Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cleland, John

CLELAND, JOHN (1709–1789), novelist, was probably a son of William Cleland (1674?–1741) [q. v.] He was entered at Westminster School in 1722, was afterwards a consul at Smyrna, and thence went as far as Bombay, where in 1736 he was in the service of the East India Company. He soon left Bombay in a destitute condition somewhat hurriedly, and for unknown reasons connected with a quarrel with the members of the council at Bombay; and for many years subsequently wandered from city to city in Europe without any defined employment, and is said to have been more than once in a debtors prison in England. In 1760 he published (1) 'Fanny Hill, or the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure,' 2 vols. 12mo, a scandalously indecent book, for which he received twenty guineas from Griffiths. A first part had appeared previously in 1748, and a second in 1749. The book obtained an enormous sale, and is said to have brought Griffiths a profit of 10,000l. This was followed in 1761 by (2) 'Memoirs of a Coxcomb,' 12mo, a work of greater to the merit. His first work, however, was so licentious that Cleland was summoned before the privy council, where he pleaded his poverty as an excuse. No punishment was inflicted upon Cleland, but a bookseller (Drybutter), who is said to have altered the language of the book for the worse after it had been favourably noticed in the 'Monthly Review' (ii. 461-2), was made to stand in the pillory in 1757. Lord Granville, who had been at the council, procured Cleland a pension of 100l. a year, in order that he might make a worthier use of his talents, or perhaps with a view to his prospective services as a newspaper writer. After this Cleland wrote for the theatre and for the newspapers. His productions appeared chiefly in the 'Public Advertiser,' under various signatures, such as 'Modestus ' or 'A Briton.' His dramatic works were: (3) 'Titus Vespasian,' 8vo, 1755. (4) 'The Ladies' Subscription, a Dramatic Performance designed for an introduction to a dance,' 8vo, 1755. (6) 'Timbo-Chiqui, or the American Savage, a Dramatic Entertainment in Three Acts,' 8vo, 1758. He now turned his attention to the more serious study of the English language, especially as to its connection with Celtic. In 1766 he published (6) 'The Way to Things by Words and to Words by Things; being a sketch of an Attempt at the Retrieval of the Ancient Celtic or primitive language of Europe; to which is added a succinct account of the Sanscrit, or the learned language of the Bramins; also two Essays, the one on the origin of the Musical Waits at Christmas, the other on the real secret of the Freemasons,' London, 1766, 8vo. How ill Cleland was equipped for philological studies may be gathered from the spelling of a pamphlet issued by him in 1787: (7) 'Specimen of an Etimological Vocabulary or Essay by means of the Anilitic Method to retrieve the Ancient Celtic.' Besides these works he published: (8) 'Surprises of Love,' London, 1765, 12mo, and (9) 'The Man of Honour,' London, 17—, 12mo, 3 vols. The latter years of his life were spent in great obscurity, and he died in Petty France on 23 Jan. 1789.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 467-8, viii. 412; Gent, Mag. 1789; Foreter's life of Goldsmith, i. xxx, 2nd edit.; Biog. Dram.; Biog. Brit.; Lowndes's Bibl. Manual; Welch's Alumni Westm.]

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