[Sir] Thomas Amory

?1691-1788; b. London and taken to Dublin in infancy; ed. TCD; knew Swift, Berkeley, and Toland; grad. MD, but did not practise; held Unitarian beliefs, like his character John Buncle; lived on private income in country house nr. Hounslow, and was living as a recluse in Westminster, c.1757; issued Memoirs Containing the Lives of Several Ladies of Great Britain (1755), concerning a “Green Isle” in the Hebrides inhabited by a society of learned and accomplished ladies centred on a Mrs. Marinda Benlow;
issued The Life of John Buncle, Esq., 2 vols. (1756-66), being virtually a continuation of Memoirs, being a fanciful and discursive writing advancing theories of Christian deism and composed in the form of a travel narrative full of passionate discussions conducted in the company of learned ladies; contains accounts of Toland and Berkeley, Swift; the central character, an Anglo-Irishman in England, is eight-times married and exhibits numerous antiquarian interests; said to have known Irish, as appears incidentally; a manuscript work on The Antient and Present State of Great Britain was accidently burned; sometimes called eccentric writer of Irish descent; d. 25 Nov.;
William Hazlitt rediscovered John Buncle in 1817, styling the author-narrator “John Amory” on account of the seemingly artless confusion of the two in its preface; John Buncle was edited by Moyra Hasslett in 2011. DIB DIW ANJ CAH ODNB OCEL FDA OCIL

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  • [J. H. Burn, ed.], The Life of John Buncle, Esq., Containing Various Observations and Reflections, Made in Several Parts of the World, and many extraordinary relations, 2 vols. (London: J. Noon 1756, 1766), 8o.; Do., 4 vols. (London: T. Becket & P. A. Dehondt; T. Cadell 1770), 12o.; Do., 3 vols. (London: Septimus Prowett 1825), 8o., xv, 458pp.; Do. (London: Routledge & Son 1904), 8o.
Separate editions,
  • Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain. Interspersed with Literary Reflections, and Accounts of Antiquities and Curious Things. In Several Letters with a postscript, and a postilla (London: J. Noon 1755), xxxi, 527pp. 8o.;
  • Memoirs: Containing the Lives of Several Ladies of Great Britain. A History of Antiquities ... Observations on the Christian Religion... Remarks on the Writings of the Greatest English Divines ... &c., 2 vols. (London: Johnson and Payne 1766);
  • Memoirs: Containing the Lives of Several Ladies of Great Britain. A History of Antiquities, Productions of Nature, and Monuments of Art. Observations on the Christian Religion, as Professed by the Established Church, and Dissenters of Every Denomination. Remarks on the Writings of the Greatest English Divines ... &c., 2 vols. (London: Johnson and Payne 1769);
  • An Antiquarian Doctor’s Sermon on an Antiquated Subject; lately Found among the Sweepings of His Study [ ... &c.] (London: J. Johnson 1768).
Reprint editions
  • [William Hazlitt, ed.,] The Spirit of Buncle; or, the Surprising Adventures of that Original and Extraordinary Character John Buncle, Esq. [abridgement] (London: Charles Stocking 1823), 342pp., 12°.;
  • Moyra Haslett, ed., Thomas Amory, The Life of John Buncle Esq; containing various observations and reflections, made in several parts of the world; and many extraordinary relations. (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2011), pp.356 [reviewed by Andrew Carpenter in Irish University Review (May 2012) - as infra.
  • The Life of John Buncle as Leben, Bemerkungen und Meinungen Johan Bunkels, nebst den Leben verschiedener merkwürdiger Frauenzimmer; mit hinzugefügten Bemerkungen und Meinungen. Und XVI. Kupferstichen von D. Chodowiecki 4 vols. (Berlin: Friedrich Nicolai 1778), 8°.;
  • Andreas Stein, trans., Geschichte einiger Esel, oder Fortsetzung des Lebens und der Meynungen des Weltberühmten John Bunkels, 3 Bd. 4 pt. (Hamburg & Leipzig 1782), 83pp., 8o.

