Some Account of John Stanley Esq.[1]

To the honour of the present times, England is no longer to be pointed as barren of masters in the polite arts. Music, which formerly derived little advantage from natives of this island, now can boast of several Professors, who rival the Italian and German masters both in performance and in composition. The English school, we trust, will continue to do honour to the science of music: and it will afford us great pleasure to record occasionally the lives of such of the professors of the art, as, from their abilities and virtues, deserve to be transmitted to posterity.

Of these, the gentleman we have selected for this month is not the least distinguished. Mr. Stanley was born on the 17th of January O.S. 1713. At about the age of two years, he had the misfortune to fall on a marble hearth, with a china basin in his hand, by which accident he was deprived of his sight. At the age of seven years he began to learn music, and soon arrived at considerable excellence in playing on the harpsichord - his master was Mr. Reading, organist of St. John's, Hackney, and a pupil of the celebrated Dr. Blow. When he first began to learn, it was without any prospect of deriving more advantage from the science than merely amusement; but being observed to take great delight in the art and making a considerable progress in it, his father was advised to apply to Dr. Green, the organist of St. Paul's, for further instruction, under whom he studied with great diligence and success.

Determining to make music his profession, he obtained, at the early age of eleven years, the place of organist of All-hallows, Bread-street, in November 1723, and that of St. Andrew, Holborn, August 16, 1726. He was elected in May 1734 by the Benchers of the honourable Society of the Inner Temple, their organist. Both these latter posts he has ever since continued to hold.

On the death of Mr. Handel, in the year 1760, he, in conjunction with Mr. Smith, (to whom, with himself, Mr. Handel had bequeathed his music) undertook to superintend the performance of Oratorios first at Covent Garden , and since at Drury Lane. This he continued until within two years just passed. On the death of Dr. Boyce, in February 1779, he was appointed Master of his Majesty's Band of Musicians; and in May, 1781, succeeded Mr. Weideman as Conductor of it.

In July 1738, Mr. Stanley was married to Miss Sarah Arlond, daughter of the late Edward Arlond, Esq. Captain in the honourable East Indian Company's Service, but has no children.

Mr. Stanley was admitted Bachelor of Music, at the University of Oxford, on the 19th of July 1729.

It is the maxim of philosophy that the loss on one sense strengthens the others. The position was never more clearly demonstrated than in the person of Mr. Stanley, whose retentive memory is almost beyond the bounds of probability. He is never at a loss for anything that he has learnt in his profession, even in his juvenile years. The manner and propriety with which he has conducted the Oratorios for many years past has not only excited the admiration, but also the astonishment of all the admirers of that elevated species of musick; and it is worth recording, that at the performance of one of Handel's Te Deums, for the benefit of a public charity, the organ was half a note too sharp for the other instruments that were to assist at the performance, on which occasion he transposed the whole of it with as much ease and address, as any other person could have done by the help of sight.

Any person's voice being once heard by him, he never forgets; and if twenty people were seated at a table with him, he will address them all in regular order, without their situations being previously announced to him. In the younger part of his life, riding on horseback was amongst his favourite exercises; and but of late years it was no uncommon thing, when he lived in Salter's Buildings on Epping Forest, and wished to give his friends an airing , to carry them the most pleasant road, and point out to them the most pleasing prospects. His hours of relaxation in the evenings are often passed at whist, where it is at once as curious as entertaining to see with how much readiness and judgement he plays the game; each card is marked at the corner with the point of a needle; but these signs are so delicately made, as hardly to be felt or seen by any person that is not apprised of it. With these slight marks Mr. Stanley is generally the first whose hand is arranged: and it is no uncommon thing for him to upbraid the party with being tedious in sorting their cards.

He distinguishes with great accuracy the size of a room merely by the sound, and supplies the deficient sense so amply by the acuteness of the others, that he seems to feel but few of those wants which might naturally be expected from one who is deprived of the advantage arising from sight.

As though singularity was fated to attend Mr. Stanley, it is remarkable that a few years ago, without any previous illness, and without any subsequent inconvenience, he lost all his hair from his body. This remarkable incident, we believe, was described in the Philosophical Transactions about the year that it happened.

The composer, Mr. Stanley, is always sweet and pleasant. If he does not posses the fire of Handel, he never disgusts with insipidity. He has carefully cultivated the style in which he was originally instructed, which, if it does not exhibit as much of what is called Taste as may be found among other authors, at least discovers more good sense.

It is almost unnecessary to enter into his merits as a performer, those being as universally known as acknowledged; and as we do not mean to write a panegyric of this gentleman's talents, justice will authorise us in pronouncing him at once a prodigy and an ornament to his country."

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[1] An article published in The European Magazine & London Review in 1784 when Stanley was still alive - aged 71.  Return to Text