Category Archives: Biography

Item of the Day: The Honourable Charles James Fox (1801)

Found In: Public Characters of 1798-9. The Third Edition. Enlarged and Corrected to the 20th of April, 1801. To Be Continued Annually. London: Printed for R. Phillips, No. 71, St. Paul’s Church Yard; and sold by T. Hurst, J. Wallie and West and Hughes, Paternoster-Row; Carpenter and Co. Old Bond-Street; R. H. Westley, Strand; and by all other booksellers, 1801.




ALL the great men of the present day are either the offspring of, or immediately descended from, new families. The ancient nobility repose under the laurels of their ancestors. Not deigning to apply to any of the learned professions, and deeming commerce and agriculture unworthy of their pursuits (a few illustrious characters excepted) they delegate their domestic concerns to the care of their upper servants, and not unfrequently the business of the nation is entrusted to their proxies. This, perhaps, will be the best apology for the multitude of the plebeian scions, recently engrafted on the stock of ancient aristocracy; and, although it may puzzle Garter, Norroy, and Clarencieux, to find them either arms or ancestors, certain it is, that the life-blood of nobility has been infused into the peerage through the conduit of democracy.

It may also be necessary to preface this article with another observation, of which some of the most conspicious characters of the present political drama, afford more than one pregnant instance: that the younger sons of our nobility are more successful in their political efforts, than the elder. This may be easily accounted for: the heir to a great fortune, and an illustrious title, knows not how soon both may devolve upon him; and when that event takes place, to what further object can his expectations point? He finds that he has been born a legislator, and that a large fortune is intailed upon his person; here, then, are wealth and honours not only within his grasp, but actually in his possission. It is otherwise with the juniro brances, for they have in general but little in possesion, and every thing to look for; they inhereit all the exquisite relish for pleasure that their seniors enjoy to satiety, and are only deficient in the means of gratification. Like the dove of Noah, they scarcely find a resting-place for the soles of their feet, on their own earth; and they are exactly in the situation of an invading general who has burnt his ships, for they must go on, or perish!

Charles James Fox is the younger son of Henry, who was himself a younger son of Sir Stephen Fox, celebrated less for his own birth, than the circumstance of being a father at the age of eighty, an event not incredible, however, and rendered, in the present instance, unsuspicious, by the decorous conduct, and acknowledged virtue of the partner of his bed. Henry entered early into public life, and such was his address in parliament, during the reign of George II. that he soon attained not only some of the most arduous and honourable but also the most lucrative situations in the gift of the crown; for, in the year 1754, he was appointed secretary at war; then secretary of state for the southern department; and, after being ousted by the great Mr. Pitt, less celbrated uner the name of Earl of Chatham, we find him filling the immensely beneficial office of pay-master general of the forces, accumulating great wealth, and thereby incurring the animadversions of the first city of the empire. Such, indeed, was his consequence, that at a time when patents of peerage were not very common, he was ennobled by his present Majesty, in 1763, by the title of Baron Holland of Foxley.

His son, Charles James, was born January 13th, 1749, and if on his father’s side he classed among the novi homines, by his mother’s, his descent must be allowed to be illustrious; for Lady Georgiana Carolina Lenox was the daughter of the late Duke of Richmond; and, as such, in addition to that of the King of Sardinia, she was allied to the two rival, but related families, which had so long contested the throne of Great Britain — those of Brunswick and Stuart.

But it is not to such claims as these that the future historian will have recourse; he will dwell with ardour on the early promise of a genius, the precocious talents of the boy, the matured wisdom of the philosopher and the statesman; and while the ablilities and virtues that adorn the character of his hero bring him forward on the canvas, these inefficient and involuntry pretensions will be cast into the shade, and scarcely be distinguished in the background. . . .


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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Culture, Eighteenth century, Government, Great Britain, Politics, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Memoirs of the Life of Count de Grammont (1714)

Full Title: Memoirs of the Life of Count De Grammont: containing, in Particular, the Amorous Intrigues of the Court of England in the Reign of King Charles II. Translated from the French by Mr. Boyer. London: Printed, and are to be Sold by J. Round in Exchange-Alley, W. Taylor, at the Ship in Pateronster-row, J. Brown near Temple-Bar, W. Lewis in Rassel-Street, Covent-Garden, and J. Greaves next White’s Chocolate-House in St. James-Street, 1714.


As they who read only for Diversion appear to me more reasonable, than those who open a Book with no other Design than to find Faults in it, I declare, that without being in the least concern’d at the severe Eruditions of the latter, I write only for the Amusement of the other.

