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Henshall, Samuellocked

  • Richard W. Clement

Henshall, Samuel (1764/5–1807), philologist, was baptized on 8 February 1765 at Sandbach, Cheshire, the son of George Henshall, grocer. He attended Manchester grammar school, then Brasenose College, Oxford, as one of Hulme's exhibitioners, matriculating on 11 October 1782. He graduated BA on 14 June 1786, MA on 12 May 1789, and after ordination was elected to a college fellowship. In 1792, being then curate of Christ Church, Spitalfields, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the lectureship of St Peter-le-Poer.

Henshall's first scholarly publication, Specimens and parts; containing a history of the county of Kent and a dissertation on the laws … (1798), was to have been completed in six quarterly parts, but only part 1 was published. He first came to wider notice with The Saxon and English Languages Reciprocally Illustrative of Each Other (1798). His stated purpose was confrontational:

To assert that no correct ideas can be collected from the laborious exertions of a Hickes, a Gibson, or a Wilkins; to affirm that their Latin interpretations are of little authority, unintelligible, and delusory; argues certainly a daring Challenger, or a Champion conscious of the merits of his cause, and therefore not easily intimidated.

p. 1

Henshall's methodology was fundamentally flawed, as was quickly pointed out in reviews by John Horne Tooke in the Analytical Review, and Richard Gough and Charles Mayo in the Gentleman's Magazine. Henshall's disparagement of George Hickes, Edmund Gibson, and David Wilkins was controversial, and his denigration of several contemporary scholars, including John Horne Tooke ('we pity his fiend-like mind'; p. 53), resulted in a severe reaction. Gough and Mayo noted that:

If we were not apprized of the motive's for Mr. H's publication, we should be tempted to say he had undertaken what he does not understand … Mr. H's literal version … appears to be founded on nothing but an imaginary resemblance of sound.

GM, 68.861

'To call Dr. Hickes' inaccurate versions and unfaithful translations, every judicious critick must deem the height of ignorance and presumption' (ibid., 863). 'We know Mr. H. and respected his talents; but ill manners (we had almost given it a harder name) is not an apology for imprudence' (ibid., 865).

As a 'champion … not easily intimidated' Henshall persevered. He believed he was the object of a plot to discredit him (Preface, Etymological Organic Reasoner, 1807, 15). He recounted that in September 1798 John Reeves, editor of the Anti-Jacobin Review (to which Henshall frequently contributed), had been approached by William Beloe to write a review which would expose Henshall's 'total ignorance of the Saxon language'. Further, similar reviews to be published in October in the Gentleman's Magazine and the Analytical Review had been arranged for the same purpose. The latter two appeared with devastating results, but for Henshall this proved his assertion.

Henshall's next publication was Strictures on the late motions of the duke of Leinster, … Richd. Brinsley Sheridan, … and a paragraph in the semi-official chronicle of opposition (1798), which was dismissed in the Gentleman's Magazine (GM, 70.645) as 'uninteresting'. In the following year he published Domesday, or, An Actual Survey of South Britain (1799), the first of ten projected volumes, but the project was discontinued owing to its errors. On 12 November 1800 he stood for election as professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, losing to Thomas Hardcastle, 71 to 148 (ibid., 1097). In 1801 Henshall was appointed a public examiner in the university, and on 22 January 1802 he was presented by his college to the rectory of St Mary, Stratford Bow, Middlesex. He married in May 1802.

Henshall was not without his supporters, as the dedication of his final work, the Etymological Organic Reasoner, to Richard Heber, who had allowed Henshall access to his library, illustrates. In that work, which appeared in monthly numbers (the fifth, due on 30 September 1807, was stopped by Henshall's last illness), was included an 'occasional preface'. Here he turned on his critics and threatened to expose 'this mystery of iniquity', in which 'many Antiquaries, Blackstonians, Electioneering Oxonians, Reviewers, Low Churchmen, Presbyterians, Methodists, and other herds of animals that follow their leader's tail are concerned'. Soon after, on 17 November 1807, he died aged forty-two and was buried at St Mary, Stratford Bow, Middlesex.


  • J. Petheram, An historical sketch of the progress and present state of Anglo-Saxon literature in England (1840), 114–15, 121–3
  • ‘The Saxon and English languages reciprocally illustrative of each other’, GM, 1st ser., 68 (1798), 861–5
  • GM, 1st ser., 77 (1807), 1176
Gentleman's Magazine
J. Foster, ed., , 4 vols. (1887–8), later edn (1891); , 4 vols. (1891–2); 8 vol. repr. (1968) and (2000)
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