Miles, William Augustus (DNB00)


MILES, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS (1753?–1817), political writer, born 1 July 1753 or 1754, was son of Jefferson Miles, proof-master general (d. 1763). The boy, who was ill provided for, ran away from a school near Portsmouth ‘in order to espouse the cause of Mr. Wilkes.’ After travelling in America he returned to England and was appointed in 1770 to the ordnance office, but soon quarrelled with his superiors and retired, afterwards exposing in the ‘Letters of Selim’ the abuses of the office. In 1773 he published his ‘Letter to Sir John Fielding’ [q. v.], with a postscript to D. Garrick, esq., protesting against the suppression of the ‘Beggar's Opera.’ He thus won the friendship of Garrick, through whose influence he obtained a civil appointment in the navy. He served under Rodney in the West Indies during the American war, was in Newfoundland in 1779, and two years later was a prisoner of war in St. Lucia. Soon after his release he left the service. In August 1782 he was in Dublin, and was corresponding with Lord Temple (just appointed lord-lieutenant), with the view of obtaining political employment. Though backed by the influence of Lord Shelburne, he failed, and in January following went to the continent, settling at Seraing, near Liège, in order to economise and educate his daughter. He became intimate with two successive prince-bishops of Liège. In 1784–5 he published in the ‘Morning Post’ some letters (signed ‘Neptune’ and ‘Gracchus’) in support of Pitt's ministry, and condemning the Prince of Wales and his supporters. Pitt appreciated his assistance, and is said to have employed him as a confidential correspondent. The statesman's latest biographer refers to him as a ‘wearisome busybody’ (Lord Rosebery, Pitt, p. 127).

In September 1785, when on a visit to England, Miles seems to have suggested to Pitt a legacy tax (Introduction to Correspondence on French Revolution, note on p. 20), but at least two other persons claimed to have made the same suggestion (Rosebery, Pitt, p. 153 n). Obliged to remove to Brussels on account of the Liège revolution, he lived there through 1788, still holding confidential relations with the English foreign secretary. In 1789 he made a vain attempt to persuade Pitt to interfere in the affairs of Liège. On 5 March 1790 Miles had an interview with the prime minister, and in July was sent to Paris with a view to inducing the constituent assembly to annul the family compact with Spain. At Paris he came to know Mirabeau, Lebrun, Lafayette (whom he had met during his naval experiences in America), and other leading politicians. In April 1791 he left Paris for London. Pitt offered him a pension of 300l. a year for his past services, and he acted as intermediary between the agents of the French republic in London and the ministry, seeking to prevent war. In 1794 he issued a ‘Letter to Earl Stanhope on his Political Conduct in reference to the French Revolution,’ London, 1794, with notes and postscript, and the ‘Letter to the Duke of Graffton,’ in which Lafayette was defended from the charges made against him by Burke on 17 March in the House of Commons (Monthly Review, vol. xiv.)

In 1795 Miles published anonymously his ‘Letter to the Prince of Wales on the subject of the Debts contracted by him since 1787.’ This went through thirteen editions. Lord Thurlow moved in the House of Lords for the disclosure of the author's name. Unable thenceforth to obtain employment from Pitt, Miles retired to Froyle in Hampshire. In 1796, in a ‘Letter to H. Duncombe, Esq., Member for the County of York,’ he answered Burke's ‘Letter to a Noble Lord,’ the pamphlet reaching a fourth edition within the year.

Miles returned to London early in 1800, but in 1803 retired to a house lent him by his friend Charles Sturt on Brownsea (now called Branksea) Island in Poole Harbour. On the death of Pitt in 1806 he sought employment from the new ministry, and was promised the consul-generalship at Corfu, but the death of Fox prevented the fulfilment of the promise. He now busied himself in writing for the press. In the ‘Independent Whig’ appeared his ‘Letters of Neptune’ on parliamentary reform. He also wrote in favour of Burdett's candidature for Westminster in 1807, and contributed to the ‘Statesman.’ In July Miles obtained through Lord Moira an interview with the Prince of Wales, and in the following year published his ‘Letter to the Prince of Wales, with a Sketch of the Prospect before him,’ London, 1808, Appendix and notes. It was answered by William Pettmann [q. v.], writing under the pseudonym ‘Philopolites.’ In 1812 he removed to Hythe, near Southampton, and corresponded with Whitbread, Lord Moira, and other public men. On 23 April 1816 he started for Paris, in order to collect materials for a history of the French revolution, and stayed a month at Chateau Lagrange with Lafayette. He died at Paris on 25 April 1817. Lafayette attended his funeral.