I shall not take upon me to draw his Picture: As to his Person, Bussi and St. Evremond, two Writers rather entertaining than faithful, have said something of it. The first has represented the Chevalier De Grammont as artful, fickle, and even somewhat treacherous in Love; indefatigable, and cruel in Point of Jealousie; St. Evremond has used other Colours to express his Genius, and give a general Prospect of his Manners: But, both the one and the other have got more Credit by their different Draughts, than they have done Justice to their Hero.

‘Tis therefore to the Count De Grammont himself we must listen, while he give us an agreeable Relation of the Sieges and Battles, wherein he distinguished himself in Company with another Hero. And ’tis him we must believe in less glorious Passages of his Life, when the Sincerity, with which he displays his Address, Vivacity, Tricks, and divers Strategems, he has made use of, either in Love or at Play, expresses his Character to the Life.

‘Tis to him, I say, we must attend the following Papers; since I do but hold the Pen, while he dictates to me, the most singular and most secret Particulars of his Life.



In those Days, things were not managed in France, as at the present time. Lewis XIII. reigned still, and Cardinal De Richlieu governed the Kingdom. Great Men commanded little Armies, and yet those Armies perform’d great Things. The Fortune of the great Men at Court depended on the Favour of the Prime Minister; nor was there any solid Settlement in any Post, unless by being entirely devoted to him. Vast Designs laid in the very Heart of Neighbouring States, the Foundation of that formidable Greatness, to which France is now arrived. The Reins of the Civil Government were, however, somewhat slacken’d: The Roads were pester’d with Robbers by Day, and the Streets by Night; but Robberies were committed elsewhere with greater Impunity. Young Men, upon their first Entrance into the World, took what Course they thought best. Whoever pleased, was a Chevalier; and whoever could, an Abbé. I mean an Abbé with a Benefice. The Chevalier and the Abbé were not distinguished’d by their Habits: And I think that the Chevalier De Grammont was both the one and the other at the Siege of Trino. This was, it seems his first Campaign, whrein he shew’d those happy Dispositions that bespeak and command a favourable Prepossession; so that whoever is Master of them, needs neither Friends to be introduc’d, nor Reommendations to be agreeably entertain’d wherever he comes.

The Siege was form’d upon his Arrival, which spar’d him some Temerities; for, a Volunteer cannot rest unless he receives the first Shot. He therefore went to reconnoitre the Generals, there being nothing to be done of that Kind, as to the Place. Prince Thomas commanded the Army, and the Post of Lieutenant-General being unknown, in those Days, Du Plessis-Praslin, and the famous Viscount Turenne were Majors-General under him. . . .


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Filed under 1700's, Biography, Culture, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard (1823)

Full Title: Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard, the Philanthropist; Compiled from his own Diary, in the Possession of his Family, his Confidential Letters; the Communications of his Surviving Relatives and Friends; and Other Authentic Sources of Information. By James Baldwin Brown, Esq. LL.D of the Inner Temple, Barrister at Law. Second Edition. London: Printed for Thomas and George Underwood, 32, Fleet Street; Thomas Tegg, Cheapside; and F. Westley, Stationers’ Court, 1823.



IT has been a source of deep regret to the bipgrapher, that the events of the earlier years of men, distinguished for the splendour of their talents, or the greatness of their actions, have often been involved in doubt and obscurity. It may, however, reasonably be questioned, whether, could the blank in the page of their history be accurately filled up, the information obtained would not rather tend to gratify our curiosity, than be productive of any practical good? For, after all that can be said, on the influence of education, and the force of early habit, in forming the future character of the man — there are springs of human action — there are burst of energy in the human mind — which set at defiance all the cool, calculating rules that philosophy has devised for estimating the regular gradation of causes, in producing one grand and unlooked-for effect. Hence, it has not unfrequently happened, that the dull or the idle school-boy, the thoughtless and dissipated young man, and even the listless saunterer of maturer life, when roused to action by some sudden and unexpected impetus, have called forth latent talents to adorn the period in which they lived, and to please, and to instruct, in ages then unborn. And might we not even point to those men of yet superior mould, whose splendid achievements, or whose public virtues, have excited the admiration of the world, and ask, whether the most exact detail of every occurrence of their earlier years, would afford us equal instruction or delight, with that which we should derive from a similar history of many of their associates, the vices, the follies, or the utter uselessness of whose manhood, belied the opening virtues, and blasted the fairest promise of their youth? Such at least, there is every reason to conclude, was the case with one of the brightest characters that ever attracted the admiration, or merited the esteem of his fellow men. For so noiseless and so even was the tenor of his way, until he had reached, or even passed the meridian of his days, that of the man, who, by the common consent of the civilized world, is distinguished by an appelation more honourable than sage ever assumed, or hero ever won, — neither the place, nor the year of his birth, can now be acertained with any certainty.

