Motteux, Peter Anthony (DNB00)
|←Mottershead, Joseph||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Motteux, Peter Anthony
MOTTEUX, PETER ANTHONY (1660–1718), translator and dramatist, was born 18 Feb. 1660 at Rouen, Normandy, being probably the son of Antoine le Motteux, a merchant of that town. He came to England at the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, living at first with his godfather and relative, Paul Dominique. Afterwards he went into business, and had an East India warehouse in Leadenhall Street. In 1692 and 1693 he edited the ‘Gentleman’s Journal, or the Monthly Misce11any,’ which contained verses by Prior, Sedley, Mrs. Behn, Oldmixon, Dennis, D’Urfey, Brown, and the editor. The first volume was dedicated to William, earl of Devonshire; the second to Charles Montague. In 1693, when Gildon satirised Dunton in the ‘History of the Athenian Society,’ Motteux, Tate, and others wrote prefatory verses for the skit. In the same year appeared Boileau’s ‘Ode sur la Prise de Namur. Avec une Parodie de la mesme Ode par le Sieur P. Motteux.’ In 1693-4 a translation of Rabelais (books i. to iii.) by Motteux, Sir Thomas Urquhart, and others was published in three volumes, with a long introduction by Motteux. The remainder of the work (books iv. and v.) appeared in 1708. This excellent translation has been frequently reprinted down to the present day, and shows how thoroughly Motteux had mastered the English language. In 1695 he published ‘Maria, a Poem occasioned by the Death of Her Majesty,’ addressed to Montague, Normanby, and Dorset; and translated St. Olon’s ‘Present State of the Empire of Morocco,' with a dedication to Sir William Trumball, in which he said he endeavoured to appear as much an Englishman as he could, even in his writings. In the same year Motteux published on a single sheet 'Words for a Musical Entertainment [by John Eccles] at the New Theatre in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, on the Taking of Namur, and His Majesty's safe Return.'
Motteux's first play, 'Love's a Jest,' a comedy from the Italian, was produced in 1696, with a dedication to Lord Clifford of Lanesborough. It was followed in 1697 by 'The Novelty. Every Act a Play. Being a short Pastoral, Comedy, Masque, Tragedy, and Farce, after the Italian manner,' by Motteux and others, with a dedication to Charles Caesar ; and by 'The Loves of Mars and Venus,' a masque (dedicated to Colonel Codrington), which was acted and printed in connection with the 'Anatomist, 'by Motteux's friend Ravenscroft. In June 1698 Motteux produced a tragedy, 'Beauty in Distress,' to which were prefixed a 'Discourse of the Lawfulness and Unlawfulness of Plays, lately written in French by Father Caffaro,' and complimentary lines by Dryden,' to my friend Mr. Motteux,' with reference to Collier's recent attack on the stage. The fault of the play, as Dryden hinted, is that the plot is too complicated. In the dedication to the Hon. Henry Heveningham, Motteux says that it had been the happy occasion of recommending him to the bounty of the Princess Anne, her gift alone outweighing the benefit of a sixth representation ; but he adds that his uninterrupted success had created enemies. It was alleged by a satirist that Heveningham himself wrote this dedication, offering to pay Motteux five guineas for the use of his name (Poems on Affairs of State, 1703, ii. 248-54; Eyerton MS. 2623, f. 68). In 1699 Motteux turned Fletcher's 'Island Princess' into an opera, wrote words for an interlude, 'The Four Lessons, or Love in every Age,' and contributed an epilogue to Henry Smith's 'Princess of Parma.'
From a letter of 28 April 1700 from Dubois, afterwards cardinal, to 'Monsieur Pierre Motteux a la grande Poste, a Londres' (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. ii. p. 464), it would appear that Motteux had then already received what the old biographers call ' a very genteel place in the General Post Office relating to foreign letters, being master of several languages ; ' but official records only show that by 1703 he had 40J. as a clerk in the foreign office of the post-office, and that by 1711 the place had been given to another. A song by Motteux, given at a post-office feast on the queen's birthday, is printed in Oldmixon's 'Muses Mercury' for January 1708. There are other verses by Motteux in the same paper for March 1707.
'Acis and Galatea,' a masque, was produced in 1701, and 'Britain's Happiness,' a musical interlude, in 1704. On 16 Jan. 1705 'Arsinoe, Queen of Cyprus, an Opera after the Italian manner,' was brought out at Drury Lane Theatre, and was acted fifteen times. It was printed in 1707 (see Addison, Spectator, 21 March 1711). 'The Amorous Miser,' a farcical comedy, appeared at the same theatre on 18 Jan. 1705, and was acted about six times. Motteux wrote an epilogue for Vanbrugh's ' Mistake,' first acted on 27 Dec. 1705 ; and on 7 March 1706 the 'Temple of Love, a Pastoral Opera, Englished from the Italian,' was performed at the Haymarket with but little success. In the following year (1 April 1707) 'Thomyris, Queen of Scythia, an Opera,' was produced under Dr. Pepusch's direction, and it was followed by ' Farewell Folly, or the Younger the Wiser, a Comedy. With a Musical Interlude called "The Mountebank, or the Humours of the Fair."' 'Love's Triumph,' an opera, 1708, was dedicated to Thomas Falkland, son of the postmaster-general ; the words had been written, Motteux said, 'very near you, at a place where my duty often calls me from other business ; . . . they were in a manner done in Post-haste,' Early in 1712, or at the close of 1711, Motteux published a good though free translation of Cervantes's 'Don Quixote,' in four volumes. He was assisted by Ozell and others, but revised the whole himself. This work has been frequently reprinted. In the 'Spectator' for 30 Jan. 1712 (No. 288) appeared a letter from Motteux, who spoke of himself as ' an author turned dealer,' and described the large variety of goods which ladies would find at his warehouse in Leadenhall Street, many of them bought by himself abroad. In July 1712 he published, in folio and duodecimo, 'A Poem in Praise of Tea,' with a dedication to the 'Spectator,' in which he again referred to the way he was engrossed in his 'China and India trade, and all the distracting variety of a Doyly.' In December Steele drew an attractive picture of his friend's ' spacious warehouses, filled and adorned with tea, China and Indian wares' (Spectator, No. 552). From a letter of 1714 to Sir Hans Sloane, in the British Museum, it appears that Motteux dealt also in pictures (Sloane MS. 4054, f. 12).
Motteux's death took place on his birthday, 18 Feb. 1718, in a house of ill-fame in Star Court, Butcher Row, near St. Clement's Church. He went to the house with a woman named Mary Roberts, after calling at White's chocolate-house, and soon after midnight an apothecary was called in, who found him dead. The woman Roberts said that Motteux had been ill in the coach, and never spoke after they reached the house. He was buried at St. Andrew Undershaft, 25 Feb., and an inquest was held. The keeper of the house, her daughter, and others were committed to Newgate, and a reward of ten guineas was offered by Mrs. Motteux, of the 4 Two Fans,' Leadenhall Street, to the coachman who drove Motteux to Star Court if he would state in what condition the gentleman was in when he set him down. The coachman was found, and on 22 March a pardon was offered to any one, not the actual murderer, who had been concerned in the matter, and 50l. reward to any one discovering the murderer. The persons in custody were tried at the Old Bailey on 23 April. The defence was that Motteux had had a fit, and the prisoners were all acquitted, 'to the great surprise of most people' (there is a long report in Boyer's Political State, 1718, pp. 254, 425-36; see, too, Applebee's Original Weekly Journal, 26 April to 3 May 1718; Daily Courant, March and April 1718; and Mist's Journal, 26 April 1718, where it is said that the jury brought in a special verdict against the women, which was to be decided by the twelve judges).
Motteux had sons baptised at St. Andrew Undershaft on 3 Oct. 1705 and 13 April 1710. By his will, dated 23 Feb. 1709, and proved 24 Feb. 1717-18 by his wife Priscilla, sole executrix, Motteux (grocer and freeman of London) left his property to be divided equally among his wife and children, Peter, Henrietta, and Anthony, and others who might afterwards be born; 10l. were left to the poor of St. Andrew Undershaft. The son Peter, a surgeon, of Charterhouse Square, married Miss West in 1750, and died a widower in November 1769, leaving a daughter, Ann Bosquain; the other son, John Anthony, died in December 1741, a very eminent Hamburg merchant, leaving a widow, Ann. Motteux had a brother Timothy, merchant and salter, who was naturalised in March 1676-7 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. ii. p. 87), and died in 1746, leaving money to his nephews and to the Walloon and Dutch churches. He was a director of the French Hospital in London (London Mag.; Gent. Mag. 1741, 1746, 1750, 1769; wills at Prerogative Court of Canterbury).
According to Pope Motteux was loquacious; 'Talkers I've learned to bear; Motteux I knew' (Satires of Dr. Donne, iv. 50); 'Motteux himself unfinished left his tale' (Dunciad, ii. 412); and in the 'Art of Sinking in Poetry,' chap, vi., he speaks of Motteux and others as 'obscure authors, that wrap themselves up in their own mud, but are mighty nimble and pert.' Motteux's claims to be remembered now rest upon his racy versions of Rabelais and Cervantes.
[Van Laun's Short Hist. of the late Mr. Peter Anthony Motteux, prefixed to his edition of Don Quixote, 1880, and privately printed in pamphlet form; Genest's Account of the English Stage, ii. 86, 116-18, 153, 164, 318-19, 350, 484; Biog. Dram.; Whincop's List of English Dramatic Poets, 1747; Weiss's Protestant Refugees; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 308, ix. 773. The Hist, of Kent, by Dr. John Harris, 1719, has prefixed to it an Ode in Praise of Kent, by Motteux, 'e Normania Britannus.' The full score, with libretto, of the Island Princess is in the Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 15318.]