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BORN ABOUT 1700,-DIED 1742.
Here mark what ills the scholar's life assail,
The life of Nicholas Amhurst would abound with instruction, could materials be found from whence to compose it: unfortunately these are but scanty, and the following notices are principally taken from an article by Dr. Kippis in the Biographia Britannica,
George Amhurst was vicar of Marden in Ķent, and died there in 1707, whether this clergyman was the father or grandfather of Nicholas does not appear.
Nicholas Amhurst was born at Marden, but in what year
is unknown. He was educated by his grandfather, a clergyman, and at Merchant Taylor's school, in London, from whence he was removed at a fit age to St. John's College, Cambridge. How long he continued at the university is also unknown. One thing appears certain, that he was expelled from thence for alledged irregularities and offence given to the head of his college: what these irregularities were, does not satisfactorily appear: by his own account he was a martyr to his principles, for he affirmed that his disgrace was the consequence of the liberality of his political sentiments, and his attachment to the Hanoverian succession,
Whatever it may have been, he meditated, and in some degree effected signal revenge: he removed to London, and commenced the life of an author by attacking with the most unsparing severity, the character, the discipline, and the learning of the university of which he had been a member. In this violent abuse he employed both prose and verse, and he spared neither individuals nor corporations ; many of his invectives were personal, and appear
to bave been both illiberal and unjust. The principal organ through which he conveyed this scandal was a periodical work with the strange title of “ Terræ Filius, or the secret history of the University of Oxford;" to which were added, when the papers were collected and published in two volumes 12mo. 1720,"some remarks upon a late book entitled, University Education, by R. Newton D.D. principal of Hart Hall." Of the origin of his assumed title he gives the following account in the first number:-" It has till of late been a custom, from time immemorial, for one of our family who was called Terræ Filius, to mount the rostrum at Oxford at certain seasons, and divert an innumerable crowd of spectators, who flocked thither to hear him from all parts, with a merry oration, in the Fescennine manner, interspersed with secret history, raillery, and sarcasm, as the occasions of the time supplied the matter. Something like this jovial solemnity were the famous Saturnalian feasts among the Romans.” The work of Amhurst appears to have been worthy of its title, containing much abuse, some wit, and probably more malignity and exaggeration. It is now forgotten, and we shall not revive it in the small degree we are able, by further extending our remarks upon it.
The Terræ Filius was published twice a week according to the custom introduced by the Tatler, commencing on Wednesday January 11th, 1721, and concluding with the 50th number, on Saturday July 6th, of the fo!lowing year.
He continued the attack in a poem entitled “ Oculus Britanniæ," published 1721, and in a volume of miscellanies containing for the most part pieces composed when at the university.
What other literary works he engaged in, between the termination of this paper and the commencement of the more celebrated one named “ The Craftsman," which first appeared in December 1726, or whether he was employed on any, does not appear. The main object of this paper was to attack the ministry of Sir Robert Walpole, and it was continued twice in the week for many years, with much spirit and success. He is said to have been assisted in this work by the great leaders of the opposition of that day, particularly by Bolinbroke, and Pulteney, afterwards Earl of Bath.
The Craftsman was edited under the assumed name of Caleb D’Anvers, but Amhurst was the avowed conductor. It was a work of first rate merit, and attained greater popularity than any previous publication of its kind; ten or twelve thousand copies are said to have been sold of every impression. Though its main object was to attack the ministry of the day, and serve the purposes of the party in opposition, yet it was not absolutely confined to temporary or political topics ; many papers on general subjects of literature were admitted, and much wit, humour, and argumentation, frequently displayed. The best pieces were re-published in the Gentleman's Magazine of that time as they
appeared, and a general collection was formed in 17:31, consisting of fourteen volumes in 12mo. It continued many years after the death of Amburst.
Of the spirit and style of this celebrated paper, the following is perhaps a fair specimen.
From the Craftsman of April 21st, 1739.
“ M. D'Aubigny, grandfather of Madam Maintenon, tells a very remarkable story of himself, which ought to be a warning to all free nations, against the growth of corruption. He was one of the heads of the Protestants, in the reign of Henry the fourth of France, and opposed the court with so much vigour, that the king was determined to take away his life, or confine him in the Bastille. M. D'Aubigny being privately informed of it, considered how to preserve himself. After many deliberations, he resolved to go to court, and beg a pension of the king, as the surest method. The king very much surprised, as well as pleased, to see a man of such high spirit grow mercenary, immediately embraced him, and granted his request. From court, he went to the Duke de Sully, the prime minister, who congratulated him on the occasion, and shewed him the Bastille; assuring him that he would have been a prisoner there in less than 24 hours, though now in no farther danger.
“This introduction to my paper, will, perhaps, make those stupid animals the Gazetteers, perk up their ears, as if I had changed my note, and was beginning to inculcate this courtly doctrine to the worthy patriots of Great Britain—that a pension is a much better thing than a prison,—but let the fools have a little patience, and they will find that I urge this only as an example,
which ought to give all free nations warning; for when oncé corruption grows prevalent, it is a crime not to be corrupt. In such a case, any nobleman of great distinction and virtue, who should refuse to accept of a pension would be marked out as an enemy to the government, and might expect the following expostulation :- Why, my Lord, should you make any scruple of accepting his Majesty's gracious offer? Do not you see that many Dukes, Earls, &c. think it no indignity, or reflection upon their characters, to accept of an honourable stipend from the crown ? What can you conceive to have been the intention of granting so large a civil list? Petimusque damusque vicissim. The bounties of the crown are not to be slighted and refused,—would you pass for a jacobite ? The very refusal of it carries a reflection against his Majesty, as if he was pursuing some unwarrantable measure, and may prove very detrimental to his service.'
“But the grand mercenaries of all countries, ought to consider that corruption must at last destroy itself, and the constitution too. Corruption begets corruption, which naturally introduces luxury, and luxury is the certain forerunner of national poverty. What can be the consequences of this but' some terrible convulsion, and the experience of the last century furnishes us with a terrible example, that whichever side prevails, it must end in the destruction of the constitution? The cord may bear straining to a great length, but it must break at last. Corruption in a state, is like dramdrinking among private persons : which is apt to grow upon them ’till it destroys their vitals.— I have heard of a woman who had accustomed herself so much to gin, that by degrees she came to drink three gallons in a