Letters, Life and Works of John Oldmixon: Politics and Professional Authorship in Early Hanoverian England

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Provides the first detailed treatment of John Oldmixon (c.1673-1742), one of the most prolific and conspicuous English writers at the start of the eighteenth century. It contains a fully annotated text of his letters, written to many notable figures of the age, and dealing with Jacobite affrays, disputes with publishers such as Jacob Tonson and Edmund Curll, and Oldmixon’s own clashes with the law.


“Burgeoning interest among students of the eighteenth century in the means of literary production has manifested itself in a variety of ways in recent years. In addition to projects such as the Eighteenth-Century Short-Title Catalogue (now subsumed in the English Short-Title Catalogue) and the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain series, a number of studies have appeared covering such inter-related topics as the growth of the book trade, the development of the political press, the end of pre-printing censorship, the professionalisation of the writer, and the emergence of the so-called “bourgeois public sphere.” Not that the publication in 1989 of the English translation of Jürgen Habermas’s hugely influential model of the rise of public opinion as a force in the state was required in order to bring this about.

Over thirty years ago, Pat Rogers’s seminal study, Grub Street: Studies in a Subculture (1972), first explored the milieu within which Pope’s Dunces lived, worked, and had their being. Where Professor Rogers ventured, others have followed in increasing numbers. One of those Dunces was John Oldmixon, who is still probably best-known for Pope’s portrayal of him, “[i]n naked majesty,” in the diving contest in Book II of The Dunciad. While this does not do justice to a man who started out, like so many other writers at the turn of the eighteenth century, as an aspiring poet and playwright, it is apposite if for no other reason than that Oldmixon’s long career “in the Service of the Muse and the Press” exemplifies the range of experiences the professional writer of the period had to endure. Party conflict and the end of censorship in 1695 led inexorably to an up-turn in political writing, and Oldmixon was recruited in 1710 by Arthur Maynwaring to counteract, in the columns of The Medley, the views being disseminated by Swift in his influential essay paper, The Examiner. As Oldmixon’s Life and Posthumous Works of Arthur Maynwaring, Esq. (1715) suggests, Maynwaring largely coordinated the production of Whig propaganda during the later years of the reign of Queen Anne, and Oldmixon subsequently claimed to have written and published “more, perhaps, than all other Writers, in Defence of the Management of the War, the Conduct of the Allies, the Principles of the Revolution, and the grand Concern of Englishmen, the Protestant Succession.” Doubtless, he expected to be rewarded for his efforts.

As the present volume reveals in remarkable detail, however, life was immensely precarious for those who tried to make their living by the pen. Party writers rarely received adequate remuneration for their pains, and Oldmixon, always short of money, was reduced to writing supplicating letters to publishers such as “genial” Jacob Tonson. It is letters such as these which, when taken in conjunction with Oldmixon’s own Memoirs of the Press (1742), offer unique details about the life of the professional writer, and reveal the significance of the sub-title of Professor Rogers’s book: “Politics and Professional Authorship in Early Hanoverian England.” Hardship had forced Oldmixon to turn from writing plays and poetry to writing political pamphlets and essays. Yet despite “submitting to labour at the Press like a Horse in a Mill” (as James Ralph graphically put it) Oldmixon was never financially secure. Forced to try his hand, in turn, at literary biography, literary criticism, and history, he became “the miscellaneous compiler Oldmixon, who could turn his hand to scandalous memoirs, secret history, court tales or whatever the booksellers would buy.”

In his Introduction, Professor Rogers observes that “The letters as a whole provide valuable insights for the students of authorship in this age,” and this collection of letters and documents certainly succeeds in its aim of offering new information about the book trade in early Hanoverian England. By including, in addition, a definitive account of Oldmixon’s life, an authoritative checklist of his writings, and valuable appendices detailing his literary skirmishes with Defoe, Pope, and Swift, among others, it also goes some way towards correcting the harsh verdict of posterity on his literary endeavours.” – (from the Foreword) Professor J.A. Downie, Goldsmiths’ College, University of London

“It is something of a cliché, but no less true for being so, that the past thirty years of scholarship in the British eighteenth century have seen the revenge of the Dunces—those putatively (and sometimes actually) second- and third-string poets, polemicists, and miscellaneous writers whom Alexander Pope skewered in his Dunciad (1728). The initiator of this about-face was Pat Rogers, editor of the present, predictably impeccable edition of John Oldmixon’s correspondence and related materials. Rogers’s Grub Street: Studies in a Subculture (1972) heralded a revolution in canonicity and criticism that remains, arguably, the defining feature of postmodern eighteenth-century studies. This edition reaffirms Rogers’s centrality to the movement that he started. Female writers have been among the higher-profile beneficiaries of the “revolution,” but their contributions necessarily tend to concern spheres other than the public and the political and thus to be of less significance to scholars interested in that distinctly Augustan amalgam of print, politics, and society. But Oldmixon seems to have been everywhere, writing—“scribbling,” Pope would have said—all the while. As Rogers points out in his biographical overview, Oldmixon pops up time and again, sparring in print with the likes of Swift; engaging (as another prominent adversary, Defoe, had done) in covert government operations, and routinely rubbing shoulders with the highest and mightiest of the day, perhaps most impressively “the princely Duke of Chandos” (p. 14), whose letters to Oldmixon constitute one of the many welcome addenda to this generous volume. What emerges from the edition is an illustrative and preeminently useful portrait of an important but under-discussed Augustan type: the writer of modest background but more than serviceable talent, not embedded in the Walpolite circle like the glamorous and flamboyant John, Lord Hervey or the more dogged Sir William Yonge, nor consistently beholden to it, like the tough, rebarbative polemicist William Arnall or his less gifted brother-in-arms James Pitt. Oldmixon is somehow more representative of the period for being less defined by its principal figures, even as he moved among them, pen in hand, with an impressive facility. Again, one thinks of Defoe—a confluence that Rogers covers splendidly in his second appendix. It will surprise no one that Rogers, whose volume of Swift’s poetry is the best extant edition of that author’s work, has prepared the letters scrupulously, creating a text that, in its exactness and in the clarity of its presentation, complements the erudition of the apparatus. Any serious library should hold this edition, and any serious student of eighteenth-century British culture should acquaint himself or herself with it.” – Professor Alexander Pettit, University of North Texas

"This collection could make a meaningful contribution to a history of the county of Somerset in the early years of Hanoverian rule. THere is a story to be told there. Oldmixon's life and letters hint at something far richer than they deliver when forming the core of a volume." - The Scribblerian

Table of Contents

Letters by Oldmixon
Letters from the Duke of Chandos
Petitions, Memoranda, and Other Documents
Index of Correspondents
A Checklist of Oldmixon’s Published Works
Appendix 1 Oldmixon and the Clarendon Controversy
Appendix 2 Defoe and Oldmixon
Appendix 3 Pope and Oldmixon
Appendix 4 Dedications
Appendix 5 Swift vs. Oldmixon
Appendix 6 Oldmixon and the Trustees for Road Repairs
A Note on Oldmixon’s American Contacts
Family Tree
General Index

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