Soame Jenyns

English author


January 1, 1704
December 18, 1787
Related topics
Early works, United States, Good and evil, Apologetics, Economic history,


Jenyns was born in London on the 1st of January 1704, and was educated at St John's College, Cambridge. In 1742 he was chosen M.P. for Cambridgeshire, in which his property lay, and he afterwards sat for the borough of Dunwich and the town of Cambridge. From 1755 to 1780 he was one of the commissioners of the board of trade. He died on the 18th of December 1787.

For the measure of literary repute which he enjoyed during his life Jenyns was indebted as much to his wealth and social standing as to his accomplishments and talents, though both were considerable. His poetical works, the Art of Dancing (1727) and Miscellanies (1770), contain many passages graceful and lively though occasionally verging on license. The first of his prose works was his Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil (1756). This essay was severely criticized on its appearance, especially by Samuel Johnson in the Literary Magazine. Johnson, in a slashing review - the best paper of the kind he ever wrote - condemned the book as a slight and shallow attempt to solve one of the most difficult of moral problems. Jenyns, a gentle and amiable man in the main, was extremely irritated by his failure. He put forth a second edition of his work, prefaced by a vindication, and tried to take vengeance on Johnson after his death by a sarcastic epitaph.

In 1776 Jenyns published his View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion. Though at one period of his life he had affected a kind of deistic skepticism he had now returned to orthodoxy, and there seems no reason to doubt his sincerity, questioned at the time, in defending Christianity on the ground of its total variance with the principles of human reason. The work was deservedly praised in its day for its literary merits, but is so plainly the production of an amateur in theology that as a scientific treatise it is valueless.

A collected edition of the works of Jenyns appeared in 1790, with a biography by Charles Nalson Cole. There are several references to him in Boswell's Johnson.

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