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Tutchin, John (1660x64–1707), political writer, was possibly born on the Isle of Wight. Such few details as can be gleaned about his family background and his childhood from the columns of his political journal, The Observator (1702–10), suggest that he was ‘Born and Bred’ a gentleman, and a freeman of the City of London (The Observator, 3/17, 23). The same source states that Tutchin's ‘Father, Grand-father, and several … Uncles were Non-Conforming Ministers’ (ibid., 3/32). The only other scrap of information about his youth is the suggestion that he was ‘once a Member of the Academy in Garlands Court, in the Parish of Stepney’ (Sharpe, 28). On 30 September 1686 Tutchin, then of St Mildred's, Bread Street, London, and Elizabeth Hickes (b. 1663/4, d. in or after 1710) of Newington Green, Middlesex, daughter of the presbyterian minister , were licensed to marry at St John's Coleman Street; Tutchin subsequently admitted to ‘Marrying the Daughter of Mr. [John] Hicks’, the presbyterian minister (The Observator, 3/32). Parish registers state that Tutchin was then aged twenty-five, though a later elegy (1707) gives him a slightly more recent birth date.

Before his marriage Tutchin had taken part in the Monmouth rebellion, and was captured and tried by Judge Jeffreys at the ‘bloody assizes’ held in Dorchester in autumn 1685. According to Tutchin's own account he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, to pay a fine of 100 marks, and to find surety for his good behaviour for the rest of his life. As a final touch Jeffreys also sentenced him to be whipped through all the market towns of Dorset once a year. Tutchin petitioned to be hanged instead. The draconian sentence meted out to Tutchin became proverbial among his contemporaries. ‘Every Body knows Tutchin was deservedly order'd to be whip'd through the West Country Market-Towns’, wrote the tory pamphleteer William Pittis, ‘and that he was set at Liberty, and entertain'd by some People of no small note after the Revolution’ (Pittis, 49; Examination, Tryal and Condemnation, 10). Among other insults Jeffreys apparently remarked upon Tutchin's poetical aspirations. ‘They tell me that you are a poet’, Jeffreys observed. ‘I'll cap verses with you’. Tutchin, alas, was no poet, but before taking part in Monmouth's rebellion he had published Poems on several occasions. With a pastoral [The Unfortunate Shepherd]. To which is added, a discourse of life (1685). ‘Good Poetry needs no Apology’, the preface unluckily opened, ‘and Bad deserves no Commendation’. Unfortunately Tutchin continued to inflict more indifferent verse on an unreceptive public, including An heroick poem upon the late expedition of His Majesty to rescue England from popery, tyranny, and arbitrary government (1689). It was perhaps as a consequence of this panegyric that he ‘had a Place given him at the Victualling-Office; but accusing the Commissioners before the Lords of the Admiralty, and not able to make out what he charg'd 'em with, he himself was divested of his own Post’ (Pittis, 49–50).

By 1699, when Tutchin was paid £12 10s. ‘for reward for saving so much of the bloody pickle which drained from the casks and binns which hold the flesh at the Victualling Office and making the same serviceable for the use of the Victualling’ (Calendar of Treasury Books, 15.134), he had apparently ‘turn'd Sollicitor’ (Examination, Tryal and Condemnation, 20). He had not yet given up writing bad verse, however, and his most notorious performance, The Foreigners, for which he was ‘taken into the custody of a messenger’ (Luttrell, 4.676), was published on 1 August 1700. Daniel Defoe accurately described the work as ‘a vile abhorred pamphlet in very ill verse’. It was essentially an exercise in English xenophobia which made use of the biblical allegory invented by John Dryden for Absalom and Achitophel to attack William III's Dutch favourites, especially Hans Willem Bentinck, first earl of Portland. Although it was Tutchin's ‘reflections upon several great men’ which led to his arrest, exception could also have been taken to the radical constitutional position he assumed in line with the extreme contract theory of John Locke:
When no Successor to the Crown's in sight,
The Crown is certainly the People's Right.
If Kings are made the People to enthral,
We had much better have no King at all …
It was little wonder that The Foreigners was ‘presented as a libel by a grand jury in the City of London on 28 August 1700’ (Luttrell, 4.683) though, in the event, the attorney-general, Sir Thomas Trevor, advised the lords justices that since Tutchin had used ‘covert names’ (‘Bentir’ for Bentinck, for example), he could not be prosecuted.

