Amhurst, Nicholas

, an English political and miscellaneous writer, was born at Marden in Kent, but in what year is uncertain, although by a passage in his Terras Filius, it would appear to be about 1706. Under the tuition of his grandfather, a clergyman, he received his grammatical education at Merchant-Taylor’s school in, London; and thence was removed to St. John’s college, Oxford, whence he was expelled on a charge of libertinism, irregularity, and his insulting 1 behaviour towards the president of the college. From his own account of the matter, in the dedication of his poems to Dr. Delaune, president of St. John’s, and in his “Teme Filius,” we may collect that he wished to have it understood, that he was solely persecuted for the liberality of his sentiments, and his attachment to the cause of the Revolution and of the Hanover-succession. Whatever were the causes of his expulsion, ius resentment, on the account of it, although violent, was | impotent. He made it his business to satirize the learning and discipline of the university of Oxford, and to libel the characters of its principal members. This he did in a poem published in 1724, called “Oculus Britanniae,” and in his “Terrae Filius,” a work in which is displayed a considerable portion of wit, intermixed with intemperate satire. The full title of the work is, “Terrae Filius; or the secret history of the university of Oxford; in several essays. To which are added, Remarks upon a late book, entitled, University Education, by R. Newton, D. D. principal of Hart Hall,” 2 vols. 12mo, printed for R. Francklin, 1726. Amidst all the malignity and exaggeration with which the Terrae Filius abounds, it contains some curious anecdotes relative to the principles, manners, and conduct of several members of the university, for a few years after the accession of king George I.; but they are to be read with caution. It had been an ancient custom in the university of Oxford, at public acts, for some person, who was called Terrae Filius, to mount the rostrum, and divert a large crowd of spectators, who flocked to hear him from all parts, with a merry oration in the fescennine manner, interspersed with secret history, raillery, and sarcasm, as the occasions of the times supplied him with matter. Wood, in his Athenae, mentions several instances of this custom; and hence Mr. Amhurst took the title of his work. It was originally written in 1721, in a periodical paper, which came out twice a week, and consists of fifty numbers.

Soon after Mr. Amhurst quitted Oxford, he seems to have settled in London, as a writer by profession. He published a volume of “Miscellanies,” (principally written at the university), on a variety of subjects; partly originals, and partly paraphrases, imitations, and translations; and consisting of tales, epigrams, epistles, love-verses, elegies, and satires. They begin with a beautiful paraphrase on the Mosaic account of the creation, and end with a very humorous tale upon the discovery of that useful instrument a bottle-screw. Mr. Amhurst was -the author, likewise, of an “Epistle to sir John Blount,” bart. one of the directors of the South-Sea Company in 1720; of the “British General,” a poem sacred to the memory of his grace John duke of Marlborough; and of “Strephon’s revenge,” a satire on the Oxford toasts. Our poet, who had a great enmity to the clergy, and who had early, at Oxford, displayed his zeal against what he called | priestly power, discovered this particularly in a poem entitled the “Convocation,” in five cantos; a kind of satire against all the writers who had opposed bishop Hoadly, in the famous Bangorian controversy. He translated also, Mr. Addison’s Resurrection, and some other of his Latin poems. But the principal literary undertaking of Mr. Amhurst was, his conducting “The Craftsman,” which was carried on for a number of years with great spirit and success; and was more read and attended to than any production of the kind which had hitherto been published in England. Ten or twelve thousand were sold in a day; and the effect which it had in raising the indignation of the people, and in controlling the power of the Walpole administration, was very considerable. This effect was not, however, entirely, or chiefly, owing to the abilities of Mr. Amhurst, He was assisted by lord Bolingbroke and Mr. Pulteney, and by other leaders of the opposition, whose fame and writings were the grand support of the “Craftsman.” Nevertheless, Mr. Amhurst’s own paper’s are allowed to have been composed with ability and spirit, and he conducted the “Craftsman” in the very zenith of-its prosperity, with no small reputation to himself. July 2, 1737, there appeared in that publication an ironical letter, in the name of Colley Gibber, the design of which was to ridicule the act that had just passed for licensing plays. In this letter, the laureat proposes himself to the lord chamberlain to be made superintendant of the old plays, as standing equally in need of correction with the new ones; and produces several passages from Shakspeare, and other poets, in relation to kings, queens, princes, and ministers of state, which, he says, are not now fit to be brought on the stage. The printer, &c. having been laid hold of by order of government, Mr. Amhurst hearing that a warrant from the duke of Newcastle was issued against him, surrendered himself to a messenger, and was carried before his grace to be examined. The crime imputed to hini was, that “he was suspected to be the author of a paper suspected to be a libel.” As no proofs were alleged against him, nor witnesses produced, an examination of this kind could not last long. As soon as it was over, he was told that the crime being bailable, he should be bailed upon finding sufficient securities to answer for his appearance and trial; but these terms being imposed upon him, be absolutely refused. Upon this refusal, he was | remanded back into custody, and the next day brought his habeas corpus, and was then set at liberty, by consent, till the twelve Judges should determine the question, “Whether he was obliged to give bail for his good behaviour, as well as his appearance, before he was entitled to his liberty.” This determination was impatiently expected by the public, and several days were fixed for hearing counsel on both sides, but no proceedings of that kind took place, and the question remained undetermined until the days of Wilkes.