John Howard, empahtically and deservedly styled The Philanthopist, appears, from the best information that can be obtained upon the subject, to have been born about the year 1727, at Clapton, in the parish of Hackney, a populous village immediately adjoining to London. To this place his father seems to have removed, but a short time before, from a somewhat more distant retreat at Enfield, to which he had retired from the pursuit of his business, as an upholsterer and carpet warehouseman, in Long Lane, Smithfield, where he had acquired a considerable fortune. The house in which he then resided, and where his son was born, is described, in a sketch of that son’s life written some years since, as being his own freehold, “a venerable mansion, situated on the western side of the street, but now much decayed, and lately disfigured.” Soon after his birth he was sent to Cardington, near Beford, to be nursed by a cottager residing there upon a small farm, which was all the property his father ever possessed in that village, afterwards so celebrated as the favourite residence of the son, when, by large purchases, he had considerably increased this little patrimonial inheritance, in a county, which from the tradition, now reduced to a certainty, of his having spent some of the earliest, as he undoubtedly passed some of the happiest years of his life there, has, though very erroneously, been supposed to have been the place of his birth. . . .


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Filed under 1820's, Biography, Culture, Eighteenth century, England, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Reform

Item of the Day: Miss Hannah More (1799)

Excerpted from: Public Characters of 1798-9. A New Edition. Enlarged and Corrected to the 25th of March, 1799. To be continued annually. London: Printed for R. Phillips, No. 71, St. Paul’s Church-Yard; and sold by T. Hurst and J. Wallis, Paternoster-Row; Carpenter and Co. Old Bond-Street; R. H. Westley, Strand; and by all booksellers, 1799. [pp. 476-485]

THE contoversy respecting the intellectual talents of women, as compared with those of men, is nearly brought to an issue, and greatly to the credit of the fair sex. The present age has produced a most brilliant constellation of female worthies, who have not only displayed eminent powers in works of fancy, but have greatly distinguished themselves in the higher branches of composition. Our own country has the honour of enrolling among its literary ornaments many females, to whom the interests of poetry, morality, and the sciences, are greatly indebted. Among celebrated living ladies may, with justice, be mentioned the names of Barbauld, Robinson, Cowley, Smith, Radcliffe, Farren, Piozzi, Seward, Lee, Hays, Inchbald, Cappe, Plumptree, Trimmer, Yearsley, Williams D’Arblay, Bennet, Linwood, Cosway, Kauffman, and Siddons.

The female who is the subject of the present notice is well known to the literary world, by several elegant, ingenious and useful publication. A few particulars respecting her, therefore, will not only be amusing to those who have read her works, but will also be instructive to young persons in the way of example.

Miss Hannah More is the youngest of four maiden sisters, the daughters of a clergyman, distinguished for his classical knowledge, and goodness of heart.

Hannah, who, at an early period of life, discovered a taste for literature, improved her mind during her leisure hours by reading; and soon perused not only the little paternal library, but all the books she could borrow from her friends, in the village of Hanham, near Bristol. The first which fell in her way was the Pamela of Richardson, the humble source of an innumerable offspring; and happy it would have been for the interests of virtue and literature, had the progeny been but as innocent as the parent.

The modesty and attainments of Hannah More, were spoken of with general respect in her native place, and at length acquired her the patronage of many respectable persons. In the mean time her sisters, who being also clever and amiable women, had conducted a little school with great success, were now enabled, in consequence of an encreasing [sic] reputation, to undertake the education of young persons above the situation of those to whose improvement their attention had hitherto been directed. So great, at length, was their celebrity, that several ladies of fortune and discernments prevailed upon them to remove to Bristol, about the year 1765, where they opened a boarding-school in Park-Street. This seminary, in a short time, became the most respectable of its kind in the West of England; and many females of rank received their education there.

Among others, who had the advantage of profiting by the instruction of the Miss Mores’, was the celebrated Mrs. Robinson, well known for her various elegant publications in prose and verse.

Miss H. More, who had removed with the family, had the good fortune of having for a next-door neighbour the Reverend Dr. Stonehouse; who perceiving her merits, distinguished her by his friendship, which he manifested by his instructions and recommendations. Both of these were of the most essential service to her in the cultivation of her literary taste. The doctor was a man of extensive acquaintance, general knowledge, and elegant manners. He condescended not only to examine the occasional effusions of her pen, but also to correct them, and through his hands all her early efforts passed to the press. The first of these was entitled “The Search after Happiness, a Peom,.” which was printed at Bristol under the doctor’s eye; and on its publication in London was so favourably received, as to encourage the author to further exertions of her powers. She next published “Sir Eldred of the Bower, and the Bleeding Rock; a legendary Tale;” which style of writing was become fashionable, through the success of Dr. Goldsmith’s sweet story of Edwin and Angelina.

