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

DUNTON, JOHN (1659–1733), bookseller, was born 4 May 1659. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all named John Dunton, and had all been clergymen. His father had been fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and at the time of his birth was rector of Graffham, Huntingdonshire. His mother, Lydia Carter, died soon after his birth, and was buried in Graffham Church 3 March 1660. His father retired in despondency to Ireland, where he spent some years as chaplain to Sir Henry Ingoldsby. About 1668 he returned, and became rector of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire. The son had been left in England, and sent to school at Dungrove, near Chesham. He was now taken home to his father's, who educated him with a view to making him the fourth clergyman of the line. Dunton, however, was a flighty youth. He fell in love in his thirteenth year; he declined to learn languages, and, though he consented to ‘dabble in philosophy,’ confesses that his ethical studies affected his theories more than his practice. At the age of fourteen he was therefore apprenticed to Thomas Parkhurst, a bookseller in London. He ran away once, but on being sent back to his master's he became diligent, and learnt to ‘love books.’ His father died 24 Nov. 1676. During the remainder of his apprenticeship he was distracted by love and politics. He helped to get up a petition from five thousand whig apprentices, and gave a feast to a hundred of his fellows to celebrate the ‘funeral’ of his apprenticeship. He started in business by taking half a shop, and made his first acquaintance with ‘Hackney authors,’ of whose unscrupulous attempts to impose upon booksellers he speaks with much virtuous indignation. He was, however, lucky in his first speculations. He printed Doolittle's ‘Sufferings of Christ,’ Jay's ‘Daniel in the Den’ (Daniel being Lord Shaftesbury, who had been just released by the grand jury's ‘ignoramus’), and a sermon by John Shower. All these had large sales, which gave him an ‘ungovernable itch’ for similar speculations. He looked about for a wife, and after various flirtations married (3 Aug. 1682) Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Annesley [q. v.] Samuel Wesley, father of John, married Ann, another daughter, and it has been supposed that Defoe married a third. Dunton and his wife called each other Philaret and Iris. They settled at the Black Raven in Prince's Street, and prospered until a depression in trade caused by Monmouth's insurrection in 1685. Dunton then resolved to make a voyage to New England, where 500l. was owing to him, and where he hoped to dispose of some of his stock of books. He had become security for the debt of a brother and sister-in-law, amounting to about 1,200l., which caused him much trouble. He sailed from Gravesend in October 1685, and reached Boston after a four months' voyage. He sold his books, visited Cambridge, Roxbury, where he saw Elliot, the ‘apostle of the Indians,’ learnt something of Indian customs, stayed for a time at Salem and Wenham, and after various adventures returned to England in the autumn of 1686. He was now in danger from his sister-in-law's creditors; he had to keep within doors for ten months, and growing tired of confinement he rambled through Holland, and then to Cologne and Mayence, returning to London 15 Nov. 1688. Having somehow settled with his creditors, he opened a shop with the sign of the Black Raven, ‘opposite to the Poultry compter,’ and for ten years carried on business as a bookseller. He published many books and for a time prospered. In 1692 he inherited an estate on the death of a cousin, and became a freeman of the Stationers' Company. He states that he published six hundred books and only repented of seven, which he advises the reader to burn. The worst case was the ‘Second Spira,’ a book written or ‘methodised’ by a Richard Sault, of whom he gives a curious account. As he sold thirty thousand copies of this in six weeks, he had some consolation. His most remarkable performances were certain ‘projects.’ The chief of these was the ‘Athenian Gazette,’ afterwards the ‘Athenian Mercury,’ published weekly from 17 March 1689–90 to 8 Feb. 1695–6. This was designed as a kind of ‘Notes and Queries.’ He carried it on with the help of Richard Sault and Samuel Wesley, with occasional assistance from John Norris. An original agreement between Dunton, Wesley, and Sault for writing this paper (dated 10 April 1691) is in the Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodleian. Gildon wrote a ‘History of the Athenian Society,’ with poems by Defoe, Tate, and others prefaced. Sir William Temple was a correspondent, and Swift, then in Temple's family, sent them in February 1691–2 the ode (prefixed to their fifth supplement), which caused Dryden to declare that he would never be a poet. A selection called ‘The Athenian Oracle’ was afterwards published in three volumes; and Dunton tried to carry out various supplementary projects. Dunton's wife died 28 May 1697. She left a pathetic letter to her husband (printed in Life and Errors), and he speaks of her with genuine affection. The same year he married Sarah (whom he always calls ‘Valeria’), daughter of Jane Nicholas of St. Albans. The mother, who died in 1708, was a woman of property, who left some money to the poor of St. Albans. She quarrelled with Dunton, who separated from his wife and makes many complaints of his mother-in-law for not paying his debts. He had left his wife soon after their marriage on an expedition to Ireland. He reached Dublin in April 1698 (ib. 549), sold his books in Dublin by auction, and got into disputes with a bookseller named Patrick Campbell. A discursive account of these and of his rambles in Ireland was published by him in 1699 as ‘The Dublin Scuffle.’ He argues (ib. 527) that ‘absence endears a wife;’ but it would seem from the ‘Case of John Dunton with respect to Madam Jane Nicholas of St. Albans, his mother-in-law,’ 1700, that the plan did not answer on this occasion. His wife wrote to him (28 Feb. 1701) in reference to the ‘Case,’ saying that he had married her for money and only bantered her and her mother by ‘his maggoty printers’ (ib. p. xix). Dunton's difficulties increased; his flightiness became actual derangement (ib. 740); and his later writings are full of unintelligible references to hopeless entanglements. He published his curious ‘Life and Errors of John Dunton, late citizen of London, written in solitude,’ in 1705. He states (ib. 240) that he is learning the art of living incognito, and that his income would not support him, ‘could he not stoop so low as to turn author,’ which, however, he thinks was ‘what he was born to.’ He is now a ‘willing and everlasting drudge to the quill.’ In 1706 he published ‘Dunton's Whipping-post, or a Satire upon Everybody …’ to which is added ‘The Living Elegy, or Dunton's Letter to his few Creditors.’ He declares in it that his property is worth 10,000l., and that he will pay all his debts on 10 Oct. 1708. In 1710 appeared ‘Athenianism, or the New Projects of John Dunton,’ a queer collection of miscellaneous articles. He took to writing political pamphlets on the whig side, one of which, called ‘Neck or Nothing,’ attacking Oxford and Bolingbroke, went through several editions, and is noticed with ironical praise in Swift's ‘Public Spirit of the Whigs.’ In 1717 he made an agreement with Defoe to publish a weekly paper, to be called ‘The Hanover Spy.’ He tried to obtain recognition of the services which he had rendered to the whig cause and to mankind at large. In 1716 he published ‘Mordecai's Memorial, or There is nothing done for him,’ in which an ‘unknown and disinterested clergyman’ complains that Dunton is neglected while Steele, Hoadly, and others are preferred; and in 1723 an ‘Appeal’ to George I, in which his services are recounted and a list is given of forty of his political tracts, beginning with ‘Neck or Nothing.’ Nothing came of these appeals. His wife died at St. Albans in March 1720–1, and he died ‘in obscurity’ in 1733. Dunton's ‘Life and Errors’ is a curious book, containing some genuine autobiography of much interest as illustrating the history of the literary trade at the period; and giving also a great number of characters of booksellers, auctioneers, printers, engravers, customers, and of authors of all degrees, from divines to the writers of newspapers. It was republished in 1818, edited by J. B. Nichols, with copious selections from his other works, some of them of similar character, and an ‘analysis’ of his manuscripts in Rawlinson's collections in the Bodleian. His portrait by Knight, engraved by Van der Gucht, is prefixed to ‘Athenianism’ and reproduced in ‘Life and Errors,’ 1818.

