Needham, Marchamont (DNB00)
|←Needham, John Turberville||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
NEEDHAM or NEDHAM, MARCHAMONT (1620–1678), journalist, was born at Burford in Oxfordshire, and baptised there 21 Aug. 1620. His father, also named Marchamont Nedham, born of genteel parents in Derbyshire, matriculated at St. John's College, Oxford, 16 June 1610, and took the degree of B.A. from Gloucester Hall 19 Feb. 1611–12. He was afterwards an attendant on the Lady Elizabeth Walter (wife of Sir William Walter of Sarsden, near Burford), and died in 1621. Nedham's mother was Margery, daughter of John Collier, the host of the George Inn at Burford, who took as her second husband, in 1622, Christopher Glynn, vicar of Burford and master of the free school there (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1180; Wood, Alumni Oxon. 1st ser. p. 1055). Nedham was educated at Burford school, and at fourteen years of age was sent as a chorister to All Souls' College, Oxford, where he continued till 1637. His name appears in the subscription book under 22 Jan. 1635–6, and he took his bachelor's degree on 24 Oct. 1637 (ib.) After a short stay in St. Mary Hall he left Oxford for ‘an usher's place in Merchant Taylors' School, then presided by one Mr. Will. Staple;’ and later, ‘upon the change of the times, he became an under clerk in Gray's Inn, where, by virtue of a good legible court-hand, he obtained a comfortable subsistence’ (Wood). He was admitted a member of Gray's Inn on 7 July 1652, as ‘of the city of Westminster, gent’ (Foster, Gray's Inn Register, p. 261). During the early part of his career Nedham also studied medicine, but soon discovered that his natural vocation was journalism.
The ‘Mercurius Britanicus’ (sic) is distinguished by several marked characteristics from other parliamentary newspapers. It professed to ‘communicate the affairs of Great Britain for the better information of the people,’ but was in reality little more than a railing commentary on the news of the day. Its object was to answer the statements of the royalist ‘Mercurius Aulicus,’ and to refute the charges brought there against the parliamentary cause and its leaders. The first number is dated 16–22 Aug. 1643. Of this journal Nedham was from the beginning the chief, if not the sole, author, though its responsible editor seems to have been Captain Thomas Audley, and it is not always easy to decide whether Audley or Nedham is referred to in the attacks of the royalists upon ‘Britannicus.’ The scurrility and boldness of Nedham's writings soon made him notorious. One number parodied Charles I's speech to the inhabitants of Somerset; another commented with the greatest freedom on the king's letters taken at Naseby (Mercurius Britannicus, 6–13 May 1644; 21–8 July 1645). In the number for 4 Aug. 1645 Nedham printed a ‘Hue and Cry after a Wilful King … which hath gone astray these four Years from his Parliament, with a guilty Conscience, bloody Hands, and a Heart full of broken Vows and Protestations.’ For this insult to monarchy Audley was committed to the Gatehouse, and Nedham seems to have shared the same fate (Lords' Journals, vii. 525, 539; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 74; Aulicus his Hue and Cry after Britannicus, 1645, 4to; Mercurius Anti-Britannicus, or the second part of the King's Cabinet vindicated from the Aspersions of an impotent Libeller … now Prisoner in the Gate-House, 1645, 4to). The author of the second of these pamphlets identifies Nedham with ‘Britannicus,’ and describes him as ‘once a week sacrificing to the beast of many heads the fame of some lord or person of quality, nay, even of the king himself.’ Nedham was soon released, but on 21 May 1646 was complained of for publishing ‘divers passages between the two Houses of Parliament, and other scandalous particulars not fit to be tolerated.’ He was arrested by order of the lords, owned the authorship of the last eighty numbers of ‘Britannicus’ (which seems to show that Audley was the author of the earlier numbers), and was committed to the Fleet (23 May 1646). Nedham appealed to the Earl of Denbigh to present his petition for release, protesting his loyalty to the House of Lords in spite of any errors which might have fallen from his pen, and was released on 4 June 1646. But he was obliged to give bail to the extent of 200l. for his good behaviour, and prohibited from writing any pamphlets in the future (Lords' Journals, viii. 321, 325, 341, 355; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. iv. 273). Debarred from journalism, Nedham turned to medicine, and describes himself on the title-page of a pamphlet published in 1647 as ‘Med. Pr.’
