his political friends, and had a weekly dinner with them at the Dog and Duck. While imprisoned he published a Letter to Dunning (dated 21 April 1778), which had a curious relation to his studies. The question had arisen during his trial whether the words ‘She, knowing that Crooke had been indicted, did so and so,’ must be taken as an averment that Crooke had been indicted. Horne argued that the phrase was equivalent to the two propositions, ‘Crooke had been indicted,’ ‘She knowing that, did so and so.’ The argument led to theories about the grammar of conjunctions and prepositions, afterwards expounded at greater length in his chief work. ‘All that is worth anything in the Diversions of Purley,’ said Coleridge, ‘is contained in’ this pamphlet. It certainly gives Tooke's characteristic doctrine.
Tooke attributed the gout, from which he suffered ever afterwards, to the claret which he drank in the prison, and which had, on the other hand, cured him of the ‘jail-distemper.’ He hoped after his discharge to be called to the bar, and had many promises of briefs. He applied in Trinity term 1779, but was rejected on the ground of his being still in orders by a vote of eight against three benchers of the Inner Temple. The benchers of the other inns expressed their approval of his exclusion. He renewed the attempt in 1782, when the influence of Lord Shelburne, then prime minister, was supposed to be favourable. Shelburne appears to have taken the other side, and, in any case, the application was rejected by a majority of one. In 1794 his name was again among the candidates, but no bencher moved for his call. The failure soured and embittered the remainder of his life.
Tooke had now inherited some fortune from his father. He bought a small estate at Witton, near Huntingdon, and tried agricultural experiments. He suffered from ague, and soon sold the estate to the previous owner and returned to London. He lived in Dean Street, Soho, with two girls, Mary and Charlotte Hart, his illegitimate daughters. He was well known in London society, gave suppers which became famous, was eager in political discussions, and frequently spent a month or two with his friend Tooke at Purley. In 1782 he added the name of Tooke to his own, at the request, as it appears, of his friend. The change was naturally supposed to indicate that he was to be Tooke's heir. The friendship was also commemorated by the title of his book, Epea Ptepoenta, or the Diversions of Purley, the first volume of which was published in 1786. It was received with considerable favour and established his literary reputation. He did not, however, withdraw from political agitation. When the demand for parliamentary and financial reform was stimulated by the failure of the American contest, Horne took part in the new societies which sprang into activity. He joined the ‘Society for Constitutional Information,’ founded in April 1780, of which Major John Cartwright (1740-1824) was called the ‘father.’ This took the place of the old ‘Constitutional Society’ founded by Horne in 1771, which had apparently expired. Horne Tooke supported Pitt's early proposals for parliamentary reform, and in 1782 went at the head of some Westminster delegates to thank Pitt for his first motion on the subject. He was bitterly opposed to the coalition ministry; and in 1788 joined a ‘constitutional club,’ of which Pitt and others were members, formed to support Admiral Hood, the government candidate, during the Westminster election, at which, however, Fox secured the return of Lord John Townshend. (There has been some confusion between Horne Tooke's old ‘Constitutional Club,’ the ‘Society for Constitutional Information,’ and this ‘Constitutional Club.’). On this occasion Horne Tooke published a pamphlet called Two Pair of Portraits, contrasting the two Pitts —very much to their advantage — with the two Foxes. Horne Tooke was indifferent in the Warren Hastings impeachment, but in 1790 he came forward himself to oppose Fox in the election for Westminster. He denounced his rival vigorously, and spoke effectively on the hustings. He received 1,679 votes, and spent, it is said, only £28, but was defeated by a large majority. His petition to the House of Commons on the ground of the riotous conduct of the electors was declared by a vote of the house (7 February 1791) to be ‘frivolous and vexatious.’ By an act passed in 1789 this made him responsible for the costs incurred. Fox accordingly brought an action against him for £198. 2s. 2d. The case was tried before Kenyon on 30 April 1792, and a verdict found for the plaintiff. Horne Tooke's health was suffering, and he now retired to a house at Wimbledon, where he amused himself with gardening and cowkeeping, and received his friends on Sundays. He continued to attend meetings of the ‘Society for Constitutional Information.’ They sympathised with the French revolution, and Horne attended a meeting in 1790 to commemorate the taking of the Bastille. When, however, a resolution expressing sympathy with the French was proposed by Sheridan, Horne Tooke brought forward and carried an amendment to the effect that the British constitution required no violent measures of reform. In spite of this, Horne Tooke soon became an object of suspicion. He thought that he could make a point against the government by entrapping them into a futile prosecution. He amused himself by the rather dangerous experiment of making sham confessions to a spy. A letter from one of his friends, Jeremiah Joyce, was seized, stating that ‘Citizen Hardy’ had been arrested, and asking ‘Is it possible to get ready by Thursday?’ The reference was, as Horne Tooke afterwards proved, to a proposed publication of a list of sinecure places. The authorities, as he had calculated, took it to refer to a rising, and he was at once arrested (16 May 1794).
