Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Oldmixon, John
OLDMIXON, JOHN (1673–1742), historian and pamphleteer, was a member of an ancient family which had been settled at Axbridge, Somerset, as early as the fourteenth century, and afterwards held the manor of Oldmixon, near Bridgwater. The historian's father, John Oldmixon of Oldmixon, gentleman, by his will of 1675, proved in April 1679 by his daughters Hannah and Sarah Oldmixon, left to his son John his best cabinet; and when Elinor Oldmixon of Bridgwater, widow, died in 1689, letters of administration were granted to her children, John Oldmixon and Hannah Legg. Oldmixon's mother seems to have been sister to Sir John Bawden, knight and merchant, whose will was proved in the same year (Crisp, Abstracts of Somerset Wills, copied from Collections of the Rev. F, Broum, 3rd ser. p. 24, 4th ser. p. 106, 6th ser. p. 5; Weaver, Visitations of Somerset, p. 56, and Somerset Incumbents, pp. 76, 109, 223, 281.
In his 'History of the Stuarts' (pp. 421), Oldmixon, speaking of the disinterment of the remains of Admiral Blake, a native of Bridgwater, says that he lived while a boy with Blake's brother Humphrey, who afterwards emigrated to Carolina. Mr. John Kent of Funchal has pointed out that Oldmixon was in all probability author of the 'History and Life of Robert Blake … written by a Gentleman bred in his Family,’ which appeared without date about 1740, and contains a quotation from ‘a modern historian,’ who is Oldmixon himself. The political views are certainly in accordance with Oldmixon's.
In 1696, when Oldmixon was twenty-three, he published ‘Poems on several Occasions, written in Imitation of the Manner of Anacreon, with other Poems, Letters, and Translations,’ and a dedication to Lord Ashley, in which he said that most of the poems were written by a person in love. In 1697 he wrote ‘Thyrsis, a Pastoral,’ which formed the first act of Motteux's ‘Novelty, or Every Act a Play;’ and in 1698 ‘Amintas, a Pastoral,’ based on Tasso's ‘Amynta.’ This play had a prologue by John Dennis, but was not successful on the stage. In the same year Oldmixon published ‘A Poem humbly addrest to the Right Hon. the Earl of Portland on his Lordship's Return from his Embassy in France,’ in which he refers to Prior; and in 1700 he produced at Drury Lane an opera, ‘The Grove, or Love's Paradise.’ The music was by Purcell, and the epilogue by Farquhar. His last and best play, ‘The Governor of Cyprus,’ a tragedy, was acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1703. It was followed by ‘Amores Britannici: Epistles Historical and Gallant, in English heroic Verse, from several of the most illustrious Personages of their Time,’ 1703, and ‘A Pastoral Poem on the Victories at Schellenburgh and Blenheim,’ 1704, dedicated to the Duchess of Marlborough. From January 1707 to January 1708 Oldmixon published a quarto periodical, ‘The Muses Mercury, or the Monthly Miscellany,’ which contained verses by Steele, Garth, Motteux, and others (Aitken, Life of Richard Steele, i. 147, 151–2, 192).
Oldmixon's work as an historian began in 1708, when he published in two volumes ‘The British Empire in America,’ a history of the several colonies written to show the advantage to England of the American plantations. In 1709–10 he published ‘The History of Addresses,’ a criticism of the professions of loyalty then, as at former political crises, so freely presented to the sovereign. In 1711 he wrote to Lord Halifax, protesting that a book of his—‘The Works of Monsieur Boileau, made English by several Hands’ (1711–13)—had been dedicated to his lordship in another man's name, and without his consent or knowledge. Having quarrelled with the publisher, he had refused to complete the work; but the missing poems had been supplied by Samuel Cobb [q. v.] and John Ozell [q. v.]. He had had no opportunity to correct mistakes, and Nicholas Rowe, the translator of the ‘Lutrin,’ had assumed the merit of the whole work (Add. MS'. 7121, f. 39).
