JOHN HOWARD, whose name as a philanthropist must be familiar to a number of our readers, was born at Clapton, in the parish of Hackney, in the immediate vicinity of London, in or about the year 1727. His father was an upholsterer and carpet-warehouseman, who had acquired a considerable fortune in trade, and had retired from business to live at Hackney.
Being a dissenter, and a man of strong religious principles, he sent his son at an early age to be educated by a schoolmaster named Worsley, who kept an establishment at some distance from London, where the sons of many opulent dissenters, friends of Mr. Howard, were already boarded. The selection appears to have been injudicious; for in after-life Mr. Howard assured an intimate friend, with greater indignation than he used to express on most subjects, that, after a continuance of seven years at this school, he left it not fully taught any one thing.' From Mr. Worsley's school he was removed, probably about the age of fourteen, to one of a superior description in London, the master of which, Mr. Eames, was a man of some reputation for learning. His acquisitions at both seminaries seem to have been of the meagre kind then deemed sufficient for a person who was to be engaged in commercial pursuits; and it is the assertion of Mr. Howard's biographer, Dr. Aikin, founded on personal knowledge, that he was never able to speak or write his native language with grammatical correctness, and that his acquaintance with other languages - the French perhaps excepted - was slight and superficial.' In this, however, he did not differ perhaps from the generality of persons similarly circumstanced in their youth, and destined, like him, for business.
At the age of fifteen or sixteen Mr. Howard was bound apprentice by his father to Messrs. Newnham and Shipley, extensive wholesale grocers in Watling Street, who received a premium of L700 with him. His father dying, however, shortly afterwards, and the state of his health or his natural tastes indisposing him for the mode of life for which he had been destined, he made arrangements with his masters for the purchase of the remaining term of his apprenticeship, and quitted business. By the will of his father, who is described as a strict methodical man, of somewhat penurious disposition, he was not to come into possession of the property till he had attained his twenty-fourth year. On attaining that age, he was to be entitled to the sum of L7000 in money, together with all his father's landed and moveable property: his only sister receiving, as her share, L8000 in money, with certain additions of jewels, etc., which had belonged to her mother. Although nominally under the charge of guardians, Mr. Howard was allowed a considerable share in the management of his own property. He had his house at Clapton, which his father's parsimonious habits had suffered to fall into decay, repaired or rebuilt, Intending to make it his general place of residence. Connected with the repairing of this house an anecdote is told of Mr. Howard, which will appear characteristic. He used to go every day to superintend the progress of the workmen; and an old man who had been gardener to his father, and who continued about the house until it was let some time afterwards, used to tell, as an instance of Mr. Howard's goodness of disposition when young, that every day during the repairs he would be in the street, close by the garden wall, just as the baker's cart was passing, when he would regularly buy a loaf and throw it over the wall, saying to the gardener as he came Harry, go and look among the cabbages; you will find something for yourself and family.'
After passing his twentieth year, Mr. Howard, being of delicate health, quitted his native country, and made a tour through France and Italy, which lasted a year or two; but of the particulars of which we have no account. On his return to England, probably about the year 1750, he took lodgings in Stoke Newington, living as a gentleman of independent property and quiet, retired habits, and much respected by a small circle of acquaintances, chiefly dissenters. The state of his health, however, was such as to require constant care. His medical attendants, thinking him liable to consumption, recommended to him a very rigorous regimen in diet, which laid the foundation,' says one of his biographers, of that extraordinary abstemiousness and indifference to the gratifications of the palate which ever after so much distinguished him.' This condition of his health obliged him also to have recourse to frequent changes of air and scene. Newington, however, was his usual place of residence. Here, having experienced much kindness and attention during a very severe attack of illness from his landlady, Mrs. Sarah Loidoire, an elderly widow of small property, he resolved to marry her and although she remonstrated with him upon the impropriety of the step, considering their great disparity of ages - he being in his twenty-fifth, and she in her fifty-second year - the marriage was concluded in 1752. Nothing but the supposition that he was actuated by gratitude, can account for this singular step in Mr. Howard's life. The lady, it appears, was not only twice as old as himself, but also very sickly; and that no reasons of interest can have influenced him, is evident, as well from the fact that she was poor in comparison with himself, as from the circumstance of his immediately making over the whole of her little property to her sister. Mr. Howard seems to have lived very happily with his wife till her death shortly afterwards, in November, 1755.