Notwithstanding this show of firmness, and his other services, Mr. Amhurst was totally neglected by his coadjutors in the Craftsman, when they made their terms with the crown; and he died soon after, of a fever, at Twickenham. His death happened April 27, 1742; and his disorder was probably occasioned, in a great measure, by the ill usage he had received. Mr. Ralph, in his “Case of Authors,” speaks with much indignation upon the subject. “Poor Amhurst, after having been the drudge of his party for the best part of twenty years together, was as much forgotten in the famous compromise of 1742, as if he had never been born! and when he died of what is called a broken heart, which happened a few months afterwards, became indebted to the charity of a bookseller for a grave; not to be traced now, because then no otherwise to be distinguished, than by the freshness of the turf, borrowed from the next common to cover it.” Mr. T. Davies the bookseller, in his character of Mr. Pulteney, expresses himself concerning the treatment of Mr. Amhurst in the following terms: “But if the earl of Bath had his list of pensioners, how comes it that Arnhurst was forgotten? The fate of this poor man is singular: He was the able associate of Bolingbroke and Pulteney, in writing the celebrated weekly paper called ‘ The Craftsman.’ His abilities were unquestionable: he had almost as much wit, learning, and various knowledge, as his two partners: and when those great masters chose not to appear in public themselves, he supplied their places so well, that his essays were often ascribed to them. Am-, hurst survived the downfall of Walpole’s power, and had reason to expect a reward for his labours. If we excuse Bolingbroke, who had only saved the shipwreck of his fortunes, we shall be at a loss to justify Pulteney, who could with ease have given this man a considerable income. The utmost of his generosity to Amhurst, that I ever heard | of, was a hogshead of claret! He died, it is supposed, of a broken heart, and was buried at the charge of his honest printer, Richard Francklin.” Mr. Amhurst was, however, one of those imprudent and extravagant men, whose irregularities, in spite of their talents, bring them at length into general disesteem and neglect; although this does not excuse the conduct cf his employers. His want of purity in morals was no objection to their connection with him, when he could serve their purpose. And they might have easily provided for him, and placed him above necessity during the remainder of his days. The ingratitude of statesmen to the persons whom they make use of as the instruments of their ambition, should furnish an instruction to men of abilities in future times; and engage them to build their happiness on the foundation of their own personal integrity, discretion, and virtue. 1


Biog.Brit. Lord Chesterfield’s Characters reviewed,