John Oldmixon (16731742)

Identifiers

Occupations

  • Historian
  • Author

Biographical details

Pat Rogers, University of South Florida
August 2022

John Oldmixon has gone down to posterity as an archetypal habitué of Grub Street and as a key representative of the literary hacks whom Alexander Pope assailed in his Dunciad. This reputation was earned chiefly on the back of his aggressive political writings, firstly in the form of journalism and pamphlets relating to the Tory administration of 1710–1714, and secondly in an extensive series of historical works published from the mid 1720s until shortly before his death. This leaves out of account the earliest phase of his career as a writer, which took the form of volumes devoted to poetry, drama and criticism, issued just before and after the turn of the century. But even some of these are coloured by his political views, as they espouse the Whig ideology of the leaders of the “Junto” and express support for the emerging power of Sidney Godolphin and, especially, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.

The writer came from an old Somerset family with an estate in Oldmixon, near Weston super Mare. His father, also named John, was a merchant living in the town of Bridgwater, probably the site of his own birth. When the boy was only about four years old, Oldmixon père suffered heavy losses in the Virginia trade and underwent bankruptcy: John junior would be forced to mortgage the family estate in 1696 and later lost possession. This may have precipitated his entry into a business career, with support of Sir John Bawden, a Barbados sugar trader based in London, whose sister was John’s mother Elinor.

During his boyhood, Oldmixon came under the influence of the Blakes, a prominent Bridgwater family. Their most famous member had been Robert Blake (1598–1657), general at sea under Oliver Cromwell. A strong parliamentarian, Blake passed on his political and religious views to his brother and niece, with whom John lived in his youth. Bawden too was a presbyterian, and may have helped to mould Oldmixon’s lifelong Whig sympathies. Another outcome of his upbringing came in the form of a biography of Admiral Blake (1704), later expanded in 1741, the first of which provided material used in Samuel Johnson’s account (1740). In addition, the time that the young man spent working for Bawden or the latter’s partner John Gardner must have helped to develop an area of interest represented by his book The British Empire in America (2 vols, 1708; revised edition, 1741), one of the earliest such surveys to be attempted.

By his early twenties Oldmixon was settled in London, and had begun to produce poems and dramas at regular intervals. None achieved any great renown, but he did attract some patronage from leading Whig politicians such as Lord Halifax and the Earl of Portland, not to mention the philosopher of taste Lord Shaftesbury and the Duchess of Marlborough, this last marking the start of a long allegiance to the Churchill family. He specialised in a vein of Whig panegyric verse frequently cast in pastoral language. The most interesting items in this phase include an exercise in Ovidian epistles entitled Amores Britannici (1703), featuring chiefly stories from the medieval and Tudor periods, which display some of his earliest exercises in a Whig version of history; and the libretto for The Grove (1700), an opera by Daniel Purcell performed at Drury Lane. According to the student of English theatre music, Roger Fiske, Oldmixon’s evocation of the pastoral setting was “dully written,” while “as in all Daniel Purcell’s operas there is a great deal of trumpeting.” John also found time to take a minor part in the so-called Collier controversy regarding the immorality of the stage and to start a magazine called The Muses Mercury. This didn’t last long, even though it attracted contributions of authors of note, such as Samuel Garth, John Dennis, Nicholas Rowe, Richard Steele and Joseph Addison.

As the first decade of the new century approached its end, Oldmixon appears to have begun to live solely by the pen. He had married Elizabeth Parry in 1703 and over the years the couple would produce five surviving children. One of them, George, outdid his father by compiling the libretto for a serenata, Parnasso in Festa, set by George Friderick Handel in 1734. The most notable among this brood was a daughter, Eleanora, who became a popular soprano and married the composer Giovanni Battista Marella. They produced a son, Sir John Marella (c. 1758–1815), who served in the army, wrote a play and later emigrated to the United States.

The major turning point in Oldmixon’s career happened around 1709. From this date onwards he became identified for the next fifteen years as a pamphleteer and journalist. It was this branch of his writing that originally drew the hostility of supporters of the Tory party, whether figures in the government and parliament (notably men like Lord Bolingbroke and his followers), High Church clergymen (for example Bishop Francis Atterbury), conservative members of the literary profession (headed by Swift, Prior and Pope), or highflying journalists in the periodical press (such as the Jacobite newspaperman Nathaniel Mist). His name became a byword for aggressive and often highly personalised flights of partisan rhetoric. It is significant that Pope casts him in the Dunciad among muckraking hacks who dive into the depths of the polluted Fleet Ditch to determine “who flings most filth.”

