The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 24. The Mystery of Junius
Something, too, of his celebrity is due to the mystery he successfully maintained. The wildest guesses as to his identity were made in his own day and after. It was thought at first that only Burke could write so well, and most of the eminent contemporaries of Junius have, at one time or another, been charged with the authorship of the letters. Fresh light was cast on the problem by the publication, in 1812, of his private letters to Woodfall, with specimens of his handwriting, and subsequent research has at least laid down some of the conditions which must be satisfied if his identity is to be proved. Among them, we may take it that a coincidence of the real life of the author with the hints regarding himself thrown out in the letters is not to be expected. It was part of Junius’s plan to avoid giving any real clue, and he was anxious to be thought personally important. But there are more certain data to go upon. The very marked handwriting of Junius is well known, although, to all seeming, it is a feigned hand. The dates of the letters show when the author must have been in London. His special knowledge is of importance. He had an inner acquaintance with the offices of secretary at war and secretary of state, and he was very well informed on much of the doings of contemporary statesmen and on the court. His politics show him to have been an adherent of George Grenville, who was anxious to draw Lord Chatham into alliance with the thoroughgoing whigs, and turn out the king’s chosen ministers. The latter he hated to a man; but he had a singular antipathy to Grafton and Barrington. His power of hating is characteristic. We must find a man proud and malignant, yet possessed of considerable public spirit and of a desire for an honest, patriotic administration. Finally, we require a proof of ability, in 1770, to write the letters with their merits and defects. Later writings, even when tinged with the admired Junian style, are but poor evidence. Nor is the inferior quality of a man’s later productions an absolute bar to his claims. He may have passed his prime.