Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 16. Political Pamphlets in Prose

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XVII. Political Literature

§ 16. Political Pamphlets in Prose

Prose was far more effective than verse in the political controversies which followed Bute’s resignation. The weekly essay, in its old form, died out gradually; but the flood of pamphlets continued. They were in a more serious vein than formerly. Measures rather than men were in dispute, not so much because the public taste had changed, as because the more prominent politicians, with the exception of Pitt, presented few points of interest. The ability of many of these numerous pamphlets is undeniable. Some leading statesmen had a share in them. We find such men as George Grenville, an ex-prime minister, and Charles Townshend, leader of the House of Commons, defending or attacking current policy in this fashion. Others were written by authors of literary eminence. Edmund Burke published a celebrated tract in defence of the first Rockingham ministry; Horace Walpole was stirred to address the public concerning the dismissal of general Conway in 1764; latest of all, Johnson took part as a champion of the government during the agitation about the Middlesex election, and in opposition to the accusations of Junius. Perhaps, however, the more effective among these pamphlets were due to political understrappers. Charles Lloyd, Grenville’s secretary, wrote a series in support of his patron’s policy, including a clever reply to Burke. Thomas Whateley, secretary to the treasury, defended the same minister’s finance. These and their fellows worked with more or less knowledge of the ground, and, if their special pleading be conspicuous, they also dispensed much sound information.