Defoe answered The Foreigners with The True-Born Englishman, and thenceforth his name was inextricably linked with Tutchin's, the most well-known example occurring in Alexander Pope's satire on bad writing, The Dunciad (1728):
Earless on high, stood unabash'd De Foe,
And Tutchin flagrant from the scourge below.
During the party strife of Queen Anne's reign Tutchin and fellow whig radicals were attacked for their ‘Presbyterian Eloquence’ and as the ‘Republican Bullies’ who published ‘Principles of rebellion’, which appeared in The Observator and The Review (1704–13), their influential journals of opinion, which were ‘the Entertainment of most Coffee houses in Town’. Charles Leslie's Rehearsal paper (1704–9) was published with the avowed aim of answering ‘Tutchin, De Foe, and the rest of the Scandalous Clubb’ (C. Leslie, Rehearsal, preface to vol. 1). To Leslie's great amusement Defoe and Tutchin often affected to quarrel, but contemporaries realized that these paper wars were carefully staged. Indeed, when Defoe was in trouble for publishing The Shortest Way with the Dissenters he tried to deflect criticism of his intentions by publishing a pamphlet, A Dialogue between a Dissenter and The Observator (1703), which was subsequently attributed to Tutchin.

Presumably Tutchin chose to call his periodical The Observator in conscious if ironic acknowledgement of Sir Roger L'Estrange's original journal of opinion. The first issue appeared on 1 April 1702, shortly after Queen Anne's accession to the throne. From no. 19 (24–7 June 1702) onwards Tutchin's The Observator began to be narrated, like L'Estrange's, in a dialogue between characters called ‘Observator’ and ‘Countryman’. Tutchin's outspoken whig opinions were very different from L'Estrange's establishment toryism, however, and were resented by Queen Anne's tory-dominated first administration. Tutchin was quickly in trouble with the attorney-general, Sir Edward Northey, whose chance came when Tutchin was arraigned by the House of Commons for seditious libel in the issue of The Observator for 8–11 December 1703. On 3 January 1704 the Commons resolved that the issue ‘contains Matters scandalous and malicious, reflecting upon the Proceedings of this House, and tending to the promoting Sedition in the Kingdom’, and ordered that ‘Tutchin the author, How the printer, and Bragg the publisher of that paper, should be taken into the custody of the serjeant at arms’ (JHC, 14.269–79).

Tutchin absconded, and stayed in hiding until May 1704 despite the publication in February of a proclamation promising a reward for his apprehension. He was not pleased with the treatment he received on giving himself up. According to Tutchin, the secretary of state Sir Charles Hedges ‘used me so very civilly, when I surrender'd my self to him upon the Proclamation, that I never think my self obliged to apply to him again’ (BL, Add. MS 70261, unfoliated: Tutchin to Harley, 23 April 1705). Possibly because of his whig credentials Tutchin preferred to deal with the other secretary of state, Robert Harley, and requested that the prosecution against him be dropped and a writ of nolle prosequi brought in. ‘I have had Notice of Tryal from the Attorney General the second sitting 4th November’, he wrote to Harley on 20 October 1704.
I think I have offered as fair as any one in my Circumstances could do. I have often told yr Honr that I would lay down the Paper [The Observator] provided the prosecution agst me might cease … But if I am continued to be prosecuted, I shall continue to write. (BL, Add. MS 70250, unfoliated)
Harley sent Tutchin's letter to Sir Edward Northey, explaining that ‘I do not send it to You by order, but leave it to You to do in it what You think best’ (BL, Add. MS 70324, fol. 38). On receiving this information Northey was minded to continue the prosecution ‘by order of her Majesty signifyed to me by Mr Secretary Hedges’ (BL, Add. MS 70250, unfoliated: Northey to Harley, 25 Oct 1704). Although found guilty, Tutchin survived because of a procedural error in the information against him which meant that ‘all the proceedings’ were declared ‘null’. Northey was certain that ‘somebody done it on purpose’, but Lord Chief Justice Holt insisted that it was ‘plain … as can be’ that a genuine error had occurred (State trials, 14.1131, 1158). Yet there was no retrial, and Tutchin was discharged on 8 June 1705.

