Wilkes, John (DNB00)
WILKES, JOHN (1727–1797), politician, second son of Israel Wilkes, malt distiller, of Clerkenwell, by Sarah, daughter of John Heaton of Hoxton, was born in St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, on 17 Oct. 1727. Israel Wilkes was son of Luke Wilkes, chief yeoman of the removing wardrobe to Charles II, and grandson of Edward Wilkes of Leighton Buzzard (Visitation of Bedfordshire, Harl. Soc.) He throve by his distillery, and lived in the style of a city magnate, keeping his coach-and-six. He was hospitable and fond of lettered society, and, though a churchman, tolerant of dissent in his wife. He died on 31 Jan. 1761, leaving, besides John, two sons and two daughters. Sarah, the elder daughter, was an eccentric recluse—prototype of the Miss Havisham of Dickens's ‘Great Expectations.’ Her sister Mary was thrice married. Heaton, the youngest son, succeeded to the distillery business, mismanaged it, and died on 19 Dec. 1803, without issue. The eldest son, Israel, emigrated to the United States, and died at New York on 25 Nov. 1805, leaving issue by his wife, Elizabeth De Ponthieu (cf. Drake, Dict. of Amer. Biogr. ‘Wilkes, Charles, Rear-admiral, U.S.A.,’ who is there described as nephew of John Wilkes).
Wilkes was initiated in the rudiments of learning at a private school at Hertford, where he showed such quickness that it was decided to give him a liberal education. He was accordingly placed under the charge of a presbyterian minister, Leeson of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, from whom he received sound instruction in the classics and a tincture of heretical, especially Arian, theology, which predisposed him to freethinking. From Aylesbury he proceeded to the university of Leyden, where he was entered on 8 Sept. 1744 (Peacock, Leyden Students, Index Soc.) Among his contemporaries at that famous and much frequented seat of learning were Alexander Carlyle [q. v.], William Dowdeswell (1721–1775) [q. v.], and Charles Townshend [q. v.]; but his especial friends were Andrew Baxter [q. v.], then at Utrecht, and Baron d'Holbach. He remained abroad less than two years, part of which was spent in travel in the Rhine lands. It is not probable that he devoted himself very seriously to study, but intercourse with his intellectual equals braced his faculties, and he returned to England with the tone and bearing of a scholar and a gentleman.
While still under age Wilkes married, in deference to his father's wishes, a woman ten years his senior, Mary, daughter and heiress of John Mead, a wealthy London grocer. The marriage placed him in possession of an estate at Aylesbury, the prebendal house and demesne, worth 700l. a year. His wife had a handsome jointure, and greater expectations—her mother died on 14 Jan. 1769 worth 100,000l.—but Wilkes's habits did not accord with the principles of the ladies, who were both strict dissenters, and in a few years a separation was arranged by mutual consent. Wilkes retained the Aylesbury estate and the custody of his only legitimate child, Mary, born on 5 Aug. 1750. His wife surrendered her jointure for an annuity of 200l. In 1758 she sought the protection of the king's bench against the persecution by which Wilkes was endeavouring to extort from her the surrender of her allowance (Burrow, Reports, i. 542). In April 1749 Wilkes was elected F.R.S. On 19 Jan. 1754 he was admitted into the Sublime Society of the Beef Steaks. His proclivities were literary and rakish. With John Armstrong (1709–1779) [q. v.], Thomas Brewster [q. v.], and John Hall-Stevenson [see Stevenson] he early formed durable friendships. Under the finished roué Thomas Potter [q. v.] he graduated in the fashionable vices. By Sir Francis Dashwood (afterwards Lord Le Despencer) he was enrolled in the profane and profligate confraternity of Medmenham Abbey. This set included Robert Lloyd [q. v.], Charles Churchill [q. v.], and Paul Whitehead [q. v.], all of whom became his fast friends. Among these monks of Theleme none surrendered himself to the orgie with more of the true Rabelaisian abandon than Wilkes. Their puerile mummeries, however, he despised; and on one occasion terrified most of them out of their wits by letting loose at the appropriate moment in the celebration of the messe noire a baboon decked out with the conventional insignia of Satan, which he had contrived to secrete within the building (Johnson, Chrysal, 1767, iii. 241).
