Soame Jenyns
Soame Jenyns sitting in a half-length seated in a chair, left hand to cheek, with books behind
Portrait from 1776
Born(1704-01-01)1 January 1704
London, England
Died18 December 1787(1787-12-18) (aged 83)
London, England
Occupation(s)Writer, politician
Mary Soame
(m. 1726; died 1753)
Elizabeth Gray
(m. 1754)

Soame Jenyns (1 January 1704 – 18 December 1787) was an English writer and Member of Parliament. He was an early advocate of the ethical consideration of animals.

Life and work

He was the eldest son of Sir Roger Jenyns and his second wife Elizabeth Soame, daughter of Sir Peter Soame. He was born in London, and was educated at St John's College, Cambridge.[1] In 1742, he was chosen M.P. for Cambridgeshire, in which his property (Bottisham Hall, which he inherited from his father in 1740) was situated, and he afterwards sat for the borough of Dunwich and the town of Cambridge. From 1755 to 1780 he was one of the commissioners of the Board of Trade. He was elected as a Bailiff to the board of the Bedford Level Corporation for 1748–1769 and 1771–1787.[2]

For the measure of literary repute which he enjoyed during his life Jenyns was indebted as much to his wealth and social standing as to his accomplishments and talents, though both were considerable. His poetical works, the Art of Dancing (1727)[3][4] and Miscellanies (1770), contain many passages graceful and lively though occasionally verging on licence.[5][clarification needed]

The first of his prose works was his Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil (1756). This essay was severely criticized on its appearance, especially by Samuel Johnson in the Literary Magazine. Johnson condemned the book as a slight and shallow attempt to solve one of the most difficult of moral problems. Jenyns, a gentle and amiable man in the main, was extremely irritated by his review. He put forth a second edition of his work, prefaced by a vindication, and tried to take vengeance on Johnson after his death by a sarcastic epitaph:[6]

Here lies poor Johnson. Reader, have a care,
Tread lightly, lest you rouse a sleeping bear;
Religious, moral, generous, and humane
He was—but self-sufficient, rude, and vain;
Ill-bred and over-bearing in dispute,
A scholar and a Christian—yet a brute.

In 1776 Jenyns published his View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion. Though at one period of his life he had affected a kind of deistic scepticism, he had now returned to orthodoxy, and there seems no reason to doubt his sincerity, questioned at the time, in defending Christianity on the ground of its total agreement with the principles of human reason. The work was praised for its literary merits.[5]

Jenyns published Disquisitions on Several Subjects in 1782. In "Disquisition II", Jenyns argued, using the great chain of being, that animals should be viewed in the same way that humans would want to be viewed by God.[7] He also asserted that: "We are unable to give life, and therefore ought not wantonly to take it away from the meanest insect, without sufficient reason; they all receive it from the same benevolent hand as ourselves, and have therefore an equal right to enjoy it."[8]


Arms of Soame Jenyns, St Andrew's Church, West Dereham, Norfolk. Jenyns (Argent, on a fess gules three bezants) impaling Soame (Gules, a chevron between three mallets or), for his first wife Mary Soame.

He married twice, but left no progeny:[9]

Death and succession

Jenyns died in London of a fever, on 18 December 1787 and was buried at the church of the Holy Trinity, Bottisham.[11] As he died without progeny, his heir was his cousin George Leonard Jenyns.


A collected edition of the works of Jenyns appeared in 1790, with a biography by Charles Nalson Cole. There are several references to him in James Boswell's Johnson.

Commentary on Jenyns

Carl L. Becker describes Jenyns' take on the American Revolution in The Eve of the Revolution (1918) as follows:[12]

Mr. Soame Jenyns, a writer of verse and member of the Board of Trade, who in a leisure hour had recently turned his versatile mind to the consideration of colonial rights with the happiest results. In twenty-three very small pages he had disposed of the "Objections to the Taxation of Our American Colonies" in a manner highly satisfactory to himself and doubtless also to the average reading Briton, who understood constitutional questions best when they were "briefly considered," and when they were humorously expounded in pamphlets that could be had for sixpence. ...The heart of the question was the proposition that there should be no taxation without representation; upon which principle it was necessary to observe only that many individuals in England, such as copyholders and leaseholders, and many communities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, were taxed in Parliament without being represented there. "...are they only Englishmen when they solicit protection, but not Englishmen when taxes are required to enable this country to protect them?" As for "liberty," the word had so many meanings, "having within a few years been used as a synonymous term for Blasphemy, Bawdy, Treason, Libels, Strong Beer, and Cyder," that Mr. Jenyns could not presume to say what it meant.

Jenyns has been cited as an example of an Anglican utilitarian.[13]


  1. ^ "Jenyns, Soame (JNNS722S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Wells, Samuel. History of the Drainage of the Great Level of the Fens Called ..., Volume 1. p. 497.
  3. ^ Jenyns, Soame; Cole, Charles Nalson (1793). The Works of Soame Jenyns ...: To which are Prefixed Short Sketches of the ... Author's Family, and Also of His Life. T. Cadell. p. 25. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  4. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica, or, Dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature. Adam & Charles Black. 1856. p. 726. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  5. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  6. ^ "Modernity's Uninvited Guest". 23 December 2015.
  7. ^ Perkins, David (2003). Romanticism and Animal Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-139-44091-2.
  8. ^ Jenyns, Soame (1793). Cole, Charles Nalson (ed.). The Works of Soam Jenyns. Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). London: T. Cadell. p. 190.
  9. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, Volume 1 [1]
  10. ^ see images 1637067 1637070
  11. ^ Rompkey, Ronald (23 September 2004). "Jenyns, Soame (1704–1787), author and politician". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14766. Retrieved 27 July 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. ^ Carl Lotus Becker, The Eve of the Revolution (1918) pp. 109–113
  13. ^ Heydt, Colin (30 January 2014), Eggleston, Ben; Miller, Dale E. (eds.), "Utilitarianism before Bentham", The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism (1 ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 16–37, doi:10.1017/cco9781139096737.002, ISBN 978-1-139-09673-7