14 Nov. 1751; placed in September 1759 as a day-boy at Eton, whence he proceeded in 1769 to Peterhouse, Cambridge. His tripos verses in praise of Shakespeare were so warmly praised by Garrick to Edward Capell that the uncle and nephew made up a previous coolness. Lofft left the university in 1770 without graduating, became a member of Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the bar in 1775. Soon afterwards his father's death gave him an independent fortune, and on the death of his uncle, Edward Capell, in 1781, he succeeded to the family estates at Troston and Stanton, near Bury St. Edmunds; he lived many years in the hall at Troston. He studied political law, was a strong whig, and took part in the agitation against the slave-trade and in the opposition to the American war. He was an admirer of Fox and an advocate of parliamentary reform. He spoke at Coachmakers' Hall and the Westminster Forum, and was an original member of the Society for Constitutional Reformation. ‘This little David of popular spirit,’ as he is called by Boswell (Life of Johnson, ch. lxxviii.), came to be regarded as a firebrand, especially at county meetings, where he was a leader among the reform party. His name was struck off the roll of magistrates in 1800 because of his ‘improper interference’ in trying to save the life of a poor girl who had been condemned to death for a paltry theft by Sir Nash Grose at the Suffolk assizes.
He had an enormous correspondence with most of the literary characters of his time. Among his personal friends were Fox, Clarkson, Wilberforce, Godwin, Dr. Jebb, Cartwright, Hazlitt, Howard the philanthropist, and especially his neighbour, Arthur Young. H. Crabb Robinson (Diary, &c., i. 29) mentions him as a prolific author, and (ib. p. 33) gives a lively description of an incident at Stowmarket, where Lofft was the hero of the day. In November 1798 Lofft secured the publication of the ‘Farmer's Boy’ by Robert Bloomfield [q. v.], a native of an adjoining village, and was ridiculed for his pains in a note to Byron's ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ Lofft was a staunch supporter of Napoleon, who said ‘qu'il compterait toujours M. Capell Lofft parmi ses amis les plus affectionnés.’ He attracted notice in 1815 by moving the court of king's bench to issue a writ of habeas corpus to bring up the body of Napoleon, then detained as prisoner on board the Northumberland in Plymouth Harbour. In 1818 he left Troston with his family for the continent, and travelled till 1822, when he settled at Turin. In the spring of 1824 he left for Moncalieri, where he died on 26 May.
Lofft was a man of many accomplishments, a good classical scholar, a great lover of literature and of natural history, an enthusiast in music, an authority on botany, and a skilled astronomer. He made an observation (6 Jan. 1818) supposed to indicate the transit of a planet inferior to Mercury, but now generally considered to have been a sun-spot (Monthly Notices, xx. 194). A small, upright, eccentric, and boyish-looking figure, he had every possible disadvantage to contend with as a public speaker. His dress was slovenly and unfashionable, as may be seen from the caricatures of him etched by Delpini and others. His voice was feeble, though sweet, and his sentences involved. He married, first, on 20 Aug. 1778, Anne, daughter of Henry Emlyn of Windsor, the architect who restored St. George's Chapel, by whom he had several children; and secondly, on 10 March 1802, Sarah Watson (authoress of many sonnets in her husband's ‘Laura’), daughter of John Finch, esq., Cambridge, by whom he had one son, Capell Lofft [q. v.], and two daughters; one of the latter, Laura Capell, became the second wife of Sir Walter C. Trevelyan, bart., of Wallington, Northumberland.
He was author of the following works:
- ‘The Praises of Poetry, a Poem,’ London, 1775, 8vo.
- ‘Reports of Cases adjudged in the Court of King's Bench, 12 to 14 Geo. III, with select Cases in Chancery and Common Pleas within the same Period; to which are added the Case of General Warrant and a Collection of Maxims,’ London, 1776, fol.
- ‘Principia cum Iuris universalis tum præcipue Anglicani; ed. 2a multum aucta et castigata: quibus accedunt artis logicæ compendium et prudentiæ civilis præcepta e clarissimis scriptoribus. Auctore Capel Lofft, I.C.,’ 2 vols., London, 1779, 12mo.
- ‘Elements of Universal Law,’ &c., being the first volume of a translation of No. 3, London, 1779.
- ‘Eudosia, or a Poem on the Universe,’ London, 1781, 12mo.
- ‘An Essay on the Law of Libel’ (anonymous), London, 1785.
- ‘Three Letters on the Question of Regency,’ Bury, 1788, 8vo.
- ‘Observations on the first part of Dr. Knowles's Testimonies from the Writers of the first four Centuries,’ &c., Bury, 1789, 8vo.
- ‘An History of the Corporation and Test Acts, with an Investigation of their Importance,’ &c., by C. L., Bury, 1790, 8vo; 2nd edit. London, 1790, 8vo.
- ‘A Vindication’ of No. 9, London, 1790, 8vo.
- ‘Remarks’ on Burke's letter upon the French revolution, 1790, 8vo; 2nd edit., with additions and remarks on Burke's letter to a member of the National Assembly, London, 1791, 8vo.
- ‘Preface to an Argument on