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Junius (fl. 1768–1773), political writer, was the pseudonym adopted by the author (or possibly authors) of a series of letters which appeared once or twice monthly (sometimes more often) in the Public Advertiser, a leading London newspaper owned by , between 21 January 1769 and 21 January 1772. In this series Junius—named after the popular republican hero Lucius Junius Brutus—opposed the policies of George III and the administrations of the serving prime ministers, the duke of Grafton and Lord North. Now a classic of English political commentary, the correspondence owes its influence to three interrelated factors: the high whig philosophy espoused to attack tory policies and celebrated political personalities; the literary power of the letters, one of the most effective uses of slanderous polemic ever employed in English political controversy; and, finally, the uncertainty surrounding their authorship.

In the complex political context of the period Junius was, in principle, a supporter of the former prime minister, George Grenville. On all public questions Junius positioned himself on the popular side, supporting the radical politician John Wilkes and the right of constituencies to elect to parliament anyone who had not previously been disqualified. (Junius's name had earlier appeared on a letter printed in the Public Advertiser in defence of Wilkes on 21 November 1768, though this was not one he included in the collected edition of March 1772; Junius and Wilkes also conducted a private correspondence in the late summer and autumn of 1771.) Junius was equally critical of the overgrown privileges of parliament under which arbitrary imprisonment of a citizen might occur without appeal or redress. He vigorously supported the right of the press to report parliamentary business, in addition to the unrestricted right to petition the crown and the inviolability of private papers against arbitrary search in cases of libel. He argued for citizens to have their property undisturbed by interested and obsolete claims of the crown, to tell their rulers of their duties and liberties, and to threaten them if these freedoms were challenged. While accepting that parliament had the abstract or theoretical right to tax the colonies, Junius believed that this so-called right would never be exercised. The letters themselves provide no clear reason for Junius's conclusion of the series in January 1772, though private correspondence with Woodfall in the following year suggests his diminishing faith in the power of his attacks and declining public interest. Though the quality of the later letters is often considered less effective than the early campaign, the dominant tone of the series identifies Junius as a highly opinionated, shrewd, ironic, vituperative, even arrogant individual schooled in classics and the law.

The letters proved an enormous success and were reprinted in other London newspapers, in weeklies, magazines, and pamphlets, and in the provincial and colonial press. The circulation of Woodfall's Public Advertiser, typically about 3000 copies daily, grew considerably as a result, with particularly substantial sales for specific letters (1750 extra copies, for example, were printed of the issue containing Junius's letter to George III of 19 December 1769 in which he warns the king that as the crown ‘was acquired by one revolution, it may be lost by another’). Such comments prompted reviews from leading political observers both shocked at the tone and impressed by the power of the letters. ‘How comes this Junius’, Edmund Burke asked the Commons on 27 November 1770,
to have broke through the cobwebs of the law, and to range uncontrolled, unpunished, through the land? … No sooner has he wounded one than he lays down another dead at his feet. For my part, when I saw his attack on the King, I own my blood ran cold … King, Lords and Commons are but the sport of his fury. (Parl. hist., 16.1154)
Lord North in reply spoke of ‘this mighty Junius’ as ‘the great boar of the wood’, while the tory Samuel Johnson maintained, with an abusiveness second only to that of Junius himself, that ‘he cries havock without reserve, and endeavours to let slip the dogs of foreign and civil war, ignorant whither they are going, and careless what may be their prey’ (Johnson, Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland Islands, 1771, in the Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, ed. D. Green, 1958–90, 10.376).

Junius's concern over the effects of unauthorized collections prompted the publication of his own edition of his letters as the Letters of Junius (3 March 1772) which, printed by Henry Sampson Woodfall, superseded twenty-eight partial and unauthorized volumes. In addition to a preface and a ‘Dedication to the English nation’, this edition included forty-two letters signed by Junius, sixteen by Junius but signed ‘Philo Junius’, three unsigned letters, and eight replies, five of them from Sir William Draper, whom Junius had mercilessly attacked in the correspondence, and three from the Revd John Horne Tooke, who had been accused of covert work for the government.

Following Woodfall's death in 1805, his son George Woodfall resolved to publish a new and more complete edition comprising the letters of the original 1772 edition together with further ‘miscellaneous letters’ by Junius from the Public Advertiser (many of which are believed not to be genuine), and Junius's private correspondence with Henry Sampson Woodfall and John Wilkes. This edition, which appeared in 1812, was edited by John Mason Good, who added numerous notes and a ‘preliminary essay’; usually referred to as ‘Woodfall's edition’, it is often confused with that of the elder Woodfall. In 1850 the publisher Henry George Bohn undertook publication of a new edition, Junius: Including Letters by the same Author under other Signatures, based largely on the 1812 volume and edited by John Wade. The two-volume Bohn edition, part of Bohn's Standard Library, was reprinted without change well into the twentieth century and, on account of its easy availability, became the standard edition despite its many deficiencies. The most recent and authoritative collection is John Cannon's 1978 edition published by Oxford University Press.

