Samuel Henley

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Samuel Henley D.D. (1740–1815) was an English clergyman, school teacher and college principal, antiquarian, and man of letters.


Born in England, he began his career when he was recruited as a professor of moral philosophy for William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia. He arrived in 1770.[1] Well-connected there, he became a friend of Thomas Jefferson, who acquired some of his library.[2] He clashed though in public debate with Robert Carter Nicholas, Sr. and John Page, and failed to become rector of Bruton Parish Church.[3][4][5][6]

In 1775 he went back to England, as a Loyalist taking leave from the College but never returning; he was a supporter of John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, Virginia's governor, and with his colleague Thomas Gwatkin had been subject to intimidation by armed men.[7][8][9] He obtained an assistant-mastership at Harrow School, and soon afterwards received a curacy at Northall in Middlesex. In 1778 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and four years later he was presented to the living of Rendlesham in Suffolk. He continued to spend the greater part of his time at Harrow.[10]

Henley maintained an extensive correspondence on antiquarian and classical subjects with Michael Tyson, Richard Gough, Dawson Turner, Thomas Percy, and other scholars of the time. In 1805 he was appointed principal of the newly established East India Company College at Hertford. He resigned this post in January 1815, and died on 29 December of the same year. He married in 1780 a daughter of Thomas Figgins, esq., of Chippenham, Wiltshire.[10]


In 1779 he edited Travels in the Two Sicilies, by Henry Swinburne.[10]

In 1784 he published with notes an English translation of Vathek, written (but as yet unpublished) by William Thomas Beckford. The French original was not published till 1787. Stephen Weston stated in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1784 that Vathek had been composed by Henley himself as a text 'for the purpose of giving to the public the information contained in the notes.' Henley replied that his book was merely a translation from an unpublished French manuscript. Beckford, in the preface to the French version of 1815, mentions that the appearance of the English translation before his original was not his intention, and only attributes it to circumstances "peu intéressantes pour le public".[10]

Henley was a frequent contributor to the Monthly Magazine. He also occasionally wrote short poems for private circulation among his friends.[10]


  1. J. David Hoeveler, Creating the American Mind: Intellect and Politics in the Colonial Colleges (2007), p. 286.
  2. Kevin J. Hayes, The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2008), p. 523.
  7. John E. Selby, Don Higginbotham, The Revolution in Virginia, 1775-1783 (2007), p. 46.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4  [ "Henley, Samuel" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain[ "Henley, Samuel" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Edward Alfred Jones (1918), Two Professors of William and Mary College (Thomas Gwatkin and Samuel Henley)
  • Mellen Chamberlain, “Sketch of Life of Rev. Sameul Henley,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 15(1877), 230-242
  • Fraser Neiman, “The Letters of William Gilpin to Samuel Henley,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 35: 2 (February 1972), 159-169
  • Arthur Sherbo, “Samuel Henley, Translator of Vathek,” Shakespeare’s Midwives: Some Neglected Shakespeareans (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1992)
  • George Morrow II, Of Heretics, Traitors and True Believers: The War for the Soul of Williamsburg (Williamsburg: Telford, 2011)
  • Terry L. Meyers, "Samuel Henley's 'Dark Beginnings' in Virginia," Notes and Queries, 59 (September 2012), 347-350.