Denison, Edward (1840-1870) (DNB00)

DENISON, EDWARD, the younger (1840–1870), philanthropist, born at Salisbury in 1840, was son of Edward Denison the elder [q. v.], bishop of Salisbury. His mother was Louisa, sister of Ker Seymer. After some home training he went to Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. Unfortunately, while at Eton, when training for a boat-race, he overtaxed his strength and brought on congestion of the lungs, from which he never really recovered. At Christ Church he took a second class in law and history, missing a first solely in consequence of bad health. From 1862 to 1866 he read law. In the spring of 1864 he travelled through Italy and the south of France to Madeira and Tangier. While at St. Moritz in Switzerland, on his way back, he was deeply impressed with the habits and condition of the peasantry there. On his return to England he showed great interest in the condition of the poor at the east end of London, and became almoner of the Society for the Relief of Distress in the District of Stepney. With a view to studying social questions from a practical point of view, he removed, in the autumn of 1867, to a lodging in Philpot Street, Mile End Road. Here he stayed eight months, only occasionally visiting his friends at the west end. During that time he built and endowed a school, in which he himself taught bible-classes and gave lectures to working men. Denison was one of the earliest members of the committees formed by the Society for Organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity in 1869. He recognised the unsatisfactory results of giving relief by doles, and resolved to do his best to establish some better method of dealing with poverty. In 1868 he went to Paris, and later to Edinburgh, to study the working of the poor law. In the autumn of the same year he became parliamentary candidate in the liberal interest for Newark, where his visits to the neighbouring house of his uncle, Mr. Speaker Denison, afterwards Lord Ossington, made him well known. Denison was Lord Ossington's heir presumptive. He was returned to parliament in November 1868, but only made one speech there. Although his political sentiments were liberal, he did not strictly adhere to any particular party. The fatigues of parliamentary life seriously enfeebled his health, and in May 1869 he visited the Channel Islands, whose political constitution he studied with great interest. At Guernsey he had an interview with Victor Hugo, who ‘ranted’ at him for half an hour, and convinced him that ‘with all his sublimity of imagination he was a bad politician and a worse reasoner.’ Returning symptoms of his old disease forced him to abandon a projected visit with Sir Michael Hicks-Beach to the United States, and he decided to make a voyage to Melbourne, where he hoped to study the questions of emigration and colonisation. He left England in October 1869. The alternation of the weather and the diet of a sailing ship rendered the voyage injurious rather than beneficial. He gradually sank, and died at Melbourne on 26 Jan. 1870, within a fortnight of his landing.

His letters and other writings, edited by Sir Baldwyn Leighton, bart., were published in 1872, 8vo, and were republished in a popular form in 1875. They present a graphic picture of Denison's keenness of observation and enlightened humanity, and they have induced many to follow in his footsteps.

[Letters and Writings of Edward Denison, ed. by Sir Baldwyn Leighton, Bart., London, new edition, 12mo, 1875; Times, 22 March 1870.]

R. H.