Miss More now turned her attention to dramatic poetry, and produced a tragedy entitled FATAL FALSEHOOD; which was tolerably well received; but not so much as her PERCY, a tragedy, which met with universal applause. She also wrote another tragedy, called the INFLEXIBLE CAPTIVE; which fell short of the merit of her other dramatic pieces. The success she met with in this way was owing, in a great measure, to the immediate and commanding patronage of Garrick, who entered warmly into her interests through the recommendation of Dr. Stonehouse, with whom he was very intimate.

. . . Miss More has the credit of having drawn Mrs. Yearsley, the celebrated poetical milk-woman, from her obscurity into public notice and favour. When she had discovered this remarkable phenomenon, she immediately began to exert her benevolence, and by her unwearied assiduity procured a liberal subscription to the poems of this child of nature. She also drew up an interesting account of the milk-woman in a letter to Mrs. Montague; which letter, in order to enlarge the subscription, was published in the newspapers and magazines of the day. By the attentions of Miss More, a sum was raised sufficient to place the object of them in a situation more suitable to her genius. But we are sorry to be obliged to add, that a disagreement almost immediately followed the publication of the poems in question, between the author and her patroness; which is said to have been occasioned by the latter’s taking the management of the subscription-money into the hands of herself and some select friends. The motive with which this was done, adds greatly to the credit of Miss More and her friends, as it was no other than a desire to provide permanently for Mrs. Yearsley and her young family. She, however, had a different opinion, and thought it was unjust in them to withhold from her the management of her own property. She went further, and endeavoured to represent her best friend as actuated by unworthy sentiments, the least of which was, that of envy. Some attacks were, in consequence, made upon Miss More in different publications; but, conscious of the purity of her own views, she passed over those invidious attempts to prejudice the public mind against her silence. . . .


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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Culture, Eighteenth century, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Women

Item of the Day: Public Characters of 1798-9 (1799)

Full Title: Public Characters of 1798-9. A New Edition. Enlarged and Corrected to the 25th of March, 1799. To be continued annually. London: Printed for R. Phillips, No. 71, St. Paul’s Church-Yard; and sold by T. Hurst and J. Wallis, Paternoster-Row; Carpenter and Co. Old Bond-Street; R. H. Westley, Strand; and by all booksellers, 1799.




THE object of the Work which is now submitted to the Public, is to exhibit, in the memoirs of the illustrious actors, the public and secret history of the present times. Respectable works, of a a similar description, have been published in various countries on the continent; none, however, have hitherto been attempted, upon the same plan, in this country.

BIOGRAPHY, in all its forms, is allowed to be the most fascinating and instructive species of literary composition. It not only possesses all the advantages of general history, the various excellencies of which may be judiciously interwoven with the lives of eminent personages, but it frequently discovers the minute and latent springs of great events, which, in the comprehensive range of History, would have escaped attention.

Many of the attractions of Biography in general, and some additional advantages, are possessed by contemporary Biography. The memoirs of men, who are the present actors on the great theatre of life, who acquire and demand public confidence, and from whom further results of action or meditation are to be expected, necessarily excite a higher degree of curiosity, than the lives of those who have made their exit from the stage, by some no future good or evil can be performed or perpetrated, and who, “dead, gone, and forgotten,” are generally carried down the stream of oblivion, and swallowed up in the gulph of unregistered mortality.

It must be admitted, taht the biographer of deceased persons is better enabled, by the independence of his situation, and a more extensive retrospect, to estimate the degree of virtue and vice, and to appreciate the sum total of merit and demeit with greater precision, than the contemporary biographer, who is restrained, by the extreme delicacy of his undertaking, from giving finishing stroke to his delineations of character, whose incomplete materials prevent him from deducing general and important conclusions in their proper latitude, and, in many cases, from discriminating between hypocrisy and sincerity. Still, however, a writer of this description is better able to collect facts, and may, in general, be more depended upon, as to the authenticity of his testimony, than he who writes the lives of deceased persons. Many eminent men, respecting whom posterity have cause to lament the deficiency of biographical information, have passed their early days in obscurity, and those who then knew them were either too ignorant, or too unobservant, to be able to make any communications respecting them. When death has once set his seal upon their labours, few or no opportunities offer of obtaining satisfactory and circumstantial information; their early contemporaries are, probably, also gone off the stage. From causes like these, how little is known of some of the most distinguished luminaries that have irradiated the political and literary hemispheres! Of many we know only that they filled elevated situations, that they composed splendid works, made important discoveries, died in a particular year, and were at length interred in some venerable repository of the dead.

