1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Philip Francis

Sir Philip Francis
Whig politician
(1740-1818)




SIR PHILIP FRANCIS (1740-1818), a conspicuous Whig politician and, even apart from his supposed con-nexion with the Letters of Junius, a powerful pamphleteer, was born in Dublin on the 22d of October 1740. He was the only son of Dr Philip Francis, a man of some literary celebrity in his time, who is still known by his translations of Horace, Aeschines, and Demosthenes. He received the first rudiments of an excellent education at a free school in Dublin, and afterwards^spent a year or two (1751-2) under his father's roof at Skeyton rectory, Norfolk, with Edward Gibbon as a fellow-pupil. In March 1753 he entered St Paul's school, London, where he remained for three years and a half, and became head boy. Here Henry Sampson Woodfall and Philip Eosenhagen were for some time his companions. In 1756, immediately on his leaving school, he was appointed to a junior clerkship in the secretary of state's office by Mr Henry Pox (afterwards Lord Holland), with whose family Dr Francis was at that time on intimate terms; and this post he retained under the succeeding administration. In 1758 he was employed as secretary to General Bligh in the expedition against Cherbourg; and in the same capacity he accompanied the earl of Kinnoul on his special embassy to the court of Portugal in 1760. In 1761 he became personally known to Pitt, who, recognizing his ability and discretion, once and again made use of his services as private amanuensis. In 1762 he was appointed to a principal clerkship in the war office, and in the same year he married Miss Macrabie, the daughter of a retired London merchant. The union was not approved by his father, and led to some estrangement; but it does not appear to have been on the whole unhappy. The ten years which followed are very obscure, and a long-continued and close scrutiny by numerous and skilful investigators has led to few definite results, beyond the certain conclusion that the events of this period in the life of Francis must have been such as to have wielded a singularly commanding influence over all his subsequent conduct and career. Comparatively humble in position, and somewhat straitened in means, he had few opportunities of mingling familiarly in the society of the great; but his official duties brought him into direct relations with many who were well versed in the politics of the time, while he all along enjoyed a peculiar intimacy with Calcraft, the rich army agent, who has been described as having been Chatham's " wire-puller and poli-tical agent as well as informant." Public events of great interest took place during these years. It was in 1763, for example, that the great constitutional questions arising out of the arrest of Wilkes began to be so sharply canvassed. It was natural that Francis, who from a very early age had been in the habit of writing occasionally to the newspapers, should be eager to take an active part in the discussion, though his position as a Government official made it neces-sary that his intervention should be carefully disguised. He is known to have written to the Public Ledger and Public Advertiser, as an advocate of the popular cause on many occasions about and after the year 1763; he frequently attended debates in both Houses of Parliament, especially when American questions were being discussed; and between 1769 and 1771 he is also known to have been favourable to the scheme in which Calcraft and others were engaged for the overturn of the Grafton Government and afterwards of that of Lord North, and for persuading or forcing Lord Chatham into power. In January 1769 the first of the Letters oj Junius appeared, and the series was continued till January 21, 1772. They had been preceded by others under various signatures, which, however, are all attributed to one and the same hand. The authorship of these letters has been assigned to Francis on a variety of grounds, but it must be said that the evidence is still only of the circumstantial kind, and far from conclusive (see JUNIUS). It ought to be mentioned here that, so far as can be ascertained, no one of his intimate friends suspected him at the time to be Junius, and also that he himself in after life energetically denied the charge. There was, however, it must be added, every motive for concealment on his part, both at the time and afterwards, if he was indeed the writer of the Letters.





