A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Francis, Sir Philip

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Francis, Sir Philip (1740-1818).—Reputed author of The Letters of Junius, s. of the Rev. Philip F., a scholar of some note, was b. in Dublin. On the recommendation of Lord Holland he received an appointment in the office of the Sec. of State, and was thereafter private sec. to Lord Kinnoull in Portugal, and to Pitt in 1761-2. He was then transferred to the War Office, where he remained from 1762-72, during which period he contributed to the press under various pseudonyms. His next appointment was that of a member of Council of Bengal, which he held from 1773-80. While in India he was in continual conflict with the Governor-General, Warren Hastings, by whom he was wounded in a duel in 1779. He returned to England in 1780 with a large fortune, and entered Parliament as a Whig. In 1787 he was associated with Burke in the impeachment of Hastings, against whom he showed extraordinary vindictiveness. Later he was a sympathiser with the French Revolution, and a member of the association of the Friends of the People. He retired from public life in 1807, and d. in 1818. He was the author of about 20 political pamphlets, but the great interest attaching to him is his reputed authorship of the Letters of Junius. These letters which, partly on account of the boldness and implacability of their attacks and the brilliance of their literary style, and partly because of the mystery in which their author wrapped himself, created an extraordinary impression, and have ever since retained their place as masterpieces of condensed sarcasm. They appeared in The Public Advertiser, a paper pub. by Woodfall, the first on January 21, 1769, and the last on the corresponding day of 1772, and were chiefly directed against the Dukes of Grafton and Bedford, and Lord Mansfield; but even the king himself did not escape. Not only were the public actions of those attacked held up to execration, but every circumstance in their private lives which could excite odium was dragged into the light. Their authorship was attributed to many distinguished men, e.g. Burke, Lord Shelburne, J. Wilkes, Horne Tooke, and Barré, and recently to Gibbon; but the evidence appears to point strongly to F., and, in the opinion of Macaulay, would "support a verdict in a civil, nay, in a criminal trial." It rests upon such circumstances as the similarity of the MS. to what is known to be the disguised writing of F., the acquaintance of the writer with the working of the Sec. of State's Office and the War Office, his denunciation of the promotion of a Mr. Chamier in the War Office, which was a well-known grievance of F., his acquaintance with Pitt, and the existence of a strong tie to Lord Holland, the silence of Junius when F. was absent, and resemblances in the style and the moral character of the writer to those of F.