Pitt, Moses (DNB00)

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PITT, MOSES (fl. 1654–1696), publisher and author, the son of John Pitt, yeoman, of St. Teath, Cornwall, was bound apprentice to Robert Littlebury, citizen and haberdasher of London, for seven years from 1 Oct. 1654, and was made freeman of the Haberdashers' Company on 8 Nov. 1661. He became a publisher, and in 1668 issued ‘at the White-Hart in Little Britain’ an edition of Thomas Brancker's ‘Introduction to Algebra.’ In 1680 appeared the first volume of the magnificent publication for which Pitt is chiefly known, ‘The English Atlas,’ a work formerly held in great estimation. Bishop William Nicolson [q. v.] and Richard Peers [q. v.] were generally responsible for the geographical and historical descriptions, and their names appear on some of the title-pages, but Thomas Lane, Obadiah Walker, and Dr. Todd had compiled the first volume (Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 291, 480, 534; Letters to R. Thoresby, i. 122); the maps are mainly based on Janssen's ‘Atlas.’ It was to extend to eleven volumes, but only four volumes, and the text of a fifth, large folio, appeared, with the imprint ‘Oxford, printed at the Theater for Moses Pitt at the Angel in St. Paul's Churchyard,’ 1680–2. The names of Christopher Wren, Isaac Vossius, John Pell, William Lloyd, Thomas Gale, and Robert Hook are mentioned in the prospectus as having promised their advice and assistance. Pitt secured the patronage of Charles II, the queen, and the Duke and Duchess of York, and a long list of subscribers is given in the first volume. He claims to have had printed for him many bibles and testaments at Oxford, and to have reduced prices more than one-half (see Cry of the Oppressed, passim, and note to Wood's Life, ed. Clark, ii. 170). In spite of the encouragement of Dr. Fell, the ‘English Atlas’ was not successful from a pecuniary point of view, and Pitt also had losses in building speculations. On 13 April 1685 he was arrested at Obadiah Walker's lodgings at Oxford on a suit for 1,000l. (Wood, op. cit. iii. 138), and was imprisoned in the Fleet from 20 April 1689 to 16 May 1691. He described his troubles in a very interesting little volume, ‘The Cry of the Oppressed, being a true and tragical account of the unparallel'd sufferings of multitudes of poor imprisoned debtors in most of the gaols of England, together with the case of the publisher,’ London, 1691, 12mo. This contains a remarkable account of the actual condition of prisoners for debt, not in London alone, but in many other towns, as Pitt conducted a large correspondence with fellow sufferers throughout the country. He endeavoured to get a bill passed through parliament for their relief. The book is illustrated with twelve cuts describing the cruelties of gaolers in a startling chapbook style of art. It is full of personal details, and is useful for the topographical history of Westminster, where Pitt built, besides other houses, one which he let to Jeffreys, in what is now Delahay Street.

Pitt also wrote ‘A Letter to [Rev. George Hickes] the authour of a book intituled some Discourses upon Dr. Burnet and Dr. Tillotson, occasioned by the late funeral sermon of the former upon the latter,’ London, 1695, 4to, with more particulars about his money troubles; and ‘An Account of one Ann Jefferies now living in the county of Cornwall, who was fed for six months by a small sort of airy people called fairies, and of the strange and wonderful cures she performed,’ London, 1696, small 8vo. Of the latter work there are two editions which vary slightly; the book is reprinted in Morgan's ‘Phœnix Britannicus,’ 1732, 4to, pp. 545–51, and in C. S. Gilbert's ‘Cornwall,’ i. 107–14. At the time of his death, which took place between 1696 and 1700, he had almost completed a catalogue of English writers.

Pitt married a Miss Upman. He is described by John Dunton as ‘an honest man every inch and thought of him, and … had fathomed the vast body of learning. … His wit and virtues were writ legibly in his face, and he had a great deal of sweetness in his natural temper’ (Life and Errors, 1818, i. 233–4). Anthony Wood was indebted to him for small items of information (Life, vols. ii. and iii. passim; and Fasti, ed. Bliss, ii. 27).

[Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 271, iii. 1314, Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 142, v. 105.]

H. R. T.