In 1754 Wilkes served the office of high sheriff of Buckinghamshire, and contested (April) unsuccessfully the parliamentary representation of Berwick-on-Tweed. In 1757, by arrangement with Pitt and Potter, he succeeded the latter (6 July) as M.P. for Aylesbury. This affair, with the Berwick contest, cost him 11,000l. By further judicious outlay he secured his seat at the general election of March 1761. His political interest served him to make amends to Johnson for a piece of supercilious criticism. The ‘Grammar’ prefixed to the first edition of the ‘Dictionary’ (1755) contained, concerning the letter ‘H,’ the strange dictum, ‘It seldom, perhaps never, begins any but the first syllable,’ whereon Wilkes had commented in the ‘Public Advertiser:’ ‘The author of this observation must be a man of quick apprehension and of a most comprehensive genius.’ Though Johnson took no notice of the sneer, it had rankled, and Wilkes was glad of an opportunity to salve the wound. When, therefore, he learned (March 1759) that Johnson's black servant was in the clutches of the press-gang, he used his influence at the admiralty to procure his release, and he succeeded. When, however, he came to ask favours for himself, the case was different. He had entered parliament a loyal supporter of Pitt, and he had given proof of loyalty at no small cost. With Pitt's brother-in-law, Lord Temple, he was closely associated in the organisation of the Bucks militia, of which he was appointed colonel in June 1762. Through the brothers-in-law he hoped to obtain either the embassy at Constantinople or the governorship of Quebec. He was disappointed, and attributed his want of success partly to Pitt's indifference, but much more to the malign influence of Lord Bute. That he seriously disapproved of Bute's foreign policy, and also of his system of government, there is no reason to doubt; but mortification probably added vigour and venom to the attacks with which he harassed the favourite. He began with anonymous ‘Observations on the Papers relative to the Rupture with Spain laid before both Houses of Parliament on Friday, 29 Jan. 1762.’ The pamphlet appeared in March 1762, caught the public ear, and damaged the government. Wilkes followed up his advantage in the ‘Monitor.’ In two numbers especially, 357 (22 May) and 360 (12 June), he pointed an obvious moral by reference to Count Brühl (the favourite of the king of Saxony), Madame de Pompadour, and her friend the Abbé de Bernis. He was answered by Smollett in the ‘Briton;’ and founded in concert with Churchill a rival organ, entitled ‘The North Briton,’ of which the first number appeared on 5 June. The title was adopted in irony, of which abundant use was made in the earlier numbers. The Scots were magnified, and felicitated on their triumph in the person of the favourite over their hereditary enemies, the English. Henry Fox, Halifax, and Mansfield were represented as Bute's faithful henchmen. Comparisons were ostentatiously deprecated between George III and Edward III, between the Princess Dowager of Wales and Queen Isabella, between Bute and Roger Mortimer. The attack was reinforced by an adaptation of William Mountfort's ‘Fall of Mortimer,’ prefaced (15 March 1763) by an ironical dedication to Bute. Nor did Wilkes disdain to fly at lower game. He lampooned Hogarth, quizzed Lord Talbot, the steward of the household, and established a reputation for spirit by exchanging pistol-shots with him on Bagshot Heath (5 Oct. 1762). He satirised his quondam friend Dashwood, the luckless chancellor of the exchequer, whose cider tax proved more damaging to the government than the peace of Paris; he insulted Samuel Martin, the secretary to the treasury; he even stooped to cast a jibe at Bute's son, a mere lad. The succeeding administration, in which Bute's influence was believed to be still paramount, fared even worse [see Grenville, George]. ‘North Briton’ No. 45 (23 April 1763) dealt with the speech from the throne preceding the recent adjournment, and characterised a passage in which the peace of Hubertsburg was treated as a consequence of the peace of Paris, as ‘the most abandoned instance of ministerial effrontery ever attempted to be imposed on mankind;’ nay, even insinuated that the king had been induced to countenance a deliberate lie. The resentment of the king and the court knew no bounds, and the law officers advised that the article was a seditious libel. Proceedings in the ordinary course were, however, precluded by the anonymity of the publication; and accordingly the two warrants which were issued by the secretaries of state (Egremont and Halifax) for the apprehension of the authors, printers, and publishers of the alleged libel and the seizure of their papers contained the names of the printers only. The secretaries had no higher jurisdiction than justices of the peace, and as a justice's warrant was valid only against the persons named therein, there was thus in fact no warrant under which Wilkes could be legally arrested. The printers were first apprehended, and, on the information of one of them, Wilkes was taken early in the forenoon of 30 April, on his way from the Temple to his house in Great George Street, Westminster. The officers entered the house with him, and John Almon [q. v.] calling about the same time, the news was carried to Lord Temple, who at once applied for a habeas corpus. Wilkes was meanwhile taken before the secretaries. He parried their questions and protracted the examination until the habeas corpus had been granted. There was, however, some delay in the actual issue of the writ, of which the secretaries took advantage by committing Wilkes to the Tower under a warrant which directed him to be kept close prisoner. The direction was obeyed to the letter, neither his legal advisers nor the Duke of Grafton nor Lord Temple being permitted to see him. Temple, as lord-lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, received the king's express orders to cancel Wilkes's commission in the militia. He obeyed (5 May), and was then himself dismissed from the lieutenancy (7 May). Wilkes's house had meanwhile been thoroughly ransacked, and his papers, even the most private and personal, seized.
