Egerton, John (1622-1686) (DNB00)

EGERTON, JOHN, second Earl of Bridgwater (1622–1686), was the third but eldest surviving son of the first earl [q. v.] At the age of twelve, when Viscount Brackley, he and his younger brother, Mr. Thomas Egerton, were among the 'ten young lords and noblemen's sons' associated with the king himself in the performance of Carew's masque, 'Cœlum Britannicum,' 18 Feb. 1634 (Warton, p. 114; Masson, i. 550–1). When in the same year, as Professor Masson supposes, Milton's 'Arcades' was 'presented' to the Countess Dowager of Derby, Lady Bridgewater's mother, at Harefield, some sixteen miles from Ashridge Lord Bridgewater's Hertfordshire seat and country house, Brackley and his brother were probably (Warton, ib.; Masson, i. 562; Todd, v. 154) among the 'some noble persons of her family' who sang and spoke Milton's words to their grandmother, the Dowager Lady Derby. His sisters were pupils of Henry Lawes [q. v.], who is supposed to have written what little music was required for the 'Arcades.' Undoubtedly Brackley represented the Elder Brother, Mr. Thomas Egerton the Second Brother, and their sister, Lady Alice Egerton, The Lady in 'Comus,' which, with Lawes as the Attendant Spirit, was performed in the great hall of Ludlow Castle on Michaelmas night 1634. 'A manuscript of Oldys' is Warton's sole authority (p. 183 n.) for the well-known statement in which the plot of 'Comus' is described as suggested by the incident that Brackley with his brother and sister had been benighted in a wood near Harefield, their grandmother's house. The first edition of 'Comus,' published in 1637, without the author's name, was dedicated by Lawes to Brackley.

In 1642 Brackley married Elizabeth, daughter of William, then Earl, afterwards Marquis and Duke of Newcastle, a very devout lady, to whom he seems to have been always passionately attached. In 1649 he succeeded his father as Earl of Bridgewater. As a royalist, suspected of conspiring against the Commonwealth, he was arrested, imprisoned, and examined in April 1651, but was soon released on bail, giving his own bond for 10,000l. and finding two sureties in 5,000l. to appear before the council of state when called on, and 'not to do anything prejudicial to the present government' (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651, p. 162). In the same year was issued Milton's 'Pro populo Anglicano Defensio.' Bridgewater possessed a copy of it, on the title-page of which he wrote the words 'Liber igne, author furcâ dignissimi' (Todd, i. 127 n.) After the Restoration he was appointed in 1662, with Clarendon and the Bishop of London, to manage the conference between the two houses upon the Act of Uniformity. On 14 May 1663 he was chosen high steward of Oxford University, which the same day conferred on him the degree of M.A. In the following month, Bridgewater having accepted a challenge from the Earl of Middlesex, both of them were ordered into custody, when he was joined by his wife, who before he was liberated died in childbed, a loss from which, according to his epitaph on her, he never recovered. On 13 Feb. 1666 he was sworn of the privy council, and in 1667 he was appointed one of the commissioners to inquire into the expenditure of the money voted by parliament for the Dutch war, and in 1672 he was elected high steward of Wycombe. In 1673 Milton issued the second edition of his minor poems, in which for obvious reasons he did not reprint Lawes's dedication of 'Comus' to the Viscount Brackley of 1637. In the House of Peers Bridgewater seems to have generally acted with the country party. In 1679 he was sworn of the new privy council, consisting of members of both the court and country parties, appointed at Sir William Temple's suggestion. He died 26 Oct. 1686, and was buried in the church of Little Gaddesden. Sir Henry Chauncy, the historian of Hertfordshire, who knew him, describes him as 'adorned with a modest and grave aspect, a sweet and pleasant countenance, a comely presence,' as 'a learned man' who 'delighted much in his library,' and further as possessed of all the virtues. He is said to have been a liberal patron of works of learning, and among them of Pole's 'Synopsis Critica.' In Todd's 'Ashridge' is printed a series of instructions drawn up by the earl for the management of his household, which is interesting from its detailed account of the organisation of an English nobleman's establishment in the second half of the seventeenth century. No. 607 of the Egerton MSS., Brit. Mus., is a transcript of his wife's prayers and meditations, with his autograph note, 'Examined by J. Bridgewater.'

[H. J. Todd's third edition of Milton's Poetical Works. 1826, vol. i.; Some Account of the Life and Writings of Milton, and v. 209, &c., Preliminary Notes on Comus; Thomas Warton's edition of Milton's Minor Poems, 1785; Masson's Life of Milton, 1869; Todd's Hist. of the College of Bonhommes at Ashridge, 1823; Sir Henry Chauncy's Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire, 1700.]

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