FRENCH, Jeffrey (c.1701-54), of Argyle Bldgs., London.
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Family and Education
b. c.1701, 6th s. of Arthur French of Cloonyquin, co. Roscommon, mayor of Galway, by his 2nd w. Sarah, da. and h. of Ulick Burke of Clare, co. Galway, wid. of Iriel Farrel of Cloonyquin. educ. M. Temple 1719, called 1724. m. Catherine, da. of Richard Lloyd of Croghan, co. Roscommon, Speaker of Upper House of Assembly and c.j. Jamaica.
French’s family had extensive estates in western Ireland, but after his father’s death in 1712 he went to London where he entered the inns of court. In February 1734 Egmont noted in connexion with an Irish popish solicitors’ bill:
Two petitions have been presented ... against it, one ... by a lawyer here, named French, who petitioned on behalf of the Protestants of Ireland, as falling hard on the new converts who practice as solicitors.1
His wife, a vivacious woman, well known in London ‘for her elegant assemblies, and bringing eminent characters together’,2 appears to have been unfaithful. On 6 Jan. 1743 Horace Walpole wrote to Mann:
There is nothing new but the separation of ... Mr. and Mrs. French ... She has been fashionable these two winters; her husband has commenced a suit in Doctors’ Commons against her boar-cat, and will, they say, recover considerable damages: but the lawyers are of the opinion that the kittens must inherit Mr. French’s estate, as they were born in lawful wedlock.
The couple were reconciled, but in 1751 separated again.3
An account of French has been left by his nephew, Arthur Murphy, the author, who was educated at St. Omer in France at his expense. On his return, he had a meeting with his uncle:
He talked with me for some time about indifferent things; and then, repeating a line from Virgil, asked me if I could construe it? I told him I had the whole of the Aeneid by heart. He made me repeat ten or a dozen lines, and then said, ‘If I have fifty acres of land to plough, and can only get two labouring men to work at two acres per day, how many days will it take to do the whole?’ ‘Sir!’ said I, staring at him; ‘Can’t you answer that question?’ said he; ‘Then I would not give a farthing for all you know. Get Crocker’s Arithmetic; you may buy it for a shilling at any stall; and mind me, young man, did you ever hear Mass while you was abroad?’ ‘Sir, I did, like the rest of the boys.’ ‘Then, mark my words; let me never hear that you go to Mass again; it is a mean, beggarly, blackguard religion.’ He then rose, stepped into his chariot, and drove away.4
French wanted Murphy to work on his plantation in Jamaica, but Murphy refused, whereupon French disowned him and eventually left him out of his will. Murphy revenged himself by satirising his uncle’s character in the person of Wingate, a self-made, passionate old man, very fond of money and mathematics, in the comedy The Apprentice, which was acted at Drury Lane in 1756. The likeness was recognised by the public. Murphy remarked afterwards: ‘So I made old Jeffrey at last extricate me from my difficulties’.5
French was returned in 1741 for Milborne Port, where he had bought an estate,6 voting with the Administration until April 1746, when he voted against them on the Hanoverian troops, being classed as ‘doubtful’.7 Losing his seat in 1747, he is described in the 2nd Lord Egmont’s electoral survey, c.1749-50, as ‘having been slighted utterly by this Administration’. He died 14 May 1754.8
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 19.
- 2. Boswell's Johnson, iv. 48.
- 3. Walpole to Montagu, 30 May 1751.
- 4. Jesse Foot, Life of Arthur Murphy (1811), p. 9.
- 5. H. H. Dunbar, Dramatic Career of Arthur Murphy (New York 1946), pp. 20-22.
- 6. PCC 131 Pinfold.
- 7. Rigby to Bedford, 25 Apr. 1754, Bedford mss.
- 8. PCC 131 Pinfold.