There were not wanting precedents (see Addit. MSS. 22131–2) which, but for privilege of parliament, would have given a colour (though no more) of legality to the action of the secretaries; but the arrest of a member of parliament in such circumstances was a very grave matter, and accordingly on the return to the writ of habeas corpus, Lord-chief-justice Pratt discharged Wilkes on the ground of privilege (6 May). Actions maintained in Wilkes's name by Lord Temple were at once instituted against Halifax and under-secretary Wood, the chief agent in the seizure of Wilkes's papers. The action against Halifax was delayed until November 1769 (see below). The latter resulted (6 Dec.) in a verdict for Wilkes with 1,000l. damages. The affair gave rise to other successful actions by persons who had suffered in a similar way at the hands of the government; and thus a procedure essentially identical with that in use in France under lettres de cachet was finally abrogated [see Pratt, Charles, first Earl Camden; Murray, William, first Earl Mansfield].
Egremont, by whom he had been treated superciliously during the examination, Wilkes resolved to challenge so soon as he should be out of office. In the meantime he went to France, where in August he was himself challenged by a Scottish officer (Forbes), who resented the manner in which the Scotch were treated in the ‘North Briton.’ Wilkes accepted the challenge on condition that Egremont should have precedence; and this punctilio suspended the affair until Egremont's death (21 Aug.), when the Scotchman was no longer forthcoming. Wilkes returned to England on 28 Sept., and renewed his attack on the government (12 Nov.) in the ‘North Briton’ (No. 46). Egremont's successor was Wilkes's old friend Sandwich, but Wilkes gained nothing by the change. Sandwich in office was a different being from the jolly monk of Medmenham. There fell into his hands an indecent burlesque of Pope's ‘Essay on Man,’ entitled ‘An Essay on Woman,’ dedicated to a fashionable and frail beauty, Fanny Murray, and garnished with notes ascribed to Bishop Warburton, and an appendix of blasphemies containing (inter alia) an obscene paraphrase of the Veni Creator Spiritus. The work was pseudonymous; but Wilkes's printers deposed, and their evidence was corroborated by some of Wilkes's papers, that it had been printed by Wilkes's direction at his private press. The whole edition consisted of a dozen copies, of which one or two had been stolen by workmen, the rest had remained under lock and key. The author appears to have been Thomas Potter. A manuscript (neither Potter's nor Wilkes's) of a poem with the same title is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 30887). It lacks the dedication and notes, begins with the words, ‘Awake, my Sandwich,’ and is in fact entirely distinct from the poem inscribed to Fanny Murray, of which one of the few extant exemplars, beginning with the words ‘Awake, my Fanny,’ is in the Dyce Library at the South Kensington Museum. The spurious piece was, however, printed under Wilkes's name during his lifetime, was not disavowed by him, and was thus incautiously accepted by Lord Mahon (History of England from the Peace of Utrecht, v. 66) as the original poem printed at Wilkes's press. Another imposture, ascribed on the title-page to ‘J. W. Senator’ (in the epilogue ‘Julio Wanlovi, Senator of Lucca’), appeared in London in 1763, 4to.
When parliament met (15 Nov.), the House of Lords, on the motion of Sandwich, included the essay and ‘Veni Creator’ in one censure as a breach of privilege (in attributing the notes to Warburton) and as an obscene and impious libel. On the same day the commons, in response to a royal message conveyed through George Grenville [q. v.], consigned the ‘North Briton’ (No. 45) to the hands of the common hangman to be burned as a seditious libel. Wilkes pleaded his privilege, which he offered to waive in the courts of law if it were acknowledged in parliament. The house rejected his offer, and resolved that seditious libel was not covered by privilege (23, 24 Nov.). The resolutions of the commons were endorsed by the lords (1 Dec.), Pitt in the one house, and Shelburne in the other, joining in the censure upon Wilkes, but maintaining his privilege. A strongly worded protest against the surrender of so important a security for freedom of speech was entered in the lords' journals by Temple and other peers (29 Nov.). A dangerous wound in the stomach received by Wilkes in a duel with Samuel Martin (16 Nov.) enabled him to avoid appearance to a citation by the House of Commons. During his convalescence he nailed his colours to the mast by issuing from his private press a collective reprint of the ‘North Briton.’ On the night of 6 Dec. a Scottish lieutenant of marines was arrested in the attempt to force an entrance into his house with the intention of assaulting him. About Christmas Wilkes slipped off for Paris. Thence he transmitted to the speaker, Sir John Cust, a medical certificate of ill-health (dated 11 Jan. 1764). The speaker read the certificate to the house, but observed that it was entirely unauthenticated, and Wilkes was thereupon expelled (19 Jan.). A copy of the certificate, duly authenticated by two notaries and the British ambassador at Paris, Lord Hertford, which Wilkes subsequently sent to the speaker, was ignored; but a motion affirming the illegality of general warrants, in support of which Pitt exerted his full strength, was only defeated by a narrow majority (17 Feb.). Wilkes expressed his gratitude to his supporters in ‘A Letter to a Noble Member [Temple] of the Club in Albemarle Street’ (London, 12 March 1764). Meanwhile, on 21 Feb., he had been convicted before Mansfield on both charges of libel—not as author, but as responsible for the printing and publication. These proceedings he reviewed in an ‘Address to the Electors of Aylesbury’ (dated Paris, 22 Oct. 1764), attributing the convictions (unjustly) to the partiality of the judge. He did not appear to receive judgment, and was outlawed (1 Nov.)