On 5 Oct. 1710 appeared the first number of ‘The Medley,’ a weekly paper, which followed Addison's ‘Whig Examiner’ in replying to the tory ‘Examiner’ (Catalogue of the Hope Collection of Early Newspapers in the Bodleian Library, pp. 22, 23). ‘The Medley,’ which lasted until August 1711, was started at the suggestion of Arthur Mainwaring or Maynwaring [q. v.], and was written by him, with the aid of Oldmixon (who had been recommended to Maynwaring by Garth) and occasional assistance from Henley, Kennet, and Steele. In 1712 the papers were reprinted in a volume, but, as there was little sale, the impression was thrown on Oldmixon's hands, to his loss (Life of Arthur Maynwaring, Esq., 1715, pp. xiv, 167–9, 171). Gay, in ‘The Present State of Wit,’ 1711, spoke of the author of ‘The Medley’ as a man of good sense, but ‘for the most part perfectly a stranger to fine writing;’ and he attributed to Maynwaring the few papers which were decidedly superior to the others. Oldmixon says that he was to have had 100l. down and 100l. a year for his work upon ‘The Medley,’ but that he was never paid (Memoirs of the Press, 1742, p. 13). His anonymous ‘Reflections on Dr. Swift's Letter to the Earl of Oxford about the English Tongue’ (1712) was a political attack; and it was followed in the same year by ‘The Dutch Barrier Ours, or the Interest of England and Holland inseparable,’ an answer to the ‘Conduct of the Allies.’
In 1712 Oldmixon published two parts of ‘The Secret History of Europe,’ in order to expose the faction which had brought Europe to the brink of slavery by advancing the power of France. A third part appeared in 1713, and a fourth in 1715, with a dedication to the Prince of Wales, explaining that the accession of George I had made it possible to bring the design to an end. Similar works were ‘Arcana Gallica, or the Secret History of France for the last Century,’ 1714; ‘Memoirs of North Britain,’ 1715; and ‘Memoirs of Ireland from the Restoration to the Present Times,’ 1716, in all of which the designs of papists and Stuarts against the protestant religion and the British constitution were exposed. The anonymous ‘Life and History of Belisarius … and a Parallel between Him and a Modern Heroe’ (Marlborough) appeared in 1713, and in 1715 ‘The Life and Posthumous Works of Arthur Maynwaring, Esq.,’ with a dedication to Walpole, in which, as well as in the preface, Oldmixon spoke of his own services to the party, and of the neglect he had experienced. In the ‘Memoirs of the Press’ he says that he saw much time-serving at the accession of George I, and men of different principles included in the ministry, whereupon, knowing the evil that followed from a similar course under William III, he wrote a pamphlet, ‘False Steps of the Ministry after the Revolution.’ As an illustration of the way he was treated, he describes how he was disappointed in his efforts to obtain a commission as consul in Madeira for the principal merchant in that island, who was his own kinsman, though Stanhope had promised Garth that it should be done. Nearly two years after the king's accession Oldmixon was offered the post of collector of the port of Bridgwater. It was represented that the profits were double the real amount, and he says that in a month after accepting the office he wished himself back in London, but relatives and friends persuaded him to stay (ib. p. 33). ‘Mist's Weekly Journal’ for 26 July 1718 noticed that Oldmixon had retired from his garret to Bridgwater, and was intelligencer-general for that place to the ‘Flying Post.’ A satirical list of a dozen treatises which might be expected from him was added.