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Ian Campbell Ross, ‘Thomas Amory, John Buncle and the Origins of Irish Fiction’, Éire-Ireland, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Fall 1983), pp.71-85; James M. Cahalan, Irish Novel (Boston: Twayne 1988), p.12 [infra]; Ian Campbell Ross, ‘Fiction to 1800’, in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen ed. Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, pp.683-84 [infra].

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature [18 vols.] (1907–21): XIII. The Growth of the Later Novel - Vol. XI: The Period of the French Revolution
[Chap:] Sir Thomas Amory, John Buncle, Esq.

The contents of the present chapter may seem at first sight, and that not merely to ill-informed persons, like those of a badly assorted omnibus-box. Indeed, unless the reader has at once fallen into the right point of view, the more he knows the more likely he is to see wrong. Amory, he may say, was born well within the seventeenth century. Peacock died when only the last third of the nineteenth had yet to run. Here are two centuries, or nearly so, to be covered in one chapter. Moreover, the characteristics of the various novelists to be noticed do not admit, at least in some cases, of any obvious classification of a serious and scientific kind. What has John Buncle to do with Belinda, or St. Leon with Gryll Grange?

It is not necessary to be very careful in order to answer these questions. In the first place, the remarkable longevity and the peculiar circumstances of the oldest and the youngest members of the group render mere chronology singularly deceptive. It appears to be true that the author of John Buncle was born (though the exact year is not certain) not more than two or three years after the revolution of 1688: and it is certain that Peacock died in 1866. But Amory did not publish (though he may have written them earlier) his Memoirs of Several Ladies till he was nearly sixty-five, or John Buncle till he was nearly seventy, while Gryll Grange, though it appeared only six years before its author’s death and has a wonderful absence of glaring Rip-van-Winkleism, is, in general conception, identical with its author’s work of forty years earlier. And so we at once reduce the almost two hundred years of the first calculation to a modest sixty or seventy at most.

But there is a good deal more than this. Not only do the authors here dealt with represent the work of a manageable and definite, if immature, stage in the history of the English novel, but they also, by the very absence of their contemporaries Scott and Jane Austen, represent a transition, of the highest historical interest, between the great “quadrilateral” of the mid-eighteenth century novel and the immense development of the kind which Scott and Jane Austen themselves were to usher in for the nineteenth century. Some of them, but by no means all, are, in a way, failures. All, or almost all, represent experiment, sometimes in partly mistaken kinds, like the terror novel of Mrs. Radcliffe and Lewis, sometimes in “sports” of individual and somewhat eccentric talent or genius, like the humour romances of Peacock. But, except in the latter case, and even there, perhaps, to some small extent, they all give evidence that the novel has not yet found its main way or ways—that it is, if not exactly in the wilderness, scarcely at home in the promised land. Hardly a single one of our company, with the possible exception of Maria Edgeworth, can be said to be purely normal: and even her normality was sorely interfered with by her father’s eccentricities, by circumstances of this and that kind and, not least, perhaps, by an absence both of critical supervision and of creative audacity in herself.

Although John Buncle, by name at least, has a certain notoriety; although it was made the subject, by a great critic, of a criticism quite as debatable as, and only less debated than, Lamb’s on Thomas Heywood; although it has been several times reprinted and has, at any rate, pleased some good wits mightily, it appears to be still very little known. And, as to its more than eccentric author scarcely any facts seem to be accessible except that he knew, or said he knew, Swift, that he was an Irishman and that, in his later years, at any rate, he lived in London. It is customary to call Amory mad; but, after repeated reading of his chief book and a fair study of his other work, the present writer has not been able to discover signs of anything more than the extremest eccentricity. He was, indeed, compact of ‘crazes,’ in the milder and more usual meaning of that word; and he indulged them without stint and without mercy. A passionate unitarian, or, as he preferred to call it, a “Christian-Deist”; an eager student of several humane subjects, especially Roman antiquities, and of some sciences, especially those connected with medicine; by no means a bad critic of literature, who almost literally anticipates Macaulay, in his estimate of Rymer; devoted to ‘the ladies,’ always in a strictly, though rather oddly, virtuous way; almost equally devoted to good food and good drink; a most imaginative describer of, and wanderer in, picturesque scenery—he composes his books by means of a succession of ‘screeds,’ devoted helter-skelter to all these subjects, and to a great many more.