A series of works in which Oldmixon flayed his opponents began with A History of Addresses (1709), with a second instalment following in 1711. When the notorious Dr Henry Sacheverell was impeached by parliament in 1710, he joined the throng of commentators who spouted a deluge of print on the subject. Soon after, he came to the aid of his friend and mentor Arthur Maynwaring (1668-1712), member of the influential Kit Cat Club and confidential secretary of the Duchess of Marlborough. In October 1712 Maynwaring set up a weekly paper called The Medley, designed to combat Swift’s Examiner on vital issues of the day. Many of these concerned the War of the Spanish Succession, which the incoming Tory ministry of Robert Harley wished to bring to end—much to the dislike of the Whigs, who gloried in the military victories that the Duke of Marlborough had achieved at Blenheim and elsewhere, and supported a conflict that was funded in large measure by the taxes paid by country landowners while it lined the pockets of City financiers. Throughout The Medley’s run of 45 issues, Oldmixon served as managing editor, contributed to many issues, and wrote at least twelve issues single-handedly, sometimes giving as good as he got from The Examiner.

At the same juncture he wrote several pamphlets aiming with varying success to counter what he regarded as Swift’s inflammatory writings, including The Conduct of the Allies. He denounces his opponent as the author of blasphemous works such as A Tale of a Tub, as well as a crypt-Jacobite supporting the interests of the Catholic monarchy of France against those of a friendly Protestant power, that is the Dutch. Oldmixon was equally scathing about Daniel Defoe, whom he lambasted repeatedly as a turncoat Whig now taking the side of the new prime minister, Harley. In reality, he and Defoe had emerged from a comparable mercantile and puritan background, and they had engaged in much the same sort of literary enterprise. However, Oldmixon tries to play down their similarities by depicting his rival as “a broken hosier,” in other words a failed businessman who had seen the inside of a debtor’s goal as well as earning a spell in the pillory and Newgate prison for his seditious writings. There is a measure of truth in the claim, but it neglects the obvious fact that Oldmixon was equally exposed to these risks, and would end up with a charge sheet about as voluminous as that of Defoe.

After the Hanoverian accession, he continued in the same vein, except that his friends were now in the ascendant, and his tone becomes one of lofty contempt for the displaced party. He urges severe punishment for members of the outgoing administration, excoriates anyone who could be tarred with the brush of Jacobitism, and calls for those who took part in the Rising of 1715 to be held to the strictest account. (Hanging, drawing and quartering, to which those involved in the Stuart rebellion might be sentenced, would barely have seemed enough in his eyes.)

It was at this stage of his life that Oldmixon first came into direct contact with Pope. The episodes in question mostly relate to the work he had been doing for the bookseller Edmund Curll, and involve activities such as the purloining and publication of the poet’s manuscripts (often scandalous or risqué items). In 1716 he wrote one of the best and funniest ripostes to Pope in a poem called The Catholick Poet. Thereafter the hapless Oldmixon became a frequent target in works such as Peri Bathous (1728) and the Epistle to Arbuthnot (1735). But it was successive editions of The Dunciad from 1728 that sealed his fate as far as his posthumous reputation goes. The cruel picture painted there of the veteran author freezes for all time the destiny of many a forgotten scribbler, as he prepares to launch himself into the toxic water: “In naked majesty Oldmixon stands, / And Milo-like surveys his arms and hands; / Then sighing, thus, ‘And am I now three-score? / Ah why, ye Gods! Should two and two make four?’” In an equally damaging note to his text, Pope cites lines from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, describing how the ancient Greek wrestler Milon wept as he contemplated in old age his formerly Herculean arm muscles, now hanging loose and flabby.

It was also in 1716 that Oldmixon obtained a belated reward for his loyalty, when he was appointed customs collector for the port of Bridgwater, a post he held for twenty years, but one which always proved troublesome. According to his posthumously published Memoirs of the Press, he found the post unprofitable from the start, with his modest salary often in arrears. The town’s fiercely Tory corporation harried him, and in 1718 he was forced to appear before the mayor to explain riots in the street, as well as facing accusations that he had attended Presbyterian and Anabaptist conventicles. He responded by currying favour with the more sympathetic authorities in Whitehall, and sent in news of suspicious activities by supposed spies. In 1721 he informed the ministry of the “insolence and disloyalty” of Jacobites on the birthday of the Pretender.

