Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whalley, Thomas Sedgwick

WHALLEY, THOMAS SEDGWICK (1746–1828), poet and traveller, born at Cambridge in 1746, was the third son of John Whalley, D.D., master of St. Peter's College, Cambridge, and regius professor of divinity in that university (d. 1748), who married the only child of Francis Squire, canon and chancellor of Wells Cathedral. His mother died at Winscombe Court, Somerset, on 14 Sept. 1803, aged 96. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1767, M.A. in 1774, and about 1770 was ordained in the English church. In March 1772 Dr. Keene, bishop of Ely, presented him to the rectory of Hagworthingham, near Spilsby in Lincolnshire, and, in consequence of its unhealthy situation in the fens, made it a condition that he should never enter into residence. This stipulation he readily complied with, and for the long period of more than fifty years the duties were discharged by a curate. About 1825 Whalley built a parsonage-house for the benefice. He was appointed on 22 Aug. 1777 to the prebendal stall of Combe (13) in Wells Cathedral, and retained it until 1826.

Whalley married, on 6 Jan. 1774, Elizabeth, only child of Edward Jones of Langford Court in Burrington parish, Somerset, and widow of John Withers Sherwood, with whom he obtained a great fortune. About 1776 he purchased the centre house in the Crescent at Bath, and entertained with great hospitality both there and at Langford. He was a conspicuous figure in the set that fluttered around Lady Miller at Bath Easton, and wrote verses for her. Miss Burney described him as ‘immensely tall, thin and handsome, but affected, delicate, and sentimentally pathetic’ (Diary, i. 314). In the summer of 1783, under the spur of economy, he and his wife broke up their establishments in England and went abroad. Langford Court, after being let for many years, was sold in 1804. Whalley spent the spring and winter for a long period in southern France, Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. At Paris in 1783 his appearance drew from Marie-Antoinette the compliment of ‘Le bel Anglais.’ Whalley kept journals of his continental experiences, which are of much interest.

As a rule Whalley now spent the summer at Mendip Lodge, formerly called Langford Cottage, on the Mendip hills, where the grounds were remarkable for their grottos and terrace walks. Mrs. Siddons often visited him there, and Hannah More was a neighbour (Murray, Somerset Handbook, p. 395). He supported her action over the school at Blagdon in an anonymous pamphlet, ‘Animadversions on the Curate of Blagdon's Three Publications, 1802.’

Whalley was created D.D. of Edinburgh University on 10 July 1808. Next winter he bought a house in Baker Street, London, and for some years lived there in great extravagance. After the peace of 1814 he went abroad again. On his return in 1818 he purchased the centre house in Portland Place, Bath. In 1825 Whalley bought the lease of a house at Clifton, and in 1828 he left England, for the last time. A few weeks after his arrival at La Flèche in France he died there of old age, on 3 Sept. 1828, and was buried in the consecrated ground of the Roman catholic church, a handsome sarcophagus of dark slate with Latin inscription marking the spot. His first wife died on 8 Dec. 1801. In May 1803 he married a Miss Heathcote, a lady of good family and property in Wiltshire; she died at Southbroom, near Devizes, on 10 or 11 Oct. 1807. In 1813 he married the widow of General Horneck (probably Charles Horneck who died at Bath on 8 April 1804). He soon discovered that she was heavily in debt, and they agreed to separate. She received from Whalley a comfortable settlement and a large house in Catherine Place, Bath, in which she gave grand parties.

Two volumes of Whalley's ‘Journals and Correspondence’ were edited in 1863 by Hill Wickham, rector of Horsington. Prefixed to the first volume is a print by Joseph Brown of Whalley's portrait by Reynolds. They contain many interesting letters from Mrs. Piozzi and Mrs. Siddons, but are burdened with huge epistles from Miss Seward. Wilberforce described him in 1813 as ‘the true picture of a sensible, well-informed and educated, polished, old, well-beneficed, nobleman's and gentleman's house-frequenting, literary and chess-playing divine.’ Whalley was a patron of painting; the celebrated picture of ‘The Woodman,’ by Barker of Bath, was painted for him, and, at his request, Sir Thomas Lawrence made an admirable crayon drawing of Cecilia Siddons, his god-daughter.

His writings include: 1. ‘Edwy and Edilda’ [anon.]; a poetic tale in five parts, 1779; republished in 1794 in handsome quarto edition, with six engravings by a young lady (i.e. daughter of Lady Langham). 2. ‘The Castle of Montval,’ a tragedy in five acts, 1781; 2nd edit., with a dedication to Mrs. Siddons, 1799; it was brought out at Drury Lane in 1799, and ‘tolerably well received’ (Baker, Biogr. Dram. ii. 87). 3. ‘The Fatal Kiss,’ a poem [anon.], 1781; ‘an improbable story, written in the florid manner of Mrs. Aphra Behn’ (Monthly Rev. lxiv. 311). 4. ‘Verses addressed to Mrs. Siddons on her being engaged at Drury Lane Theatre,’ 1782. 5. ‘Mont Blanc,’ a poem, 1788. 6. ‘Poems and Translations,’ circa 1797. This is assigned to him in ‘Literary Memoirs’ (1798). 7. ‘Kenneth and Fenella,’ a legendary tale, 1809.

[Memoir in Journals and Correspondence; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 210; Gent. Mag. 1772 p. 151, 1804 i. 389, 1807 ii. 1078, 1828 ii. 474; Collinson's Somerset, i. 204.]

W. P. C.