In 1647 Nedham, for some unexplained reason, resolved to change sides. ‘Obtaining the favour of a known royalist to introduce him into his Majesty's presence at Hampton Court, he then and there knelt before him and desired forgiveness for what he had written against him and his cause; which being readily granted, he kissed his Majesty's hand’ (Wood). In defence of the king he published a newspaper, entitled ‘Mercurius Pragmaticus,’ ‘communicating intelligence from all parts touching all affairs, designs, humours, and conditions, throughout the kingdom, especially from Westminster and the Head-Quarters.’ The first number is dated 14–21 Sept. 1647. Like ‘Mercurius Britannicus,’ it consists mainly of commentaries on the news of the day, but it does contain a good deal of information not to be found elsewhere, especially with regard to proceedings in the two houses of parliament. It is for that reason frequently quoted by the compilers of the ‘Old Parliamentary History.’ One of the characteristics of this newspaper is that each number begins with four stanzas of verse on the state of public affairs. Its royalism is combined with bitter hostility to the Scots, shown even after they had invaded England to restore the king, and in the scurrility of its attacks on political enemies it matched ‘Britannicus.’ Cromwell, for instance, is referred to as ‘Copper- Nose,’ ‘Nose Almighty,’ and ‘The Town-bull of Ely.’ Nedham's journal, says Wood, ‘being very witty, satirical against the presbyterians, and full of loyalty, made him known to and admired by the bravadoes and wits of those times.’ The government sought to suppress it, and Richard Lownes, its printer, was committed to prison by the House of Commons on 16 Oct. 1647 (Commons' Journals, v. 335). Nedham was obliged to leave London, and for a time lay concealed in the house of Dr. Peter Heylyn [q. v.] at Minster Lovel in Oxfordshire (Wood, iii. 1181). In June 1649 he was caught and committed to Newgate, but was discharged three months later (14 Nov.) on taking the ‘engagement’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, pp. 537, 554). According to Wood, Speaker Lenthall and John Bradshaw saved his life, procured his pardon, and engaged him to adopt the cause of the Commonwealth. The first fruit of his conversion was the publication, on 8 May 1650, of ‘The Case of the Commonwealth of England stated: or the equity, utility, and necessity of a submission to the present Government cleared, out of Monuments both Sacred and Civil … With a Discourse of the Excellency of a Free State above a Kingly Government.’ In his address ‘To the Reader’ Nedham boldly begins: ‘Perhaps thou art of an opinion contrary to what is here written; I confess that for a time I myself was so too, till some causes made me reflect with an impartial eye upon the affairs of the new government.’ For this thoroughgoing and cynical vindication of the government, the council of state voted Nedham a gift of 50l., and ordered him for the future a pension of 100l. a year, ‘whereby he may be enabled to subsist while he endeavours the service of the Commonwealth’ (24 May 1650; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1650, p. 14).
Nedham next undertook the editorship of a new weekly paper, entitled ‘Mercurius Politicus,’ the first number of which was published on 13 June 1650. ‘Now appeared in print,’ writes Heath, ‘as the weekly champion of the new Commonwealth, and to bespatter the King with the basest of scurrilous raillery, one Marchamount Needham, under the name of Politicus, transcendently gifted in opprobrious and treasonable droll, and hired therefore by Bradshaw to act the second part to his starched and more solemn treason; who began his first diurnal with an invective against Monarchy and the Presbyterian Scotch Kirk, and ended it with an Hosanna to Oliver Cromwell’ (Chronicle, ed. 1663, p. 492; cf. The Character of Mercurius Politicus, 1650, 4to). The most characteristic feature of ‘Mercurius Politicus’ was the leading article, sometimes a commentary on the situation of public affairs, sometimes a short treatise on political principles in general, which was frequently continued from number to number. Milton was charged, from about March 1651, with the general supervision and censorship of ‘Mercurius Politicus,’ and Professor Masson suggests that certain passages in these leading articles may have been written or inspired by him (Life of Milton, iv. 324–35).
