Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Midgley, Robert
MIDGLEY, ROBERT, M.D. (1655?–1723), alleged author of the ‘Turkish Spy,’ son of Ralph Midgley of Brerehagh in the West Riding of Yorkshire, by Frances, daughter of George Burniston of Potter Newton in the same riding, was born in 1653, graduated B.A. at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1673, and removing to Christ's College, proceeded M.B. in 1676 and M.D. in 1687. In the latter year he was admitted (22 Dec.) a candidate of the College of Physicians. He resided in the parish of Bassishaw, London, and was licenser of the press in 1686 and subsequent years. He died on 16 Oct. 1723. Midgley married twice; first, Isabella, daughter of George Neale, M.D., of Leeds, who died on 17 Feb. 1706-7, and was buried in the parish church, Leeds; secondly, Mary, daughter of Admiral Sir John Cox. His nephew Robert Midgley (1684–1761), son of the Rev. Joseph Midgley of Thirsk, Yorkshire, by Sarah, daughter of John Pybus, proceeded B.A. from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1703, M.A. in 1733, was master for fifty-three years of Coxwold free school, and author of the ‘Compendious Schoolmaster,’ to which his portrait is prefixed. He died on 24 May 1761. The inscription on his monument in Husthwaite Church appears together with his portrait engraved by James Fittler in 1790 in Nichols's ‘Lit. Illustrations,’ i. 767–9 (Gent. Mag. 1761; Bromley, Cat. of Portraits).
For the English version of ‘Plutarch's Morals’ (London, 1684–1704, 8vo) Midgley translated the treatise on the cessation of oracles and Plutarch's letter of consolation to his wife. In 1687 he published ‘A New Treatise of Natural Philosophy, freed from the Intricacies of the Schools, adorned with many curious Experiments, both Medicinal and Chymical, as also with several Observations useful for the Health of the Body’ (London, 12mo). The same year he edited ‘The History of the War of Cyprus’ (a translation of Antonio Maria Graziani's Latin history of the conquest of Cyprus by the Turks). In 1689 he published a tract entitled ‘Popery Banished. With an Account of their [sic] base Cheats, especially making the Word of God of no effect,’ Edinburgh, 4to. The ‘Key to Hudibras,’ published by L'Estrange in 1713, is said to have been derived from Midgley.
But Midgley is chiefly remembered as the ‘editor’ of the celebrated ‘Letters writ by a Turkish Spy, who liv'd five and forty years … at Paris: giving an Account … of the most remarkable transactions of Europe … from 1637 to 1682’ (London, 1687–93, 8 vols. 8vo; 26th edit. 1770), the composition of the greater part of which is, on very precarious grounds, ascribed to him by Hallam (Lit. of Europe, 1839, iv. 554). Mrs. Manley asserted that her father, Roger Manley [q. v.], wrote the first two (and best) volumes; Dunton, in his ‘Life and Errors,’ asserts that the greater part of the ‘Letters’ were written by one Sault, at two guineas a sheet, under the direction of Dr. Midgley, while elsewhere he insinuates that William Bradshaw [q. v.] was the real writer. Midgley certainly owned the copyright of the work previously to 27 Dec. 1693 (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 413); and that he acquired it as, at least, joint author is a view in which Hallam has received vigorous support. But the theory that Midgley and Bradshaw supplemented and continued Manley, though the one generally held during the eighteenth century, will not suffer investigation (cf. Warton's note to Pope, and ‘A Letter from W. Bishop to Dr. Charlett on the “Turkish Spy,”’ in Aubrey's Bodleian Letters, i. 223).
In 1684 a Genoese named Giovanni Paolo Marana published at Paris a small volume in French entitled the ‘Espion Turc.’ A second volume followed in 1685, a third in 1686, and a fourth at Amsterdam in 1688. The substance of these four volumes appeared in English in the first volume of the familiar ‘Turkish Spy’ in 1687. It is practically certain, therefore, that the first volume of the ‘Letters’ was composed, not by Manley, but by Marana, and it is at least very probable that the Italian was the author of the remainder of the work. This theory, which affords a solution to a perplexed question, has been ably reconciled by Bolton Corney (in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1841) not only with Midgley's possession of the copyright, but with the fact that the last seven volumes appeared first in English and at London. Marana, Corney contends, met with obstacles to publication in France. In Holland, to the freer press of which country he had recourse, his work was held in little esteem. Rhodes, the publisher of the popular English translation of the first volumes, was in frequent communication with Holland, and may well have purchased the inedited manuscript of the last seven volumes. Midgley, it is suggested, advanced the purchase-money and so obtained the copyright. He employed his ‘operative’ Bradshaw on the translation, which he very slightly edited.
The chief permanent interest of the once popular ‘Letters’ is derived from the fact that they inaugurated a new species of literary composition. The similar idea of a description of England as if by a foreigner was suggested by Swift as a good and original one in the ‘Journal to Stella,’ and was utilised by Ned Ward and by many successors, but Montesquieu's ‘Lettres Persanes’ (1723) is the best classical example. Many subsequent writers, including Charles Lamb, have been under obligations to the ‘Letters’ (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. i. 334, 3rd ser. v. 260, 5th ser. xii. 353; D'Israeli, Curiosities, 1840, pp. 136–7; Cibber, Lives of the Poets, 1753, iv. 4; Gent. Mag. 1840 and 1841 passim; Brit. Mus. Cat. under ‘Muhammad, the Turkish Spy’ pseud.)
[Thoresby's Ducat. Leod. ed. Whitaker, ii. 23, 48; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 476; Diary of Abraham de la Pryme (Surtees Soc.), liv. 26, 213; Gent. Mag. 1840 pt. ii. pp. 142, 260, 374, 465, 1841 pt. i. p. 151; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xii. 353; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill, iv. 200; Dunton's Life and Errors, ii. 241, 350; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 413–14, 704, iv. 72; cf. supra Bradshaw (fl. 1700), and L'Estrange, Sir Roger, versus finem.]