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Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton

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Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton (1790-1851)

1842 Spencer Joshua Aloyne Compton, Marquess and Earl of Northampton, and President of the Royal Society, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1852 Obituary [2]

Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, Marquis and Earl of Northampton, Earl Compton, of Compton in Warwickshire, and Baron Wilmington, of Wilmington, county of Sussex, was born on the 2nd of January 1790.

At an early age he entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, and exhibited an attention to his collegiate duties, and studious habits, so unusual at that period among gentlemen commoners, that he gained the respect of the heads of houses, and acquired the esteem and regard of many eminent contemporaries, with whom he continued through life to cultivate the most friendly relations; among these may be mentioned Dr. Peacock, the present excellent Dean of Ely, Professor Sedgwick, the Archbishop of York, Sir John Herschel, Professor Ericsson, Dr. Whewell, Master of Trinity; Professor Airy, the Astronomer Royal; Bishop Thirlwall, and Professor Willis; all of whom were eventually to be seen around him, at those scientific meetings, over which he presided with such amenity, and at his soirées, which had such a beneficial effect, in promoting more intimate connexion between the members of the aristocracy, and those classes whom they had not, hitherto, had any opportunity of knowing, or appreciating.

Soon after leaving the University, Lord Compton was elected to represent in Parliament, the borough of Northampton, and although the Hon. Spencer Perceval, the Premier, was his near relative, and all his connexions were Tories, he dared to think for himself, and unswayed by influence, maintained an independence of expression and liberal sentiments, which won for him the esteem of all parties.

He became the earnest coadjutor of Wilberforce, in his strenuous efforts for abolishing the slave trade; and the same amiable feelings induced him to co-operate with Sir James Mackintosh, as a criminal law reformer, to take an active part in the discussion of the Alien Act, and the Seditious Meetings Act, and more recently to interfere actively, and successfully, on behalf of the Italian patriots, Santa Rosa, Gonfalonieri, Silvio Pellico and others, whose sufferings he deeply felt.

In 1815 he married Miss M'Clean Clephane, a lady of rare talents, and highly cultivated taste and accomplishments, with which she combined those domestic virtues which eminently fitted her to be partner of so kind, courteous, and good a man as Lord Compton.

For many years, Italy was the favourite residence of this excellent English family, and their countrymen, towards whom the most unbounded hospitality was practised, felt national pride in such worthy representatives of the British aristocracy.

In 1828 he succeeded to the title of Marquis of Northampton; and in 1830 on losing the excellent lady, who had for fifteen years been the pride and ornament of his home, he returned to England, determined to devote the remainder of his life to the education of his family, and the cultivation of science and art.

In that year he joined the Royal Society, and on the resignation of his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, in 1838, the Marquis of Northampton was, on account of his varied accomplishments and his love of science, selected as the fittest successor to the Presidential Chair. All who have had the privilege of attending the meetings of the Society, must have admired his constant attention to the duties of President, the good-humour, fairness and suavity with which he conducted the business, and the influence he exercised over the host of distinguished men who surrounded him; whilst at the soirées he gave, in his capacity of President, the best representatives of the rank, wealth, science, and art, in the country, were brought into intimate contact, and the influence of these reunions was of the happiest nature.

He was a sound practical geologist, and communicated several papers to the Geological Society; he was an excellent draughtsman, and having studied carefully the best examples of ancient art, he laboured assiduously to forward the architectural views, of Whewell, Willis and Peacock, and was induced to take an active part in archaeological pursuits; eventually he became the President of the Archaeological Institute, in whose favour he used his influence, to obtain permission for the meetings of the infant Society being held at the house of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

He laboured most assiduously on behalf of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and on every emergency his active co-operation could be confidently relied on. His association with all the most eminent philosophers, his knowledge of their fellow labourers on the Continent, his familiarity with foreign languages, and his cheerful and unbounded hospitality, rendered his period of Presidency eminently beneficial to the Royal Society, and his retirement from the Chair, in 1849, might have had prejudicial effects, but for the excellent selection of that distinguished astronomer and enlightened nobleman, the Earl of Rosse, to fill the vacant post.

The Marquis’s acquaintance with literature was varied and extensive; he was a graceful and pleasing poet, his prose writings were manly and dignified, and his general literary merits were recognized, by his election, as President of the Royal Society of Literature.

He was elected an Honorary Member of this Institution in 1842; he was a frequent attendant at the Meetings, and on every occasion sought to meet the Civil Engineers, and to afford them every attention and facility for joining his own distinguished Society.

His health, at all times delicate, had been for some time more than ordinarily precarious, when he undertook a tour in the East, with his son-in-law, Viscount Alford, who was recommended to spend the winter in a milder climate. The change did not, however, act propitiously on either; Lord Alford died soon after his return to England, and the Marquis of Northampton, only survived him a few days: he expired on the 17th January 1851 in his 61st year, surrounded by the beloved family, to whose welfare he had unremittingly devoted himself;- lamented by all, to whom his unvarying kindness had endeared him, and admired as a brilliant example of a true British nobleman.



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