The government also employed Nedham's pen in connection with its foreign policy. On 14 Oct. 1650 he was instructed ‘to put into Latin the treatise he wrote in answer to a Spanish piece written in defence of the murderers of Mr. Ascham’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1650, p. 387). On 10 Feb. 1653 he was voted 200l. ‘for his great labour in translating Mr. Selden's “Mare Clausum”’ (ib. 1652–3, p. 486). Cromwell continued Nedham's pension, and maintained him as editor of ‘Mercurius Politicus.’ To this he added also the editorship of the ‘Public Intelligencer,’ an official journal of the same nature as the ‘Mercurius Politicus,’ but published on Mondays instead of Thursdays (Masson, iv. 52).
Nedham was also conspicuous as a champion of the Protector's ecclesiastical policy. He attended the meetings of the fifth-monarchy men at Blackfriars, and reported to the Protector the hostile sermons of Christopher Feake [q. v.] and other leaders of that sect (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1653–4, 303, 393; cf. Thurloe, iii. 483). When John Goodwin [q. v.] attacked the Triers, Nedham took up their defence, and treated Goodwin with his usual scurrility (Hanbury, Historical Memorials relating to the Independents, iii. 432). Goodwin retorted by describing Nedham as having ‘a foul mouth, which Satan hath opened against the truth and mind of God,’ and as being ‘a person of an infamous and unclean character’ (Triumviri, 1658, Preface). The charge against Nedham's morals was also repeated in a defence of Goodwin, entitled ‘A Letter of Address to the Protector,’ by a writer styling himself D. F. (4to, 1657, p. 3). After Cromwell's death these attacks redoubled. Nedham was denounced as ‘a lying, railing Rabshakeh, and defamer of the Lord's people.’ His removal from all public employment was demanded. ‘They that like him, or are like to him, will say: “He is a man of parts, and hath a notable vein of writing.” Doubtless so hath the Devil; … must therefore the Devil … be made use of?’ (A Second Narrative of the Late Parliament, 1658, p. 37; A True Catalogue of the Places where Richard Cromwell was proclaimed Protector, 1659, p. 75). Obedient to these denunciations, the restored Long parliament, on 13 May 1659, removed Nedham from the post of editor of the ‘Public Intelligencer,’ but restored him again on 15 Aug. following (Commons' Journals, vii. 652, 758). Professor Masson concludes, from the wording of the orders, that Nedham contrived to retain the editorship of ‘Mercurius Politicus’ during the three months of his suspension, and Wood states that he started a new paper called ‘The Moderate Informer,’ of which the first number appeared on 12 May 1659 (Masson, Life of Milton, iv. 671; Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1186).
A pamphlet against the restoration of monarchy, entitled ‘Interest will not lie,’ proving that every party would lose by the return of Charles II, doubtless helped him to regain the favour of the republicans. But as he was hated by royalists and presbyterians, and suspected to be the author of a pretended letter from the court of Charles II, entitled ‘News from Brussells,’ he was removed from the editorship both of the ‘Mercurius’ and the ‘Intelligence’ by the council of state (9 April 1660; Whitelocke, Memorials, iv. 406. ed. 1853). Royalist pamphleteers were already suggesting that the coming restoration would be incomplete unless he were hanged. Extracts from ‘Mercurius Politicus,’ bringing together all his abuse of Charles II and his family, were published under the title of ‘A Rope for Pol, or a Hue and Cry after Marchamont Nedham,’ May 1660 (see also Kilburne, A New Year's Gift for Mercurius Politicus; A Dialogue between Thomas Scot and Marchamont Nedham concerning the Affairs of the Nation; The Downfall of Mercurius Britannicus-Pragmaticus-Politicus, that Three-headed Cerberus).
Nedham fled from England about the beginning of May 1660, and took refuge in Holland (Masson, Life of Milton, v. 702). A few months later, ‘for money given to an hungry courtier,’ he obtained his pardon under the great seal, and was able to return to England in safety.
