John HenleyJohn Henley (1692-1759), English clergyman, commonly known as 'Orator Henley,' and one of the first entertainers and talkshow hosts of his age.
The son of a vicar, John Henley was born on August 3, 1692 at Melton-Mowbray. After attending the grammar schools of Melton and Oakham, Rutlandshire, he entered St Johnís College, Cambridge, "Ye College where I had ye Stupidity to be educated," as he himself said. After having taken a B.A. degree, he became assistant and, afterwards, director in the grammar school of Melton-Mowbray. He was also assistant curate there. In 1714, he wrote a poem styled Esther, Queen of Persia, which was received with applause, and in 1719-1721, he published The Compleat Linguist; or, An Universal Grammar of all the Considerable Tongues in Being. In November 1721, after having taken his degree as Master of Arts, he removed to London, where he obtained the appointment of assistant preacher and wrote several books. Quarrelling with the Bishop of London, he gave up his benefice, and began his lectures or 'Orations' on theological subjects and mundane matters. On July 3, 1726 he opened his so-called 'Oratory', a meeting room built over the shambles in Newport Market. In 1729, he transferred the scene of his operations to an old theater at Clare Market, Lincolnís Inn Fields, where he continued to preach "on the world as it is, serious or ridiculous." "The Truth of the Gospel is in its Spirit and Moral, its practical Graces," he said, " the rest is, in Comparison, as sounding Brass, or as a tinkling Cymbal." His discourses were extremely popular and, as a kind of show, mainly addressed to the least educated audiences, so that there were several rowdy disturbances in his 'Oratory'. Into his services he introduced many peculiarities. He drew up a 'Primitive Liturgy,' in which he substituted for the Nicene and Athanasian creeds two creeds taken from the Apostolical Constitutions; for his 'Primitive Eucharist' he made use of unleavened bread and mixed wine; and, most interestingly, he distributed medals of admission to his 'Oratory' at the price of one shilling. A visitor accused Henley that money was the god whom he worshipped: "we must give One Shilling to the Door-Keeper, for the Seats were personal Property. A very fine Story indeed! And such a one, that is not to be paralleled, that we should pay a Shilling before we can worship GOD!" Indeed, Henley knew that the most original element in the services was he himself. In his Dunciad, Alexander Pope called him a "great restorer of the good old Stage / Preacher at once and Zany of thy age." He possessed some extraordinary oratorical ability and adopted a very theatrical style of elocution, tuning his voice and balancing his hands. His addresses were a strange medley of solemnity and buffoonery, of clever wit and the wildest absurdity, of able and original disquisition and the worst artifices of the oratorical charlatan. Henley also seems to have been the first talkshow host in England, as he was the head of discussion shows held in his 'Oratory'. No wonder that The Connoisseur, a critical weekly paper, wrote that "the Clare-Market Orator, while he turns religion into farce, must be considered as exhibiting shews and interludes of an inferior nature, and himself regarded as a Jack-pudding in a gown and cassock." Despite such harsh criticism, the energetic and eccentric 'Orator' was very popular among most Londoners. His services were much frequented by the Freethinkers, and he himself expressed his determination "to die a rational." For some years Henley edited the Hyp Doctor, a weekly paper established in opposition to the Craftsman. He died in London on October 13, 1759.
Graham Midgley, The Life of Orator Henley (Oxford 1973)