In January 1772 the office of deputy secretary in the war office became vacant, and the post was offered by Lord Barrington to Francis, who declined it. By a curious coincidence the last letter of Junius appeared on the very day in which Anthony Chamier was gazetted deputy sec-retary (January 21st). Two months afterwards Francis finally left the war office. " It is my own act," he wrote to an intimate friend. " Be not alarmed for me. Everything is secure and as it should be !" In July of the same year he left England for a tour through France, Germany, and Italy, which lasted until the following December. On his return he was, according to an autobiographical frag-ment which has been preserved, contemplating emigration to New England, when, in June 1773, Lord North, on the recommendation of Lord Barrington, appointed him a mem-ber of the newly constituted supreme council of Bengal, at a salary of ¿610,000 per annum. Along with his colleagues Monson and Clavering he reached Calcutta in October 1774, and a long struggle with Warren Hastings immediately began. That struggle passed through three phases, during the first of which, until the death of Monson in 1776, Francis had the majority of votes in the council; after-wards, until the arrival of Wheler in December 1777, he was continually overborne; while, during the remaining three years, forces were more evenly balanced, Hastings having on the whole the preponderance. A dispute, more than usually embittered, led in August 1780 to a minute being delivered to the council board by Hastings, in which he stated that "he judged of the public conduct of Mr Francis by his experience of his private, which he had found to be void of truth and honour." A duel was the consequence, in which Francis received a dangerous wound. Though his recovery was rapid and complete, he did not choose to prolong his stay abroad. He arrived in England in October 1781, and was received with little favour. Little is known of the nature of his occupations during the next two years, except that he was untiring in his efforts to procure first the recall and afterwards the impeachment of his hitherto triumphant adversary. It may be mentioned, as a curious coincidence at least, if nothing more, that the "bookseller's edition" of Junius, described on the title page as more complete than any yet published, appeared in 1783. In the same year Fox produced his India Bill, which led to the overthrow of the coalition Government. In the general election of April 1784 Francis was returned by the borough of Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, and his first appearance in the house was made in the following July, when the financial affairs of the East India Company were under discussion. On this occasion he took an opportunity to disclaim every feeling of personal animosity towards Hastings. This did not prevent him, however, on the return of the latter, in 1785, from doing all in his power to bring forward and support the charges which ultimately led to the impeachment resolutions of 1787. Although excluded by a majority of the House from the list of the managers of that impeachment, Francis was none the less its most energetic promoter, supplying his friends Burke and Sheridan with all the materials for their eloquent orations and burning invectives. At the general election of 1790 he was returned a member for Bletchingley, In common with all English politicians he found his atten-tion very strongly called to the events which were then oc-curring in France; his sympathies were strongly with the revolutionary party, and he opposed in parliament all the measures of the Government against reformers and Jacobins at home. In 1793 lie supported Mr (afterwards Lord) Grey's motion for a return to the old constitutional system of representation, and so earned the title to be regarded as one of the earliest promoters of the cause of parliamentary reform. He rendered further services to the same cause by repeated vindications of the Society of the Friends of the People in the days of its unpopularity. The acquittal of Hastings in April 1795 again disappointed Francis of the governor-generalship, and in 1798 he had to submit to the additional mortification of a defeat in the general election. He was once more successful, however, in 1802, when he sat for Appleby, and it seemed as if the great ambitions of his life were about to be realized when the Whig party came into power in 1806. His disappointment was great when the governor-generalship was, owing to party exigen-cies, conferred on Sir Gilbert Elliot (Lord Minto); he declined, it is said, soon afterwards the government of the Cape, but accepted a knight companionship of the order of the Bath. Though re-elected for Appleby in 1806, he failed to secure a seat in the following year; and the re-mainder of his life was spent in comparative privacy. In 1814 he married his second wife, Miss EmmaWatkins, who long survived him, and who has left voluminous manu-scripts relating to his biography. He died on the 23d of December 1818.





Among the later productions of his pen were, besides the Plan of a Reform in the Election of the House of Commons, a pamphlet entitled Reflections on the Abund-ance of Paper in Circulation and the Scarcity of Specie (1810), and a Letter to Earl Grey on the Policy of Great Britain and the Allies towards Norway (1814). His Memoirs, with Correspondence and Journals, commenced by the late Joseph Parkes, and completed and edited by Mr Herman Merivale, were published in two volumes in 1867. They help the reader to form a tolerably vivid conception of the man, and show that in his domestic relations he was exemplary, and that he lived on terms of mutual affection with a wide circle of friends. They indicate at the same time, however, that he was far from incapable of vindictiveness, dissimulation, and treachery. His biographers are firmly convinced of his identity with Junius, and bring a great body of circumstantial proof in support of their belief.




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