In Paris Wilkes was received by D'Holbach and Diderot as a brother in arms. He was also countenanced by the French court, and made a figure in the salons. He lodged at first at the Hôtel de Saxe, afterwards in the Rue St. Nicaise, where he lived during the greater part of 1764 with a courtesan named Corradini, in whom he discovered all the charms of the Medicean Venus. With her, after performing the last offices of friendship for Churchill at Boulogne, he travelled in Italy, spending part of the carnival of 1765 with Winckelmann at Rome, and three months (April to June) at Naples. There he became intimate with James Boswell.
During his stay in Italy, Wilkes trifled with a projected ‘History of England’ (see infra), and an edition of the works of Churchill, who had made him his literary executor. Deserted by his mistress, he recrossed the Alps in July, passing a day (24 July) at the Grande Chartreuse, where he recorded his favourable impression of the monks in the visitors' book. At the monastery he fell in with Lord Abingdon [see Bertie, Willoughby, fourth Earl of Abingdon], with whom he visited Voltaire at Ferney. In the autumn he returned to Paris, and established himself in the Rue des Saints Pères. French society was uncongenial to him, and he felt the pressure of pecuniary embarrassment. His pen brought him in little. His habits were extravagant; his daughter's education, which he would on no account neglect, was expensive; and in anticipation of his outlawry he had settled his entire property upon her. He was largely beholden to Lord Temple and the Rockingham whigs for the means of subsistence. He also appears to have received occasional subventions from the French government (Walpoliana, i. 2; Gailliardet, Mémoires sur la Chevalière D'Eon, p. 186). On the return of the whigs to power he had hopes of obtaining a pardon and a pension or place; but a visit to London in May 1766 disillusioned him, and he returned to Paris. There, on Chatham's accession to power, he was encouraged by Colonel Fitzroy, brother of the Duke of Grafton, to rely upon Grafton's interest in the administration of which he was the nominal head. He therefore revisited London towards the close of October and sounded Grafton, by whom he was bidden write to Chatham. In Chatham, however, Wilkes had no faith, and he was, moreover, too proud to solicit a favour from one by whom he believed himself to have been neglected in the past. He accordingly wrote to Grafton (1 Nov.). Grafton, by Chatham's advice, ignored his letter, and Wilkes returned to Paris. There he relieved his mind in a lengthy epistle to Grafton (12 Dec.), which was published in pamphlet form both in London and in Paris, and was reprinted in Berlin. He continued to reside in Paris during the greater portion of 1767, working in a desultory way at his history. The sole result of these labours was an ‘Introduction to the History of England, from the Revolution to the Accession of the Brunswick Line,’ published at London in 1768, 4to. The edition of Churchill was abandoned [see Churchill, Charles]. Meanwhile, impatience and impecuniosity determined him to end his exile at all costs, and in December he set out once more for England. He travelled by way of Holland, made a short stay at Leyden, and reached London on 6 Feb. 1768. He hired a house at the corner of Prince's Court in the immediate vicinity of his former residence in Great George Street, Westminster, and, being ignored by the government, addressed himself to the king. The course he took must have been intended as an affront; for instead of presenting a petition he made his application for pardon by a letter, which his servant handed in at Buckingham House (4 March). Of the letter no notice was taken. At the subsequent general election he appeared on the hustings as a candidate for the city of London, of which his friends had purchased for him the freedom. He failed to carry that seat, but was returned (28 March) for Middlesex by an immense majority. He then surrendered to his outlawry in the court of king's bench, and after a formal arrest was committed by Lord Mansfield to the king's bench prison (27 April). Between the court and the gaol he was rescued by the mob, but contrived to slip off and continue the journey. From his cell he issued (5 May) a spirited address to his constituents, and for some days his sympathisers congregated in increasing multitude in the vicinity of the gaol (St. George's Fields). On 10 May the mob was dispersed by a detachment of footguards, not without loss of life. The troops were publicly thanked by the secretary at war (Lord Barrington). On 8 June Wilkes's outlawry