Birkenhead, Sir John

, a political author in the seventeenth century, was the son of Richard Birkenhead, of Northwych, in the county of Cheshire, an honest saddler, who, if some authors may deserve credit, kept also a little ale-house. Our author was born about 1615, and having received some tincture of learning in the common grammar-schools, came to Oxford, and was entered in 1632, a servitor of Oriel college, under the tuition of the learned Dr. Humphrey Lloyd, afterwards bishop of Bangor. Dr. Lloyd recommended him to Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, as his amanuensis, and in that capacity he discovered such talents, that the archbishop, by his diploma, created him A. M. in 1639, and the year following, by letter commendatory from the same great prelate, he was chosen probationary fellow of All-souls college. This preferment brought him to reside constantly in Oxford, and on king Charles I. making that city his head-quarters during the civil war, our author was employed to write a kind of journal in support of the royal cause, by which he gained great reputation; and his majesty recommended him to be chosen reader in moral philosophy, which employment he enjoyed, though with very small profit, till 1648, when he was expelled by the parliament visitors. He retired afterwards to London, where adhering steadily to his principles, he acquired, among those of his own sentiments, the title of “The Loyal Poet,” and suffered, from such as had then the power in their hands, several imprisonments, which served only to sharpen his wit, without abating his courage. He published, while he thus lived in obscurity, and, as Wood says, by his wits, some very tart performances, which were then very highly relished, and are still admired by the curious. These were, like his former productions, levelled against the republican leaders, and were written with the same vindictive poignancy that was then fashionable. Upon the restoration of king Charles II. he was created April 6, 1661, on the king’s letters sent for that purpose, D. C. L. by the university of Oxford and in that quality was o’ne of the eminent civilians consulted by the convocation on the question “Whether bishops ought to be present in capital cases?” and with the rest, Keb. 2, 1661-2, gave it under his hand, they ought and might. He was, about the same time, elected a burgess, to serve in parliament for Wilton, in the county of Wilts, and continuing his | services to his master, was by him promoted, on the first vacancy, to some office at court, which he quitted afterwards, and became master in the Faculty office. He was knighted November 14, 1662, and upon sir Richard Fanshaw’s going with a public character to the court of Madrid, sir John Birkenhead succeeded him as master of requests. He was also elected a member of the royal society, an honour at that time conferred on none who were not well known in the republic of letters, as men capable of promoting the truly noble designs of that learned body. He lived afterwards in credit and esteem with men of wit and learning, and received various favours from the court, in consideration of the past, and to instigate him to other services; which, however, drew upon him some very severe attacks from those who opposed the court. Anthony Wood has preserved some of their coarsest imputations, for what reason is not very obvious, as Wood is in general very partial to the loyalist writers. He died in Westminster, December 4, 1679, and was interred at St. Martin’s in the Fields, leaving to his executors, sir Richard Mason, and sir Muddiford Bamston, a large and curious collection of pamphlets on all subjects.

Sir John’s newspaper which he wrote at Oxford, was entitled “Mercurius Aulicus, communicating the intelligence and affairs of the court to the rest of the kingdom.” It was printed weekly in one sheet, and sometimes more, in 4to and was chiefly calculated to raise the reputation of the king’s friends and commanders, and ridicule those who sided with the parliament. They came out regularly from the beginning of 1642, to the latter end of 1645, and afterwards, occasionally. When Birkenhead was otherwise engaged, Dr. Peter Heylyn supplied his place, but was not thought so capable of that species of writing, as he did not excel in popular wit, which is necessary to render such kind of pieces acceptable to the public. The parliament thought fit to oppose this court -journal by another on their side of the question, under the title of “Mercurius Britannicus,” written by Marchmont Nedham, to whom the royalists gave the name of “foul-mouthed Nedham” who, finding himself somewhat unequal to the Oxford writer, thought fit to ascribe the “Mercurius Aulicus” to several persons, that his deficiency might do the less prejudice to his party. Jacob blunderingly calls the ^ Mercurius Aulicus,“a poem. Sir John’s other satirical | works were 1.” The Assembly-man,“written in 1647, but printed, as Wood tells us, 1662-3. 2.” News from Pembroke and Montgomery or, Oxford Manchestered,“c. 1648. 3.” St. Paul’s church-yard libri theologici, politici, historic!, nundinis Paulinis (una cum templo) prostant venales, &c.“printed in three sheets, 1649, 4to. These sheets were published separately, as if they had been parts of one general catalogue. An account of them is in the Cens. Lit. vol. IV. 4.” The four-legged Quaker, a ballad, to the tune of the dog and elder’s maid,“5.A new ballad of a famous German prince, without date," &c.

Our author has also several verses and translations extant, set to music by Mr. Henry Lawes as particularly Anacreon’s ode, called the Lute, translated from the Greek, and to be sung by a bass alone; and an Anniversary on the nuptials of John earl of Bridgwater, 22d July, 1652. He wrote, likewise, a poem on his staying in London after the Act of Banishment for cavaliers and another called the Jolt, made upon Cromwell the protector’s being thrown out of his coach-box in Hyde-Park. He published Mr. Robert Waring’s “Effigies Amoris, sive quid sit Amor efflagitanti responsum,London, 1649, 12mo, from the original, at the author’s desire, who was willing to be concealed. The third edition was published after the restoration, by William Griffith, of Oxford, with an epistle before it, written by him to sir John Birkenhead wherein he gives the character of that gentleman, as well as of the author. This was the same piece afterwards translated into English by the famous Mr, Norris of Bemerton, and published under the title of “The Picture of Love unveiled.” We meet also with several copies of verses written by this gentleman, and prefixed to the works of the most eminent wits and greatest poets of his time but satire was his principal excellence, and in genuine powers of ridicule he had no superior, at a time when those powers were called forth, and well rewarded by both parties. 1


Biog. Brit —Cibber's Lives,Ath Ox. vol. II. Centura Literaria, vol. IV. Wood’s Annals.