An annual publication lie the present will best provide against a future deficiency of this kind, with respect to the distinguished personages who now fill up the drama of public life in the British empire. The Editors are not likely to commit themselves, and the reputation of their work, by inserting direct falsehoods, or partial misrepresentations: no character, of whom they now or may hereafter treat, can be thought insensible to the love of contemporary or posthumous fame; hence, should any undesigned error, or any inaccurate statement, inadvertently escape them, it may be rationally presumed, that the party affected, from a regard to his own reputation, will take the earliest opportunity to correct such mistatements [sic[]; or that some friend, intimately acquainted with the subject, in the candour and warmth of esteem, may be stimulated to write a more particular and accurate account, for a subsequent edition.

From these premises may it not be reasonably concluded, that this Work possesses a legitimate claim to public patronage, as well from its promised utility to future biographers and historians, as from its being an highly entertaining and useful assemblage of interesting and important facts and anecdotes?

In respect to the present volume, it is necessary to remark, that the articles are written by a number of gentlemen, whose adopted signatures are affixed to their respective communications. Such a multiplicity of facts, in so extensive and various a group of characters, could not have been supplied by any one or two individuals. Although a delicate task, the mode generally adopted in the composition of this Work, has been to apply to some friend of the party, whose intimate knowledge of the relative facts and circumstances qualified him to do ample justice to the character. This indispensible [sic] arrangement, requisite to produce the faithful execution of the volume, has, however, occasioned a variety in the style and manner of the several articles, which, at first sight, may give it a sort of heterogeneous appearance, but will not detract from its real merit in the estimation of the judicious reader . . .



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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Culture, Great Britain, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Priestley’s Memoirs (1806)

Full title:  Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the Year 1795, Written by Himself: With a Continuation, to the Time of his Decease, By His Son, Joseph Priestley: And Observations on his Writings, By Thomas Cooper, President Judge of the 4th District of Pennsylvania: and the Rev. William Christie.  Northumberland: Printed by Jogn Binns.  1806.

Appendix, No. 2.

Of Dr. Priestley’s Metaphysical Writings.

The principle source of objection to Dr. Priestley in England, certainly arose from his being a dissenter; from his opposition to the hierarchy, and the preposterous alliance, between Church and State: an alliance, by which the contracting parties seem tacitly agreed to support the pretensions of each other, the one to keep the people in religious, the other in civil bondage.  His socinian doctrines in theology, and the heterodoxy of his metaphysical opinions, though they added much to the popular outcry raised against him, were not less obnoxious to the generality of Dissenters, than to the Clergy of the Church of England.  Nor is it a slight proof of the integrity of his character, and his boldness in the pursuit of truth, that he did not hesitate to step forward the avowed advocate of opinions, which his intimate and most valuable friends, and the many who looked up to him as the ornament of dissenting interest, regarded with sentiments of horror, as equally destructive of civil society and true religion. 

The extreme difference observable between the apparent properties of animal and inanimate matter, easily led to the opinion of something more as necessary to thought, and the phenomena of mind, than mere juxta position of the elements, whereof our bodies are composed.  The very antient opinion also of a state of existence after death, prevalant in the most uncivilized as well as enlightened states of society, confirmed this opinion of a separate and immortal part of the human system : for it was sufficiently evident, that no satisfactory hopes of a futurity after death, could be founded on the perishable basis of the human body.  It is only of late days, and from the extention of anatomical and physiological knowledge, that the theory, and the facts of animal organization have been at all understood; and without the conjunction of physiology with metaphysics, the latter would have remained to eternity, as it has continued for ages, a mere collection of sophisms, and a science of grammatical quibbling.  The doctrine of a future state, and that of an immaterial and immortal soul, became therefore mutual supports to each other; and herin the civil power willingly joined in aid of the dogmas of metaphysical theology, from observing the convenience that might arise in the government of civil societies, from inculcating a more complete sanction of rewards and punishments for actions in this life, by means of the dispensations in a life to come[…]  

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Filed under 1800's, Biography, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1793)

Full Title:  The Lofe of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, In Chronological Order; A Series of His Epistolary Correspondence and Conversations with Many Eminent Persons; and Various Original Pieces of His Composition, Never Before Published: The Whole Exhibiting a View of Literature and Literary Men in Great-Britain, For Near Half a Century, During Which He Flourished. In Three Volumes. The Second Edition, Revised and Augmented.  By James Boswell, Esq. Volume the First. London: Printed by Henry Baldwin, For Charles Dilly, in the Poultry. M DCC XCIII.