—Available at Bartleby - online; accessed 13.12.2018.

James M. Cahalan, Irish Novel (Boston: Twayne UP 1988), remarks that ‘The Life of John Buncle (1756 and 1766) ... tells the tale of an Irish Unitarian who leaves Ireland, goes to England, is repeatedly married and widowed, meets many diverse Irish friends, and ends up immersed in Utopian fantasies ..’. (p.12; ftn. incl. bibl. ref. to Ian Campbell Ross.)

Ian Watt (The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957) writes:

‘[...] The details of the controversy about polygamy do not concern us here, since it cannot be said that plurality of wives is common in the English novel, except possibly in the decorous variant practised in Thomas Amory John Buncle (1756), where the old love is hurriedly dispatched to the grave before the new is donned.’ [q.p.]

Ian Campbell Ross, ‘Fiction to 1800’ [editorial essay], in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, pp.683-84: remarks that John Buncle is an early example of an Irish novel, founded on the told tale [cf. Castle Rackrent] which arguably ‘lies at the centre of Irish fiction’.[p.683] Further: ‘A enthusiastic, even incorrigible, storyteller, John Buncle is a Unitarian who defies worldly success for his beliefs and takes in rapid succession eight remarkably beautiful and devout wives, who principally delights in abstruse learning, religious controversy and the sublime landscape of the English Lake and Peak district [...] the novel’s most persistent and fascinating concern is with Ireland and her inhabitants. Though the author’s knowledge of Irish language and Irish history is not above reproach there is a greater evidence of interest in these than is found in fiction before 1800 ... thirty years before the scholarly revival ... John Buncle offers a view of both Anglo-Irish and Gaelic Ireland which anticipates Edgeworth and Morgan while remaining happily free from moral earnestness [... /] its most characteristic narrative technique is the use of the anecdote, a self-contained and frequently fantastic tale, avowedly based on the narrator’s personal experience. ... The form of the tale on which Armory repeatedly draws is the seanchas. [ ...&c.]’ [pp.683-83].

Andrew Carpenter, review of Moyra Haslett, ed., The Life of John Buncle Esq. [...] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2011):

This exemplary edition of The Life of John Buncle Esq. is a milestone in Irish textual editing. The standards of learning and scholarship hitherto reserved for the “greats’ of eighteenth-century Irish writing—Swift, Goldsmith, Berkeley, and Burke—are here applied with impeccable judgement and considerable flair to an unjustly neglected Irish prose text of the 1750s. The result is a delight to read and—as such a book should be—a constant source of instruction as well as of entertainment. The volume is the fifth in a series, “Early Irish Fiction‘, that provides critical editions of the best Irish fiction from the period 1680–1820 and, in so doing, aims to shed new light on the literature and culture of these islands during the long eighteenth century. Like its companion volumes, this book contains an extensive critical introduction, a select bibliography, and comprehensive notes. The result—as welcome to scholars as to the general reader—is a handsome, well-printed and well-produced book—one of which Irish scholarship and Irish publishing can be justly proud.

Since its first appearance in 1756, Thomas Amory's extraordinary, eccentric text has always had some admirers; it was popular when it appeared—just before Sterne's Tristram Shandy—and was enjoyed by the Romantics, including William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Charles Lamb, as well as by later Victorians such as Edmund Gosse. However Buncle's most influential admirer was probably George Saintsbury who asserted in 1916 in The Peace of the Augustans that nobody could understand the eighteenth century “as it was and as it might have been” until he had read John Buncle through. Later admirers of this whimsical fiction include those who have come across the extensive extract chosen by Ian Campbell Ross for the 1991 Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing.