For the rest of his life Nedham lived by practising physic, but gradually returned to his old trade of pamphleteering. The ‘Discourse concerning Schools and Schoolmasters,’ which he published in 1663, suggests several reforms in education, but was also written to serve a political purpose. In the interest of orthodoxy he proposed the exclusion of schismatic schoolmasters from the teaching profession. He asks ‘whether it be consistent to banish schism out of the church and to countenance it in the schools,’ and answers: ‘If these schismatic schoolmasters were given by the vicar-general licence to practice physic instead of teach schools,’ it would be safer for the public. Nedham's orthodoxy was probably only skin-deep; in medicine, at all events, he remained an open heretic and scoffer. His ‘Medela Medicinæ,’ published in 1665, was ‘a plea for the free profession and renovation of the art of physic,’ an attack on the College of Physicians and its methods, and a complaint of the neglect of chemistry for anatomy. This attracted several refutations, due rather to its vigour than its intrinsic value. ‘Four champions,’ boasted Nedham, ‘were employed by the College of Physicians to write against this book,’ adding that two died shortly afterwards, the third took to drink, and the fourth asked his pardon publicly, ‘confessing that he was set on by the brotherhood of the confederacy’ (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1187). The government of Charles II so far condoned Nedham's past political offences that it even employed his pen to attack the parliamentary opposition and its leaders. Nedham assailed them in his ‘Pacquet of Advices to the Men of Shaftesbury’ (1676), for which service he is said to have been paid 500l., and possibly obtained 50l. (34th Rep. of the Deputy-Keeper of Public Records, p. 312). A circumstantial account of his introduction to the Earl of Danby by Justice Warcup is given in a contemporary pamphlet (‘No Protestant Plot,’ 1682, 4to, pt. iii. p. 58). But he did not long enjoy the fruits of this new employment. ‘This most seditious, mutable, and railing author,’ says Wood, ‘died suddenly in the house of one Kidder, in Devereux Court, near Temple Bar, London, in 1678, and was buried on the 29th of November at the upper end of the body of the church of St. Clement's Danes, near the entrance into the chancel.’ But two years later, when the chancel was rebuilt, his monument was taken away or defaced (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1189).
In person Nedham is described as short, thick-set, and black-haired (Aulicus his Hue and Cry after Britannicus, 1645). Nedham married twice. By his first wife, Lucy, he had a son named Marchamont (b. 6 May 1652) (Masson, Life of Milton, iv. 433). His second wife was a widow named Elizabeth Thompson (Chester, London Marriage Licences, p. 962; the licence is dated 18 April 1663).
Omitting the newspapers mentioned in the article, the following is a list of Nedham's works: 1. ‘A Check to the Checker of Britannicus; or the Honour and Integrity of Col. Nath. Fiennes revived,’ 1644, 4to. 2. ‘Independency no Schism; or an Answer to a Scandalous Book entitled “The Schismatic Sifted,” written by Mr. John Vicars,’ 1646, 4to: said to be ‘By M. N., Med. Pr.’ 3. ‘The Case of the Kingdom stated according to the proper Interests of the several Parties engaged,’ 1647, 4to; anon. 4. ‘The Levellers Levelled; or the Independents' Conspiracy to root out Monarchy: an Interlude,’ 1647, 4to (said to be by Mercurius Pragmaticus). 5. ‘The Lawyer of Lincoln's Inn refuted; or an Apology for the Army,’ 1647, 4to: attributed to Nedham by Barlow in the Bodleian copy. 6. ‘A Plea for the King and Kingdom, by way of Answer to a late Remonstrance of the Army,’ 1648, 4to. 7. ‘Digitus Dei; or God's Justice upon Treachery and Treason exemplified in the Life and Death of the late James Duke of Hamilton, 1649, 4to. This tract closely resembles another on the same subject, published in June 1648, entitled ‘The Manifold Practices and Attempts of the Hamiltons … to get the Crown of Scotland,’ which Wood in consequence attributes also to Nedham. 8. ‘The Case of the Commonwealth of England stated. … With a Discourse of the Excellency of a Free State above a Kingly Government,’ 1649, 4to; 2nd edit. 1650. 