Common to successive editors and reviewers has been a fascination with Junius's true identity. The mystery of authorship was established in the dedication to the 1772 edition. Adopting the motto Stat nominis umbra (taken from Lucan, Pharsalia, 1.135: ‘stat magni nominis umbra’, ‘he stands the shadow of a great name’), Junius maintained that ‘I am the sole depository of my own secret, and it shall perish with me.’ Few questions in literary or political history have given rise to so much debate as Junius's identity. In over two centuries some sixty candidates have been proposed, including persons eminent and obscure, those with views similar and antithetical to Junius's and those whom he favoured or attacked in his correspondence. Speculation began soon after the appearance of the first letter and included, among others, William Petty, second earl of Shelburne (later marquess of Lansdowne), and his political allies Isaac Barré, John Dunning, first Baron Ashburton, and William Greatrakes; Richard Grenville (later Grenville-Temple), second Earl Temple, and his brothers George Grenville and James; Lord George Sackville; Hugh Macaulay Boyd (who was connected with the letters only after his death in 1794); Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth earl of Chesterfield; Edward Gibbon; Edmund Burke; the poet Richard Glover; Horace Walpole; Lauchlin Macleane (c.1728–1778); and (see Cannon's edition of the letters, 540, for a more complete list).

The ‘Franciscan theory’, proposing Francis as Junius, originated with John Taylor in his A Discovery of the Author of the Letters of Junius (1813), which identified Sir Philip and his father the Revd Philip Francis as the authors. In 1816 Taylor attributed the letters to the younger Francis alone in his The identity of Junius with a distinguished living character [Sir Philip Francis] established (2nd edn, corrected and enlarged, 1818), followed a year later by his A Supplement to Junius Identified. Taylor's scholarship gave the Franciscan theory a special significance but it would not have achieved any special status (as against that of other claimants) had it not been for the attention of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose widely read and much reprinted essay on Warren Hastings (originally in Edinburgh Review, 74, 1841, 227–41) elucidated ‘five marks’ in favour of Francis's claim to the Junian authorship.

None the less several contemporaries, including Abraham Hayward and Charles Wentworth Dilke, rejected any connection between Francis and Junius. Dilke, the doyen of Junian scholars, achieved a knowledge of the subject subsequently unsurpassed in his efforts to disprove the authorship not only of Francis but also of Isaac Barré. A series of essays by William Fraser Rae in The Athenaeum of 1888 further distanced Francis and others from Junius while failing to provide a credible candidate in their place. Even so, the second half of twentieth century saw a renewed confidence, based on Alvar Ellegård's A Statistical Method for Determining Authorship: the Junius Letters (1962) and John Cannon's 1978 edition for Oxford University Press, that Francis was indeed the most likely author. Cannon's argument draws attention to the parallels between Francis's and Junius's political views, frequent references in the letters to the War Office (Francis's workplace), and close commentaries on Lords debates at which Francis was present. Corroborative evidence includes the connection between the dates of Junius's private letters to Henry Sampson Woodfall and the times when Francis was in and out of the country, Francis's proximity to London, and similarities (albeit inconclusive) between Francis's and Junius's handwriting. Needless to say, while the Franciscan theory has recently enjoyed new life, it remains contested and impossible to demonstrate categorically.

In the light of this ongoing if now perhaps less heated debate, the comments of two leading nineteenth-century Junians are of continued relevance. Thus Charles Wentworth Dilke cautioned scholars ‘never to believe a Junius “rumour”’, never to believe any story of or concerning Junius, no matter how confidently or circumstantially told, which is not proved (Dilke, 2.176), while for Abraham Hayward, ‘The Junius secret [like buried treasure] … lies in the search, in the industry it stimulates, in the discriminating spirit of inquiry it promotes, in the biographical and historical harvest for which it prepares the ground’ (A. Hayward, More about Junius: the Franciscan Theory Unsound, 1868, 1).

Francesco Cordasco


F. Cordasco and G. Simonson, Junius and his works: a history of the letters of Junius and the authorship controversy (1986) · F. Cordasco, Junius: a bibliography of the ‘Letters of Junius’ with a checklist of Junian scholarship and related studies (Fairview, N.J., 1986) · The letters of Junius, ed. J. Cannon (1978) · C. W. Dilke, ed., The papers of a critic: selected writings by Charles Wentworth Dilke, 2 vols. (1875) · A. Ellegård, Who was Junius? (1962) · J. N. M. Maclean, Reward is secondary: the life of a political adventurer and an inquiry into the mystery of ‘Junius’ (1963) · A. Hayward, Biographical and critical essays, new ser., 2nd edn, 2 vols. (1873) · J. Parkes and H. Merivale, Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis, 2 vols. (1867) · T. H. Bowyer, A bibliographical examination of the earliest editions of the ‘Letters of Junius’ (1957) · C. Chabot, The handwriting of Junius professionally investigated (1871) · The Grenville papers: being the correspondence of Richard Grenville … and … George Grenville, ed. W. J. Smith, 4 vols. (1852–3) · W. F. Rae, ‘Sir Philip Francis’, Temple Bar, 87 (1889), 171–91 · J. T. Boulton, The language of politics in the age of Wilkes and Burke (1963)


BL, private letters to H. S. Woodfall, Add. MS 22774 · letters to Lord Chatham, PRO 30/8/3 pt 2, fols. 357–8; PRO 30/8/4 pt 1, fols. 136–7