The government had been alarmed by the rapid growth of the ‘corresponding societies’ founded by Thomas Hardy (1752-1832). These societies had circulated Paine's writings, had been in communication with the French revolutionary leaders, and had organised the ‘convention’ which met in Edinburgh in 1793. Horne Tooke's ‘Society for Constitutional Information’ had co-operated to some extent with them; while the whig society called the ‘Friends of the People’ endeavoured to keep the agitation within safe limits. Joseph Gerrald and others had been most severely punished for their proceedings in Scotland, and Horne Tooke was likely to find that his playing at treason would turn out awkwardly. Other arrests were made, and the proceedings began by the trial of Hardy. Hardy's trial, however, resulted in an acquittal (5 November 1794). The government foolishly persisted, and Horne Tooke was placed at the bar on 17 November charged with high treason. He was defended by Erskine and Vicary Gibbs, but took an active part himself in examining witnesses and arguing various points of law. The letter from Joyce was explained, and the only ground for suspicion was the prisoner's relations with the corresponding societies. Chief-justice Eyre tried the case with conspicuous fairness, and the jury almost instantly returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ on 22 November. Horne Tooke returned thanks in a short speech which seems to express the truth. His politics were those of the old-fashioned city patriots, who disliked the whig aristocracy, but would have been the first to shrink from a violent revolution. Major Cartwright quoted at the trial Horne's familiar remark that he might accompany Paine and his followers for part of their journey. They might go on to Windsor, but he would get out at Hounslow. He always disliked Paine and ridiculed his theories. He enjoyed taking the chair at the Crown and Anchor and elsewhere to denounce the aristocracy and approve vigorous manifestoes, but he was always cautious and struck out dangerous phrases. He was too infirm and too fond of his books and his Wimbledon garden to be a real conspirator. The chief justice admitted, in his summing up, that Horne was apparently ‘the last man in England’ to be open to such a suspicion, and only regretted that his association with Hardy had given some grounds for hesitation. Horne from this time became more cautious, and was accused of timidity by the zealous. He returned to Wimbledon to be welcomed after months of absence by his family, and especially by a favourite tomcat. He was, however, poor, and thought of retiring to a cottage. His friends thereupon raised a subscription and bought for him from Sir Francis Burdett an annuity of £600. This, with a legacy from his eldest brother, put him at ease.
At the general election of 1796 Horne Tooke again stood for Westminster, against Fox and Admiral Sir Alan Gardner, the ministerial candidate. He spoke frequently, and claimed support as a political martyr and the candidate ‘most hated by Pitt.’ The poll lasted fifteen days, and he received 2,819 votes, 5,160 being given for Fox, and 4,814 for Gardner. The election cost £1,000, which was, however, advanced to him by a ‘man of rank.’ His old enemy Wilkes spoke in his favour, and plumped for him on the first day of the poll. Horne Tooke now made the acquaintance of Sir Francis Burdett, who became his political disciple, and of other men of similar opinions. Among them was Thomas Pitt, second lord Camelford, the duellist, who at the general election of 1801 brought him in for Old Sarum. He made two or three speeches in opposition to the ministry, but a protest was at once made by Lord Temple against the eligibility of a person in holy orders. After examining precedents, a bill was introduced by Addington, declaring the ineligibility of the clergy. Horne Tooke proposed as a compromise that clergymen elected to the house should be incapable of holding preferment or accepting offices. The bill, however, passed; though opposed in the House of Commons by Fox, Horne Tooke's old enemy, and in the lords by Thurlow, who had prosecuted him in the libel case of 1777, but had since become his friend at Wimbledon. Horne Tooke retained his seat for the short remainder of the parliament. Thenceforward he lived quietly at Wimbledon.
William Tooke, with whom he had had some difficulties, died on 25 November 1802, and, instead of making Horne Tooke his heir, left him only £500, besides cancelling certain obligations due from him. Horne Tooke had insisted that half the property should be left to a Colonel Harwood, William Tooke's nephew, and had further agreed with Harwood to divide the property equally. William Tooke now left the bulk of his fortune to a great-nephew; but Horne Tooke, in virtue of this agreement, claimed £4,000 from Harwood. A violent dispute and a suit in chancery followed; and Lord Eldon declared that one or other of the disputants must be lying. Apparently Horne Tooke invested the money in buying annuities from Burdett for his daughters and their mother.
In 1805 Horne Tooke published the second part of the Diversions of Purley, by which he made a considerable sum: he received between four and five thousand pounds on the whole, partly by subscriptions. He had written, it seems, as much as would make another volume, but in his last illness he burnt all his papers, including this and a voluminous correspondence.
