Who Wrote Junius's Letters?

This question has not yet been satisfactorily answered. In 1812, Dr.

Mason Good, in an essay he wrote on the question, passed in review all

the persons who had then been suspected of writing these celebrated

letters. They are, Charles Lloyd and John Roberts, originally treasury

clerks; Samuel Dyer, a learned man, and a friend of Burke and Johnson;

William Gerard Hamilton, familiarly known as "Single-speech Hamilton;"

Mr. Burke; Dr. Butler, late Bishop of Hereford; the Rev. Philip

Rosenhagen; Major-General Lee, who went over to the Americans, and took

an active part in their contest with the mother-country; John Wilkes;

Hugh Macaulay Boyd; John Dunning, Lord Ashburton; Henry Flood; and Lord

George Sackville.

Since this date, in 1813, John Roche published an Inquiry, in which he

persuaded himself that Burke was the author. In the same year there

appeared three other publications on Junius: these were, the Attempt of

the Rev. J. B. Blakeway, to trace them to John Horne Tooke; next were

the "Facts" of Thomas Girdlestone, M.D., to prove that General Lee was

the author; and, thirdly, a work put forth by Mrs. Olivia Wilmot Serres,

in the following confident terms:--"Life of the Author of Junius's

Letters,--the Rev. J. Wilmot, D.D., Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford;"

and, like most bold attempts, this work attracted some notice and


In 1815, the Letters were attributed to Richard Glover, the poet of

Leonidas; and this improbable idea was followed by another, assigning

the authorship of the Letters to the Duke of Portland, in 1816. In the

same year appeared "Arguments and Facts," to show that John Louis de

Lolme, author of the famous Essay on the Constitution of England, was

the writer of these anonymous epistles. In 1816, too, appeared Mr.

John Taylor's "Junius Identified," advocating the claims of Sir Philip

Francis so successfully that the question was generally considered to

be settled. Mr. Taylor's opinion was supported by Edward Dubois, Esq.,

formerly the confidential friend and private secretary of Sir Philip,

who, in common with Lady Francis, constantly entertained the conviction

that his deceased patron was identical with Junius.

In 1817, George Chalmers, F.S.A., advocated the pretensions of Hugh

Macaulay Boyd to the authorship of Junius. In 1825, Mr. George Coventry

maintained with great ability that Lord George Sackville was Junius; and

two writers in America adopted this theory.

Thus was the whole question re-opened; and, in 1828, Mr. E. H. Barker,

of Thetford, refuted the claims of Lord George Sackville and Sir Philip

Francis, and advocated those of Charles Lloyd, private secretary to the

Hon. George Grenville.

In 1841, Mr. N. W. Simons, of the British Museum, refuted the

supposition that Sir Philip Francis was directly or indirectly

concerned in the writing; and, in the same year, appeared M. Jaques's

review of the controversy, in which he arrived at the conclusion that

Lord George Sackville composed the Letters, and that Sir Philip Francis

was his amanuensis, thus combining the theory of Mr. Taylor with that of

Mr. Coventry.

The question was reviewed and revived in a volume published by Mr.

Britton, F.S.A., in June 1848, entitled "The Authorship of the Letters

of Junius Elucidated;" in which is advocated with great care the opinion

that the Letters were, to a certain extent, the joint productions of

Lieut.-Colonel Isaac Barre, M.P., Lord Shelburne, (afterwards Marquess

of Lansdowne,) and Dunning, Lord Ashburton. Of these three persons the

late Sir Francis Baring commissioned Sir Joshua Reynolds, in 1784-5, to

paint portraits in one picture, which is regarded as evidence of joint


Only a week before his death, 1804, the Marquess of Lansdowne was

personally appealed to on the subject of Junius, by Sir Richard

Phillips. In conversation, the Marquess said, "No, no, I am not equal to

Junius; I could not be the author; but the grounds of secrecy are now

so far removed by death (Dunning and Barre were at that time dead), and

change of circumstances, that it is unnecessary the author of Junius

should much longer be unknown. The world is curious about him, and I

could make a very interesting publication on the subject. I knew Junius,

and I know all about the writing and production of these Letters."

The Marquess added, "If I live over the summer, which, however, I don't

expect, I promise you a very interesting pamphlet about Junius. I will

put my name to it; I will set the question at rest for ever." The death

of the Marquess, however, occurred in a week. In a letter to the Monthly

Magazine, July 1813, the son of the Marquess of Lansdowne says:--"It

is not impossible my father may have been acquainted with the fact; but

perhaps he was under some obligation to secrecy, as he never made any

communication to me on the subject."

Lord Mahon (now Earl Stanhope) at length and with minuteness enters, in

his History, into a vindication of the claims of Sir Philip Francis,

grounding his partisanship on the close similarity of handwriting

established by careful comparison of facsimiles; the likeness of the

style of Sir Philip's speeches in Parliament to that of Junius--biting,

pithy, full of antithesis and invective; the tenderness and bitterness

displayed by Junius towards persons to whom Sir Philip stood well or

ill affected; the correspondence of the dates of the letters with those

of certain movements of Sir Philip; and the evidence of Junius' close

acquaintance with the War Office, where Sir Philip held a post. It seems

generally agreed that the weight of proof is on the side of Sir Philip

Francis; but there will always be found adherents of other names--as

O'Connell, in the following passage, of Burke:--

"It is my decided opinion," said O'Connell, "that Edmund Burke

was the author of the 'Letters of Junius.' There are many

considerations which compel me to form that opinion. Burke was the

only man who made that figure in the world which the author of

'Junius' must have made, if engaged in public life; and the

entire of 'Junius's Letters' evinces that close acquaintance with

the springs of political machinery which no man could possess

unless actively engaged in politics. Again, Burke was fond of

chemical similes; now chemical similes are frequent in Junius.

Again; Burke was an Irishman; now Junius, speaking of the

Government of Ireland, twice calls it 'the Castle,' a familiar

phrase amongst Irish politicians, but one which an Englishman,

in those days, would never have used. Again; Burke had this

peculiarity in writing, that he often wrote many words without

taking the pen from the paper. The very same peculiarity existed

in the manuscripts of Junius, although they were written in a

feigned hand. Again; it may be said that the style is not Burke's.

In reply, I would say that Burke was master of many styles. His

work on natural society, in imitation of Lord Bolingbroke, is as

different in point of style from his work on the French Revolution,

as both are from the 'Letters of Junius.' Again; Junius speaks

of the King's insanity as a divine visitation; Burke said the very

same thing in the House of Commons. Again; had any one of the

other men to whom the 'Letters' are, with any show of probability,

ascribed, been really the author, such author would have had no

reason for disowning the book, or remaining incognito. Any one of

them but Burke would have claimed the authorship and fame--and

proud fame. But Burke had a very cogent reason for remaining

incognito. In claiming Junius he would have claimed his own

condemnation and dishonour, for Burke died a pensioner. Burke

was, moreover, the only pensioner who had the commanding talent

displayed in the writings of Junius. Now, when I lay all these

considerations together, and especially when I reflect that a

cogent reason exists for Burke's silence as to his own authorship,

I confess I think I have got a presumptive proof of the very

strongest nature, that Burke was the writer."

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