Dunton's works are: 1. ‘The Athenian Gazette’ (1690–6) (see above). 2. ‘The Dublin Scuffle; a Challenge sent by John Dunton, citizen of London, to Patrick Campbell, bookseller in Dublin … to which is added some account of his conversation in Ireland …’ 1699. 3. ‘The Case of John Dunton,’ &c., 1700 (see above). 4. The ‘Life and Errors of John Dunton,’ 1705 (see above). 5. ‘Dunton's Whipping-post, or a Satire upon Everybody. With a panegyrick on the most deserving gentlemen and ladies in the three kingdoms. To which is added the Living Elegy, or Dunton's Letter to his few Creditors. … Also, the secret history of the weekly writers …’ 1706. 6. ‘The Danger of Living in a known Sin … fairly argued from the remorse of W[illiam] D[uke] of D[evonshire],’ 1708. 7. ‘The Preaching Weathercock, written by John Dunton against William Richardson, once a dissenting preacher,’ n. d. 8. ‘Athenianism, or the New Projects of Mr. John Dunton … being six hundred distinct treatises in prose and verse, written with his own hand; and is an entire collection of all his writings. … To which is added Dunton's Farewell to Printing .... with the author's effigies …’ 1710. The ‘Farewell to Printing’ never appeared; only twenty-four of the ‘six hundred projects’ are given; a list is given of thirty-five more, which are to form a second volume, never issued. One of them, ‘Dunton's Creed, or the Religion of a Bookseller,’ had been published in 1694 as the work of Benjamin Bridgewater, one of his ‘Hackney authors.’ 9. ‘A Cat may look at a Queen, or a Satire upon her present Majesty,’ n. d. 10. ‘Neck or Nothing.’ 11. ‘Mordecai's Memorial, or There is nothing done for him; a just representation of unrewarded services,’ 1716. 12. ‘An Appeal to His Majesty,’ with a list of his political pamphlets, 1723. The short titles of these are: (1) ‘Neck or Nothing,’ (2) ‘Queen's Robin,’ (3) ‘The Shortest Way with the King,’ (4) ‘The Impeachment,’ (5) ‘Whig Loyalty,’ (6) ‘The Golden Age,’ (7) ‘The Model,’ (8) ‘Dunton's Ghost,’ (9) ‘The Hereditary Bastard,’ (10) ‘Ox[ford] and Bull[ingbroke],’ (11) ‘King Abigail,’ (12) ‘Bungay, or the false brother (Sacheverell) proved his own executioner,’ (13) ‘Frank Scamony’ (an attack upon Atterbury), (14) ‘Seeing's Believing,’ (15) ‘The High-church Gudgeons,’ (16) ‘The Devil's Martyrs,’ (17) ‘Royal Gratitude’ (occasioned by a report that John Dunton will speedily be rewarded with a considerable place or position), (18) ‘King George for ever,’ (19) ‘The Manifesto of King John the Second,’ (20) ‘The Ideal Kingdom,’ (21) ‘The Mob War’ (contains eight political letters and promises eight more), (22) ‘King William's Legacy,’ an heroic poem, (23) ‘Burnet and Wharton, or the two Immortal Patriots,’ an heroic poem, (24) ‘The Pulpit Lunaticks,’ (25) ‘The Bull-baiting, or Sacheverell dressed up in Fireworks,’ (26) ‘The Conventicle,’ (27) ‘The Hanover Spy,’ (28) ‘Dunton's Recantation,’ (29) ‘The Passive Rebels,’ (30) ‘The Pulpit Trumpeter,’ (31) ‘The High-church Martyrology,’ (32) ‘The Pulpit Bite,’ (33) ‘The Pretender or Sham-King,’ (34) ‘God save the King,’ (35) ‘The Protestant Nosegay,’ (36) ‘George the Second, or the true Prince of Wales,’ (37) ‘The Queen by Merit,’ (38) ‘The Royal Pair,’ (39) ‘The Unborn Princes,’ (40) ‘All's at Stake.’ Dunton also advertised in 1723 a volume, the enormous title of which begins ‘Upon this moment depends Eternity;’ it never appeared.

[Dunton's Life and Errors (1705), reprinted in 1818 with life by J. B. Nichols, also in Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 59–83.]

L. S.