The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Junius, Letters of

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JUNIUS, Letters of, a remarkable series of political letters that were published in the London Public Advertiser over the pseudonym of “Junius,” between 21 Jan. 1769 and 21 Jan. 1772. These epistles greatly stirred the English political world, for they were written with a wide and intimate knowledge of affairs, shrewd political sagacity, literary felicity and a certain waspish malignity. No bolder or more audacious comments on the actions and characters of public men have ever appeared in the English language. So merciless were they in their cold-blooded vivisection and more or less polished abuse of the policies of Granby, Bute, Grafton, Bedford, Mansfield and, to Burke's horror, scathing even the sacred majesty of the king, that extraordinary efforts were made to discover their author. But Junius, whoever he was, escaped detection in his lifetime and, since the days of George III, the question of his identity, though frequently raised in England and America, has never been satisfactorily settled. At the close of his correspondence Junius edited the letters for the publisher of the Public Advertiser, Henry Sampson Woodfall, with an explanatory preface and a ‘Dedication to the English Nation.’ He also included a few letters he had written under other pseudonyms than ‘Junius.’ The whole was published in two volumes by Woodfall in 1772. A later edition, published by Woodfall's son and edited by Dr. Mason Good, appeared in 1812. Good introduced 113 extra letters; some of these had passed between Woodfall senior and Junius, but the majority had been collected by Good from the Public Advertiser and attributed to Junius without the slightest proof of their authenticity. It was these interpolated letters that gave rise to the accusation of inconsistency frequently leveled against Junius. Some 40 different individuals have at various times been brought forward as the real Junius, among them being Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Lord George Sackville, Lord Chatham, Sir Philip Francis, Colonel Barré, John Horne Tooke, Lord Temple, General Charles Lee, Hugh M. Boyd, Lord Chesterfield, Horace Walpole, etc. Junius wrote his letters in a disguised hand; he described himself as “a man of rank and fortune,” asserted that he was the sole depository of his own secret, and that it should perish with him. From external evidence and fortuitous coincidences, plausible cases have been made out to establish the identity of at least 10 different contemporaries with the unknown Junius. From internal evidence, however, including style, ability, circumstances, ages, chronology and motives, in addition to solemn denials by several reputed authors of the letters, the claims and pretensions of any of the reminder have hitherto failed to obtain a unanimous verdict. Curiously enough, all the advocates base their evidence on similarity of handwriting. Apparently the strongest claim was that made on behalf of Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818) by Taylor in 1816 and elaborated by a grandson, H. R. Francis, in ‘Junius Revealed’ (London 1894). The publication of ‘The Francis Letters’ (2 vols., London 1901), a mass of private and public correspondence, went some way, negatively, to prove that Sir Philip was not Junius. The best criticisms on the disputed authorship may be found in C. W. Dilke's ‘Papers of a Critic’ (Vol. II, London 1875) and the North American Review of October 1829 and April 1832. Consult Britton, J., ‘The Authorship of the Letters of Junius Elucidated’ (London 1848); Chabot, C., ‘Handwriting of Junius’ (London 1871); Coventry, ‘Critical Inquiry into the Letters of Junius’ (1825); Dwarris, Sir F., ‘Some New Facts as to the Authorship of the Letters of Junius’ (London 1850); ‘Junius Unmasked’ (Boston 1828); Jacques, ‘History of Junius’ (1843); Newhall, I., ‘Letters of Junius’ (Boston 1818); Parke and Merivale, ‘Life of Francis’ (London); Vicarius, ‘The Junius Letters’ (London 1903); Wade, J., ‘Junius’ (2 vols., London 1850), generally called Woodfall's Edition, and occasionally reprinted; based entirely upon Good (1812) it contains all his blunders. Waterhouse, B., ‘An Essay on Junius and his Letters’ (Boston 1831).