The Mysterious Condition of Rev. Henry Etough

Rhiannon Bush

Sketch of Rev. Henry Etough by William Mason, Epigram by Thomas Gray
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies. DE/CU/13/240
Etching of Rev. Henry Etough by Michael Tyson, Accompanying text by Thomas Gray
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies. DZ/119/590B

Rev. Henry Etough (1688 – 1757)

Rev. Henry Etough was Rector at Therfield from 1734 and he was buried there after his death in 1757. He received his M.A. by mandamus in 1717 at Pembroke Hall in Cambridge. Etough became rector at Colmworth in 1736, after the death of Robert Watkins. He wrote ‘Memoirs of His Own Time’, which writers to the Gentleman’s Magazine did not think of as a legitimate piece of work.

Letters written in The Gentleman’s Magazine about Rev. Etough depicted an individual with an extremely hot head and feet, who smelled badly as a result. Furthermore, the majority of letters described his unpleasant personality with only two individuals, a ‘D.M.’ and Rev. John Duncombe, writing in support of Etough. The image sketched by William Mason and subsequently etched by Michael Tyson depicted a potential physical disability. These images were accompanied by very harshly written epigrams by Thomas Gray. It is difficult to determine whether he did suffer with a disability or whether he was simply depicted unfavourably.

Letters in The Gentleman’s Magazine detail the condition suffered by Rev. Etough. D.H. wrote:

a peculiarity of Mr. E’s person, I can tell you wads that of a remarkable heat in the crown of his head, so that he never could bear it covered with a wig or night-cap

D.M. added that Rev. Etough also suffered with ‘a like temperature in his feet’. He wrote that ‘the world may therefore avail itself of a very reasonable conclusion and valuable piece of knowledge, that he was of a sanguine and warm habit from head to foot’. Writers also insulted his appearance. D.H. wrote in The Gentleman’s Magazine that ‘his figure, when he received his visitors on the draw-bridge, must have been grotesque and striking’. Rev. John Duncombe wrote ‘odd was his figure, and mean and nasty was his apparel; his stockings were blue, darned, and coarse, and without feet; and so hot and reeking was his head, that when he entered a room he often hung up his wig on a peg and sat bareheaded’. There were also comments on his smell. J Brown wrote in John Nichols’ Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century that a friend heard Rev. Dr Ellis describing Etough as a ‘nasty, stinking fellow, whose head was so hot, that it used to reek like any pottage-pot’. Again, this biased overview of Etough does not allow for a conclusion to be made about a possible medical condition.

Rev. Etough used diet and hygiene to counteract his bodily heat and smell. A strict diet of milk and vegetables was mentioned by both D.M. in his 1786 letter in The Gentleman’s Magazine and also in Etough’s memorial tablet: ‘he lived for many years without the use of animal food or any fermented liquid’. Rev. William Cole argued that ‘if he had not lived on vegetables he would have been in Bedlam, as he deserved’. This suggests that Etough would have gone mad from his condition without his efforts to counteract it, which implies a very real issue.

There were mixed opinions about Rev. Henry Etough, however the general consensus was negative. In his letter to The Gentleman’s Magazine, D.H. and Rev. John Duncombe write that Etough was a favourite of Sir Robert Walpole with D.H. claiming that he was ‘probably a spy for the support of Whiggism’. Rev. Duncombe, writing in January 1786, described Henry Etough as ‘an ecclesiastical phaenomenon, and a most eccentric, dangerous character’. Rev. Duncombe wrote that Etough ‘began his career by setting out from Glasgow with a pack on his back, being a Scotch Presbyterian, afterwards hallood in election mobs at Lynn, and in consequence, being worshipped, like the Devil by the Indians through fear, he was converted, ordained, and preferred, by the means of Sir Robert Walpole; the valuable rectory of Therfield, in Hertfordshire, and another being his reward’. His Memoirs of His Own/History of His Own Times was criticised by many with Rev. Duncombe stating that ‘his sarcasm were too free and too libellous to ever be printed’. Meanwhile, J Brown’s profane depiction of Etough’s bodily heat and smell in Nichols’ Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century contributed to this negativity.

Etough’s memorial tablet was written positively by Archdeacon Plumptre, –A firm integrity placed him above fear, and a strict love of truth above all dissimulation…. He was the warmest friend in private life, but his ruling passion was a disinterested love of the public. With a robust constitution through a singular habit of body he lived many years without the use of animal food or any fermented liquid; and died suddenly August 10, 1757, in the 70th year of his age.

However, Mason and Tyson’s satirical sketch and etching of Etough’s figure and Gray’s epigram accompanying them were both very negative. Gray’s epigram wrote:

Thus Tophet look’d, so grinn’d the brawling fiend, Whilst frighted prelates bow’d, and call’d him friend. Our Mother Church, with half-averted sight, Blush’d as she bless’d her griesly proselyte ; Hosannas rung thro’ Hell’s tremendous borders, And Satan’s self had thoughts of taking Orders.

Rev. William Cole argued that this epigram was a much fairer depiction of Etough than what was written on his memorial tablet in Therfield. Cole’s aquaintance, Rev. Sherlock described Etough as ‘a pimping, tale-bearing, dissenting teacher, who by his adulation and flattery, and an everlasting fund of news and scandal, made himself agreeable to many of prime fortune, particularly Sir Robert Walpole, and who hoisted him up to this rectory and that of Clothall’. Foster, writer of Therfield In the Past, believed that this description was more likely to be an accurate depiction of Etough than the one on his memorial.

D.M., was one of the only individuals to voice his support for Etough. In his letter in The Gentleman’s Magazine, he argued that the other writers did not need to share the information about his bodily condition and behaviour. He maintained that this information should have been buried with Etough. D.M. argued in his letter to The Gentleman’s Magazine that Duncombe was unfairly describing Etough as a pedlar rather than a Presbyterian. Rev. John Duncombe noted in his letter in the Gentleman’s Magazine that Etough ‘was diligent in the discharge of his patriarchal duties, watchful over the conduct of his parishioners, and humane in his conduct to them’. He also mentioned that Etough funded the studies of ‘hopeful young men of moderate circumstances, in the University of Cambridge’ and gave away money to other charitable causes. Duncombe insisted that ‘these are facts which, for the honour of human nature, ought not to be concealed’.

It is not clear whether Rev. Henry Etough did suffer with a disability or whether he just happened to have a high temperature. It seems that Etough was widely disliked and as a result, his physical appearance and bodily condition were described in a very biased and negative manner. It is very likely that writers used hyperbole or fabricated their description of Etough, which makes it difficult to determine the truth. This can be seen in letters written in The Gentleman’s Magazine and the etching and accompanying epigram of Etough’s figure. Rev. Cole’s conclusion that Etough would and should have been in Bedlam without his implied that without his efforts to ward off his bodily heat, Etough would have gone insane. This suggests that he did suffer with a serious condition of some sort.


Sources used –

The William Blyth Gerish Collection, Therfield and Totteridge, Therfield, Biography of Henry Etough, Hals reference: DE/Gr/74/1/16

Andrew Witford Anderson collection, scrapbook volume 9, folio 104, Hals reference: DE/X1042/20/104

Andrew Witford Anderson collection, scrapbook volume 6, folio 28, Hals reference: DE/X1042/17/28

Nichols, J. (1814) ‘Literary anecdotes of the eighteenth century pages 225 to 461’, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, VIII. Pp. 261-262

This page was added on 28/11/2023.

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