Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cave, Edward

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CAVE, EDWARD (1691–1754), printer, born at Newton, near Rugby, 27 Feb. 1691, was son of Joseph, a younger son of Edward Cave of the lone house on the Watling Street Road, called Cave's Hole. The entail of the family estate being cut off, Joseph Cave was reduced to follow the trade of a cobbler at Rugby. The son had a right of admittance to Rugby grammar school, which he entered in 1700. Dr. Holyoke, the principal, thought him fit for a university education; but he was charged with robbing Mrs. Holyoke's henroost and clandestinely assisting fellow-scholars, brought into discredit, and compelled to leave the school. Cave was next a clerk to a collector of excise; but he soon left his place to seek employment in London. After working with a timber merchant at Bankside, he was apprenticed to Deputy-alderman Collins, a well-known London printer. In two years his ability was recognised, and he was sent to Norwich to manage a printing office and conduct a weekly paper, the ‘Norwich Courant.’ His master died before his ‘articles’ ceased, and, not being able to bear the perversities of his mistress, he quitted her house and settled at Bow, where he married a young widow with a little money. He then became journeyman to Alderman (afterwards lord mayor) Barber, and for years was a writer in ‘Mist's Weekly Journal.’ When about thirty he obtained a position in the post office, by his wife's interest, but continued his occupation as a printer. He corrected the ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’ for the Stationers' Company, and wrote an ‘Account of the Criminals,’ as well as several pamphlets on current topics. He was shortly afterwards appointed clerk of the franks.

With the knowledge gained from his official position Cave about this time (1725) furnished country news to a London journal, in what were called ‘news-letters,’ for a guinea a week. He then began to convey London news to country papers, at Gloucester, Stamford, and Canterbury. Cave's position brought him into intercourse with members of both houses, and he would retire to a coffee-house and work up a news-letter. In 1727 he and Robert Raikes of the ‘Gloucester Journal’ were taken into custody for breach of privilege. Cave suffered ten days' imprisonment, but on expressing contrition and paying heavy fines he was released with a reprimand. His strictness as clerk of the franks had made enemies, and he was cited before the House of Commons for another breach of privilege in stopping a frank given by a member to the old Duchess of Marlborough. He was charged with opening letters to obtain ‘news,’ and dismissed from his post, although the statements made were never proved.

Cave had saved enough to purchase a small printing office at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, in 1731. Here, in the gateway of the old priory of the knights of St. John, he started business as a printer under the name of ‘R. Newton,’ and began the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ His intention was to form a collection or ‘magazine’ (the first use of the name in this sense), ‘to contain the essays and intelligence which appeared in the two hundred half sheets which the London press then threw off monthly,’ and in ‘probably as many more half sheets printed elsewhere in the three kingdoms.’ The periodical was to comprise varieties of all kinds. He had talked of his plan for years, but every bookseller refused to join him, although he had numerous followers. The first number of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine, or Traders' Monthly Intelligencer … by Sylvanus Urban, Gent.,’ appeared in January 1730–1. Some of the early numbers were said to be ‘printed by Edward Cave, jun.,’ an imaginary nephew; others ‘printed for R. Newton,’ and sometimes he falsely described himself as ‘Sylvanus Urban of Aldermanbury, Gent.’ His magazine was a vast improvement upon the gossiping and abusive papers of the time. Johnson says its sale was over ten thousand in 1739, and every effort was made to keep up its circulation, Cave ‘scarcely ever looking out of his window but with a view to its improvement.’ A few years afterwards it had risen to fifteen thousand. Though without literary ability, Cave was an able editor. In 1732 he began the publication of a regular series of the parliamentary debates of both houses, giving only the initials and finals of personal names. He had friends posted in each house to watch the proceedings, and fix important speeches in the memory. Reports were afterwards put together from these materials by William Guthrie [q. v.] Members at times privately forwarded copies of their own speeches. The reports grew to be very lengthy, and at every year's end a supplement had to be published. The ‘London Magazine’ and ‘Scots Magazine’ followed the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ The ‘London Magazine,’ which lasted from 1732 to 1781, was his most successful rival. In April 1738 occurred the debate on the publication of proceedings in parliament, in consequence of Cave having given the king's answer to an address of parliament before it had even been reported from the chair, and the commons passed a resolution of ‘high indignation.’ The ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ and ‘London Magazine’ hit upon very similar evasions. The debates were attributed to a ‘parliament of the empire of Lilliput’ in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ or ‘the proceedings of a Roman literary club’ in the ‘London Magazine.’ Quaint pseudonyms were adopted. The proceedings were also thrown out of chronological order. In November 1740 Johnson succeeded Guthrie and reported for about three years. Johnson's account of his first visit to St. John's Gate in 1738, when ‘he beheld it with reverence,’ is well known. For years, until Cave died with his hand ‘gently pressing’ Johnson's, their friendship survived. In 1747 Cave, along with Astle of the ‘London Magazine,’ was again in trouble for printing accounts of the trial of Lord Lovat. On paying fees and begging pardon on their knees the offenders were discharged with a reprimand. The reports, however, had to be given up, and they were not resumed until 1752; Cave's press was not stopped again. When the officers threatened to stamp the last half sheet of magazines as if it were a newspaper, and the rival editors were about to give way, he stood out and the idea was relinquished. From 1742 to to 1748 Cave published an occasional magazine, entitled ‘Miscellaneous Correspondence,’ of which nine numbers only appeared. From 1744 to 1753 he issued a second work, ‘Miscellanea Curiosa Mathematica,’ 4to. Both these are very scarce, and a complete set of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ of the first edition would be difficult to find in any library. In the British Museum copy the first two volumes alone are made up of six editions, some printed twenty-three years after the first issue, and with the most varied imprints.