was reversed by Lord Mansfield on a technical point, but the prior convictions were affirmed, and on 18 June he was sentenced to one year and ten months' imprisonment, exclusive of the time he had already spent in gaol, fined 1,000l., and required on his discharge to enter into recognisances in 1,000l. with two sureties in 500l. each for his good behaviour for seven years. Against this sentence Wilkes appealed by writ of error to the House of Lords. He also presented to the House of Commons (14 Nov.) through Sir Joseph Mawbey [q. v.] a petition which not only traversed the same ground as the writ of error, but entered at large into the merits of his case. He was strongly advised by Grafton to abandon the petition, but he had now declared war à outrance against the government, and he was not the man to hesitate. He therefore pressed forward the parliamentary proceedings, while he availed himself of the abundant opportunities which the lax rules of the king's bench prison afforded of carrying on the campaign in the country. He had succeeded in issuing a ‘Letter on the Public Conduct of Mr. Wilkes’ (1 Nov.) and an ‘Address’ to his constituents (3 Nov.) His next step was to procure an authentic copy of Lord Weymouth's instructions to the chairman of the Lambeth quarter sessions, by which he and his brother magistrates were enjoined to make prompt use of the military in the event of a riot. These instructions were dated 17 April, fully three weeks before the ‘massacre,’ as the affair in St. George's Fields was now called. Wilkes procured their insertion, with some inflammatory remarks of his own, in the ‘St. James's Chronicle’ of 10 Dec., and in a subsequent address to his constituents (17 Dec.) acknowledged himself responsible for their publication. The writ of error was dismissed on 19 Jan. 1769, and the petition shared the same fate; the article in the ‘St. James's Chronicle’ was voted libellous by both houses, and Wilkes was again expelled the House of Commons (4 Feb.) To give a colour of legality to the expulsion, account was taken of all his previous offences and his present position as a condemned criminal. The unfairness of this treatment was ably exposed by George Grenville (now reconciled with Lord Temple) in a speech full of cold and dispassionate constitutionalism, the publication of which drew from Wilkes an ungracious ‘Letter’ (see infra) which ruptured his relations with Temple for ever. The expulsion led to a conflict between the electors of Middlesex, who at once re-elected Wilkes, and the House of Commons, which not only annulled the return, but resolved (17 Feb.) that he ‘was and is incapable of being elected a member to serve in this present parliament,’ annulled two subsequent returns, and eventually declared the beaten candidate, Colonel Luttrell, duly elected, and falsified the return accordingly (13 April). Against these unconstitutional proceedings petitions were presented to parliament and the king. Wilkes found a doughty champion in Junius; the government a dull apologist in Johnson, to whose ‘False Alarm’ Wilkes replied in a spirited ‘Letter to Samuel Johnson, LL.D.’ (London, 1770, 8vo). The matter was also handled in other pamphlets [see Meredith, Sir William]. On 10 Nov. 1769 Wilkes's action against Lord Halifax, long delayed, in the first instance, by legal chicane, then by the effect of the outlawry, was brought to trial, and resulted in a verdict for Wilkes with 4,000l. damages.
On the formation of Lord North's administration, the opposition made of Wilkes a regular cheval de bataille. But a resolution that in matters of election the House of Commons is bound to judge according to the law of the land was defeated in both houses, though Chatham joined with the Rockingham whigs in its support (25 Jan., 2 Feb. 1770). The question was revived on Wilkes's discharge (17 April 1770), and Chatham proposed a bill for his reinstatement (May). The motion was negatived, and a serious conflict between the two houses was thus avoided [see Watson-Wentworth, Charles, second Marquis of Rockingham]. Chatham then suggested an address to the king for an immediate dissolution, but failed to carry the Rockingham whigs with him. Even before his discharge Wilkes had been elected (27 Jan. 1769) alderman for the ward of Farringdon Without. The city interest was strongly on his side, and on 14 March 1770 the lord mayor presented to the king the remonstrance of the livery on his behalf. It was contemptuously dismissed, and other remonstrances shared the same fate. Annual motions on the subject continued to be made in the House of Commons during the remainder of the parliament.
