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John Hervey, Baron Hervey
In 1716 his father sent him to Paris, and thence to Hanover to pay his court to George I. He was a frequent visitor at the court of the prince and princess of Wales at Richmond, and in 1720 he married Mary Lepell, who was one of the princesss ladies-in-waiting, and a great court beauty. In 1723 he received the courtesy title (and his father's original distinction) of Lord Hervey on the death of his half-brother Carr, which he would use until he predeceased his father. In 1725 he was elected M.P. for Bury St Edmunds.
He had been at one time on very friendly terms with Frederick, Prince of Wales, but from '73 he quarrelled with him, apparently because they were rivals in the favor of Anne Vane. These differences probably account for the scathing picture he draws of the princes callous conduct. Hervey had been hesitating between William Pulteney (afterwards earl of Bath) and Walpole, but in 1730 he definitely took sides with Walpole, of whom he was thenceforward a faithful adherent. He was assumed by Pulteney to be the author of Sedition and Defamation display'd with a Dedication to the patrons of The Craftsman (1731). Pulteney, who, up to this time, had been a firm friend of Hervey, replied with A Proper Reply to a late Scurrilous Libel, and the quarrel resulted in a duel from which Hervey narrowly escaped with his life.
Hervey is said to have denied the authorship of both the pamphlet and its dedication, but a note on the manuscript at Ickworth, apparently in. his own hand, states that he wrote the latter. He was able to render valuable service to Walpole from his influence over the queen. Through him the minister governed Queen Caroline and indirectly George II. Hervey was vice-chamberlain in the royal household and a member of the privy council. In 1733 he was called to the House of Lords by writ in virtue of his fathers barony. In spite of repeated requests he received no further preferment until after 1740, when he became Lord Privy Seal. After the fall of Sir Robert Walpole he was dismissed (July 1742) from his office. An excellent political pamphlet, Miscellaneous Thoughts on the present Posture of Foreign and Domestic Affairs, shows that be still retained his mental vigour, but he was liable to epilepsy, and his weak appearance and rigid diet were a constant source of ridicule to his enemies. He predeceased his father, but three of his sons became successively earls of Bristol.
Hervey wrote detailed and brutally frank memoirs of the court of George II from 1727 to 1737. He gave a most unflattering account of the king, and of Frederick, prince of Wales, and their family squabbles. For the queen and her daughter, Princess Caroline, he had a genuine respect and attachment, and the princesss affection for him was commonly said to be the reason for the close retirement in which she lived after his death. The manuscript of Hervey's memoirs was preserved by the family, but his son, Augustus John, 3rd earl of Bristol, left strict injunctions that they should not be published until after the death of George III. In 1848 they were published under the editorship of JW Croker, but the manuscript had been subjected to a certain amount of mutilation before it came into his hands. Croker also softened in some cases the plainspokenness of the original. Hervey's bitter account of court life and intrigues resembles in many points the memoirs of Horace Walpole, and the two books corroborate one another in many statements that might otherwise have been received with suspicion.
Until the publication of the Memoirs Hervey was chiefly known as the object of savage satire on the part of Pope, in whose works he figured as Lord Fanny, Sporus, Adonis and Narcissus. The quarrel is generally put down to Pope's jealousy of Hervey's friendship with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. In the first of the Imitations of Horace, addressed to William Fortescue, Lord Fanny and Sappho were generally identified with Hervey and Lady Mary, although Pope denied the personal intention. Hervey had already been attacked in the Dunciad and the Bathos, and he now retaliated. There is no doubt that be had a share in the Verses to the Imitator of Horace (1732) and it is possible that he was the sole author. In the Letter from a nobleman at Hampton Court to a Doctor of Divinity (1733), he scoffed at Pope's deformity and humble birth.
Pope's reply was a Letter to a Noble Lord, dated November 1733, and the portrait of Sporus in the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1743), which forms the prologue to the satires. Many of the insinuations and insults contained in it are borrowed from Pulteney's libel. The malicious caricature of Sporus does Hervey great injustice, and he is not much better treated by Horace Walpole, who in reporting his death in a letter (August 14, 1743) to Horace Mann, said he had outlived his last inch of character. Nevertheless his writings prove him to have been a man of real ability, condemned by Walpole's tactics and distrust of able men to spend his life in court intrigue, the weapons of which, it must be owned, he used with the utmost adroitness. His wife Lady Hervey (1700-1768), of whom an account is to be found in Lady Louisa Stuart's Anecdotes, was a warm partisan of the Stuarts. She retained her wit and charm throughout her life, and has the distinction of being the recipient of English verses by Voltaire.
See Hervey's Memoirs of the Court of George II, edited by JW Croker (1848); and an article by GF Russell Barker in the Dict. Nat. Biog. (vol. xxvi., 1891). Besides the Memoirs he wrote numerous political pamphlets, and some occasional verses.
- This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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