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

To write the life of him who excelled all mankind in writing the lives of others, and who, whether we consider his extraordinary endowments, or his various works, has been equalled by few in any age, is an arduous, and may be reckoned in me a presumptuous task.

Had Dr. Johnson written his own life, in conformity with the opinion which he has given, that every man’s life may be best written by himself; had he employed in the preservation of his own history, that clearness of narration and elegance of language in which he has embalmed so many eminent persons, the world would probably have had the most perfect example of biography that was ever exhibited. But although he at different times, in a desultory manner, committed to writing many particulars of the progress of his mind and fortunes, he never had persevering diligence enough to form them into a regular composition. Of these memorials a few have been preserved; but the greater part was consigned by him to the flames, a few days before his death.

As I had the honour and happiness of enjoying his friendship for upwards of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing his life constantly in view; as he was well apprised of this circumstance, and from time to time obligingly satisfied my inquiries, by communicating to me the incidents of his early years; as I acquired a facility in recollecting, and was very assiduous in recording his conversation, of which the extraordinary vigour and vivacity constituted one of the first features of his character; and as I have spared no pains in obtaining materials concerning him, from every quarter where I could discover that they were not to be found, and have been favoured with the most liberal communications by his friends; I flatter myself that few biographers have entered upon such work as this, with more advantages; independent of literary abilities, in which I am not vain enough to compare myself with some great names who have gone before me in this kind of writing.

Since my work was announced, several Lives and Memoirs of Dr. Johnson have been published, the most voluminous of which is one compiled for the booksellers of London, by Sir John Hawkins, Knight, a man, whom, during my long intimacy with Dr. Johnson, I never saw in his company, I think but once, and I am sure not above twice.  Johnson might have esteemed him for his decent, religious demeanour, and his knowledge of books and literary history; but from the rigid formality of his manners, it is evident that they never could have lived together with companionable ease and familiarity; nor had Sir John Hawkins that nice perception which was necessary to mark the finer and less obvious parts of Johnson’s character.  His being appointed one of his executors, gave him an oppotunity of taking possession of such fragments of a diary and other papers as were left; of which, before delivering them up to the residuary legatee, whose property they were, he endeavoured to extract the substance.  In this he has not been very successful, as I have found upon a perusal of those papers, which have been since transferred to me.  Sir John Hawkins’s ponderous labours, I must acknowledge, exhibit a farrago, of which a considerable portion is not devoid of entertainment to the lovers of literary gossiping; but besides its being swelled out with long unnecessary extracts from various works, (even one of several leaves from Osbourne’s Harleian Catalogue, and those not compiled by Johnson, but by Oldys,) a very small part of it relates to the person who is the subject of the book; and, in that, there is such an inaccuracry in the statement of facts, as in so solemn an author is hardly excusable, and certainly makes his narrative very unsatisfactory.  But what is still worse, there is throughout the whole of it a dark uncharitable cast, by which the most unfavourable construction is put upon almost every circumstance in the character and conduct of my illustrious friend; who, I trust, will, by a true and fair delineation, be vindicated both from the injurious misrepresentations of this authour, and from the slighter aspersions of a lady who once lived in great intimacy with him.

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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Literature, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Johnson’s Lives: Swift (1781)

Full Title:

The Lives of the English Poets; and a Criticism of their Works. By Samuel Johnson. Vol. II. Dublin: Printed for Messrs. Whitestone, Williams, Colles, Wilson, Lynch, Jenkin, Walker, Burnet, Hallhead, Flin, Exshaw, Beatty, and White. M,DCC,LXXXI.


[…] In his academical studies [Jonathan Swift] was either not diligent or not happy. It must disappoint every reader’s expectation, that, when at the usual time he claimed the Bachelorship of Arts, he was found by the examiners too conspicuously deficient for regular admission, and obtained his degree at last by special favour; a term used in that University [Dublin] to denote want of merit.

Of this disgrace it may be easily supposed that he was much ashamed, and shame had its proper effect in producing reformation. He resolved from that time to study eight hours a-day, and continued his industry for seven years, with what improvement is sufficiently known. This part of his story well deserves to be remembered; it may afford useful admonition and powerful encouragement to many men, whose abilities have been made for a time useless by their passions or pleasures, and who, having lost one part of life in idleness, are tempted to throw away the remainder in despair.