At Bridgwater Oldmixon acted as a sort of political agent (State Papers, Public Record Office, Dom., 1719, bundle 19, Nos. 131, 138, 161), and was twice in trouble with the local authorities in 1718. The mayor summoned him to appear before him to disclose the names of certain persons who had paraded the streets crying ‘Ormond for ever: he is come;’ and the sexton and parish clerk laid an information that Oldmixon and others frequented the presbyterian and anabaptist conventicles, though of late they had come to the church (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep., p. 319). In December 1718 Oldmixon asked Jacob Tonson to speak to the Duke of Newcastle that he might succeed Rowe as poet-laureate, a post he would have had before, as Garth knew, but for Rowe. He was now banished in a corner of the kingdom, surrounded by Jacobites, vilified and insulted. He was, he said, the oldest claimant, and his present life was not worth living (Add. MS. 28275, f. 46). He did not get the laureateship, however, and in 1720 other letters to Tonson contained further complaints of slight, and requests for money due to him (ib. ff. 84, 95, 133).
At this time Clarendon's ‘History of the Rebellion’ was much discussed, and Oldmixon felt it necessary to set the facts of history in a truer light. In his ‘Critical History of England,’ in two volumes, which appeared in 1724–6, he attacked Clarendon and Laurence Echard [q. v.], and defended Bishop Burnet. Dr. Zachary Grey [q. v.] replied with a ‘Defence of our antient and modern Historians against the frivolous Cavils of a late Pretender to Critical History,’ and this was followed by Oldmixon's ‘Review of Dr. Zachary Grey's Defence,’ 1725, and ‘Clarendon and Whitlock compar'd,’ 1727, in which he hinted that Clarendon's editors had taken undue liberties with the text. It is interesting to find that Dr. Cotton Mather, having made Oldmixon's acquaintance, highly praised the ‘Critical History’ for truthfulness in his ‘Manuductio ad Ministerium,’ published at Boston, Massachusetts, in 1726, though he had previously resented reflections made by Oldmixon on his ‘History of New England’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 545).
In 1728 Oldmixon printed ‘An Essay or Criticism as it regards Design, Thought, and Expression, in Prose and Verse,’ and ‘The Arts of Logick and Rhetorick,’ based upon a work by Father Bouhours. In these pieces he attacked Laurence Eusden the laureate, Echard, Addison, Swift, and Pope. He had already incurred Pope's anger in connection with the publication of ‘Court Poems,’ 1717 (Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vi. 436; Curliad, 1729, pp. 20, 21), and various articles in the ‘Flying Post’ for April 1728, and he is said to have written a ballad, ‘The Catholic Priest,’ 1716, which was an attack on Pope's ‘Homer’ (ib. pp. 27–31). Pope revenged himself by giving Oldmixon a place in the ‘Dunciad’ (bk. ii. ll. 283–90), and in the ‘Art of Sinking in Poetry’ (ch. vi.). Oldmixon figures also in the ‘Revenge by Poison on the Body of Mr. Edmund Curll,’ and ‘A further Account of the most deplorable conditionn of Mr. Edmund Curll.’ Steele is said to have satirised him in the ‘Tatler,’ No. 62, as Omicron, the unborn poet; but this is improbable, especially in view of the remarks in No. 71.