9. ‘The Excellency of a Free State,’ 12mo, 1656, anon. A reprint edited by Richard Baron, in 8vo, appeared in 1767 (cf. Life of Thomas Hollis, 1780, p. 356). It was translated into French by T. Mandar (2 vols. 8vo, Paris, 1790). This work is a compilation from the leading articles of Mercurius Politicus. 10. ‘Trial of Mr. John Goodwin at the Bar of Religion and Right Reason,’ 1657, 4to. 11. ‘The great Accuser cast down; an Answer to a scandalous Book, entitled “The Triers Tried and Cast, by Mr. John Goodwin,”’ 1657, 4to. 12. ‘Interest will not lie; or a View of England's true Interest … in Refutation of a treasonable Pamphlet entitled “The Interest of England stated,”’ 1659, 4to. The tract answered is reprinted by Maseres, ‘Select Tracts relating to the Civil Wars,’ 1815, ii. 273, who attributes it to John Fell. 13. ‘News from Brussels, in a Letter from a near attendant on His Majesty's Person to a Person of Honour here,’ dated 10 March 1659. Answered by John Evelyn in ‘The Late News from Brussels unmasqued,’ and reprinted with the Answer by Upcott in Evelyn's ‘Miscellaneous Works,’ 4to, 1825, p. 193. See also ‘Baker's Chronicle,’ continued by Phillips, ed. 1670, p. 721. 14. ‘A Short History of the English Rebellion, completed in Verse,’ 1661, 4to. This is a collection of verses printed in ‘Mercurius Pragmaticus,’ now republished to curry favour with the royalists; 2nd edit. 1680. Reprinted in J. Morgan's ‘Phœnix Britannicus,’ 1732, p. 174; and in the ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ ed. Park, ii. 521. 15. ‘A Discourse concerning Schools and Schoolmasters,’ 1663, 4to. 16. ‘Medela Medicinæ, a Plea for the Free Profession and a Renovation of the Art of Physick,’ 8vo, 1665. Answered by John Twysden in ‘Medicina Veterum vindicata,’ 8vo, 1666; Robert Sprackling in ‘Medela Ignorantiæ,’ 1666, 8vo; and by George Castle in ‘Reflections on a Book called “Medela Medicinæ,”’ printed with ‘The Chymical Galenist’ in 1667, 8vo. 17. ‘An Epistolary Discourse before “Medicina Instaurata, by Edward Bolnest, M.D.,”’ 1665, 12mo. 18. Preface to ‘A New Idea of the Practice of Physic,’ by Franciscus de le Boe-Sylvius, 1675, 8vo. 19. ‘A Pacquet of Advices and Animadversions sent from London to the Men of Shaftesbury. … Occasioned by a seditious Pamphlet entitled “A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend in the Country,”’ 1676, 4to. 20. ‘A Second Pacquet of Advices,’ 1677, 4to. On these two pamphlets see Marvell's ‘Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England;’ Marvell's ‘Works,’ ed. Grosart, iv. 316. 21. ‘Christianissimus christianandus; or Reasons for the Reduction of France to a more Christian State in Europe,’ 1678, 4to.
Nedham also wrote several minor pieces which have not been identified. His translation of Selden's ‘Mare Clausum,’ 1652, fol., suppressed the original dedication to the king, and added an appendix containing ‘additional evidences’ of the sovereignty of the kings of Great Britain on the sea, ‘which he procured, as 'twas thought, of John Bradshaw’ (Wood). The translation was re-edited, and the original dedication restored by J[ames] H[owell] in 1662 (cf. Pepys, Diary, ed. Wheatley, iii. 93).
Satires against Nedham in prose and verse are very numerous. The following may be added to those already mentioned: ‘Mercurius Aquaticus; or the Water Poet's Answer to all that shall be Writ by Mercurius Britanicus,’ by John Taylor, 1643, 4to.; ‘Rebels Anathematised and Anatomised,’ 1645, 4to, by the same author. Sir Francis Wortley's ‘Characters and Elegies,’ 1646, 4to, contain ‘Britanicus his Pedigree’ (p. 26); and Wortley also wrote ‘Britanicus his Welcome to Hell,’ 1647, 4to. Cleveland has a poem on ‘Britanicus his Leap three-story high, and his Escape from London’ (Poems, ed. 1687, p. 247). ‘The great Assizes holden on Parnassus by Apollo,’ 1645, 4to, reviews the character of all contemporary journalists, including Britannicus; and Nedham is also mentioned in T. Wright's ‘Political Ballads’ (published during the Commonwealth), 1841, pp. 56–63.[A good life of Nedham is given in Athenæ Oxon. iii. 1179. See also Masson's Life of Milton, iv. 37, 226, 335, v. 671, 702, vi. 308; Bourne's English Newspapers, 1887, i. 12–29; other authorities mentioned in the article.]