He still hoped to revive his literary career. In 1718 he wrote a pathetic request to the great publisher Jacob Tonson, claiming to be “banished in a corner of the country, surrounded with Jacobites, vilified, insulted and not having a minute’s ease.” He asked Tonson to lobby the government for him to succeed Nicholas Rowe as Poet Laureate—a foredoomed aspiration. Around 1724 Oldmixon became involved with the “princely” Duke of Chandos, then pursuing land and business interests in Bridgwater, when he was appointed to look after the Duke’s varied projects, such as a glasshouse which Chandos had recently set up. This connection lasted until 1731, but the Duke finally lost patience with his agent’s financial management.

In the course of the 1720s Oldmixon shifted his principal literary concerns as a writer to historiography. He embarked on a series of strongly Whig narratives which focussed chiefly on the seventeenth century, singling out Lord Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion for particular reprobation. Among these works are The Critical History of England (2 vols, 1724–26); A Review of Dr Zachary Grey’s Defence of our Ancient and Modern Historians (1725); and Clarendon and Whitlock Compar’d (1727). However, controversy did not flare until 1729, with the appearance of Oldmixon’s enormous History of England, during the Reigns of the Royal House of Stuart. In this he accused Clarendon’s editors—headed by the now disgraced Jacobite plotter Francis Atterbury—of falsifying the text of the History. These charges provoked a heated debate, with contributions by Atterbury himself and others, as well as three further interventions by Oldmixon himself. In due course all the charges he had made against the editors were cogently rebutted by John Burton in The Genuineness of Lord Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion (1744).

Now past sixty, Oldmixon was suffering increasingly from poor health, but he still kept up a frenzied pace. He completed his gigantic History of England with two long folios devoted respectively to the reigns of William and Mary, Anne, and George I (1735), and to the Tudors (1739). Some of his earlier works were reprinted, including a long popular work of Hanoverian soothsaying, Nixon’s Cheshire Prophecy (c. 1715), which reached its fifteenth edition by Curll in 1744. Meanwhile Oldmixon had been forced to resign his customs post in 1736, and then lost a royal bounty paid by Queen Caroline until her death in 1737. He was saddled with a large debt to the crown, and petitioned the Treasury for relief in 1740. A personal letter of appeal to his old patron the Duke of Newcastle had more effect, resulting in a grant of £50 from the royal bounty. He told the Duke that he had been dragged “to a place I cannot mention in the midst of all the infirmities of old age, sickness, lameness and almost blindness,” a poor reward for his services for “that good cause I have all my life long laboured to serve in the worst of times.” Some have suggested that he might reasonably have sat for the portrait of The Distrest Poet, that William Hogarth unveiled in 1737.

Oldmixon died at his home in Great Pulteney Street, London in July 1742, and was buried in Ealing. Later in the same month came the appearance of his most arresting book, Memoirs of the Press, which sets out in detail the calamities of authorship as he had experienced them. It is a record of ingratitude and disregard suffered at the hands of those such as Robert Walpole from whom Oldmixon had expected a reward for his services to the Whig cause. No single author can be wholly representative of Grub Street. But Oldmixon ticks many of the boxes as a long-serving professional writer, who operated in many genres, including journalism and pamphleteering, and who sought a wide range of patrons: one, too, who was closely linked with Curll, as well as a fierce political partisan, and a bitter opponent of established writers such as Swift, Pope, and Defoe. The Memoirs are too self-pitying to attain more than incidental pathos, but they do reflect as clearly as any work the splendours and miseries encountered in literary London during the first half of the eighteenth century.

The fullest survey is Pat Rogers, The Letters, Life, and Works of John Oldmixon: Politics and Professional Authorship in Early Hanoverian England (2004). A shorter account is found in the entry for Oldmixon in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/20695.

Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

OLDMIXON, JOHN (1673–1742), historian and pamphleteer, was a member of an ancient family which had been settled at Axbridge, Somerset, as early as the fourteenth century, and afterwards held the manor of Oldmixon, near Bridgwater. The historian's father, John Oldmixon of Oldmixon, gentleman, by his will of 1675, proved in April 1679 by his daughters Hannah and Sarah Oldmixon, left to his son John his best cabinet; and when Elinor Oldmixon of Bridgwater, widow, died in 1689, letters of administration were granted to her children, John Oldmixon and Hannah Legg. Oldmixon's mother seems to have been sister to Sir John Bawden, knight and merchant, whose will was proved in the same year (Crisp, Abstracts of Somerset Wills, copied from Collections of the Rev. F, Broum, 3rd ser. p. 24, 4th ser. p. 106, 6th ser. p. 5; Weaver, Visitations of Somerset, p. 56, and Somerset Incumbents, pp. 76, 109, 223, 281. In his 'History of the Stuarts' (pp. 421), Oldmixon, speaking of the disinterment of the remains of Admiral Blake, a native of Bridgwater, says that he lived while a boy with Blake's brother Humphrey, who afterwards emigrated to Carolina. Mr. John Kent of Funchal has pointed out that Oldmixon was in all probability author of the 'History and Life of Robert Blake … written by a Gentleman bred in his Family,’ which appeared without date about 1740, and contains a quotation from ‘a modern historian,’ who is Oldmixon himself. The political views are certainly in accordance with Oldmixon's. In 1696, when Oldmixon was twenty-three, he published ‘Poems on several Occasions, written in Imitation of the Manner of Anacreon, with other Poems, Letters, and Translations,’ and a dedication to Lord Ashley, in which he said that most of the poems were written by a person in love. In 1697 he wrote ‘Thyrsis, a Pastoral,’ which formed the first act of Motteux's ‘Novelty, or Every Act a Play;’ and in 1698 ‘Amintas, a Pastoral,’ based on Tasso's ‘Amynta.’ This play had a prologue by John Dennis, but was not successful on the stage. In the same year Oldmixon published ‘A Poem humbly addrest to the Right Hon. the Earl of Portland on his Lordship's Return from his Embassy in France,’ in which he refers to Prior; and in 1700 he produced at Drury Lane an opera, ‘The Grove, or Love's Paradise.’ The music was by Purcell, and the epilogue by Farquhar. His last and best play, ‘The Governor of Cyprus,’ a tragedy, was acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1703. It was followed by ‘Amores Britannici: Epistles Historical and Gallant, in English heroic Verse, from several of the most illustrious Personages of their Time,’ 1703, and ‘A Pastoral Poem on the Victories at Schellenburgh and Blenheim,’ 1704, dedicated to the Duchess of Marlborough. From January 1707 to January 1708 Oldmixon published a quarto periodical, ‘The Muses Mercury, or the Monthly Miscellany,’ which contained verses by Steele, Garth, Motteux, and others (Aitken, Life of Richard Steele, i. 147, 151–2, 192). Oldmixon's work as an historian began in 1708, when he published in two volumes ‘The British Empire in America,’ a history of the several colonies written to show the advantage to England of the American plantations. In 1709–10 he published ‘The History of Addresses,’ a criticism of the professions of loyalty then, as at former political crises, so freely presented to the sovereign. In 1711 he wrote to Lord Halifax, protesting that a book of his—‘The Works of Monsieur Boileau, made English by several Hands’ (1711–13)—had been dedicated to his lordship in another man's name, and without his consent or knowledge. Having quarrelled with the publisher, he had refused to complete the work; but the missing poems had been supplied by Samuel Cobb [q. v.] and John Ozell [q. v.]. He had had no opportunity to correct mistakes, and Nicholas Rowe, the translator of the ‘Lutrin,’ had assumed the merit of the whole work ( Add. MS'. 7121, f. 39). On 5 Oct. 1710 appeared the first number of ‘The Medley,’ a weekly paper, which followed Addison's ‘Whig Examiner’ in replying to the tory ‘Examiner’ ( Catalogue of the Hope Collection of Early Newspapers in the Bodleian Library, pp. 22, 23). ‘The Medley,’ which lasted until August 1711, was started at the suggestion of Arthur Mainwaring or Maynwaring [q. v.], and was written by him, with the aid of Oldmixon (who had been recommended to Maynwaring by Garth) and occasional assistance from Henley, Kennet, and Steele. In 1712 the papers were reprinted in a volume, but, as there was little sale, the impression was thrown on Oldmixon's hands, to his loss ( Life of Arthur Maynwaring, Esq., 1715, pp. xiv, 167–9, 171). Gay, in ‘The Present State of Wit,’ 1711, spoke of the author of ‘The Medley’ as a man of good sense, but ‘for the most part perfectly a stranger to fine writing;’ and he attributed to Maynwaring the few papers which were decidedly superior to the others. Oldmixon says that he was to have had 100 l. down and 100 l. a year for his work upon ‘The Medley,’ but that he was never paid ( Memoirs of the Press, 1742, p. 13). His anonymous ‘Reflections on Dr. Swift's Letter to the Earl of Oxford about the English Tongue’ (1712) was a political attack; and it was followed in the same year by ‘The Dutch Barrier Ours, or the Interest of England and Holland inseparable,’ an answer to the ‘Conduct of the Allies.’ In 1712 Oldmixon published two parts of ‘The Secret History of Europe,’ in order to expose the faction which had brought Europe to the brink of slavery by advancing the power of France. A third part appeared in 1713, and a fourth in 1715, with a dedication to the Prince of Wales, explaining that the accession of George I had made it possible to bring the design to an end. Similar works were ‘Arcana Gallica, or the Secret History of France for the last Century,’ 1714; ‘Memoirs of North Britain,’ 1715; and ‘Memoirs of Ireland from the Restoration to the Present Times,’ 1716, in all of which the designs of papists and Stuarts against the protestant religion and the British constitution were exposed. The anonymous ‘Life and History of Belisarius … and a Parallel between Him and a Modern Heroe’ (Marlborough) appeared in 1713, and in 1715 ‘The Life and Posthumous Works of Arthur Maynwaring, Esq.,’ with a dedication to Walpole, in which, as well as in the preface, Oldmixon spoke of his own services to the party, and of the neglect he had experienced. In the ‘Memoirs of the Press’ he says that he saw much time-serving at the accession of George I, and men of different principles included in the ministry, whereupon, knowing the evil that followed from a similar course under William III, he wrote a pamphlet, ‘False Steps of the Ministry after the Revolution.’ As an illustration of the way he was treated, he describes how he was disappointed in his efforts to obtain a commission as consul in Madeira for the principal merchant in that island, who was his own kinsman, though Stanhope had promised Garth that it should be done. Nearly two years after the king's accession Oldmixon was offered the post of collector of the port of Bridgwater. It was represented that the profits were double the real amount, and he says that in a month after accepting the office he wished himself back in London, but relatives and friends persuaded him to stay ( ib. p. 33). ‘Mist's Weekly Journal’ for 26 July 1718 noticed that Oldmixon had retired from his garret to Bridgwater, and was intelligencer-general for that place to the ‘Flying Post.’ A satirical list of a dozen treatises which might be expected from him was added. At Bridgwater Oldmixon acted as a sort of political agent ( State Papers, Public Record Office, Dom., 1719, bundle 19, Nos. 131, 138, 161), and was twice in trouble with the local authorities in 1718. The mayor summoned him to appear before him to disclose the names of certain persons who had paraded the streets crying ‘Ormond for ever: he is come;’ and the sexton and parish clerk laid an information that Oldmixon and others frequented the presbyterian and anabaptist conventicles, though of late they had come to the church ( Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep., p. 319). In December 1718 Oldmixon asked Jacob Tonson to speak to the Duke of Newcastle that he might succeed Rowe as poet-laureate, a post he would have had before, as Garth knew, but for Rowe. He was now banished in a corner of the kingdom, surrounded by Jacobites, vilified and insulted. He was, he said, the oldest claimant, and his present life was not worth living ( Add. MS. 28275, f. 46). He did not get the laureateship, however, and in 1720 other letters to Tonson contained further complaints of slight, and requests for money due to him ( ib. ff. 84, 95, 133). At this time Clarendon's ‘History of the Rebellion’ was much discussed, and Oldmixon felt it necessary to set the facts of history in a truer light. In his ‘Critical History of England,’ in two volumes, which appeared in 1724–6, he attacked Clarendon and Laurence Echard [q. v.], and defended Bishop Burnet. Dr. Zachary Grey [q. v.] replied with a ‘Defence of our antient and modern Historians against the frivolous Cavils of a late Pretender to Critical History,’ and this was followed by Oldmixon's ‘Review of Dr. Zachary Grey's Defence,’ 1725, and ‘Clarendon and Whitlock compar'd,’ 1727, in which he hinted that Clarendon's editors had taken undue liberties with the text. It is interesting to find that Dr. Cotton Mather, having made Oldmixon's acquaintance, highly praised the ‘Critical History’ for truthfulness in his ‘Manuductio ad Ministerium,’ published at Boston, Massachusetts, in 1726, though he had previously resented reflections made by Oldmixon on his ‘History of New England’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 545). In 1728 Oldmixon printed ‘An Essay or Criticism as it regards Design, Thought, and Expression, in Prose and Verse,’ and ‘The Arts of Logick and Rhetorick,’ based upon a work by Father Bouhours. In these pieces he attacked Laurence Eusden the laureate, Echard, Addison, Swift, and Pope. He had already incurred Pope's anger in connection with the publication of ‘Court Poems,’ 1717 (Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vi. 436; Curliad, 1729, pp. 20, 21), and various articles in the ‘Flying Post’ for April 1728, and he is said to have written a ballad, ‘The Catholic Priest,’ 1716, which was an attack on Pope's ‘Homer’ ( ib. pp. 27–31). Pope revenged himself by giving Oldmixon a place in the ‘Dunciad’ (bk. ii. ll. 283–90), and in the ‘Art of Sinking in Poetry’ (ch. vi.). Oldmixon figures also in the ‘Revenge by Poison on the Body of Mr. Edmund Curll,’ and ‘A further Account of the most deplorable conditionn of Mr. Edmund Curll.’ Steele is said to have satirised him in the ‘Tatler,’ No. 62, as Omicron, the unborn poet; but this is improbable, especially in view of the remarks in No. 71. After three years of work, and at considerable expense, Oldmixon brought out in 1730, or rather the end of 1729, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of the Royal House of Stuart,’ a folio volume that was afterwards to be followed by others which, taken together, make up a continuous history of England. In this book he charged the editors of Clarendon's ‘History’—Atterbury, Smalridge, and Aldrich—with altering the text to suit party purposes, basing his statements on what he had been told by George Duckett [q. v.], who in his turn had received information from Edmund Smith [q. v.] Bishop Atterbury [q. v.], then in exile, the sole survivor of the persons attacked, printed a ‘Vindication’ of himself and friends, dated Paris, 26 Oct. 1731, which was reprinted in London. Other pamphlets, including a ‘Reply’ by Oldmixon and ‘Mr. Oldmixon's Reply … examined,’ followed in 1732, containing vindications of the Earl of Clarendon and of the Stuarts, and charges Oldmixon with himself altering Daniel's ‘History,’ which he had edited for Kennet's ‘Complete History of England’ in 1706. In June 1733 Oldmixon printed and gave away at his house in Southampton Buildings ‘A Reply to the groundless and unjust Reflections upon him in three Weekly Miscellanies’ ( Gent. Mag. 1731, p. 514; 1733, pp. 117, 129, 140, 335). It is true that the earlier editions of Clarendon did not give the manuscript in its complete form, but Oldmixon had no sufficient ground for the explicit charges which he made, and passages which he said were interpolations were afterwards found in Lord Clarendon's handwriting ( Edinburgh Review, June 1826, pp. 42–6). Dr. Johnson unfairly said ( Idler, No. 65) that the authenticity of Clarendon's ‘History’ was brought in question ‘by the two lowest of all human beings—a scribbler for a party and a commissioner of excise,’ i.e. Oldmixon and Duckett. The second volume of Oldmixon's history, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of King William and Queen Mary, Queen Anne, King George I: With a large Vindication of the Author against the groundless Charge of Partiality,’ appeared in 1735; and the third, ‘The History of England during the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth,’ in 1739. One main object was to show that our constitution was originally free, and that we do not owe our liberty to the generosity of kings. In 1730, owing, it is said, to Queen Caroline's interest, Walpole ordered Oldmixon's salary of 100 l. at Bridgwater to be doubled, but the money was irregularly paid ( Memoirs of the Press, pp. 46, 47), while the promised increase gave rise to a report that Oldmixon was a court writer. Moreover, during the three years which Oldmixon spent in town preparing the second volume of the ‘History’ his deputy involved him in a debt to the crown which after inquiry was reduced to 360 l., but Oldmixon was ordered to pay it at once. This he managed to do from the arrears of his allowance of 100l. which the queen directed to be paid him. To ease himself of his troubles, Oldmixon, who was lamed by an attack of gout, soon resigned. In July 1741 he wrote to the Duke of Newcastle in great trouble and distraction. ‘I am now dragged,’ he wrote, ‘to a place I cannot mention, in the midst of all the infirmities of old age, sickness, lameness, and almost blindness, and without the means even of subsisting’ ( Add. MS. 32697, f. 308). His last work ‘Memoirs of the Press, Historical and Political, for Thirty Years Past, from 1710 to 1740,’ with a dedication to the Duchess of Marlborough, was not published until immediately after his death ( London Magazine, 1742, p. 364). In the postscript Oldmixon asked those who wished to show their concern for his misfortunes to subscribe towards a ‘History of Christianity’ which he had written some years earlier, on the basis of Basnage's ‘Histoire de la Religion des Eglises reformées.’ Oldmixon died on 9 July 1742, aged 69, at his house in Great Pulteney Street, having married in 1703 Elizabeth Parry (the license was granted on 3 March at the faculty office of the Archbishop of Canterbury). He was buried at Ealing on the 12th, near his son and daughter (Lysons, Environs of London, 1795, ii. 236). Another son, George, died on 15 May 1779, aged 68 (Faulkner, History and Antiquities of Brentford, Ealing, and Chiswick, 1845, p. 194). One daughter, presumably Mrs. Eleanora Marella (Crisp, Somerset Wills, 4th ser. p. 106), sang at Hickford's Rooms in 1746; and another, Hannah Oldmixon of Newland, Gloucestershire, died in 1789, aged 84 ( Gent. Mag. 1789, p. 89). A Sir John Oldmixon died in America in 1818; but nothing seems to be known of the title, or whether he was related to the historian ( Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 399, xii. 76). Besides the books already mentioned, Oldmixon published ‘Court Tales,’ 1717, and a ‘Life’ prefixed to ‘Nixon's Cheshire Prophecy,’ 1719, besides, of course, anonymous pamphlets, translations, &c., which have been forgotten. Of these the ‘History and Life of Robert Blake’ has been already mentioned. His historical work has little value now, as his main object in writing it was to promote the cause of his party. He never hesitated in attacking those on the other side, whether dead or living.