The novel is a strange one—though very much of the 1750s, which was a decade of extensive experimentation in the novel form. Purporting to be an autobiography, it follows the young John Buncle as a student at Trinity College Dublin, through his first love affair and his conversion to Unitarianism—the heretical belief that Jesus was not fully divine but was subordinate to God. After quarrelling with his father over his conversion, Buncle is exiled to the west of Ireland from which he travels to the north of England in search of a college friend he knows will offer him a home. The main body of the book concerns Buncle's extraordinary journeys through the Pennines where he encounters (inter alia) a community of one hundred holy women, the grisly skeleton of a hermit, a group of twenty philosophers surrounded by rare books and microscopes and, of course, beautiful women—one of whom, Miss Melmoth, agrees to become his wife. The book weaves fact, fantasy, and fiction into a seamlessly self-deprecating and whimsical narrative though the conversations Buncle has with those he meets—often young women of surpassing beauty and intelligence—are serious affairs, usually touching on matters of faith, science, religious practice, or biblical exegesis. Large portions of the novel are taken up with these dialogues about matters theological and doctrinal which would become tedious for the modern reader if the story did not keep taking off in unexpected ways, and if Moyra Haslett were not at hand to offer expert guidance. Yet the book is also highly entertaining—comic in places, absurdly and self-consciously serious in others—as Buncle climbs, crawls, and pole-vaults through landscapes of sublime beauty on his way to yet another serious conversation with yet another beautiful woman.

Thomas Amory—about whom, incidentally, we know very little except a few details provided by his son many years after his death—was an eccentric individual, labelled as “mad” by some. Despite the apparently autobiographical nature of The Life of John Buncle Esq., it is, as Haslett observes, very unwise to consider this as in any substantive way an account of Amory's own life since verifiable fact and outrageous fiction jostle with each other throughout the text. Still, one can discern a lot about Amory's own character from the way his “Buncle” writes about himself. Buncle is defensive about his Irish background (a background that Amory certainly shared) which he blames for many of his eccentricities; elsewhere, when he describes himself as a mixture of “piety and extravagance‘, he could well be describing his creator, and Haslett's description of Buncle as “by turns intellectual and sensuous, pious and worldly, earnest and facetious” surely fits them both.

Equally, Buncle's infectious enthusiasm for books and the oddities they contain is a reflection of Amory's own passion for the printed word. It must have been this that led him to incorporate into his text not only many echoes from other books but sometimes long, direct quotations; the sources of these borrowings are sometimes obliquely suggested in the text but are often entirely unacknowledged. Amory's first readers would probably have recognised some of the quotations and references; but Haslett has done a remarkable job of uncovering all these sources and, in so doing, has identified an astounding total of 141 separate books from which Amory has drawn text of various kinds throughout Buncle. In an age when textual borrowing was commonplace—particularly in theological works—this might not have been considered as reprehensible by Amory or his readers as it would be today, but Haslett's discovery suggests that we need to revise our understanding of how the first readers of Buncle responded to it. It is fascinating to see the resources of the digital age harnessed in this way.

The internet must have been useful to Haslett for her wide-ranging notes too; throughout her annotations, her learning is worn lightly, her sense of humour often seen in the quotations she chooses to give us, and the level of her accuracy formidable. She has followed every lead to its source; given the range of Amory's reading and his unacknowledged quotation, one can only marvel at the bibliographical detective work in multiple disciplines from many ages and cultures that went into the making of this edition.

The introduction deserves mention too—it is a model of its kind. Haslett does not shirk from discussion of the less attractive sides of Buncle but she manages to maintain our interest as she explains the significance of topics at the centre of Buncle's own vision of the world—religious toleration and biblical exegesis for instance. Her enthusiasm for the eccentric Buncle—a man delighting in fine food, ale, female company, and music-making one moment, descending caves or scaling dangerous mountains the next, and able for a serious discussion at any time—is infectious. And her willingness to guide the reader through all the theological and doctrinal material so cheerfully and authoritatively is also worth noting. As an appendix, she has included a “Glossary of Theological Terms’; for as Buncle himself says, “Protestants are so divided among themselves ... that it requires more understanding and strict serious enquiry than the generality of people have or can spare to be able to determine in what party true religion is to be found. ... When the controversy is so dark and various, and the authorized professors can never agree among themselves, what can a man of plain understanding say to it?” I know at least one “man of plain understanding” who has found Moyra Haslett's glossary very helpful.

At the end of the 1756 volume—and at the end of this edition—there is an advertisement for “the second volume of Mr Buncle's life‘. This second volume did not appear until 1766, though when it did it was a genuine addition to the text and was also by Thomas Amory. In some ways, it is a pity that Haslett's edition contains only the 1756 volume, though she explains clearly that her aim is to ‘return the novel to 1756‘. Still, the 1766 volume is as peculiar and as entertaining as the 1756 one—with the added whimsicality of Buncle's ability to contract many marriages (seven, I think) as the tale proceeds. No female in the second part of the novel is safe from the approaches of the rejuvenated Buncle who, when the going gets tough, resorts to learned defences of procreation and declares virginity to be a crime worse than murder. I, for one, hope that Dr Haslett might, in due course, be persuaded to undertake an edition of the 1766 second part of The Life of John Buncle Esq.: meanwhile, I welcome the appearance of this truly excellent edition of the 1756 Buncle with the greatest enthusiasm.

—Available at Edinburgh University Press > Irish University Review - online; accessed 13.12.2018.

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The Life of John Buncle, Esq. (1756-66), Preface: ‘As to some strange things you will find in the following journal; and a life, in various particulars, quite contrary to the common course of action, I can assure you, gentlemen, in respect of the strange things, that however wonderful they may appear to you, yet they are, exclusive of a few decorations and figure (necessary in all works), strictly true; and as to the difference of my life, from that of the generality of men, let it only be considered, that I was born in London, and carried an infant to Ireland, where I learned the Irish language, and became intimately acquainted with its original inhabitants: - that I was not only a lover of books from the time I could spell to this hour; but read with an extraordinary pleasure, before I was twenty, the works of several of the fathers, and all the old romances; which tinged my ideas with a certain piety and extravagance, that rendered my virtues as well as my imperfections particularly mine: - that by hard measure, I was compelled to be an adventurer, when very young, and had not a friend in the universe but what I could make by good fortune, and my own address: - that my wandering life, wrong conduct, and the iniquity of my kind, with a passion for extraordinary things and places, brought me into several great distresses; and that I had quicker and more wonderful deliverances from them than people in tribulation generally receive; -- that the dull, the formal, and the visionary, the hard-honest man, and the poor-liver, are a people I have had no connexion with; but have always kept company with the polite, the generous, the lively, the rational, and the brightest freethinkers of this age; - that beside all this, I was in the days of my youth, one of the most active men in the world, at every exercise; and to a dgree of rashness, often venturous, when there was no necessity for running hazards: in diebus illis, I have descended head-foremost from a high cliff into the ocean, to swim, when I could, and ought, to have gone off a rock not a yard from the surface of the deep. - I have swam hear a mile and ahalf out in the sea, to a ship that lay off, when on board, got clothes from the mate of the vessel, and proceeded with them to the next port; while my companion I left on the beach concluded me drowned, and related my sad fate to the town. - I have taken a cool thrusts over a bottle, without the least animosity on either side; but both of us depending on our skill in the small sword, for preservation from mischief. - Such things as these I now call wrong, and mention them only as samples of a rashness I was once subject to, as an opportunity happened to come in the way. Let all these things be taken into the account, and I imagine, gentlemen, that what may at first seem strange, and next to incredible, will, on considering these particulars, not long remain so, in your opinion; though you may even thing the relator an odd man. [...] I have only to add, that I wish you all happiness, that your heads may lack no ointment, and your garments be always white and odoriferous: but especially, you may press on, like true critics, towards perfection; and may bliss, glory, and honour, be your reward and your Portion.’ [signed] Barbican. Aug. 1, 1756. (Extract in The Field Day Anthology, Vol. 1, p.696.)

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991), Vol. 1, pp.694-704: selects extracts from The Life of John Buncle (1755-66), ‘A Preface by Way of Dedication’, signed “Barbican”, Aug. 1. 1756 [sic], and sections including allusions to Dean Whaley [of Derry], Miss Melmoth, Gavan and Henley, Terelah O Crohanes, an old Irish gentleman, Cormac Mac Cuillenan [the quasi-mythical Irish king]; Downe Falvey, famous harpist; gentlemen encountered at Ringsend, inc. Mssrs Gollogher, Gallaspy, a libertine; Monaghan, O’Keefe called ‘as distinguished a character a I have ever known’ and cousin to the playwright; Mr Charles Hunt and his daughter ‘that Venus of her sex’; Miss Spence, and one ‘Bob R.’ or ‘R. R.’ (See also Ian Campbell Ross, under Commentary, supra.) Note that the preceeding and following extracts in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writingare from Chaigneau and Sterne resp.

British Library: The BL holds The Case of John Cary, Esq; on his petition of complaint and appeal against the proceedings of ... Allen Viscount Broderick, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in a cause ... between Thomas Amory and others Plaintiffs, and the administrators of Roger Moore and the said J. Cary and others Defendants, and also against the proceedings of G. Warberton Esq. One of the Masters of the said Court; humbly offered to the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament (London: S. Collins 1719), 16pp., 8o. There very many sermons and other religious titles in British Library and other collections written by a namesake, one Thomas Amory (1701-1774).

A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), gives extract from The Life and Opinions of John Buncle, Esq., dealing with the narrator’s wanderings in Ireland and his coming across the house of his schoolfellow Charles Turner, and his visit to the home of Dr. Fitzgibbon, and his daughter Julia, with much about the ‘charmers’ he encounters on the way, and his eventual betrothal to Miss Fitzgibbon. [151].

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John Buncle () - summary: Thomas Amory’s The Life of John Buncle, Esq (1756) is an appealingly eccentric fiction, in which Buncle, a student in Trinity College Dublin, embarks on a series of striking adventures and remarkable encounters in Ireland and the north of England. Science and Christian apologetics, accounts of utopian communities and of eminent men of learning, staunch defences of female intelligence and chivalrous courtships, didactic tales and awe-struck descriptions of sublime landscapes: all jostle for attention throughout the novel. And while the novel presents us with much that is earnest and serious, it is also full of comic elements, such as Buncle’s pole-vaulting down mountains or his vain attempts to make love to a beautiful young woman while she is intent on discussing the finer points of theology. Published three years before the appearance of Laurence Sterne’s more famous Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-67), Amory’s novel presents us with a work of comparable complexity, both colloquial and bookish, learned and facetious. It is, as Leigh Hunt described it, ‘a book unlike any other in the language, perhaps in the world’. Moyra Haslett is a senior lecturer, school of English, Queen's University Belfast. (Four Courts Press - book notice - online; accessed 13.12.2018).

Irish characters in The Life of John Buncle, Esq. (1756-66) incl. Dr. Whaley, Bishop of Derry; Miss Melmoth; Pierce Gavan; Charles Henley; the Knignt of Glin; also Mssrs. Gollagher, Gallaspy, Dunley, Makins, Monaaghan, O’Keefe [a relative of ‘the great’ John O’Keefe [playwright] who is bur. in Westminster]. Buncle/Amory also relates the ruin of Miss Eliza Hunt, a beauty from Rafarlin [Rathfarlin] in Kildare, who is debauched by a gentleman and dies tragically after great hardship including the loss of her child and the removal of a breast from cancer, being finally rescued at the end her life and placed in lodgings by the narrator.

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