Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ralph, James
RALPH, JAMES (1705?–1762), miscellaneous writer, born about 1705, probably in Pennsylvania, was a merchant's clerk in Philadelphia when he became intimate with Benjamin Franklin, then a journeyman printer. Franklin says of him (Autobiography, Works, i. 48), ‘Ralph was ingenious, genteel in his manners, and extremely eloquent; I think I never knew a prettier talker.’ He was a diligent versifier and dreamt of making his fortune by poetry. Franklin reproaches himself with unsettling Ralph's religious opinions. Ralph had a wife and child, but having some disagreement with her relatives he resolved to leave her on their hands, accompany Franklin to England, and abandon America for ever. With just money enough to pay his passage he arrived in London with Franklin in December 1724, and lived at his expense for some time. Ralph is the ‘Mr. J. R.’ to whom Franklin inscribed, in 1725, his ‘Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain’ (Parton, i. 132). Ralph formed an illicit connection with a milliner, on whom he lived for a time. Unable to find in London employment of even the humblest kind, he became teacher of a village school in Berkshire, where he assumed Franklin's name, and wrote to him, recommending to his care the mistress who had lost her friends and her business through her connection with Ralph. Franklin admits regretfully that he made improper advances to her, which she rejected. On this account, when Ralph returned to London, ‘he let me know,’ Franklin says (ib. p. 59), ‘he considered all the obligations he had been under to me as annulled, from which I concluded I was never to expect his repaying the money I had lent him, or that I advanced for him. This, however, was of little consequence, as he was totally unable, and by the loss of his friendship I found myself relieved from a heavy burden.’ It is doubtful if Ralph and Franklin met again.
Returning to London, Ralph became a hack-writer, and in 1728 published ‘The Touchstone, or … Essays on the reigning Diversions of the Town,’ a work graver than its title would denote. It was reissued in 1731, with a new title-page, as ‘The Taste of the Town, or a Guide to all Public Diversions.’ In 1728 also appeared his ‘Night: a Poem,’ dedicated in fulsome terms to the Earl of Chesterfield. ‘Night’ was a descriptive poem in blank verse, and not without merit. Unfortunately for himself, on the appearance of the first edition of the ‘Dunciad’ (1728), Ralph, somewhat officiously, since he had not been attacked, came forward as the champion of Pope's victims, in a satire in blank verse (with a prose introduction), entitled ‘Sawney, an heroic poem occasioned by the “Dunciad,”’ Sawney standing for Pope. The performance was a vehement and coarse attack on Pope, Swift, and Gay. Pope avenged himself by a dexterous use of the title of Ralph's poem, in the second edition of the ‘Dunciad’ (book iii. line 165):
Silence, ye Wolves, while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
And makes night hideous—Answer him, ye Owls!
In a note (of 1729) Pope spoke contemptuously of Ralph as a ‘low writer.’ Ralph complained that Pope's distich and note prevented the booksellers for a time from employing him (Johnson, Life of Pope, Works, ii. 276).
Ralph now tried the stage, but none of his pieces were successful. In 1730 he wrote the prologue to Henry Fielding's ‘Temple Beau,’ and when in 1736 Fielding took the Haymarket Theatre, Ralph is said to have been a shareholder with him [see Fielding, Henry]. Certainly when, in 1741, Fielding started the ‘Champion,’ an anti-ministerial paper, Ralph acted as a kind of co-editor, and continued to edit it after Fielding's connection with it ceased. He had already (1739–41) edited the ‘Universal Spectator,’ and was engaged on the parliamentary debates. But he remained in pecuniary distress, and in the Birch MSS. (Brit. Mus. vol. xviii.) there are appeals from him to Dr. Birch for assistance (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 590). Ralph's connection with the ‘Champion’ probably procured him the notice of George Bubb Dodington [q. v.], after his desertion of Sir Robert Walpole. In 1742 Ralph brought out ‘The Other Side of the Question,’ professing to be by ‘A Woman of Quality,’ intended as a confutation of Hooke's ‘Account of the Conduct’ of the Duchess of Marlborough [see under Churchill, John, first Duke of Marlborough]. Ralph's criticism is one of the most spirited of his performances. In 1743 appeared his ‘Critical History of the Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, by a Gentleman of the Middle Temple,’ a criticism not only of Walpole, but of his immediate successors in office. Although Horace Walpole (Memoirs of George II, iii. 345) says that Ralph's pen had been rejected by Sir Robert Walpole, Pope, in the edition of the ‘Dunciad’ (bk. i. line 215), printed in his works in 1743, reintroduced Ralph as having deserted Walpole immediately after his fall in 1742:
And see! the very Gazetteers give o'er;
Even Ralph repents, and Henley writes no more.
