Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Puckle, James

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PUCKLE, JAMES (1667?–1724), author of 'The Club,' born about 1667, was son of James Puckle (1633–1690), who was himself third son of Samuel Puckle (1588–1661), a prominent citizen of Norwich, and mayor of that town in 1656. James the younger took out on 16 June 1690 letters for the administration of the estate of his father, who had died a widower beyond sea. Adopting the profession of a notary public, he soon entered into partnership with one Jenkins in Pope's Head Alley, Cornhill. He seems to have aided professionally in the promotion of a company which sought to encourage the fishing industry of England, and was known as 'The Royal Fishery of England.' In order to recommend it to public notice, Puckle issued a pamphlet entitled 'England's Interests, or a Brief Discourse of the Royal Fishery in a Letter to a Friend.' This appeared late in 1696, and reached a second edition in the same year. It was reissued in a somewhat altered form in 1697 as 'A New Dialogue between a Burgermaster and an English Gentleman,' with a dedication addressed to the governor and officers of the 'Royal Fishery.' In 1697 Puckle subjected the work to further changes, and issued it as 'England's Way to Wealth and Honour, in a Dialogue between an Englishman and Dutchman,' with a dedication to the Duke of Leeds, governor of the 'Royal Fishery.' A later version bore the title 'England's Path to Wealth' (1700), of which 'a second edition with additions' was dated 1718, and was included among the 'Somers Tracts,' vol. ii. A Swedish translation was issued at Stockholm in 1723.

Puckle was also interested in mechanical inventions, and on 15 May 1718 took out a patent for a revolver, mitrailleuse, or Gatling gun of his own construction. He described it in a published broadside (1720?) as 'a portable gun or machine called a defence that discharges soe often and soe many bullets, and can be so quickly loaden as renders it next to impossible to carry any ship by boarding.' The broadside supplies an engraving of the machine. The breech of the gun, which was movable, had six chambers, which were discharged in turn through one long barrel. Puckle endeavoured to form a company to develop his invention during the bubble period of 1720, and incurred much unfavourable notice from catchpenny satirists, one of whom stated that the machine was only capable of wounding shareholders (Cat. of Satirical Prints in Brit. Mus. Nos. 1620, 1625; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. viii. 365).

Puckle's surest title to fame is as the author of 'The Club, or a Dialogue between Father and Son, in vino veritas,' London, printed for the author in 1711 (Gent. Mag, 1822, pt. i. p. 204). The volume is dedicated to two merchants, Micajah and Richard Perry, and to the memory of a third, Thomas Lane, who married Mary Puckle, a cousin of the writer. Puckle's book belongs to the class of collected character-sketches which Sir Thomas Overbury began and Earle brought to perfection in his 'Micro-Cosmographie.' A young man is represented by the author as having met one night at a friend's club, assembled at 'The Noah's Ark,' twenty-five typical personages, including an antiquary, buffoon, critic, quack, rake, and usurer, and he gives next morning a sprightly description of each of his companions to his father. At the close of each of the son's sketches the father interposes much sententious moralising on the habits of life of the person described. The work exhibits shrewd observation, but the moral reflections are tedious, and the book's long lease of popularity seems to exceed its literary merits. Two new editions appeared in 1713, with a portrait of Puckle, engraved by Vertue, after a painting by Clostermann. A reprint ‘from the third edition of the London Copy’ was issued at Cork in 1721. In 1723 a revised version, entitled ‘The Club, or a Grey Cap for a Greenhead, in a Dialogue between Father and Son,’ was described as ‘the fourth edition with additions.’ The portrait was here engraved by Cole. The title-page supplied the warning, ‘These characters being mearely intended to expose vice and folly, let none pretend to a key nor seek for another's picture, least he find his own.’ There is a new dedication, addressed to the memory of the former patrons, who were now dead. The additional matter mainly consisted of an appendix of moral ‘maxims, advice, and cautions,’ with reflections on ‘company, friends, and death.’ Reprints of this edition appeared in London (‘the fifth’) in 1733 and at Dublin in 1743. The new sub-title seems to plagiarise Caleb Trenchfield's ‘Cap of Grey Hairs for a Greenhead, the Father's Councel to his Son, an Apprentice,’ 1710 (5th edit.)

Puckle, who resided in early life in the parish of St. Margaret, Lothbury, and afterwards in that of St. Stephen, Coleman Street, was buried in St. Stephen's Church, Coleman Street, London, on 26 July 1724. He married twice. By his first wife, Mary, whom he married before 1690, he had four daughters and three sons, of whom Burton alone seems to have reached manhood. On 21 Feb. 1714–15 he married at New Brentford a second wife, Elizabeth Fownes, a widow of Brentford.

The 1723 edition of Puckle's ‘Club’ was reissued in 1817, with many charming illustrations by John Thurston [q. v.], and a title-page and a few headpieces by John Thompson [q. v.] Thus embellished, the work reappeared in 1834 at the Chiswick Press, with a preface by Samuel Weller Singer [q. v.] The latter stated that Charles Whittingham, the printer and publisher, owned a manuscript by Puckle containing many moral dialogues between father and son, mother and daughter, and the like; but the bulk of this material had been utilised by Puckle in the appendices to the 1723 edition. The latest reprint, with Thurston's illustrations, was published at Glasgow in 1890.

[The author of The Club Identified, by George Steinman Steinman, 1872 (privately printed); art. by Mr. Austin Dobson in ‘Bibliographica,’ pt. viii. 407–21; Gent. Mag. 1822, i. 204–7; Noble's Continuation of Granger, iii. 363; Addit. MS. 28875, f. 17 (letter from Puckle to John Ellis, 1676).]

S. L.