In the course of daily application he continued three years longer at Dublin; and in this time, if the observation and memory of an old companion may be trusted, he drew the first sketch of his Tale of a Tub.

When he was about one and twenty (1688), being by the death of Godwin Swift his uncle, who had supported him, left without subsitence, he went to consult his mother, who then lived in Leicester, about the future course of his life, and by her direction solicited the advice and patronage of Sir William Temple, who had married one of Mrs. Swift’s relations, and whose father Sir John Temple, Master of the Rolls in Ireland, had lived in great familiarity of friendship with Godwin Swift, by whom Jonathan had been at that time maintained.

Temple received with sufficient kindness the nephew of his father’s friend, with whom he was, when they conversed together, so much pleased, that he detained him two years in his house. Here he became known to King William, who sometimes visited Temple when he was disabled by the gout, and, being attended by Swift in the garden, shewed him how to cut asparagus in the Dutch way.

King William’s notions were all military; and he expressed his kindness to Swift by offering to make him a captain of horse.

When Temple removed to Moor-park, he took Swift with him; and when he was consulted by the Earl of Portland about the expedience of complying with a bill then depending for making Parliaments triennial, against which King William was strongly prejudiced, after having in vain tried to shew the Earl that the proposal involved nothing dangerous to royal power, he sent Swift for the same purpose to the King. Swift, who probably was proud of his employment, and went with all the confidence of a young man, found his arguments, and his art of displying them, made totally ineffectual by the predetermination of the King; and used to mention this disappointment as his first antidote against vanity.

Before he left Ireland he contracted a disorder, as he thought, by eating too much fruit. The original of diseases is commonly obscure. Almost every boy eats as much fruit as he can get, without any great inconvenience. The disease of Swift was giddiness with deafness, which attacked him from time to time, began very early, pursued him through life, and at last sent him to the grave, deprived of reason.

Being much oppressed at Moor-park by this grievous malady, he was advised to try his native air, and went to Ireland; but finding no benefit, returned to Sir William, at whose house he continued his studies, and is known to have read, among other books, Cyprian and Irenaeus. He thought exercise of great necessity, and used to run half a mile up and down a hill every two hours.

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Filed under 1780's, Biography, Criticism, Literature, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin (1793)

Full Title: The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. Late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United Sates of America to France, &c. &c. &c. Originally written by Himself, and now translated from the French. To which are added, Some Account of his Public Life, a Variety of Anecdotes Concerning Him, by M. M. Brissot, Condorcet, Rochefoucault, Le Roy, &c. &c. and the Eulogium of M. Fauchet . . . London: Printed for J. Parsons, No. 21, Pater-Noster Row, 1793.





I SHALL not enter into an unintesting detail relative to the manner in which the original mauscript of these memoirs, which are written in the Enlgish language, came into my possession. They appeared to me to be so interesting, that I did not hesitate a single moment to translate them into French.

The name of Franklin will undoubtedly become a passport to a work of this nature; and the character of truth and simplicity, discernible in every page, must guarantee its authenticiy; I have no manner of occasion to join other testimonies.

If, however, any critic chooses to disbelieve my assertion, and is desirous to bring the existence of the orignial manuscript into doubt, I am ready to verify it, by means of an immediate impression*; but, as I am not certain of the sale of a work written in a foreign language, I cannot publish it in any other manner than by means of a subsription, large enough to indemnify me the money advanced.

That part of the Memoirs of Franklin in my possession, includes no more than the first period of a life, the remainder of which has become illustrous by events of the highest importance; it terminates at the epoch when, after having married, he began to render himself celebated by plans and establishments of public utility.

It is very possible that he may have written more of his history; for the portion of it which I now present to the Publci, concludes, according to his own account, with the year 1771.

If this be the case, the heirs of that great man will not fail some day to publish it, either in England or in Pennsylvania, and we shall doubtless have a French translation, which will be received by the Public with great eagerness; but I am persuaded, that his family will not disclose any other than the most brilliant period of his life; and which is connected with the memorable part he acted in the world, both as a philospher and a statesman. They will never be prevailed upon to narrate the humble details of his early days, and the simple but interesting anecdotes of his origin, the obscurity of which, although it enhance the talents and the virutes of this great man, may yet wound their own vanity.

If my conjectures prove right; if the memoirs which they are about to publish under the name of Franklin should be mutilated; if the first part, so essential to readers capable of feeling and of judging, should be supressed, I shall applaud myself for having preserved it; and the world will be obliged to me for having enabled them to follow the early developments of the genius, and the first exertions of the sublime and profound mind of a man, who afterwards penetrated the mystery of electricity, and disconcerted the secret measures of despotism–who preserved the universe from the ravages of thunder, and his native country from the horrors of tyranny!

