Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Thomas (d.1750)

GORDON, THOMAS (d. 1750), miscellaneous writer, was born in Kirkcudbright about the end of the seventeenth century. He is said to have been educated at some Scottish university. If a 'disputatio juridica' be rightly attributed to him in the catalogue of the British Museum, he became an advocate at the Scottish bar in 1716. He came to London as a young man and taught languages. Two pamphlets on the Bangorian controversy commended him to John Trenchard [q. v.], a whig politician. One was probably 'A Letter to the Lord Archbishop' (Wake) in 1719, who had written a Latin letter reflecting upon Hoadly, addressed to the church of Zurich. Gordon became Trenchard's amanuensis. A tract called the 'Independent Whig,' published at the time of the rejection of the Peerage Bill (December 1719), of which there is no copy in the British Museum, was followed by a second part in January 1720, on the peace with Spain and the value of Gibraltar to England, several editions of which were issued. A weekly paper of the same name was then started, and carried on through the year, the articles by Trenchard, Gordon, and a third contributor, 'C.,' being distinguished in the fifth edition. It was first collected in one volume in 1721. To the fifth edition (1732) were appended 'The Craftsman,' a sermon, 'in the style of the late Daniel Burgess,' also published separately, a letter to a 'Gentleman of Edinburgh,' and an epitaph on Trenchard. To a sixth edition (1735) was added a third volume containing the letter to Wake (see above) and other tracts; a seventh edition appeared in 1743, and a fourth volume was added in 1747 containing tracts written during the rebellion of 1745. The book was chiefly an attack upon the high-church party, and on the title-page of later editions is called 'A Defence of Primitive Christianity … against the exorbitant claims of fanatical and disaffected clergymen.' Thomas Wilson [q. v.], bishop of Sodor and Man, tried to exclude it from his diocese, and got into trouble in consequence. It was translated into French by the Baron d'Holbach. In 1720 Gordon and Trenchard began the publication of 'Cato's Letters.' They appeared in the 'London' and afterwards in the 'British Journal' till Trenchard's death in 1723, and were reprinted in 4 vols. in 1724. Walpole took Gordon into his pay, and made him first commissioner of the wine licenses, a post which he held till his death on 28 July 1750, and which, it is said, 'much diminished his patriotism.' Gordon was twice married, his second wife being Trenchard's widow.

Gordon published, by subscription, a translation of 'Tacitus,' in 2 vols. fol. 1728 (dedications to the Prince of Whales and Walpole), which went through several editions, and, in spite of an affected style, seems to have been the standard translation till the end of the century. Gibbon read it in his youth (Misc. Works, i. 41). In 1744 he published 'The Works of Sallust, with Political Discourses upon that author; to which is added a translation of Cicero's "Four Orations against Cateline."' He published an 'Essay on Government' in 1747, and a 'Collection of Papers' by him appeared in 1748. Richard Baron [q. v.] also published two collections of tracts by Gordon, 'A Cordial for Low Spirits,' 3 vols. 8vo, 1751, and another by Gordon and others called 'The Pillars of Priestcraft and Orthodoxy Shaken,' 1752. Gordon also wrote a preface to a translation from Barbeyrac called 'The Spirit of Ecclesiastics in all Ages,' 1722. Gordon was 'large and corpulent,' and supposed to be the Silenus of Pope's line in the 'Dunciad,'

Where Tindal dictates, and Silenus snores.

Bolingbroke observed, upon hearing of Conyers Middleton's death at the same time as Gordon's, 'Then there is the best writer in England gone and the worst.'

[Nichols's Anecdotes, i. 709 (notes by J. Whiston), v. 419, viii. 101, 494, 512; Biog. Brit. Supplement (1766), art. 'Trenchard;' Collinson's Somersetshire, iii. 153 (his residence with Trenchard at Abbotsleigh).]

L. S.