Ruffhead, Owen

, a law and miscellaneous writer, was born about 1723 in Piccadilly, where his father was his majesty’s baker, and having bought a lottery ticket for Owen, when in his infancy, which was drawn a prize of 500l. he determined to expend it upon his education for the profession of the law. He was accordingly entered of the Middle Temple, and by studying here, as well as at school, with great diligence, became a good general scholar, and an acute barrister, although he never arrived at great eminence in his profession. He endeavoured, however, to form some political connexions; and when, in 1757, Murphy wrote a periodical paper, in favour of Mr. Henry Fox, afterwards lord Holland, called “The Test,” Ruffhead setup another, in opposition, called “The ConTest.” Dr. Johnson, who then conducted ths “Literary Magazine,” after giving a few of both these papers, adds, “Of these papers of the Test and Con-test, we have given a very copious specimen, and hope that we shall give no more. The debate seems merely personal, no one topic of general import having been yet attempted. Of the motives of the author of the Test, whoever he be, I believe, every man who speaks honestly, speaks with abhorrence. Of the Con-test, which, being defensive, is less blameable, I have yet heard no great commendation. The language is that of a man struggling after elegance, and catching finery in its stead; the author of the Con-test is more knowing of wit neither can boast in the Test it is frequently attempted, but always by mean and despicable imitations, without the least glimmer of intrinsic light, without a single effort of original thought.” Ruffhead wrote other pamphlets on temporary political subjects, the last of which was a defence of the conduct of administration in the affair of Wilkes, entitled “The case of the late Election for the county of Middlesex considered,” in answer to sir William Meredith’s pamphlet on the same subject. Of his law writings, the first was a continuation of | Cay’s “Statutes” to the 13 George III. 9 vols. fol. and the second an edition of the Statutes, which goes under his own name, which he did not live to publish, as it appeared in 1771, but which has been since regularly continued, making 13 vols. 4to. For this, or his political services, he was about to have been promoted to the place of one of the secretaries of the Treasury, when he died Oct. 25, 1769, in his forty-sixth year.

Some time before his death, bishop Warburton, who probably thought the task might involve himself in inquiries not very suitable to the dignity of his order, employed Ruffhead to write the “Life of Pope,” but himself revised the sheets, and occasionally contributed a paragraph, although neither was sufficiently attentive to accuracy of dates, which, in Pope’s history, are matters of no small importance, nor was the work in general creditable to the subject, for Ruffhead had no taste for poetry or criticism. The public, however, knowing to whom he must be indebted for most of his materials, read the book with some avidity, and it was twice reprinted, but has since been superseded by more able pens. The university of Edinburgh conferred the degree of LL. D on Ruffhead, in 1766, which, we believe, he never assumed, although in Northouck’s dictionary he is called Dr. Ruffhead. Among his other literary engagements, Sir John Hawkins informs us that he was employed as reviewer of books in the Gentleman’s Magazine, until employed on Cay’s Statutes: and some time before his death the proprietors of Chambers’s Cyclopædia engaged him to superintend a new edition of that work: he was paid a considerable sum on account, but, having done nothing, the booksellers recovered the money of his heirs. He left one son, Thomas Ruffhead, who died curate of Prittlewell, in Essex, in 1798. 1

1 Northouck’s Dictionary. —Gent. Mag. vol. LXIX.