John Henley

John Henley

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John Henley English clergyman, commonly known as 'Orator Henley', and one of the first entertainers and a precursor to the talk show
Talk show
A talk show or chat show is a television program or radio program where one person discuss various topics put forth by a talk show host....

 hosts of today.

The son of a vicar, John Henley was born in Melton Mowbray
Melton Mowbray
Melton Mowbray is a town in the Melton borough of Leicestershire, England. It is to the northeast of Leicester, and southeast of Nottingham...

. After attending the grammar school
Grammar school
A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and some other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching classical languages but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school.The original purpose of mediaeval...

s of Melton and Oakham
Oakham School
Oakham School is a British co-educational independent school in the historic market town of Oakham in Rutland, accepting around 1,000 pupils, aged from 10 to 18, both male and female, as boarders and day pupils . The Good Schools Guide called the school "a privileged but unpretentious and...

, Rutland
Rutland is a landlocked county in central England, bounded on the west and north by Leicestershire, northeast by Lincolnshire and southeast by Peterborough and Northamptonshire....

, he entered St John's College
St John's College, Cambridge
St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college's alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners, six Prime Ministers, three archbishops, at least two princes, and three Saints....

, Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, "Ye College where I had ye Stupidity to be educated," as he himself said. After having taken a B.A. degree, he became assistant and, afterwards, director in the grammar school of Melton Mowbray. He was also assistant curate there.

In 1714, he wrote a poem styled Esther, Queen of Persia, which was received with applause, and in 1719–1721, he published The Compleat Linguist; or, An Universal Grammar of all the Considerable Tongues in Being. In November 1721, after having taken his degree as Master of Arts, he moved to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, where he obtained the appointment of assistant preacher and wrote several books. Quarrelling with the Bishop of London
Bishop of London
The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers 458 km² of 17 boroughs of Greater London north of the River Thames and a small part of the County of Surrey...

, he gave up his benefice, and began his lectures or 'Orations' on theological subjects and mundane matters.

On 3 July 1726 he opened his so-called 'Oratory', a meeting room built over the shambles in Newport Market
Newport Market
Newport Market is a traditional Victorian indoor market, built in 1854 in Newport, South Wales.It is an early example of a large-span cast iron-frame building featuring a glass-filled barrel roof...

. In 1729, he transferred the scene of his operations to an old theater at Clare Market
Clare Market
Clare Market was an area of London to the west of Lincoln's Inn Fields, between the Strand and Drury Lane, with Vere Street adjoining its western side...

, near Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Lincoln's Inn Fields is the largest public square in London, UK. It was laid out in the 1630s under the initiative of the speculative builder and contractor William Newton, "the first in a long series of entrepreneurs who took a hand in developing London", as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner observes...

, where he continued to preach "on the world as it is, serious or ridiculous." "The Truth of the Gospel is in its Spirit and Moral, its practical Graces," he said, " the rest is, in Comparison, as sounding Brass, or as a tinkling Cymbal." His discourses were extremely popular and, as a kind of show, mainly addressed to the least educated audiences, so that there were several rowdy disturbances in his 'Oratory'.

Into his services he introduced many peculiarities. He drew up a 'Primitive Liturgy,' in which he substituted for the Nicene
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

 and Athanasian creed
Athanasian Creed
The Athanasian Creed is a Christian statement of belief, focusing on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. The Latin name of the creed, Quicumque vult, is taken from the opening words, "Whosoever wishes." The Athanasian Creed has been used by Christian churches since the sixth century...

s, two creeds taken from the Apostolical Constitutions; for his 'Primitive Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

' he made use of unleavened bread and mixed wine; and, most interestingly, he distributed medals of admission to his 'Oratory' at the price of one shilling. A visitor accused Henley that money was the god whom he worshipped: "we must give One Shilling to the Door-Keeper, for the Seats were personal Property. A very fine Story indeed! And such a one, that is not to be paralleled, that we should pay a Shilling before we can worship GOD!"

Henley knew that the most original element in the services was he himself. In his Dunciad, Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

 called him a "great restorer of the good old Stage / Preacher at once and Zany of thy age." He possessed some extraordinary oratorical ability and adopted a very theatrical style of elocution
Elocution is the study of formal speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone.-History:In Western classical rhetoric, elocution was one of the five core disciplines of pronunciation, which was the art of delivering speeches. Orators were trained not only on proper diction, but on the proper...

, tuning his voice and balancing his hands. His addresses were a strange medley of solemnity and buffoonery, of clever wit and the wildest absurdity, of able and original disquisition and the worst artifices of the oratorical charlatan.

Henley also seems to have been the first talk show host in England, as he was the head of discussion shows held in his 'Oratory'. No wonder that The Connoisseur
The Connoisseur
The Connoisseur The Connoisseur The Connoisseur (by Mr. Town [pseud.], Critic, and Censor-General. 2 vols. 140 nos. (31 January 1754 – 30 September 1756), was a London weekly eighteenth century newspaper founded and chiefly run by George Colman the Elder and the parodist Bonnell Thornton as a...

, a critical weekly paper, wrote that "the Clare-Market Orator, while he turns religion into farce, must be considered as exhibiting shews and interludes of an inferior nature, and himself regarded as a Jack-pudding in a gown and cassock." Despite such harsh criticism, the energetic and eccentric 'Orator' was very popular among most Londoners. His services were much frequented by the Freethinkers, and he himself expressed his determination "to die a rational."

For some years Henley edited the Hyp Doctor, a weekly paper established in opposition to the Craftsman. He died in London on 13 October 1759.

Henley was the subject of several contemporary caricatures, among them works by George Bickham the Younger
George Bickham the Younger
George Bickham the Younger was an English etcher and engraver, a printseller, and one of the first English caricaturists.He produced didactic publications, political caricatures, and pornographical prints. He was the son of the engraver George Bickham the Elder , who published the Universal...

 and William Hogarth
William Hogarth
William Hogarth was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects"...


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