Ridpath, George (d.1726) (DNB00)

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RIDPATH, GEORGE (d. 1726), whig journalist, seems to have been born in Berwickshire, and to have remained with his mother at Colbrandspath, where he was educated, until he went to Edinburgh University. His father may have been George Readpath, who inherited land from his father, Thomas, in 1654. Ridpath himself claimed connection with the Gordons. In 1681 he was tutor, or servant, at Edinburgh to the sons of a Mr. Gray, and took an active part in the burning of the pope in effigy by the students; the clerk to the council wrote that Ridpath ‘was not then a boy, but a fellow come to years.’ He was in irons for some days, and proclaimed that he was suffering for the protestant religion. He was charged with threatening to burn the provost's house, but after five weeks' imprisonment he was banished the country (The Scots Episcopal Innocence, 1694, pp. 52–6). Abandoning a design to enter the Scottish ministry, he went to London to seek a livelihood by his pen.

In 1687 Ridpath published a new method of shorthand, ‘Shorthand yet Shorter,’ with a dedication to Philip, lord Wharton, under whose roof the book had been written, while Ridpath was ‘one of his lordship's domestics.’ The author, who was to be heard of upon the Scots' Walk at exchange-time most Saturdays, also undertook to give oral lessons in shorthand. A second edition of his manual appeared in 1696 (Westby-Gibson, Bibl. of Shorthand, p. 193). Soon after the revolution he was an active London journalist (Carstares, State Papers, p. 364), and in 1693, writing under the name of Will Laick, he made a violent attack on the episcopal party in Scotland in ‘An Answer to the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence,’ and ‘A Continuation of the Answer.’ These were attacked, with equal virulence, in Dr. Monro's ‘Apology for the Clergy of Scotland’ [see Monro, Alexander, (d. 1715?)], and ‘The Spirit of Calumny and Slander examined, chastised, and exposed, in a letter to a malicious libeller. More particularly addressed to Mr. George Ridpath, newsmonger, near St. Martins-in-the-Fields.’ Here Ridpath is called ‘the head of the presbyterian party in Scotland.’ He replied in ‘The Scots Episcopal Innocence,’ 1694, and ‘The Queries and Protestation of the Scots episcopal clergy against the authority of the Presbyterian General Assemblies,’ 1694. In 1696 Ridpath was acting as a sort of spy on the bishop of Glasgow and on Dr. Monro (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. viii. 50).

In 1695 Ridpath published, with a dedication to secretary Johnston, a translation of Sir Thomas Craig's ‘Scotland's Sovereignty asserted; being a dispute concerning Homage,’ and in 1698 he translated De Souligné's ‘Political Mischiefs of Popery.’ In ‘A Dialogue between Jack and Will, concerning the Lord Mayor's going to meeting-houses with the sword carried before him,’ 1697, he defended Sir Humphry Edwin, a presbyterian lord mayor; and this was followed in 1699 by ‘A Rowland for an Oliver, or a sharp rebuke to a saucy Levite. In answer to a sermon preached by Edward Oliver, M.A., before Sir Humphry Edwin. By a Lover of Unity.’ The name George Ridpath is among those who graduated at Edinburgh in 1699 (Catalogue of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 163). A book called ‘The Stage Condemned,’ in support of Jeremy Collier's ‘Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage,’ appeared in September 1698, and the author of a reply, ‘The Stage acquitted,’ says it was by ‘Mr. R[idpa]th, the formidable author of a scandalous newspaper, and the wretched retailer of mad Prynne's enthusiastic cant.’

Ridpath's ‘Scotland's Grievances relating to Darien, humbly offered to the consideration of the Parliament,’ 1700, contains many strong remarks about a foreign yoke. Next year came his ‘The Great Reasons and Interests considered anent the Spanish Monarchy,’ and in 1702 ‘A Discourse upon the Union of England and Scotland. By a lover of his country,’ in which Ridpath opposed a union. In 1703 he printed ‘The Case of Scotsmen residing in England and in the English Plantations,’ and ‘An Historical Account of the ancient Rights and Power of the Parliament of Scotland.’ These were followed by ‘An Account of the Proceedings of the Parliament of Scotland, 1703,’ 1704, and ‘The reducing of Scotland by Arms … considered,’ 1705. According to one of the replies to this last pamphlet, its author and publisher were bound over to appear at the queen's bench bar (Remarks upon a late Dangerous Pamphlet, &c., 1705). In 1706 Ridpath wrote ‘Considerations upon the Union of the two Kingdoms,’ and was answered in Sir John Clerk's ‘Letter to a Friend, giving an Account how the Treaty of Union has been received here. With Remarks upon what has been written by Mr. H[odges] and Mr. R[idpath],’ a piece which has been erroneously attributed to Defoe (Memoirs of Sir John Clerk, 1892, p. 244; Lee, Life of Defoe, 1867, p. 133).

