Motte, Benjamin (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Motte, Benjamin

by Thomas Seccombe
Contains subarticle, Andrew Motte (d. 1730), his brother.

MOTTE, BENJAMIN (d. 1738), bookseller and publisher, appears to have been originally a printer. He set up a publishing business at Middle Temple Gate, London, and in 1713 was among the subscribers to make up William Bowyer's losses after the great fire on his premises. In 1721, with the aid of his brother Andrew (see below), he edited, in three volumes, an 'Abridgment of the Royal Society's Transactions, from 1700 to 1720,' London, 4to. This abridgment was very incorrect, and was severely handled by a rival editor, Henry Jones, fellow of King's College, Cambridge. Motte rejoined in 'A Reply to the Preface published by Mr. Henry Jones with his Abridgment of the Philosophical Transactions,' London, 1722 (see Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 482). He was early in the century described by Samuel Negus as a 'high-flyer,' and he gradually obtained the succession to most of Benjamin Tooke's business with Pope and the leading men of letters on the tory side. In 1726 Swift sent the manuscript of 'Gulliver's Travels' to Motte from Twickenham, where he was staying with Pope. His intermediaries were Charles Ford, who left the book at Motte's office late one night in November, and Erasmus Lewis [q. v.], to whom, writing under the disguised name of Sympson, Swift asked Motte to deliver a bank-bill of 200l. on undertaking publication. Motte cautiously demurred to immediate payment, but agreed to pay the sum demanded in six months, 'if the success would allow it.' In April 1727 Swift sent Lewis to demand the money for his 'cousin Gulliver's book,' and it appears to have been promptly paid. An interesting letter from Swift to Motte suggesting the passages in Gulliver' best fitted for illustration is given in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for February 1855. In March 1727 Motte agreed to pay 4l. a sheet for the 'Miscellanies in Prose and Verse,' by Swift, Pope, Arbuthnot, and Gay. One volume had already been undertaken by Tooke; he published the second and third, but before the appearance of the fourth had quarrelled with his authors. In spite, however, of some differences on the subject of Irish copyright, Swift seems to have constantly maintained friendly relations with Motte, and to have utilised him as a sort of London agent. In 1733 Motte was deceived by a counterfeit 'Life and Character of Dean Swift, written by himself,' in verse, probably the work of Pilkington, who sold It to him on the plausible pretext that he was Swift's agent in the matter. On the other hand he obtained almost all the profits resulting from 'Gulliver' and Swift's other publications.

At his death, on 12 March 1738, Motte was succeeded by Charles Bathurst (1709-1786), who had for a short while previous been his partner. Bathurst published in 1768 the first collective edition of Swift's 'Works,' edited in sixteen volumes by Dr. Hawkesworth. It appears that he and Motte had both married daughters of the Rev. Thomas Brian, head-master of Harrow School.

Motte's younger brother, Andrew Motte (d. 1730), a mathematician of some ability, was a member of the Spalding Club, and, for a brief period previous to 1727, lecturer in geometry at Gresham College. He issued in 1727 'A Treatise of the Mechanical Powers, wherein the Laws of Motion and the Properties of those Powers are explained and demonstrated in an easy and familiar Method' (2nd edit. 1733, London, 8vo), and two years later 'The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729) (the "Principia"), by Sir Isaac Newton, translated into English ... to which are added the Laws of the Moon's Motion according to Gravity, by John Machin' (2 vols. 1729, 8vo.; 2nd edit. 1732). The work is handsomely printed (for Benjamin Motte), and contains numerous plates of figures and an index. It anticipated a similar project on the part of Dr. Henry Pemberton [q. v.], who was better qualified for the work; it is nevertheless a highly crediable production (c.f. Brewster, Sir Isaac Newton, ii. 383). Andrew Motte died in 1780. It is uncertain whether it is the bookseller or his borther who is alluded to by Denton as 'learned Motte' (Life and Errors).

[Nichol's Literary Ancedotes, i. 68, 213, 482, 506, ii. 11, 25, vi. 99, viii. 369, Notes and Queries, xii. 60, 198, 358, 490; Gent. Mag 1855 i. 150, 253, ii. 35, 232, 368; Elwin' Pope, vi. 437, vii. 56, 110, 178, 250, 324, ix. 524; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.