Tooke's house at Wimbledon still remains [i.e. 1898], though altered since his time. It is the southernmost in the line of houses which bounds the common on the west, extending towards the so-called ‘Cæsar's Camp.’ Here he entertained select parties on weekdays, and kept open house for guests of every variety on Sunday. His four-o'clock dinners were very substantial, and followed by a dessert from the fruit which he raised with great skill, and by ample supplies of port and madeira. Among the guests were Thurlow, Erskine, and Lord Camelford. Other visitors were Bentham, Coleridge. Mackintosh, who had become known to him as his supporter in the Westminster election of 1790, Godwin and Paine, both of whom he ridiculed; Gilbert Wakefield; Alexander Geddes, the freethinking catholic priest, and William Bosville. Horne Tooke, though he became abstemious in later years, often drank freely, and Stephens records disputes with Porson and Boswell, both settled by drinking matches. In both cases Horne Tooke left his antagonists under the table. Sir Francis Burdett, his neighbour at Wimbledon, introduced James Paull, who became a regular guest for a time; but on the duel between Burdett and Paull in 1807, Horne Tooke published a pamphlet (A Warning to the Electors of Westminster) denouncing Paull with great severity.
Horne Tooke suffered from a local affection from early youth, and became a martyr to gout and other diseases in his later years. He bore his sufferings with much courage, and his mind remained active to the last. He still read voraciously when in tolerable health, and talked calmly of his approaching death. He prepared a tomb to be placed in his garden. It was to be covered by a large block of black Irish marble which Chantrey had procured for him. He died at Wimbledon on 18 March 1812, and desired to be buried under this tomb, over which Burdett was to pronounce a classical oration. The inscription gave simply his name with the dates of birth and death, and added ‘content and grateful.’ It was decided, however, that the tomb would ‘deteriorate the value of his estate,’ and he was therefore buried at Ealing with the usual ceremony. His will bequeaths all his property to his daughter Mary Hart. She and her sister were, it is said, ‘eminently respectable and correct,’ and the omission from his will of the name of the younger implied no resentment. Horne Tooke had also a son named Montague, who was in the East India Company's service.
Horne Tooke is described as a sturdy and muscular man, 5 feet 8¾ inches in height. He was ‘comely,’ with a keen eye, and dressed like a substantial merchant. A portrait by Richard Brompton, painted during his imprisonment in 1777, is now in the possession of the Rev. Benjamin Gibbons. A bust of him was executed by the elder Bacon for Sir F. Burdett. Another was made during his last illness by Chantrey, and is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. A portrait by Mr. S. Percy was in the exhibition of 1803. A portrait in the National Portrait Gallery is attributed to Thomas Hardy, though his fellow-prisoner of that name can hardly have been the painter.
Horne Tooke has suffered in reputation from the hard fate which forced into holy orders a man eminently qualified for a career at the bar. His boundless pugnacity and his shrewdness in legal warfare would have made him a dangerous rival of Dunning and Kenyon. He seems to have been far the shrewdest of the agitators made conspicuous by the Wilkes controversies. He was apparently quite honest, though his public spirit was stimulated by his litigious propensities and love of notoriety. His politics were rather cynical than sentimental. He was a type of the old-fashioned British radical, who represented the solid tradesman's jealousy of the aristocratic patron rather than any democratic principle. He appealed to Magna Charta and the revolution of 1688; ridiculed the ‘rights of man’ theorists; and boasted with some plausibility that he was in favour of anything established. He was even a ‘great stickler for the church of England,’ on the ground, that is, of practical utility, and its doctrine correctly interpreted by Hoadly or Paley, not by the orthodox divines.
As a philologist, Horne Tooke deserves credit for seeing the necessity of studying Gothic and Anglo-Saxon, and learnt enough to be much in advance of Johnson in that direction; although his views were inevitably crude as judged by a later standard. His philology was meant to subserve a characteristic philosophy. Locke, he said, had made a happy mistake when he called his book an essay upon human understanding, instead of an essay upon grammar. Horne Tooke, in fact, was a thorough nominalist after the fashion of Hobbes; he especially ridiculed the ‘Hermes’ of Harris, and Monboddo, who had tried to revive Aristotelean logic; held that every word meant simply a thing; and that reasoning was the art of putting words together. Some of his definitions on this principle became famous; as that truth means simply what a man ‘troweth;’ and that right means simply what is ruled, whence it follows that right and wrong are as arbitrary as right and left, and may change places according to the legislator's point of view.
Horne Tooke had many disciples. Hazlitt in 1810 published a grammar in which the ‘discoveries’ of Horne Tooke were ‘for the first time incorporated.’ Charles Richardson was a warm disciple who defended him against Dugald Stewart, and who, in his dictionary (1837), accepted the doctrines of the ‘immortal’ Horne Tooke, the ‘philosophical grammarian who alone was entitled to the name of discoverer'.
|Meet the web creator||
These materials may be freely used for
non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances
and distribution to students.
Last modified 23 April, 2017
|American Affairs 1760-83||The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815||Irish Affairs 1760-89|
|Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel||Irish
|Primary sources index||British Political Personalities||British Foreign policy 1815-65||European history||