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

XVII. Political Literature

§ 25. The Franciscan claim

Perhaps it is not too bold to say that the only claimant who fulfils the majority of these conditions is Sir Philip Francis. In his case, also, there are corroborative circumstances of weight; and, although, with our present knowledge, we cannot definitely state that he was the author of the letters, yet it is pretty clear that he was concerned in their production. Sir Philip was an Irishman, the son of that elder Philip Francis who was also a pamphleteer. He was born in Dublin on 22 October, 1740, but was bred in England at St. Paul’s school. In 1756, he obtained a clerkship in the secretary of state’s office, and accompanied Lord Kinnoul on his embassy to Portugal in 1760. From 1762 to 1772, he held the post of first clerk at the war office, which he resigned in obscure circumstances only to be appointed a member of the governor-general’s council in India next year. His long feud there with Hastings brought him into public notice, and, after his return to England in 1781, he became the relentless engineer of the prosecution of his enemy. Failure, however, alike attended these efforts and his hopes of political office. He gave up, in 1807, the seat in parliament which he had held from 1784. He survived to see the claim put forward that he was the author of Junius; but he died, without either admitting or denying the fact, on 23 December, 1818. He had married twice and left descendants by his first wife.

Though this career was not humdrum, yet the earlier part of it by no means corresponded with the fancied importance of Junius, and John Taylor, who declared for Francis’s authorship in 1814, showed an adventurous spirit in his thesis. Nevertheless, the arguments he collected then, and those since added by his adherents, form a strong array. The all-important handwriting has been assigned to Francis by expert evidence; four or five Junian seals were used by him, and, since Francis’s undisguised hand appears in a dating on the Junian proofs along with the feigned, while the feigned hand directs the envelope of a copy of verses dated 1771 and shown, by absolutely independent evidence, to be of Francis’s composition, it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Francis was Junius’s collaborator, if not Junius himself. The same result is obtained from the facts that Junius used, and vouched for, a report made by Francis of one of Chatham’s speeches in December, 1770, and that an unacknowledged Junian letter signed “Phalaris” can hardly have been written without Francis’s co-operation, employing, as it does, Francis’s very words in a letter to Chatham. Again, Francis’s presence in London tallies remarkably with the dates of the letters. When he is absent, Junius is silent. In less external matters, Francis had that experience of the offices of war and state which is marked in Junius. His politics were identical with those of the libeller and he was at the time engaged as a jackal of the declining politician Calcraft, in the labour of effecting a junction of Chatham and the Grenvilles. Calcraft and Lord Temple, the latter a veteran patron of libellers, may well have given him court intelligence not otherwise obtainable. Calcraft, again, at the time of his death in 1772, was, obviously, under great obligations to Francis for services rendered: he leaves him a legacy and prescribes his nomination to a pocket-borough of his own. If Junius’s remorseless hatred of the duke of Grafton remains unexplained—though some insult received by Francis in the course of his official duties is an easy supposition—the fury he manifests against Barrington in 1772 is in precise harmony with the mysterious retirement of D’Oyly and Francis which partly forms the theme of that attack. Then, the characters of Junius and Francis markedly coincide. The same pride, the same fierce hatreds, the same implacable revenge and the same good intention towards the public interest meet us in both. Even the seeming improbability of Junius’s hostile reference to Calcraft is paralleled by Francis’s readiness, when piqued, to put the worst construction on his friends. At the same time, a difficulty arises in the question as to Francis’s ability to write the letters. True, there are Junian turns in his productions of later date. He shares that trait with many writers, and, high though his reputation as a pamphleteer was, we must admit that, if he was Junius in 1770, under his own name in 1780 he was a cooling sun.

To sum up, the letters of Junius seem to be brought home to a small group which included Calcraft, Francis and, perhaps, Lord Temple. They passed through Francis’s hands, and he is their most likely author. He evidently wished to be thought so; but, if he was, the malignant talent they displayed could only develop in secrecy, or, perhaps, his prime was short. He remains in his real character a pretender only, in his assumed, a shade: stat nominis umbra.