If I am accidentally mistaken; if the life of Franklin should appear entire, the Public will still have the advantage of anticipating the intersting part of a history which it has long and impatiently expected.

The principal object proposed by the American philosopher, in writing these memoirs, was to instruct posterity, and amuse his own leisure hours. He has permitted his ideas to flow, at the will of his memory and his heart, without ever making any effort to disguise the truth, notwithstanding it is not always very flattering to his self-love–but I here stop; it belongs to Frankin to speak for himself.

It will be easily perceived, that I have preserved as much as possible the ease and simplicity of his style in my translation. I have not even affected to correct the negligence of his language, or to clothe his sentiments with a gaudy dress, for which they have no manner of occasion; I should have been afraid of bereaving the work of one of its principal ornaments.

As these memoris reach no futher than his marriage, I have madeuse of other materials in order to complete so interesting a history; and I have also added a number of anecdotes and remarks relative to this philosphical American.


*Those who may be desirous of readin gthe Memoirs of the Private Life of Franklin, in the original, are requested to leave their names with Buisson, bookseller, Rue Haute-Feuille, No. 20. the work will be sent to the press as soon as there are 400 subscribers. The price is 48 sols.






THE life of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin is, perhaps, a DESIDERATUM in modern biography; for the manner in which the statesman and philosopher, although destiture of birth, and of fortune, was enabled to struggle into opulence and celebrity, cannot fail to excite the interest, and gratify the curiousity of a liberal and enlightened age.

But this work is estimable in another point of view; for it may be considered as a treatise of enforcing the love of vitue and of industry, displaying the advantages arising form study, and exhibiting the most easy mode of acquiring literary and moral excellence.

Youth will be gratified by the early efforts of our Author’s rising genius, and old age comforted, at beholding that happy serentiy displayed in the latter period of his life.

The Translater would have presented the world with this volume long since, had he not been restrained by a certain degree of delicacy, mingled with veneration, towards the family of this great man; for on being informed by a respectable bookseller in St. Paul’s Church-yard, that the works of Franklin were about to be published by his grandson, he with-held the present publciation for seveal months, in expectation of that event.

He begs leave to add, that, throughout the whole work, he has attempted a plain, sober, unadorned style, as best adapted to convey the Author’s sentiments; and that, in the second part, he has supplied some erroneous dates, and cancelled a variety of unjust reflections which were thrown out in England against Dr. Frankin, during the late odious war with America, and too hastily adopted by the French Editor.

Feb. 1., 1793

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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Franklin, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Life of George Washington (1807)

Full Title: The Life of George Washington, Comminder in Chief of the Armies of the United States in the War which Established their Independence; and First President of the United States. By David Ramsay. London: Printed by Like Hanfard & Sons, For T. Cadell and W. Davies, in the Strand; and Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, Paternoster-Row, 1807.





















[The following is excerpted from Chapter IX]

 . . . The military services of general Washington, which ended with this interesting day [November 25, 1783], were as great as ever were performed by any man to any nation. They were at the same time disinterested.  How dear would not a mercenary man have sold such toils, such dangers, and, above all, such successes! What schemes of grandeur and of power would not an ambitious man have built upon the affections of the people and of the army! The gratitude of America was so lively, that any thing asked by her resigning chief would have been readily granted. He asked nothing for himself, his family, or relations, but indirectly solicited favours for the confidential officers who were attached to his person. These were young gentlemen without fortune, who had served him in the capacity of aides-de-camp. To omit the opportunity which was offered, of recommending them to the notice of congress, would have argued a degree of insensibility in the breast of their friend. The only privilege, distinguishing him from other private citizens, which the retiring Washington did or would receive from his grateful country, was a right of sending and receiving letters free of postage.

The American chief, having by his own voluntary act become one of the people, hastened with ineffable delight to his seat at Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potowmac. There, in a short time, the most successful general in the world became the most diligent farmer in Virginia.

To pass suddenly from the toils of the first public commission in the United States, to the care of a farm; to exchange the instruments of war for the implements of husbandry, and to become at once the patron and example of ingenious and profitable agriculture; would to most men have been a difficult task; but to the elevated mind of the late commander in chief of the armies of the United States, it was natural and delightful: and should these pages descend to posterity, and war continue ages hence to be the means of establishing national justice, let the commanders of armies learn, from the example of general Washington, that the fame which is acquired by the sword, without guilt of ambition, may be preserved without power or spendor in private life.




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Filed under 1800's, Biography, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Washington