In 1704–5 Ridpath assisted James Anderson (1662–1728) [q. v.], who was then preparing his ‘Historical Essay showing that the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland is Imperial and Independent;’ and in 1705 he commenced a correspondence with the Rev. Robert Wodrow, chiefly on the subject of the union and the dreaded episcopal church in Scotland. ‘The Scots' Representations to Her Majesty, against setting up the Common Prayer-Book in Scotland,’ 1711, was written, according to a note in the copy in the Advocates' Library, by Ridpath, William Carstares, and Defoe. Another piece attributed to Ridpath is ‘The Oath of Abjuration considered,’ Edinburgh, 1712. He was also employed in correcting Captain Woodes Rogers's ‘Voyage’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 301); assisted in writing the periodical ‘History of the Works of the Learned;’ invented the ‘Polygraphy,’ a writing-engine, moved by the foot, by which six or more copies could be written at once (Dunton, Life and Errors, 1818, pp. 179, 180); contributed to the ‘Medley’ in 1712 (Wilson, Life of Defoe, iii. 253, 283); and was in constant warfare with the tory ‘Post Boy,’ published by Abel Roper [q. v.] (Ashton, Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, ii. 72–4). Dunton, a warm admirer, described his style as excellent; ‘his humility and his honesty have established his reputation. He scorns to receive a farthing of copy-money till he knows what numbers are sold off.’

For some years Ridpath had conducted the whig journal the ‘Flying Post or Postman,’ which, according to Dunton, was highly valued, and sold well. It was established in 1695. John Tutchin described it as ‘the honestest of all newspapers.’ On 4 Sept. 1712 William Hurt was arrested for printing in the paper scandalous and seditious reflections on her majesty and the government. On the 8th Ridpath was committed to Newgate for being the author of three libels in the ‘Observator,’ to which he became a contributor in succession to Tutchin in 1712, and in the ‘Flying Post;’ but he was released on bail. On 23 Oct. Ridpath and Hurt appeared in the court of queen's bench, and were continued on their recognisances. Swift objected to bail being allowed for the ‘Scotch rogue’ Ridpath, who continued to write when at liberty (Journal to Stella, 28 Oct. 1712). On 19 Feb. 1713 Ridpath was tried at the Guildhall. The attorney-general said that he ‘had for some years past outwent all his predecessors in scandal.’ That the trial was to a large extent a party matter is shown by the list of Ridpath's counsel: Sergeant Pratt, Sir Peter King, and Messrs. Lechmere, St. Leger, Fortescue, and Cowper. A collection had been made on Ridpath's behalf, and whigs were told that unless they would subscribe two guineas they would not be admitted to be members of the party (Wentworth Papers, p. 310). After a hearing of eight hours, the jury found Ridpath guilty of two of the libels, and sentence was postponed. On 1 May his recognisances of 600l. were estreated, because he had failed to appear, in accordance with an order made on 27 April, and on the 25th a reward of 100l. was offered by Bolingbroke for his discovery; but without result, Ridpath having fled to Scotland, and thence to Holland (Political State, iv. 176, v. 97–100, 340–2; The Tryal and Conviction of Mr. George Redpeth, 1713, folio; An Account of the Proceedings and Sentence given against Mr. George Redpeth, 1713, folio; Queen's Bench, Coram Reg. Rolls, Easter 12 Anne, at Publ. Rec. Office).

In Ridpath's absence the ‘Flying Post’ was carried on by Stephen Whatley, under his general directions. In 1714 it was found that the printer, Hurt, had intercourse with Defoe, Ridpath's rival journalist, and the ‘Flying Post’ was at once taken out of his hands. Defoe came to Hurt's assistance, and on 27 July published, through Hurt, a rival newspaper, ‘The Flying Post and Medley;’ the latter part of the title was soon dropped. Ridpath called this the ‘Sham Flying Post’ (Lee, Life of Defoe, pp. 230–6).

