Sir Philip Francis

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Francis, Sir Philip, K.C.B., statesman and author, son of preceding, was born in Dublin, 22nd October 1740. He was educated at his father's school in Surrey, and afterwards at St. Paul's School, London, and was appointed to a clerkship in the office of the Secretary of State, continuing to occupy his leisure with classical and literary studies. In 1760 he went as Secretary of Lord Kinnoul's special embassy to the court of Portugal, and between January 1761 and May 1762 he acted as occasional amanuensis to the elder Pitt.

On 27th February 1762 he married Elizabeth Macrabie, a lady without fortune, thereby incurring his father's displeasure. In the same year he became first clerk in the War Office under the Deputy-Secretary at War, Christopher D'Oyly. A warm friendship soon sprang up between them, and the Secretary entrusted nearly all the official correspondence of the office to Francis. This position he resigned in March 1772, probably on account of a quarrel with Lord Barrington, perhaps from chagrin at the failure of his hopes of promotion. He was now left without employment or resources, with a wife and several young children to provide for, and his fortunes seemed at a low ebb. In 1773, however, he was appointed one of the members of the new India Council, with a salary of £10,000 a year. With the other members of the Council, he sailed for India, 31st March 1774, and reached Calcutta on the 19th of October. That day seven years (19th October 1781), he landed at Dover on his return. While in India his conduct at the Council board was characterized by bitter hostility to Warren Hastings, and intrigues against him, with a view of obtaining the governor-generalship.

His contention with Hastings culminated in a duel, in which Francis was shot through the body. His private life while in India was marked by grave irregularities; but it is to his credit that at a time when men in his position were returning to England with large fortunes wrung from the natives, all he brought back was £30,000, for the most part saved out of his salary. Immediately on his return to England, he entered Parliament for Yarmouth, his introduction to the House being heralded by a strong eulogium from his friend Burke. He sided with the Whigs, then in opposition, led by Fox, and soon became a distinguished member, but never rose to any height of oratory. The impeachment of Hastings was to a great extent his work. Though he did not take a prominent part in the matter, it was he who supplied most of the grounds of impeachment, and he was ever at hand to second the action of Burke and the other accusers. Through the horrors of the French Revolution his radicalism continued of the most prominent type. From 1797 to 1802 he was out of Parliament. The death of Pitt in 1805 brought his party again into power, and he strove in vain to be appointed Governor-General of India; he was, however, made Knight of the Garter.

His parliamentary career closed in 1807. His latter years, rendered irksome by disease, were spent in literary pursuits and social intercourse. He died on the 23rd of December 1818, aged 78, and was buried at Mortlake.

In religion he was through life a freethinker. There are good grounds for believing that Francis was the author of the Letters of Junius, and the several anonymous contributions to the public press, under the signature of "Candor" and "Anti-Sejanus," that led up to "Junius." The first letter of the "Candor" series appeared in Woodfall's paper, the Public Advertizer, in August 1764. Two years afterwards, in 1766, a series of sixteen letters in the same paper, under the signature of "Anti-Sejanus," were commenced. The Junius Letters number sixty-nine — the first appeared in the Public Advertizer, 21st January 1769; the last, 21st January 1772. This series of powerful letters from the pen of an anonymous writer asserted the claims of civil liberty, constitutional law, and freedom of religious thought and profession, against the Government policy that culminated in the arrest and trial of Wilkes. They are singularly free from personalities and coarseness, though lavish in sarcastic irony and wit. We are not told how the copy and proofs were conveyed between Woodfall and his anonymous correspondent, nor is it believed that Woodfall had any idea as to who it was that so largely contributed to the enormous sale and popularity of his paper, and the large profits arising therefrom — profits that amply repaid him for the risks he ran of public and private actions at law. "The classic purity of their language, the exquisite force and perspicuity of their argument, the keen severity of their reproach, the extensive information they evince, their fearless and decisive tone, and, above all, their stern and steady attachment to the purest principles of the constitution, acquired for them, with an almost electric speed, a popularity which no series of letters have since possessed, nor, perhaps, ever will; and, what is of far greater consequence, diffused among the body [of the people] a clearer knowledge of their constitutional rights than they had ever before attained, and animated them with a more determined spirit to maintain them inviolate. Enveloped in the cloud of a fictitious names, the writer of these philippics, unseen himself, beheld with secret satisfaction the vast influence of his labours, and enjoyed, though, as we shall afterwards observe, not always without apprehension, the universal search that was made to detect him in his disguise. He beheld the people extolling him, the court execrating him, and ministers, and more than ministers, trembling beneath the lash of his invisible hand."

Charles Chabot, the distinguished expert, says, in summing up a report upon a comparison of handwriting of "Junius" and Francis, which occupies a large quarto volume, published in 1871: "I have shown in matters of detail, in the several component parts of the writing, in matters of style connected therewith, and in matters of material, there is in each abundance of evidence to justify me in the opinion I have formed, and to demonstrate that the Junian letters have emanated from no other hand than that of Sir Philip Francis." The controversy regarding the authorship of the Letters of Junius cannot, however, be considered as definitely settled.

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

136. Francis, Sir Philip, Memoirs: Joseph Parkes and Herman Merivale, M. A. 2 vols. London, 1867.

201. Junius, Handwriting of, Professionally investigated: Charles Chabot. London, 1871.
Keating, Rev. Geoffrey, see No. 171.

313. Statesmen in the Time of George III.: Lord Brougham. 6 vols. London, 1845.

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