Tutchin's relations with Harley remain obscure. Writing to him on the subject of an alleged clandestine trade by means of which the French fleet had been victualled from England, Tutchin claimed to ‘have had concerns with all the Secretaries of State for several years past’ (Portland MSS, 4.86). Correspondence between Tutchin and the earl of Nottingham has indeed survived (CSP dom., 1702–3, 580–81; 1703–4, 169, 175), and as Tutchin appeared before a committee of the House of Lords in December 1704 to give evidence in relation to his information, it appears that his intelligence was taken seriously. He appears to have been a vexatious complainant, however. In addition to protesting against the victuallers in the 1690s he made allegations of mismanagement against Nathaniel Castleton, the comptroller of the penny post office, and attacked the administration of the navy in the columns of The Observator. ‘He's the Murderer of honest Men[']s Reputations’, one contemporary complained, ‘and knows no more of Irregularities committed in the Navy and Victualling Offices, unless by himself, for which he was discarded’ (The Devil Turn'd Limner, or, A Celebrated Villain Drawn to the life, 1704, 2).

Whatever Harley thought about Tutchin, the duke of Marlborough did not take kindly to The Observator's outspokenness. ‘If I can't have justice done me’, Marlborough wrote to Harley, ‘I must find some friend that will break his and the printer's bones’ (Bath MSS, 1.105). As with Tutchin's birth, a degree of uncertainty surrounds his death, which is reputed to have occurred on 23 September 1707 in the London queen's bench prison after he had been beaten up. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, who thereafter kept a girls' school at Newington Green and, in 1710, near the Nag's Head, Highgate (Flying Post, 12–14 Feb 1712). An Elegy on Mr John Tutchin, Author of The Observator, which gave his age at death as forty-three, was eloquent in praise of ‘judicious Tutchin’:
When long by Cares his suff'ring Worth was try'd,
He still successless took the better Side,
And for the Cause he liv'd, a Martyr dy'd.
Such encomiums were rare, however. Typically, he was derided as ‘a Senseless, starving Scribler … Poor in his Purse, and restless in his Mind’ ([W. Pittis], The Reverse, 1700) whose many complaints of being unjustly treated throughout his career were groundless. ‘Ah! Had I Wit but equal to my Spite’, he had written in a poem from Poems on Several Occasions, ‘With what a learned Malice would I write’. Contemporaries were ready enough to acknowledge Tutchin's malice, but less inclined to grant that he had wit. Instead he was portrayed as a republican rabble-rouser and a founder member of the notorious if probably fictitious Calves' Head Club.

J. A. Downie


The Observator (1702–10) · J. A. Downie, Robert Harley and the press: propaganda and public opinion in the age of Swift and Defoe (1979) · L. Sonsteng Horsley, ‘The trial of John Tutchin, author of The Observator’, Yearbook of English Studies, 3 (1973), 124–40 · Calndar of treasury books, vol. 15, p. 134; vol. 17, pp. 80, 85, 87, 89, 90, 253, 269, 299, 392. · An elegy on Mr John Tutchin, author of The Observator, who departed this life on Tuesday, the 23d of this instant September, 1707. In the 44th year of his age (1707) · [J. Sharpe], An appeal to the clergy of England (1706) · N. Luttrell, A brief historical relation of state affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols. (1857) · T. B. Macaulay, The history of England from the accession of James II, new edn, ed. C. H. Firth, 6 vols. (1913–15) · [W. Pittis], The true-born Englishman: a satyr answer'd paragraph by paragraph (1701) · The examination, tryal and condemnation of Rebellion Ob[servato]r (1703) · Calendar of the manuscripts of the marquis of Bath preserved at Longleat, Wiltshire, 5 vols., HMC, 58 (1904–80) · The manuscripts of his grace the duke of Portland, 10 vols., HMC, 29 (1891–1931), vols. 5–10 · State trials, vol. 14 · DNB


BL, Add. MSS 70250, 70261, 70324


R. Grave, line engraving, pubd 1819 (after unknown artist), BM, NPG · M. Vandergucht, line engraving, BM, NPG