Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Langhorne, Johnlocked

  • Arthur Sherbo

Langhorne, John (1735–1779), poet and translator, was born in March 1735 at Winton in the parish of Kirkby Stephen, Westmorland, the younger son of the Revd Joseph Langhorne of Winton and Isabel, his wife. He was educated at a school in his native village and afterwards at Appleby. At eighteen he became a private tutor in a family near Ripon, and during his residence there began writing verses. He was afterwards an usher in the free school at Wakefield, and there took deacon's orders and eked out his scanty income by taking Edmund Cartwright, reputed inventor of the power-loom, as a pupil during vacations. About this time he wrote for Ralph Griffiths's Grand Magazine, which had a three-year existence from 1758 to 1760. In 1759 Langhorne went to Hackthorn, near Lincoln, as tutor to the sons of Robert Cracroft. In the following year he matriculated at Clare College, Cambridge, intending to take the degree of bachelor of divinity as a ten-year man. He left the university, however, without taking any degree. He left Hackthorn in 1761 and took up a curacy in Dagenham, Essex.

That same year (1761) Langhorne wrote his first review for Ralph Griffiths's Monthly Review, and by November 1768, when he wrote the last review for Griffiths, he had been responsible for some 300. In 1764 he was appointed curate and lecturer at St John's, Clerkenwell, and in December 1765 was appointed assistant preacher at Lincoln's Inn by the then preacher Dr Richard Hurd, afterwards bishop of Worcester. Also in 1766 he became rector of Blagdon, Somerset, and was said to have been granted the honorary degree of DD by the University of Edinburgh in return for his Genius and Valour: a Scotch Pastoral (1763) in defence of the Scots against the aspersions of Charles Churchill in his Prophecy of Famine (1763). There is no record of such a grant. In January 1767, after a courtship of five years and an initial rejection of his proposal of marriage, he married Ann Cracroft (1735/6–1768), the sister of his old pupils, whom he had taught Italian, a language in which he was proficient. Ann died in giving birth to a son on 4 May 1768, aged thirty-two, and was buried in the chancel of Blagdon church. At her desire he published after her death their premarital correspondence under the title of Letters to Eleonora (1770–71).

Langhorne left Blagdon shortly after Ann's death and went to live with his elder brother William [see below] at Folkestone where they translated Plutarch's Lives … from the original Greek, with notes critical and historical, and a new life of Plutarch (6 vols., 1770), dedicated to Lord Folkestone. The translation went through a number of editions.

On 12 February 1772 Langhorne married the daughter of a Mr Thompson, a magistrate near Brough, Westmorland. After a tour through France and Flanders they returned to Blagdon, where he was made a justice of the peace. His second wife died giving birth to an only daughter in February 1776. Langhorne was installed a prebendary of Wells Cathedral in October 1777, and according to a writer in the European Magazine, almost surely Isaac Reed, 'his death was imputed to his usual substitute for the Castalian fountain, rather too frequent draughts of Burton ale, at the Peacock Inn, Gray's-Inn-Lane' (European Magazine, 17, 1790, 102). He died at Blagdon House on 1 April 1779 and was buried at Blagdon.

Reed, in the same article in the European Magazine, listed thirty-three works by Langhorne. Although enjoying some contemporary popularity for his poetry, in a number of forms and on a variety of subjects, he is largely remembered for his translation of Plutarch's Lives. Mention may be made of his Solyman and Almena: an Oriental Tale (1762); The Viceroy: a Poem Addressed to the Earl of Halifax (1762); and the very popular The Letters that Passed between Theodosius and Constantia after she had Taken the Veil (1763, followed by a second edition in 1764 and a number of subsequent editions). Langhorne published a number of sermons in 1764 with a second edition in 1773. His Country Justice: a Poem, by one of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the County of Somerset (1774–7) was greatly praised by Wordsworth in a letter of 15 January 1837, who wrote that it 'is not without many faults in style … but these are to me trifles in a work so original and touching' (Davie, 122). Langhorne edited The Poetical Works of William Collins in 1765, and translated Milton's Italian poems in 1776. Both in his own writings and in his reviews in the Monthly Review he exerted influence on some of his contemporaries, notably on John Scott of Amwell, in the life of whom, prefatory to his posthumously published Critical Essays (1785), their friendship is mentioned.

William Langhorne (1721–1772), John's elder brother, was presented by the archbishop of Canterbury on 23 March 1753 (GM, 23, 1753, 149) to the rectory of Hawkinge and the perpetual curacy of Folkestone, Kent, and on 19 May 1756 received the Lambeth degree of MA (GM, 16, 1864, 637). He died on 17 February 1772 and was buried in the chancel of Folkestone church, where a monument was erected to his memory. Besides collaborating in the translation of Plutarch's Lives, he wrote Job: a Poem, in Three Books [a paraphrase] (1760), A Poetical Paraphrase on Part of the Book of Isaiah (1761), and Sermons on Practical Subjects and the most Useful Points of Divinity (1773). These last were posthumously published and seen through the press by his brother, by whom the 'advertisement' is signed, ‘J. L.’, 1778.


  • European Magazine and London Review, 17 (1790), 101–3
  • J. T. Langhorne, ‘Memoirs of the author’, in J. Langhorne, Poetical works (1804), 5–25
  • D. Davie, The late Augustans (1958), 122


  • C. Pye, line engraving, pubd 1804 (after R. Corbould), BM; repro. in Langhorne, Poetical works, frontispiece
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)