In 1744 was published Ralph's ‘Use and Abuse of Parliaments.’ The first part, ‘A General View of Government in Europe,’ was a reprint of a dissertation by Algernon Sydney, and ‘A. Sidney’ appears on the title-page as the author of the whole work. Ralph's second part, ‘A Detection of the Parliaments of England,’ which was inspired by Dodington and one of his political allies, represents parliamentary government to be a failure (Walpole, Letters, i. 306). In 1744 appeared vol. i. of Ralph's chief work, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of King William, Queen Anne, and King George I. With an Introductory Review of the Reigns of the Royal Brothers Charles and James. By a Lover of Truth and Liberty.’ The second and concluding volume was published in 1746, bringing the narrative to the death of William III. Ralph, in his preface, professed that his object was ‘to eradicate if possible the evil of parties,’ and censured impartially James II and William III. Ralph's massive double-columned folios were creditable to his diligence, and contained many things not to be found in the work of his immediate predecessor, Rapin. In the introduction (p. xxii) to his ‘History of the Early Part of the Reign of James II,’ Charles James Fox says, in a letter to Malcolm Laing, ‘I have found the place in Ralph, and a great deal more important matter relative to the transactions of those times which is but slightly touched by other historians. I am every day more and more surprised that Ralph should have had so much less reputation as an historian than he seems to deserve.’ In his ‘Constitutional History’ (ii. 575) Hallam calls Ralph ‘the most diligent historian we possess for the time of Charles II’ (see also Edinburgh Review, liii. 13).
Ralph's history was begun under Dodington's patronage, but before the second volume was issued Dodington was no longer in opposition, having accepted office in Pelham's administration. The history appears, however, to have found favour with Bolingbroke, then one of the chiefs of the opposition party of which the Prince of Wales was the head. In this way probably the conduct of the ‘Remembrancer, by George Cadwallader, Gent.,’ started in 1748 as the organ of the prince's party, was entrusted to Ralph. Horace Walpole, who contributed to it (Letters, lxvi. 8), speaks of ‘The Remembrancer’ as the Craftsman of the new generation, and as having among its contributors Lord Egmont, the prince's right-hand man (ib. ii. 168). In Hogarth's ‘March to Finchley’ one of the figures is reading ‘The Remembrancer.’ Ralph was admitted to frequent intercourse with the prince, and conducted the negotiations which resulted in the renewal of Dodington's alliance with Prince Frederick, and his resignation of office. Dodington, in consideration of Ralph's services, promised to make him his secretary should he himself receive the seals on the demise of George II. These hopes were disappointed by the death of the Prince of Wales in 1751.
Ralph's services as a journalist were next secured by the Duke of Bedford, William Beckford, and their allies in opposition. The result was ‘The Protester, by Issachar Barebone, one of the people,’ 2 June–10 Nov. 1753. But Ralph was soon ‘bought off’ by the Pelham government (Walpole, Memoirs, i. 346). In a letter to the Duke of Bedford (Bedford Correspondence, ii. 135) Ralph informs him that, in consequence of a threatened prosecution of ‘The Protester,’ he had ‘laid down the pen,’ and returned to Beckford 150l. of the 200l. paid him ‘on account.’ In point of fact Ralph had made his peace with the Pelham ministry, partly through the good offices of Garrick, who had befriended him in some of his dramatic enterprises. He received from the government 200l. down to repay the advance made to him, as already mentioned, and an allowance of 300l. a year. Pelham himself was adverse to the transaction, but was overborne by his brother, the Duke of Newcastle (Dodington, p. 222). The allowances appear to have been given less to enlist Ralph's pen in the service of the government than to prevent him from attacking it. Ralph's career as a journalist seems now to have ended. In the ‘Newcastle Correspondence’ in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 32737–923) there are a number of letters to the Duke of Newcastle from Ralph, almost all of them announcing visits to Newcastle House to receive his pension. This, at the instance of the duke, was continued after the death of George II.
The only known production of Ralph's pen during his later years is ‘The Case of Author by Profession or Trade stated,’ which was published anonymously in 1758. It is a diffuse and rambling performance, but curious as perhaps the first protest raised in the eighteenth century against the treatment of authors and dramatists by booksellers and theatre managers. Ralph did not spare Garrick himself, and the latter resented the ingratitude of the man whom, besides other benefits, he had helped to a pension. Ralph complains bitterly that authors should be vilified because they write for money, but he ignored the fact, illustrated in his own career, that their pens were too often at the command of the highest bidders for their political support. His only suggestion for mitigating the practical grievances of the author and the dramatist was that authors should form a combination against booksellers, and that the selection of dramas for stage representation should be entrusted to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, now the Society of Arts. After several years of martyrdom to the gout, Ralph died at Chiswick on 24 Jan. 1762.
Ralph is said to have been one of the friends who assisted Hogarth, his neighbour, at Chiswick, in the composition of the ‘Analysis of Beauty,’ 1753 [see Hogarth, George, (1697–1764)]. On the authority of Thomas Hollis, ‘The Groans of Germany,’ 1741, a pamphlet very popular at the time (‘translated from the original lately published at The Hague’), is ascribed to Ralph, but internal evidence is against his authorship. Ralph was not responsible for another work generally ascribed to him, ‘A Critical Review of the Public Buildings of London and Westminster,’ 1734, which went through several editions (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 72).