Besides the magazine Cave published Johnson's ‘Rambler.’ His press also produced Du Halde's ‘History of China’ in weekly numbers, forming 2 vols. fol. 1736; Mackerell's ‘History and Antiquities of King's Lynn,’ 1738, 8vo; ‘Debates of the House of Commons, by the Hon. Anchitel Grey,’ 10 vols. 1745, 8vo; Dr. Newton's ‘Compleat Herbal,’ 1752, 8vo; an edition of the works of Sydenham, the physician; several of Dr. Johnson's books (‘London,’ ‘Irene,’ ‘Life of Savage,’ &c.), and other works. Cave bought an old coach and a pair of older horses, and in lieu of a coat of arms or simple crest he had a representation of St. John's Gate painted on the door panels; his plate bore the same picture.

In 1740 Cave purchased a machine to spin wool or cotton into thread yarn or worsted, and had a mill erected to work on the Turnmill Brook, near the river Fleet. Lewis Paul of Birmingham, the patentee, undertook the management, but it was never brought into proper working order, or it would have anticipated the labours of Arkwright and Peel. He set up a water-wheel and machinery at Northampton with fifty pairs of hands, and the use of Paul's carding cylinder, patented in 1748, but this was also neglected and failed. He was very friendly to Benjamin Franklin, and in 1750 placed one of his electric spires or lightning conductors on the eastern tower of St. John's Gate. On the same gate he mounted four portable cannons of his own invention. They were so light as to be carried on the shoulder, and yet could discharge either a large ball or a number of bullets. From one of the ‘Poetical Epistles’ it appears that his wife was named Milton, and her first husband Newton. She signs another humorous poem as ‘Su. Urban.’ She died of asthma in 1751. Cave travelled much in his later years, for health's sake, to Gloucester, Northampton, and Reading, and loved to announce himself to school friends as ‘old Cave the cobbler.’ He died at St. John's Gate 10 Jan. 1754, and was buried at St. James's, Clerkenwell; the long and interesting epitaph on a tablet in Rugby churchyard to him and his father (who died 1747) was by Hawkesworth.

Cave was over six feet in height and bulky. In early life he was very healthy, and fond of feats of strength and agility. Later in life he suffered much from gout, took the Bath waters in 1736, for twenty years before his death his only beverage was milk and water, and for four years he adopted a vegetarian diet. His sedentary habits were remarkable, writing during breakfast and supper, and taking at times only a little shuttlecock exercise in the gateway with a friend or two. He was reserved but generous, and not without humour. Cave's portrait, etched by Worlidge from Kyte's oil painting, 1740, is in ‘Gent. Mag.’ 1754, p. 55. A second portrait was produced when Worlidge's was worn out. There is a third by Grignon, surrounded with emblematical devices, and with a four-line inscription; a fourth by Basire is the frontispiece to vol. v. of Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes,’ 1812; and a fifth by E. Scriven is in Murray's edition of Boswell's ‘Johnson.’ Mr. B. Foster, a tenant of St. John's Gate when it had become a tavern, found in an old room a three-quarter length portrait, said to be Hogarth's. This was placed, along with Goldsmith's and Johnson's, in the rooms of the ‘Urban Club.’ The ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ was Cave's sole property till his death. It was continued by David Henry, a printer, who married Cave's sister Mary in 1734, and by Richard Cave, a nephew. Henry's connection with it lasted till 1792, when he died. John Nichols, having obtained a share in 1778, edited it from that time till his death in 1816. Up to 1781 it was published at St. John's Gate. In 1850 great alterations were made. In 1856 it passed from the Nichols family to the Parkers of Oxford, and in 1865 to Bradbury & Evans. It still exists in a changed form.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vii. 66–7, 531; Boswell's Johnson (Croker's), 101–21; Timperley's Lit. and Typogr. Anecd. 624, 636, 643, 656, 688, 775, 806; Andrews's British Journalism, i. 140, ii. 206, 269, 271; West's Warwickshire, p. 107; Gratton, The Gallery, p. 19; Rugby School Register, p. 15; Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 27; Journal of House of Commons, xxi. 85, 118, 119, 127, xxiii. 148; Journal of House of Lords, xxvii. 94, 100, 107–9; Gent. Mag. 1735, p. 3, 1754, p. 57, 1792, pt. i. 578, 1856, pp. 3, 131, 267, 531, 667, 1857, pp. 3, 149, 282, 379; Quarterly Review, cvii. 52; Coxe's Memoirs of Walpole, i. 573; Sloane MS. 4302; Add. MS. 5972–3; Foster's Priory and Gate of St. John.]

J. W.-G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.58
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
340 i 15 Cave, Edward: for Dr. Halde's read Du Halde's
ii 6 f.e. for Harl. MS. read Sloane MS.