Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lenton, Francis
LENTON, FRANCIS (fl. 1630–1640), court poet and anagrammatist, was probably related to the Lentons of Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire (see Lipscomb, i. 233; Wood, Fasti, ii. 4). He is said to have studied at Lincoln's Inn (though his name is not in Foster's manuscript register of admissions), and was a frequenter of the Fleece Tavern in Covent Garden, where his name furnished Sir Aston Cokayne [q. v.], Sir Andrew Knyveton, Tom Lightwood, and other habitués with materials for silly anagrams (Haslewood's manuscript notes in Jacob's, Poetical Register, 1720). In an epigram (No. 54) ‘On Mr. Francis Lenton refusing wine,’ Cokayne, to emphasise the disgrace of such a proceeding, observes that ‘Franke’ was the ‘Queenes Poet, and a man of name’ (Small Poems, 1658, p. 163). The title of ‘queen's poet’ was an honorary distinction, to which in all probability neither duties nor salary were attached, although Sir William D'Avenant once held it, and Samuel Daniel is said formerly to have been an unsuccessful competitor for the post (Langbaine). Lenton claims the distinction on the title-pages of most of his works. The first of these was entitled ‘The Young Gallants Whirligigg, or Youth's Reakes. Demonstrating the inordinate affections, absurd actions, and profuse expenses of unbridled and affectated youth, with their extravagant courses and preposterous progressions and aversions, together with the too often deare bought experience and the rare or too late regression and reclamation of most of them from their habitual ill customs and unqualified manners,’ London, 1629. The author here gives a realistic portrayal of the progress of a rake, who begins by neglecting ‘Littleton’ for ‘Don Quix Zott,’ and ‘Coke's Reports’ for ‘fencing, dancing, and some other sports,’ and ends by experiencing ‘Misery,’ the true ‘salve to cure a haughty mind.’ ‘It appears,’ says Brydges, ‘to be faithfully touched,’ which may atone for the feebleness of the verse. In 1631 appeared his next printed work, ‘Characterismi, or Lenton's Leasures. Expressed in Essayes and Characters, never before written on. London, for Roger Michell.’ Dedicated to Oliver, lord St. John, baron of Bletsoe (Cat. of Malone's Books in Bodleian, p. 22). There are several reprints of this work with slightly altered titles. A second edition, under the title ‘Characters, or Wit and the World in their proper colours presented to the Queen's most Excellent Majestie,’ appeared in 1663 (Brit. Mus.) A few of the characters, such as ‘the Prodigall,’ ‘an Innes a Court gentleman,’ and ‘a gentleman usher,’ of which Lenton may be supposed to have had the most intimate experience, approach in excellence those of Overbury. Three years later appeared ‘The Innes of Court Anagrammatist, or the Masquers masqued in Epigrammes. Composed by Francis Lenton, gent., one of her Majestie's Poets. London for William Lashe.’ This is of special interest, since it indicates the names of those who took part in Shirley's masque the ‘Triumph of Peace’ as played before the king and queen at Whitehall in 1634. It is dedicated to the ‘Fovre Honourable Societies and famous Nurseries of Law, The Innes of Covrt,’ and is prefaced by commendatory verses by John Coysh (Heber, p. 174). His next work was ‘Great Britains Beauties, or the Female Glory; epitomised in Encomiastick Anagramms and Acrostickes, upon the highly honoured names of the Queenes Most Gracious Majestie and the gallant Lady Masquers in her Grace's glorious Grand-Masque. Presented at White-Hall on Shrove Tuesday at Night, by the Queene's Majestie and her ladies. Framed and formed by the humble pen of F. L., the Queene's Poet. London, for James Becket,’ 1638, 4to (Malone; Hazlitt, Handbook, p. 333).
Besides these books, all of which are very rare, though their scarcity has been exaggerated, Lenton left in manuscript ‘Queen Ester's Haliluiahs and Haman's Madrigalls, expressed and illustrated in a Sacred Poeme; with the translation of the 83rd Psalm, wherein David curseth the Enemyes of the true Church. Composed by Fra. Lenton, gent., the Queene's Poet,’ 1637, 4to. Dedicated to Sir Anthony and Lady Cage, and probably in Lenton's autograph (Huth Libr. Cat. iii. 836). Two manuscripts, similar in most respects to that in the Huth Library (one containing the autograph of Ralph Thoresby, the antiquary), were sold among the Corser collection. Two others, slightly variant, are described in Hazlitt's ‘Collections’ (1867– 1876), p. 255. There is also a small manuscript collection of poems by Lenton in the Duke of Buccleuch's Library at Dalkeith. First comes a dedicatory address to Edward, lord Montagu, baron of Boughton. Then follow poems on ‘Christmas Day,’ ‘St. Stephen's Day,’ the ‘Infant's Murther,’ and finally ‘Upon your Honour's Blessings.’ The collection, which is bound up with a ‘Treatise on Gunnery’ and ‘A Boke of the Office of the Ordynance for a Feilde or Campe,’ has little poetical merit (note communicated by A. H. Bullen, esq.) Lenton's last production was ‘The Muses Obligation, expressed in Anagrammes, Acrosticks, and an Encomiastick Gratulation reflecting on the Name, Honor, and Dignity newly confered by King Charles his fauor. On the Honourable, Nobly Mynded, Affable, and Ingenuous Sr James Stonehouse, Knight and Baronett,’ 1641, 4to. The original manuscript of this work, which was never printed, was sold at Sotheby's 4 June 1884, No. 155 (Hazlitt, Collections and Notes, 3rd ser. p. 140). Rimbault supposed that the poet was identical with a ‘Francis Lenton of Lincoln's Inn, Gent.,’ who died on 12 May 1642 (obituary manuscript at Stanton Hall, Leicestershire), but it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile this date with the fact that some verses signed Fra. Lenton and addressed to Richard Lovelace, ‘on his exquisite Poems,’ are prefixed to the first edition of ‘Lucasta’ (1649).
Oldys speaks of Lenton and his works with familiar contempt, and his estimate is rather confirmed by the imbecility of many of the ‘anagrams.’ Brydges, however, takes a more lenient view of his ‘ingenious particularities.’
[Brydges's Restituta, ii. 36, iii. 508; British Bibliographer, ii. 538; Peers of James I, p. 54; Beloe's Anecdotes, vi. 203; Warton's English Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, iii. 318; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 117; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn; Addit. MSS. 24487 and 5508, f. 102 (Hunter's Chorus Vatum); Brit. Mus. Cat.]