After three years of work, and at considerable expense, Oldmixon brought out in 1730, or rather the end of 1729, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of the Royal House of Stuart,’ a folio volume that was afterwards to be followed by others which, taken together, make up a continuous history of England. In this book he charged the editors of Clarendon's ‘History’—Atterbury, Smalridge, and Aldrich—with altering the text to suit party purposes, basing his statements on what he had been told by George Duckett [q. v.], who in his turn had received information from Edmund Smith [q. v.] Bishop Atterbury [q. v.], then in exile, the sole survivor of the persons attacked, printed a ‘Vindication’ of himself and friends, dated Paris, 26 Oct. 1731, which was reprinted in London. Other pamphlets, including a ‘Reply’ by Oldmixon and ‘Mr. Oldmixon's Reply … examined,’ followed in 1732, containing vindications of the Earl of Clarendon and of the Stuarts, and charges Oldmixon with himself altering Daniel's ‘History,’ which he had edited for Kennet's ‘Complete History of England’ in 1706. In June 1733 Oldmixon printed and gave away at his house in Southampton Buildings ‘A Reply to the groundless and unjust Reflections upon him in three Weekly Miscellanies’ (Gent. Mag. 1731, p. 514; 1733, pp. 117, 129, 140, 335). It is true that the earlier editions of Clarendon did not give the manuscript in its complete form, but Oldmixon had no sufficient ground for the explicit charges which he made, and passages which he said were interpolations were afterwards found in Lord Clarendon's handwriting (Edinburgh Review, June 1826, pp. 42–6). Dr. Johnson unfairly said (Idler, No. 65) that the authenticity of Clarendon's ‘History’ was brought in question ‘by the two lowest of all human beings—a scribbler for a party and a commissioner of excise,’ i.e. Oldmixon and Duckett. The second volume of Oldmixon's history, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of King William and Queen Mary, Queen Anne, King George I: With a large Vindication of the Author against the groundless Charge of Partiality,’ appeared in 1735; and the third, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth,’ in 1739. One main object was to show that our constitution was originally free, and that we do not owe our liberty to the generosity of kings.
In 1730, owing, it is said, to Queen Caroline's interest, Walpole ordered Oldmixon's salary of 100l. at Bridgwater to be doubled, but the money was irregularly paid (Memoirs of the Press, pp. 46, 47), while the promised increase gave rise to a report that Oldmixon was a court writer. Moreover, during the three years which Oldmixon spent in town preparing the second volume of the ‘History’ his deputy involved him in a debt to the crown which after inquiry was reduced to 360l., but Oldmixon was ordered to pay it at once. This he managed to do from the arrears of his allowance of 100l. which the queen directed to be paid him. To ease himself of his troubles, Oldmixon, who was lamed by an attack of gout, soon resigned. In July 1741 he wrote to the Duke of Newcastle in great trouble and distraction. ‘I am now dragged,’ he wrote, ‘to a place I cannot mention, in the midst of all the infirmities of old age, sickness, lameness, and almost blindness, and without the means even of subsisting’ (Add. MS. 32697, f. 308). His last work ‘Memoirs of the Press, Historical and Political, for Thirty Years Past, from 1710 to 1740,’ with a dedication to the Duchess of Marlborough, was not published until immediately after his death (London Magazine, 1742, p. 364). In the postscript Oldmixon asked those who wished to show their concern for his misfortunes to subscribe towards a ‘History of Christianity’ which he had written some years earlier, on the basis of Basnage's ‘Histoire de la Religion des Eglises reformées.’
Oldmixon died on 9 July 1742, aged 69, at his house in Great Pulteney Street, having married in 1703 Elizabeth Parry (the license was granted on 3 March at the faculty office of the Archbishop of Canterbury). He was buried at Ealing on the 12th, near his son and daughter (Lysons, Environs of London,, 1795, ii. 236). Another son, George, died on 15 May 1779, aged 68 (Faulkner, History and Antiquities of Brentford, Ealing, and Chiswick, 1845, p. 194). One daughter, presumably Mrs. Eleanora Marella (Crisp, Somerset Wills, 4th ser. p. 106), sang at Hickford's Rooms in 1746; and another, Hannah Oldmixon of Newland, Gloucestershire, died in 1789, aged 84 (Gent. Mag. 1789, p. 89). A Sir John Oldmixon died in America in 1818; but nothing seems to be known of the title, or whether he was related to the historian (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 399, xii. 76).
Besides the books already mentioned, Oldmixon published ‘Court Tales,’ 1717, and a ‘Life’ prefixed to ‘Nixon's Cheshire Prophecy,’ 1719, besides, of course, anonymous pamphlets, translations, &c., which have been forgotten. Of these the ‘History and Life of Robert Blake’ has been already mentioned. His historical work has little value now, as his main object in writing it was to promote the cause of his party. He never hesitated in attacking those on the other side, whether dead or living.