Ridpath, who now lived at Rotterdam, was celebrated by the ‘Dutch Gazetteer,’ according to Swift, as ‘one of the best pens in England’ (Swift, Works, 1824, iv. 297). In 1713 he wrote ‘Some Thoughts concerning the Peace, and the Thanksgiving appointed by authority to be observed for it;’ and certain observations on the address of the highlanders to Queen Anne, which he complained was signed only by ten, four of whom were catholics, called forth ‘The Honourable Chieftains of the Highland Clans vindicated from the false Aspersions and scurrilous Reflections thrown upon them by Ridpath, the scandalous and justly condemned Libeller,’ Edinburgh, 1713. In 1714 he published a book called ‘Parliamentary Right maintained, or the Hanover Succession justified,’ in answer to Bedford's ‘Hereditary Right to the Crown of England asserted.’ His letters to the English minister at The Hague, in the British Museum, give a curious account of the difficulties in getting this work circulated (Stowe MSS. vol. ccxxv. f. 372, vol. ccxxvi. ff. 41, 66, 73, 86, 88, 226, 251, 346, 489, vol. ccxxvii. ff. 69, 76, 87, 91). Copies were sent by various ships to different ports in England; but many were lost or thrown overboard by the captains, who dared not land them, or were returned because no one dared receive them. Early in the year Ridpath feared arrest in Holland. He had much political correspondence with persons in Scotland, and in April he wrote ‘The New Project examined, or the Design of the Faction to deprive the Hanover Family of the power to name Lord Justices anatomised,’ but it is doubtful whether this pamphlet was printed.

After the accession of George I Ridpath returned to England, and was made one of the patentees for serving the commissioners of the customs in Scotland with stationery wares (Read's Weekly Journal, 12 Feb. 1726). In 1717 he was giving Wodrow advice in the preparation of the ‘History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland,’ and was himself proposing to write a continuation of Buchanan's ‘Scotch History.’ The ‘Flying Post’ still waged war with tories, and Ridpath made slanderous charges against Nathaniel Mist [q. v.] and others (Mist's Weekly Journal, 21 and 28 June 1718); but in 1719, when he was living in Greville Street, Holborn, he published ‘An Appeal to the Word of God for the Trinity in Unity.’ Pope wrote (Dunciad, i. 208):

    To Dulness Ridpath is as dear as Mist.

According to Wodrow, the dedication to the Lower House of Convocation, prefixed to the collected edition of the ‘Independent Whig,’ 1721, is by Ridpath (Abbotsford Club Miscellany, i. 379). It is an attack on the unscriptural claims of the clergy, who are charged with teaching the need of giving endowments rather than plain morality and religion. In 1722 Ridpath was secretary to a lottery at Harburg, Hanover, in connection with a company formed to maintain a trade with that country. The king denied having sanctioned the lottery, and a committee of the House of Commons examined Ridpath in December and January 1723. Most of the company's money had been lost in the South Sea Company, and a bill was introduced to suppress the lottery. In February the trustees announced, through Ridpath, that they would return all tickets on application. After this date Ridpath avoided old friends, being ‘under some scandal.’ It was alleged he had married two wives at the same time (ib. i. 379), and after his death Lord Grange repeated this report, adding that it was said that Ridpath had joined with the Arians and non-subscribers, and slighted those who supported him in his distress: ‘His memory is not savoury here. I'm sorry he was so vile, for he once did good service’ (Private Letters now first Printed, 1694–1732, Edinburgh, 1829). Ridpath died on 5 Feb. 1726, the same day as his old antagonist, Abel Roper (Daily Post, 7 Feb. 1726). By his will of 29 Jan. he left all his estate to his wife, Esther Ridpath, daughter of George Markland, and appointed her sole executrix (P. C. C. 31 Plymouth). His only son, a great help to him in business, had died in 1706. Ridpath's papers fell into the hands of Dr. James Fraser (1700–1769) [q. v.], one of Wodrow's correspondents.

[The fullest Memoir is prefixed to the correspondence between Ridpath and Wodrow, in the Miscellany of the Abbotsford Club, 1838, i. 354–414. Many of Ridpath's writings are known to be his only by manuscript notes in Wodrow's copies. See also Cat. Brit. Mus. and Advocates' Library, Edinburgh; Cat. Prints and Drawings Brit. Mus. ii. 293, 311; Swift's Works; Dunton's Life and Errors.]

G. A. A.