Among Miles's numerous friends, besides those already mentioned, were Horne Tooke, Sir Alexander Ball, Sir John Warren, Andrew Saunders, and Lord Rodney; and he corresponded at different times with Goldsmith, Somers-Cocks, and Pye, the Poet Laureate. His ‘Authentic Correspondence with Lebrun,’ London, 1796, supplies much valuable information. To Lebrun as to Latude, the celebrated prisoner of the Bastille, he rendered pecuniary assistance. The Letters of ‘Neptune’ gave Thackeray some hints in the composition of his ‘Four Georges,’ and his ‘Correspondence on the French Revolution, 1789–1817,’ edited by his son Charles Popham Miles [see below] in 1890, is of considerable historical value. In addition to the pamphlets already noticed, Miles published: 1. ‘Remarks on an Act of Parliament passed in Fifteenth Year of his Majesty's Reign, intituled “An Act for the Encouragement of the Fisheries carried on from Great Britain,”’ London, 1779. 2. ‘Cursory Reflections on Public Men and Public Measures’ (written at Aschaffenburg in 1789, and translated by Lebrun). 3. ‘On the Expediency and Justice of Prescribing Bounds to the Russian Empire,’ 1791, in which a Suez canal was suggested (see art. in Times, 16 Nov. 1855); a copy is in the Imperial Library, St. Petersburg. 4. ‘The Conduct of France towards Great Britain Examined.’ Appendix and notes, 1793. 5. ‘Letter to the Earl of Wycombe on the Present State of Ireland,’ London, 1804. He was also the author of two comic operas: ‘Summer Amusements, or an Adventure at Margate,’ written in conjunction with Miles Peter Andrews [q. v.], and produced at the Haymarket in 1779 with music by Arnold, and ‘The Artifice,’ in two acts, London, 1780 (dedicated to Sheridan).

He married his first wife in 1772; she died in 1792, leaving a daughter Theodosia (b. 1773). In 1803 Miles married Harriet Watkinson of Bristol, who died at Monkwearmouth in 1872. By her he had five sons, of whom three entered the army; Robert Henry (lieutenant-colonel) accompanied M. de Lesseps upon his tour of inspection before the opening of the Suez Canal for traffic, and died at Malta in 1867; Frederick Alexander, translated into Oordoo Pinnock's ‘Catechism of Astronomy,’ commanded a battery in the Punjaub campaign, 1848–9, and died soon after his return to England; and Rawdon Muir (captain) was killed in the retreat from Cabul in January 1842. The youngest son, Thomas Willoughby, was drowned in his boyhood.

The fourth son, Charles Popham Miles (1810–1891), divine, after attending Morpeth grammar school and serving in the East India Company's navy as a midshipman, graduated at Caius College, Cambridge, B.A. in 1838, M.A. in 1851, was ordained, in May 1838 became chaplain of the Sailors' Home, Wells Street, London Docks, held several curacies, and in 1843 succeeded Robert Montgomery as incumbent of St. Jude's, Glasgow; after a controversy in 1844 between him and his bishop (Russell of Glasgow), which led to a debate in the House of Lords (Hansard, 3rd ser. cv. 782–840), his benefice was withdrawn from episcopal jurisdiction. While at Glasgow Miles graduated M.D. From 1858 to 1867 he was principal of the Malta Protestant College, and from 1867 to 1883 rector of Monkwearmouth, where he restored the old Saxon church, and laboured with much success. In 1872 he was made hon. canon of Durham. He died when on a visit to Great Chesterford, Essex, on 10 July 1891, and was buried there. Miles's only daughter was married to M. Richard Waddington, brother of the well-known diplomatist and statesman. He was one of the earliest fellows of the Linnean Society, and wrote a paper on ‘The Marine Zoology of the Clyde,’ in the ‘Annual Report of the British Association.’ Besides editing the correspondence of his father in 1890, he published some religious treatises and pamphlets on Scottish episcopacy.

[Manuscript Biographical Memoir (unfinished) by Rev. C. P. Miles; Correspondence of W. A. Miles on the French Revolution, 1789–1817, ed. C. P. Miles, with Introduction, 1890; Brit. Mus. Cat. The correspondence up to 1789 is unpublished. See also Biog. Dramatica, i. 512; Public Characters, ii. 778; Memoirs of Living Authors (1798), vol. ii.; Dict. of Living Authors (1816); private information; Sunderland Daily Echo, 13 July 1891; Sunderland Herald, 15 and 17 July; Newcastle Daily Journal, 15 July; Luard's Grad. Cantabr.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

G. Le G. N.