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Henry Luttrell (1765?-1851)

This article was written by Thomas Seccombe and was published in 1893

Henry Luttrell , wit and poet of society, a natural son of Lord Carhampton, was born about 1765. His mother was possibly a gardener's daughter of Woodstock named Harman. Through his father's influence he obtained a seat for Clonmines, co. Wexford, in the last Irish parliament (1798), and a post in the Irish government, which he subsequently commuted for a pension. He was sent to the West Indies about 1802 to manage his father's estates there, but soon returned, and obtained an introduction to London society through the Duchess of Devonshire. Though always in narrow circumstances he achieved a social position of ‘great eminence and success,’ and was looked upon as one of the most agreeable, accomplished, and entertaining men of his day.

He published in 1819 some graceful, if rather colourless, elegiacs entitled ‘Lines written at Ampthill Park in the autumn of 1818,’ and dedicated to Henry Vassall, lord Holland. On an altogether different plane, if scarcely up to the level of his colloquial reputation, is his ‘Advice to Julia, a Letter in Rhyme,’ published early in 1820. With a faint suggestion of the writer's favourite Horace (whose Lydia of Ep. viii. Bk. i. is the prototype of ‘Julia’) the poem is in reality a brief society epic, which suggests Praed, and contains the best vignettes of life in London since Gay's ‘Trivia.’ The description of a London fog, followed by an ‘Appeal to Chemistry’ to teach ‘our chimneys chew the cud,’ is full of grim realism, while that of a ‘City Shower’ challenges comparison with Swift's well-known verses. Tom Moore, who was to some extent its literary sponsor, describes the volume as ‘full of well-bred facetiousness and sparkle;’ it was greatly improved in the third edition of 1822 (when the title was slightly altered to ‘Letters to Julia, in Rhyme’), and ‘is now,’ said Christopher North, writing in the following year, ‘quite, quite a bijou.’ Byron greatly admired the wit and tact, and still more the ‘good breeding,’ of the ‘Letters of a Dandy to a Dolly’ (as they were styled), and praised them very highly to Lady Blessington. Luttrell's only other printed volume was his ‘Crockford House’ (1827), a satire on high play which did not enhance his reputation. With this was printed a shorter poem dated 1826, and entitled ‘A Rhymer in Rome.’

He travelled much in Europe, and kept a diary, which Moore describes as exceedingly clever, but his real greatness was as a talker and diner-out. He exchanged poetical trifles with and often visited Moore, at whose board he launched not a few (now familiar) jests upon a prosperous career. At Moore's in 1831 he was one of a ‘remarkable party,’ including Macaulay, Lord John Russell, and Tom Campbel. Moore also took counsel with Luttrell before destroying the manuscript ‘Memoirs’ which Byron had entrusted to his discretion. He was ‘always bracketed with Rogers,’ compared with whom he is described as ‘less caustic, but more good-natured,’ and the two were ‘seldom apart, and always hating, abusing, and ridiculing each other.’ Sir Walter Scott breakfasted with Rogers and ‘the great London wit,’ Luttrell, in October 1826. At a party at Rogers's in March 1835, at which Wordsworth was present, Luttrell wrote in an album his witty verses on a man run over by an omnibus, concluding with the saw ‘Mors omnibus communis.’ He wrote both English and Latin verses upon ‘Rogers's Seat’ (the summer-house in Holland Park), and contests with Lady Blessington the distinction of having remarked that Rogers's ‘Italy’ would have been dished but for the plates. No one, according to Rogers, ‘could slide in a brilliant thing with greater readiness.’

He was a frequent guest at Holland House, where many of his best mots were uttered. His own reputation as the ‘most epigrammatic conversationalist’ Byron ever met, did not prevent his rapt admiration of Hood's genius and puns, and he once let the side dishes pass at Holland House in order to contemplate a man who had failed to laugh at Sydney Smith's jokes. Smith once said of him that, until he taught him better, Luttrell imagined that muffins grew; but Luttrell himself constantly spoke of his taste for domesticity, and compared himself to the king of Bohemia, who had a taste for navigation. Though a Bohemian, and a classic, and a wit with an amazing power of repartee, Luttrell was by no means superficial, nor devoid of an occasional Thackerayan wrath against the shams and snobberies of society, and his vein as well as his metre is sometimes Hudibrastic, as in the lines,

O that there might in England be
A duty on Hypocrisy,
A tax on humbug, an excise
On solemn plausibilities!

Lady Blessington, in fact, described him as the one among talkers ‘who always makes me think’, and Greville as ‘a philosopher in all things, but especially in religion.’ Gronow, who met him in Paris in 1849, calls him ‘the last of the Conversationists’. He died at his house, No. 31 Brompton Square, on the same day as Turner the painter, 19 December 1851.

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