[Oldmixon's Memoirs of the Press is the chief source of information for his life. There are short sketches in the Biog. Dram. and Cibber's Lives of the Poets; and other particulars will be found in Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 562, ii. 538–539, iv. 85, viii. 170, 298; Nichols's Lit. Illustrations, iv. 186, 282; Swift's Works, ed. Scott, i. 128, 157, vi. 168, xiii. 227, 234–5; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthorpe, ii. 59, iii. 24, 252, 261, 435, iv. 56, 334, 338, vi. 436, ix. 63, x. 206, 362, 467, 474; Genest's History of the Stage, ii. 116, 193, 280–1; Lowndes's Bibl. Manual (articles ‘Oldmixon’ and ‘Clarendon’); Disraeli's Calamities of Authors; Monthly Chronicle, 1729, pp. 225–6, 1731, p. 181; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. pp. 304, 306–7, 350, 362; Collinson's Hist. of Somerset, iii. 591.]

A. A.

Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)

OLDMIXON, JOHN (1673–1742), English historian, was a son of John Oldmixon of Oldmixon, near Bridgwater. His first writings were poems and dramas, among them being Amores Britannici; Epistles historical and gallant (1703); and a tragedy, The Governor of Cyprus. His earliest historical work was The British Empire in America (1708 and again 1741), which was followed by The Secret History of Europe (1712–1715); by Arcana Gallica, or the Secret History of France for the last Century (1714); and by other smaller writings. More important, however, although of a very partisan character, are Oldmixon's works on EngUsh history. His Critical history of England (1724–1726) contains attacks on Clarendon and a defence of Bishop Burnet, and its publication led to a controversy between Dr Zachary Grey (1688–1766) and the author, who replied to Grey in his Clarendon and Whitlock compared (1727). On the same lines he wrote his History of England during the Reigns of the Royal House of Stuart (1730). Herein he charged Bishop Atterbury and other of Clarendon's editors with tampering with the text of the History. From his exile Atterbury replied to this charge in a Vindication, and although Oldmixon continued the controversy it is practically certain that he was in the wrong. He completed a continuous history of England by writing the History of England during the Reigns of William and Mary, Anne and George I. (1735); and the History of England during the Reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary and Elizabeth (1739). Among his other writings are, Memoirs of North Britain (1715), Essay on Criticism (1728) and Memoirs of the Press 1710–1740 (1742), which was only published after his death. Oldmixon had much to do with editing two periodicals, The Muses Mercury and The Medley, and he often complained that his services were overlooked by the government. He died on the 9th of July 1742.