The following publications by Ralph have not been already mentioned: 1. ‘The Muse's Address to the King,’ an ode, 1728. 2. ‘The Tempest, or the Terrors of Death,’ a poem, 1728. 3. ‘Clarinda, or the Fair Libertine,’ a poem, 1729. 4. ‘Zeuma, or the Love of Liberty,’ a poem, 1729. 5. ‘Miscellaneous Poems by several hands, published by Mr. Ralph,’ 1729. 6. ‘Fall of the Earl of Essex,’ a tragedy, 1731 (altered from Banks's ‘Unhappy Favourite’). 7. ‘The Lawyer's Feast,’ a farce, 1744 (taken from Beaumont and Fletcher's ‘Spanish Curate’). 8. ‘The Astrologer,’ a comedy, 1744 (taken from Albumazar).
After Ralph's death Seward, in the supplement to his ‘Anecdotes of Distinguished Persons’ (ed. of 1797, v. 113), states that Frederick, prince of Wales [q. v.], had written memoirs of his own time, under the name of Prince Titi. They were found, it was added, among Ralph's papers, and were given by his executor (Dr. Rose of Chiswick) to a ‘nobleman in great favour at Carlton House,’ presumably the Earl of Bute. According to a statement made in ‘The Gentleman's Magazine’ for May 1800, by Samuel Ayscough, assistant librarian of the British Museum, Dr. Rose of Chiswick, Ralph's executor, was informed by Ralph when dying that in a certain box he would find papers which had been given to him by Prince Frederick, and which would provide a sufficient provision for his (Ralph's) family. These papers, it was alleged, proved to be the ‘History of Prince Titus’ (sic), drawn up by Prince Frederick in conjunction with the Earl of B[ute]. Ayscough states further that Rose was cordially thanked for surrendering the papers, and as a result a pension of 150l. a year was given by George III to Ralph's daughter. Seward's narrative was reproduced in Park's edition (1806) of Walpole's ‘Royal and Noble Authors,’ i. 171, and its ‘general tenor’ was confirmed by Dr. Rose himself, with whom Park communicated on the subject. In Falkner's ‘Brentford, Ealing, and Chiswick’ (1845, p. 355), the ‘History of Prince Titi,’ which is said to have been found among Ralph's papers, becomes ‘a private and bitter correspondence’ between George II and Prince Frederick.
There was published anonymously at Paris in 1736 the ‘Histoire du Prince Titi, A. R.’ (letters supposed to stand for Allégorie Royale), written by Thémiseul de St. Hyacinthe, a French literary adventurer of some note who had been a resident in London (Texte, Cosmopolitisme Littéraire, 1895, p. 21). Two English translations of it were issued in London in 1736. Undoubtedly in the earlier part of the volume the characters might have been designed in order to flatter Prince Frederick, and to represent his father and mother in a very unfavourable light, but the story soon becomes an ordinary fairy tale. In ‘Notes and Queries’ (6th ser. x. 70–2), Mr. Edward Solly suggested that there had been in existence a manuscript history of Prince Titus, satirising George II and Queen Caroline throughout; that Ralph was somehow connected with it; that, it having been desirable to suppress this full-bodied chronicle, Ralph was ‘employed to get the pithless history published;’ and that the papers of his delivered after his death to Lord Bute, as the confidential friend of the Princess Dowager of Wales, Prince Frederick's mother, contained a transcript of the original and dangerous manuscript. But as Ralph's intercourse with Prince Frederick did not begin until many years after the publication of the ‘Histoire du Prince Titi’ in 1736, it is very unlikely that he had any hand in it, if it really had any personal significance.
Ralph's supposed connection with one or another form of the 'Histoire du Prince Titi' gave rise to a controversy between John Wilson Croker and Lord Macaulay. During Dr. Johnson's visit to Paris in 1775 he found the 'Histoire du Prince Titi,' along with the 'Bibliothèque des Fées,' in the library of a French lady, and he showed them with some contempt to Mrs. Thrale. In a note to this passage, and with a reference to Park's statement given above (Croker, Boswell, ed. 1847, p. 461), Croker stated that '"The History of Prince Titi" was said to be the autobiography of Frederick, prince of Wales, but was probably written by Ralph, his secretary,' which Ralph never was. In his review of Croker's 'Boswell,' Macaulay called the note absurd, and referred Croker back to Park, where he would find that the 'History of Prince Titi,' 'whether written by Prince Frederick or by Ralph, was never published,' but given up in manuscript to the government. 'The Histoire du Prince Titi' that Johnson saw was, Macaulay said, a fairy tale, 'a very proper companion to the "Bibliothèque des Fées."' What really was contained in the papers of Ralph delivered to Lord Bute remains a mystery (cf. Boswell's Johnson, ed. Napier, 1884, vol. ii. App. 'Prince Titi').[Ralph's Writings; Franklin's Works, ed. Sparks, 1840; Parton's Life and Times of Franklin, 1864; Johnson's Works (Oxford), 1828; Pope's Works, by Elwin and Courthope, vol. iv.; Dodington's Diary, 1807; Walpole's Memoirs of King George II, 2nd edit. 1847, and Letters by Cunningham, 1857; Correspondence of John, Duke of Bedford, 1842; Drake's Essays, 1805; Lawrence's Life of Fielding; Davies's Life of Garrick; Baker's Biographia Dramatica; authorities cited.]