Wilkes had entered the king's bench prison a ruined man. He left it free from embarrassment. This prosperous turn in his affairs was due to the liberality of his sympathisers on both sides of the Atlantic, wisely directed by a committee of ‘supporters of the bill of rights,’ over which John Horne (afterwards Horne Tooke) presided [see Tooke]. In discharging Wilkes's various liabilities the committee disposed of upwards of 17,000l. Wilkes had also his reward in other ways: he was the idol of the populace, his portrait was exposed in shop windows, decorated trinkets, and dangled before alehouses. He was able to take a villa at Fulham and once more to live delicately. If he had lost his old political connection, if the agitation which the opposition carried on in his behalf was merely designed to vindicate the constitution, a civic career was open to him; and by his election to the office of alderman he had, in fact, been invited to stand for the mayoralty. In 1771 the threatened invasion of a city charter by the bill for embanking Durham Yard (the Adelphi) embittered the city against parliament and the court. Wilkes, of course, ranged himself on the side of the malcontents, stoutly supported Lord-mayor Brass Crosby [q. v.] in the contest with parliament which arose out of the publication of reports of the debates, and defied with impunity the speaker's citation to the bar of the House of Commons, on the ground that so long as his incapacity was maintained he was not within the jurisdiction of the house. He was elected sheriff of London and Middlesex in the same year (24 July), and courted popularity by disallowing the attendance of the military at executions. He also discountenanced the trying of prisoners in chains and the taking of money for admission to the court of Old Bailey. On 24 Jan. 1772 he was presented by the common council with a silver cup worth 100l. in recognition of his services to the city in the dispute about the debates. In this and the following year he was returned at the head of the poll for the mayoralty, but was rejected by the court of aldermen. The aldermen were probably influenced in some degree by the attack made upon him by Horne Tooke [for details see Tooke, John Horne]; but the unquestionable services rendered by Wilkes to the popular cause insured his election on the third return (8 Oct. 1774). Parliament was then just dissolved, and at the ensuing general election Wilkes was once more returned for Middlesex (29 Oct.) On 2 Dec. he took his seat without opposition. He continued to represent Middlesex throughout the remainder of his parliamentary career.
An obelisk in Ludgate Circus commemorates Wilkes's mayoralty. It coincided with the definitive adoption by the government of the policy of coercing America, against which Wilkes presented to the king the remonstrance of the livery on 10 April 1775, a duty which he discharged with such dignity and tact that the king was charmed, and confessed that he had never known so well bred a lord mayor. In December 1779 he was elected to the office of city chamberlain, which he held with credit for the rest of his life.
In parliament Wilkes supported the scheme of economic reform adopted by the Rockingham whigs, but went far beyond them by his proposals for the redistribution of seats (21 March 1776), which anticipated the salient features of the bill introduced by Pitt in 1783. Throughout the struggle with America he opposed the measures of the government with vigour and pertinacity. On 28 April 1777 he pleaded the claim of the British Museum to a more liberal treatment by the nation. In 1779 (10 March, 20 April) he supported the bill for the relief of dissenting ministers and schoolmasters from the limited subscription to the Thirty-nine articles of religion required by the Toleration Act. During the Gordon riots in June 1780 he was conspicuous by the firmness and courage with which he asserted the authority of the law. On the return of the whigs to power the erasure from the journals of the House of Commons of the record of his incapacitation, for which he had made annual motions since his re-entrance into parliament, was at length carried (3 May 1782). He took a strong line in opposition to Fox's East India bill (8 Dec. 1783), and on Pitt's accession to power gave him independent support, but broke with him decisively on the impeachment of Warren Hastings (9 May 1787). He did not seek re-election after the dissolution of 11 June 1790.
In his declining years Wilkes had a villa at Sandown, Isle of Wight; and two town houses, one in Kensington Gore, the other in Grosvenor Square (corner of South Audley Street). He died, as he had lived, insolvent, at the latter residence on 26 Dec. 1797. He was interred in Grosvenor Chapel without other memorial than a mural tablet bearing the inscription: ‘The Remains of John Wilkes, a friend to liberty, born at London 17 Oct. 1727 O.S.: died in this parish.’ His daughter Mary died unmarried on 12 March 1802. Wilkes had also two natural children, a son and a daughter.
Wilkes was rather above the middle height. His features were irregular to the point of ugliness, and a squint lent them a sinister expression, maliciously exaggerated in the celebrated caricature by Hogarth (see Catalogue of the Huth Library, v. 17, 43*). He was painted by Pine (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 878), and with John Glynn and Horne Tooke by Houston (Cat. Guelph Exhib. No. 321); a portrait of Wilkes and his daughter was painted by Zoffany (Cat. Second Loan Exhib. No. 654). A sketch of him in chalks by Earlom is in the National Portrait Gallery, London; engraved portraits are in the British Museum.
