The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 4, 2017

May 4, 1659

From Edmund Gosse in his From Milton to Johnson, (Volume 3 of English Literature : an Illustrated Record, 1906.) we learn about John Dunton:

John Dunton [May 4, 1659 to 1733] was born at Graffham, in Hunts.... He was the son of a clergyman of the same name. His mother died before he was a year old, and his father threw up his living and went to Ireland. At the age of fourteen the son was apprenticed to a London bookseller. About 1680 Dunton set up in business as a printer and bookseller on his own account, and for the first five years was very successful. At the outburst of Monmouth's rebellion he went for a year to America, and then wandered on the Continent, not returning to London until the end of 1688. He says that in the course of his life he published six hundred books, and repented of only seven of them. Of his various speculative projects, one, The Athenian Gazette or Mercury, was remarkable. In 1705 he published an odd but curious and even valuable autobiography, called Life and Errors of John Dunton, He fell into poverty, and died, perhaps at St. Albans, about 1733. Dunton has been looked upon as the founder of the "higher journalism" in England. Some of his books have sensational titles, such as A Cat may look at a Queen, and The Pulpit Lunatics.

At one time John Dunton needed no introduction. He was successful early in his career as a bookseller, and apparently his later obscurity came after his guaranteed a loan to a family member which made his own situation unstable. His wife's sister was married to Samuel Wesley, and there is a chance that a second in-law was married to Daniel Defoe, with whom Dunton sometimes partnered . Swift and Alexander Pope both mentioned John Dunton in their writings.

In this autobiography he tells the reader:

"By that time my six hundred Projects are all published, I hope to present the Athenian World (or lovers of novelty) with a compendious view of Universal Learning. I confess it is a bold promise; but that my Athenianism (when completed) may make it good, the first Project in my Second Volume shall be " The Philosophic Spy; or, A new Search after Vanity in the Arts and Sciences, &c.;"....

Here are some of the titles for books he proposed writing, and mentioned in his autobiography:

23. The Religion of Brutes; or, the whole Duty of Man, as taught us by Beasts, Birds, and Fishes.
24. Non Entity; or, a grave Essay upon Nothing.
25. The Poet in Love; or, the Courting Project.
26. The Philosophic Wife. A Poem on the Arts and Sciences.
27. The History of Slander (or Acquittal of innocent Persons),
from our Saviour's time....
28. The Querists. A Satire on Interloping. Dedicated to the British Apollo.
29. The Athenian Catalogue; or, Private Instructions for erecting a Library; with Dunton's Notes, containing his observations on Books and Learning, for the two and twenty years he traded in the Stationers' Company.
30. Chemical Beggars: or, a Satire on the Philosopher's Stone.
31. Dunton preaching to himself; or, every Man his own Parson.
32. The Secret Oracle; or, a modest Answer to such Love Questions as were formerly sent to the Athenian Society by the masked Ladies....
33. 'Die Spiritual Hedgehog, a Project (or Thought) wholly New and surprizing.
35. The History of Ingratitude; or, Dunton's Experience of pretended Friendship throughout the whole course of his life....

The Queen at cat may look at was Queen Anne. Dunton petitioned her and others for a grant and/or pension, but the appeals were not granted. John Dunton died in obscurity, alone for the last decade of his life. Still his significance is greater than often realized. Dunton was the first, or early example, of a kind of intellectual. The full title of his autobiography is 
Life and Errors of John Dunton, Citizen of London. 

We see why Dunton calls himself " a great Original" in " this hop-stride-and-jump round the World:" and says, "So great a glory do I esteem it to be the Author of these Works, that I cannot, without great injury to myself and justice, endure that every one should own them..... The "hip-stride-and-jump" is a characterization of this busy intellect. This type is urban, clever and cheap. It is became much more common since Dunton's obscure demise.

No comments: