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Horner, Francis

HORNER, FRANCIS (1778-1817), British economist, was born at Edinburgh on the 12th of August 1778. After passing through the usual courses at the high school and university of his native city, he devoted five years, the first two in England, to comprehensive but desultory study, and in 1800 was called to the Scottish bar. Desirous, however, of a wider Sphere, Horner removed to London in 1802, and occupied the interval that elapsed before his admission to the English bar in 1807 with researches in law, philosophy and political economy. In February 1806 he became one of the commissioners for adjusting the claims against the nawab of Arcot, and in November entered parliament as member for St Ives. Next year he sat for Wendover, and in 1812 for St Mawes, in the patronage of the marquis of Buckingham. In 1811, when Lord Grenville was organizing a prospective ministry, Horner had the offer, which he refused, of a treasury secretaryship. He had resolved not to accept office till he could afford to live out of office; and his professional income, on which he depended, was at no time proportionate to his abilities. His labours at last began to tell upon a constitution never robust, and in October 1816 his physicians ordered him to Italy, where, however, he sank under his malady. He died at Pisa, on the 8th of February 1817. He was buried at Leghorn, and a marble statue by Chantrcy was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey.

Without the advantages of rank, or wealth, or even of genius, Francis Horner rose to a high position of public influence and private esteem. His special field was political economy. Master of that subject, and exercising a sort of moral as well as intellectual influence over the House of Commons he, by his nervous and earnest rather than eloquent style of speaking, could fix its attention for hours on such dry topics as finance, and coinage, and currency. As chairman of the parliamentary committee for investigating the depreciation of bank-notes, for which he moved in 1810, he extended and confirmed his fame as a political economist by his share in the famous Bullion Report. It was chiefly through his efforts that the paper-issue of the English banks was checked, and gold and silver reinstated in their true position as circulating media; and his views on free trade and commerce have been generally accepted at their really high value. Horner was one of the promoters of the Edinburgh Review in 1802. His articles in the early numbers of that publication, chiefly on political economy, form his only literary legacy.

See Memoirs and Correspondence of Francis Horner, M.P., published by his brother (see below) in 1843. Also the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews for the same year; and Blackwood's Magazine, vol. i.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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