Wilkes had fine manners and an inexhaustible fund of wit and humour which made his society acceptable even to those who, like Gibbon and Johnson, thoroughly distrusted him (Gibbon, Misc. Works, ed. Sheffield, 1837, p. 64 n.; Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill, iii. 64–79, 83). In his vices he was by no means singular; and his tender affection for his daughter and the constancy of his friendship (proved among others by D'Eon, with whom his intimacy, begun in France, was renewed in London and terminated only by death) are redeeming traits in his character. His freethinking was only skin-deep; and when to Thurlow's asseveration, ‘May God forget me when I forget my sovereign,’ he muttered the retort, ‘God forget you: He'll see you damned first,’ there was just a suspicion of sincerity in the grim pleasantry. His part in public life he played with courage and consistency; but there was a deeper sense than appeared on the surface in his arch denial that he was ever a Wilkite. By nature unquestionably he was no demagogue, but a man of fashion and a dilettante; nor did he possess the ready eloquence which is characteristic of the born leader of the masses. His speeches were always carefully prepared, and smelt too much of the oil for popular effect. He retained his dilettantism, and especially his interest in French and Italian literature and painting, to the last. Towards the close of his life he conferred a boon on bibliophiles by two éditions de luxe: (1) ‘C. V. Catullus. Recensuit Johannes Wilkes, Anglus, Londini, 1788. Typis Johannis Nichols’ (three hundred copies on vellum, one hundred on fine paper, 4to); (2) ‘Theophrastov charaktēres ēthikoi, Johannes Wilkes, Anglus, recensuit. Londini, 1790. Typis Johannis Nichols’ (three copies on vellum, one hundred on fine paper, 4to). He made some way with a translation of Anacreon, which was admired by Joseph Warton, but remained unpublished. Some trifles in verse are included in ‘Letters from the year 1774 to the year 1796 of John Wilkes, esq., addressed to his daughter,’ published with prefatory memoir at London in 1804, 2 vols. 12mo. He was probably author of the English version of Boulanger's posthumous ‘Recherches sur l'Origine du Despotisme Oriental,’ published at Amsterdam under the title ‘The Origin and Progress of Despotism in the Oriental and other Empires of Africa, Europe, and America,’ in 1764, 8vo. The French original had been printed in the previous year at his private press. His prose is uniformly nervous, idiomatic, and lucid. A collection of ‘Epigrams and Miscellaneous Poems’ was added to a private reprint of the ‘Essay on Woman’ (London, 1871, 4to).
Besides the two Monitors mentioned above, Wilkes appears to have written Nos. 340, 358, 373, and 376–80. The following are the principal collective editions of the ‘North Briton:’ ‘Nos. 1–45,’ London, 1763, 2 vols. 12mo; ‘Nos. 1–46, with explanatory notes and index,’ London, 1763, 8vo; ‘Nos. 1–45, revised and corrected by the author,’ Dublin, 1766, 2 vols. 12mo; ‘Forty-six numbers complete with explanatory notes, and a collection of all the proceedings in the House of Commons and courts of Westminster,’ London, 1772, 4 vols. 12mo. With the continuation by Bingley, Wilkes had nothing to do.
Collective editions of Wilkes's ‘Speeches in the House of Commons’ appeared at London in 1777 and 1786, 8vo. His ‘Speech in the House of Commons, 9 May 1787, respecting the Impeachment of Warren Hastings,’ appeared in pamphlet form at London in 1787, 8vo. The speeches in which as city chamberlain he presented the freedom of the city to distinguished persons are printed in ‘Correspondence of the late John Wilkes with his Friends, in which are introduced Memoirs of his Life by John Almon,’ London, 1805, 4 vols. 8vo. The same compilation contains the ‘Introduction to the History of England from the Revolution to the Accession of the Brunswick Line,’ and ‘A Supplement to the Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Gibbon’ (reflections on the acceptance by Gibbon of office under Lord North).
Wilkes himself edited ‘Letters between the Duke of Grafton, the Earls of Halifax and Egremont, Chatham, Temple, Talbot, Baron Botetourt, Right Hon. Henry Bilson Legge, Right Hon. Sir John Cust, bart., Mr. Charles Churchill, Monsieur Voltaire, the Abbé Winckelmann, and John Wilkes, Esq. With Explanatory Notes,’ 1769, 12mo; also ‘A Letter to the Right Hon. George Grenville occasioned by the publication of the speech he made in the House of Commons on the motion for expelling Mr. Wilkes, Friday, Feb. 3, 1769, to which is added A Letter on the Public Conduct of Mr. Wilkes first published Nov. 1, 1768. With an Appendix,’ London, 1769, 8vo. ‘The Controversial Letters of John Wilkes, Esq., the Rev. John Horne, and their principal adherents: with a supplement containing material anonymous pieces,’ appeared at London in 1771, 12mo (cf. the Letters of Junius, Nos. l–liv and the private correspondence). Wilkes's diaries, with fragments of autobiography and much inedited correspondence and other papers, are in Additional MSS. 30865–88; other miscellaneous remains are scattered through Additional MSS. 12114, 27777–8, 27925, 29176–7, 29194; cf. Additional MSS. 32948 ff. 161 et seq., 33053 f. 317; Egerton MS. 2136, ff. 29, 49; and Stowe MS. 372; also Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. App. p. 63, 3rd Rep. App. pp. 124, 223, 415, 4th Rep. App. pp. 397 et seq., 5th Rep. App. p. 257, 10th Rep. App. pp. 357, 413–18, 14th Rep. App. i.; also Cal. Belvoir Castle MSS. iii. 3, 36; 15th Rep. App. ii. 359–60. From Additional MS. 30865 Mr. W. F. Taylor published in 1888 (Harrow, 16mo) Wilkes's account of his life abroad in 1764–5, including his relations with his mistress Corradini. The book is entitled ‘John Wilkes, Patriot: an unfinished Autobiography.’[The principal authorities have already been indicated, others are as follows: Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire, ii. 26, 37, 44; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667 p. 376, 1667–8 pp. 450, 601, 1668–9 p. 240; Pepys's Diary, 19 Sept. 1666; Autobiography of Alexander Carlyle; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. and Illustr.; Gent. Mag. 1761 p. 44, 1763 pp. 424, 525, 605, 1769 p. 55, 1797 ii. 1077, 1798 i. 77, 1802 i. 285, 1803 ii. 1194, 1805 ii. 1238; Ann. Reg. 1763 pp. 133–47, 1765 p. 174, 1766 p. 182, 1768 pp. 83–111, 121–130, 183, 1771 pp. 59 et seq., 68, 83, 95, 101, 1772 Chron. p. 131, 1773 Chron. p. 98, 1774 pp. 155–7, 1775 p. 101, Chron. pp. 106–7, 137, 255, 1780 p. 196, 1797 Chron. pp. 58, 369; Almon's Polit. Reg. 1767–8, 1770–72; Comm. Journ. xxix. 666, 689, xxxii. 156, 178, 224–8, 334; Lords' Journ. xxx. 417, 425–30, xxxii. 205–43; Parl. Hist. xv. 1354, xvi. 511–95, 875, 954–78, xviii–xxvi.; Cavendish's Debates, i. 46–185, 226–37, 404–33, 516–45; Howell's State Trials, xix. 982–1175, 1382–1418; Almon's Hist. of the late Minority, vol. ii., and Anecdotes, i. 5, ii. 1–30; Chesterfield's Letters, ed. Mahon; D'Eon's Loisirs, vii. 13, 134; Johnson's Letters, ed. Birkbeck Hill; Farmer's Plain Truth, being a genuine Narrative of the Methods made use of to procure a copy of the Essay on Woman (1763); Kidgell's Genuine and Succinct Narrative of a scandalous, obscene, and exceedingly profane Libel, entitled An Essay on Woman (1763); A Complete Collection of the Genuine Papers, Letters, &c., in the case of John Wilkes, Esq. (Paris, 1767); The whole Account of John Wilkes, Esq., from the time of his being chosen M.P. for Aylesbury till his departure into France (1768); A Narrative of the Proceedings against John Wilkes, Esq. (1768); A Collection of all Mr. Wilkes's Addresses to the Gentlemen, Clergy, and Freeholders of Middlesex (1769); English Liberty: being a Collection of interesting Tracts from the years 1762 to 1769, containing the Private Correspondence, Letters, Speeches, and Addresses of John Wilkes; Life and Political Writings of John Wilkes, Esq. (Birmingham, 1769); Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III, ed. Le Marchant, rev. Russell Barker; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham; Walpole's Journal of the Reign of George III, ed. Doran; Cradock's Life of John Wilkes, Esq. (1773); Grenville Papers, ed. Smith; Warburton's Works, Supplement by Kilvert, pp. 223–32; Chatham's Corresp.; Grafton's Autobiography; Burke's Works, ed. 1852, iii. 149, 152; Prior's Life of Burke; Prior's Life of Malone; Stephens's Life of Horne Tooke; Nicholl's Recollections and Reflections; Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne; Harris's Life of Lord-chancellor Hardwicke; Winckelmann's Lettres Fam. i. 155, 243, 245, 263; Diderot's Mémoires, ii. 313; Ségur's Royaume de la Rue Saint-Honoré, p. 65; Whitehead's Poems, ed. Thompson, p. xxxiii; Wraxall's Hist. and Posth. Mem. ed. Wheatley; Butler's Reminiscences, 4th ed. i. 73; Georgian Era, i. 312; Brougham's Hist. Sketches, 3rd ser. p. 182; Dilke's Papers of a Critic; Rogers's Hist. Gleanings, 2nd ser. pp. 131 et seq.; Selby Watson's Biographies of Wilkes and Cobbett, and Life of Warburton; Fraser Rae's Wilkes, Sheridan, Fox; Fitzgerald's Life of Wilkes and Life of Boswell; Sharpe's London and the Kingdom, iii. 71 et seq.; London's Roll of Fame, pp. 17 et seq.; Gregory's John Wilkes: a Political Reformer of the Eighteenth Century; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 367, 4th ser. v. 47, 5th ser. viii. 225, xii. 462; Adolphus's Hist. of England; Bisset's Hist. of the Reign of George III; Massey's Hist. of England; Martin's Catalogue of Privately Printed Books; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anon. and Pseudon. Lit.; Lowndes's Bibliogr. Manual, ed. Bohn; Brit. Mus. Cat.]