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THE curiosity of the public seems to demand the history of every man who has, by whatever means, risen to eminence; and few lives would have more readers than that of the compiler of the GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE, if all those who received improvement or entertainment from him, should retain so much kindness for their benefactor, as to inquire after his conduct and character.
Edward Cave was born at Newton, in Warwickshire, on the 29th day of February, in the year 1691. His father Joseph, was the youngest son of Mr. Edward Cave, of Cave's in the Hole, a lone house, on the Street-road in the same county, which took its name from the occupier; but having concurred with his elder brother in cutting off the entail of a small hereditary estate, by which act it was lost from the family, he was reduced to follow in Rugby the trade of a shoemaker. He was a man of good reputation in his narrow circle, and remarkable for strength and rustic intrepidity. He lived to a great age, and was in his latter years supported by his son.
It was fortunate for Edward Cave, that having a disposition to literary attainments, he was not cut off by the poverty
[* Written by Dr. Samuel Johnson. E.]
of his parents from opportunities of cultivating his faculties The school of Rugby, in which he had, by the rules of its foundation, a right to be instructed, was then in high reputation, under the Rev. Mr. Holyock, to whose care most of the neighbouring families, even of the highest rank, entrusted their sons. He had judgment to discover, and, for some time, generosity to encourage, the genius of young Cave; and was so well pleased with his quick progress in the school, that he declared his resolution to breed him for the University, and recommended him as a servitor to some of his scholars of high rank. But prosperity, which depends upon the caprice of others, is of short duration. Cave's superiority in literature exalted him to an invidious familiarity with boys who were far above him in rank and expectations; and, as in unequal associations it always happens, whatever unlucky prank was played, was imputed to Cave. When any mischief, great or small, was done, though, perhaps, others boasted of the stratagem when it was successful, yet upon detection or miscarriage, the fault was sure to fall upon poor Cave.
At last, his mistress, by some invisible means, lost a favourite cock; Cave was, with little examination, stigmatized as the thief or murderer; not because he was more apparently criminal than others, but because he was more easily reached by vindictive justice. From that time Mr. Holyock withdrew his kindness visibly from him, and treated him with harshness, which the crime, in its utmost aggravation, could scarcely deserve; and which surely he would have forborne had he considered how hardly the habitual infiuence of birth and fortune is resisted; and how frequently men, not wholly without sense of virtue, are betrayed to acts more atrocious than the robbery of a hen-roost, by a desire of pleasing their superiors.
These reflections his master never made, or made without effect; for, under pretence that Cave obstructed the discipline of the school, by selling clandestine assistance, and supplying exercises to idlers, he was oppressed with unreasonable tasks, that there might be an opportunity of quarrelJing with his failure; and when his diligence had surmounted them, no regard was paid to the performance. Cave bore this persecution awhile, and then left the school, and the hope of a literary education, to seek some other means of gaining a livelihood.
He was first placed with the collector of the excise. He used to recount with some pleasure a journey or two which he rode with him as his clerk, and relate the victories that
he gained over the excisemen in grammatical disputations. But the insolence of his mistress, who employed him in servile drudgery, quickly disgusted him, and he went up to London in quest of more suitable employment.
He was recommended to a timber merchant at the Bank side, and while he was there on liking, is said to have given hopes of great mercantile abilities; but this place he soon left, I know not for what reason, and was bound apprentice to Mr. Collins, a printer of some reputation, and deputy alderman.
This was a trade for which men were formerly qualified by a literary education, and which was pleasing to Cave, because it furnished some employment for his scholastic attainments. Here, therefore, he resolved to settle, though his master and mistress lived in perpetual discord, and their house was therefore no comfortable habitation. From the inconveniences of these domestic tumults he was soon released, having in only two years attained so much skill in his art, and gained so much the confidence of his master, that he was sent, without any superintendant, to conduct a printing house at Norwich, and publish a weekly paper. this undertaking he met with some opposition, which produced a public controversy, and procured young Cave the reputation of a writer.
His master died before his apprenticeship was expired, and he was not able to bear the perverseness of his mistress. He therefore lived out of her house upon a stipulated allowance, and married a young widow, with whom he lived at Bow. When his apprenticeship was over he worked as a journeyman at the printing house of Mr. Barber, a man much distinguished and employed by the Tories, whose principles had at that time so much prevalence with Cave, that he was for some years a writer in Mist's Journal; which, though he afterwards obtained, by his wife's interest, a small place in the post-office, he for some time continued. But as interest is powerful, and conversation, however mean, in time persuasive, he, by degrees, inclined to another party; in which, however, he was always moderate, though steady and determined.
When he was admitted into the post-office he still con tinued, at his intervals of attendance, to exercise his trade, or to employ himself with some typographical business. He corrected the "Gradus ad Parnassum," and was honourably rewarded by the Company of Stationers. He wrote an "Account of the Criminals," which had for some time a considerable sale; and published many little pamphlets that
accident brought into his hands, of which it would be very difficult to recover the memory. By the correspondence which his place in the post-office facilitated, he procured country newspapers, and sold their intelligence to a Journalist of London, for a guinea a week.
He was afterwards raised to the office of clerk of the frank, in which he acted with great spirit and firmness; and often stopped franks which were given by members of parliament to their friends; because he thought such extension of a peculiar right illegal. This raised many complaints, and having stopped, among others, a frank given to the old Duchess of Marlborough, by Mr. Walter Plummer, he was cited before the House, as for breach of privilege, and accused, I suppose very unjustly, of opening letters to detect them. He was treated with great harshness and severity, but declining their questions by pleading his oath of secrecy, was at last dismissed. And it must be recorded to his honour, that when he was ejected from his office, he did not think himself discharged from his trust, but continued to refuse to his nearest friends any information about the management of the office.
By this constancy of diligence and diversification of employment, he in time collected a sum sufficient for the purchase of a small printing house, and began the "Gentleman's Magazine," a periodical pamphlet, of which the scheme is known wherever the English language is spoken. To this undertaking he owed the affluence in which he passed the last twenty years of his life; and the fortune which he left behind him, which, though large, had been yet larger, had he not rashly and wantonly impaired it by innumerable projects, of which I know not that ever one
The Gentleman's Magazine, which has subsisted many years, and still continues equally to enjoy the favour of the world, is one of the most successful and lucrative pamphlets which literary history has upon record, and therefore deserves, in this narrative, particular notice.
Mr. Cave, when he formed the project, was far from expecting the success which he found; and others had so little prospect of its consequence, that, though he had for several years talked of his plan among printers and booksellers, none of them thought it worth the trial. That they were not restrained by their virtue from the execution of another man's design, was sufficiently apparent as soon as that design began to be gainful; for in a few years a multitude of Magazines arose, and perished; only the London Magazine,
supported by a powerful association of booksellers, and circulated with all the art, and all the cunning of trade, exempted itself from the general fate of Cave's invaders, and obtained, though not an equal, yet a considerable sale.*
Cave now began to aspire to popularity; and being a greater lover of poetry than any other art, he sometimes offered subjects for poems, and proposed prizes for the best performances. The first prize was fifty pounds, for which, being but newly acquainted with wealth, and thinking the influence of fifty pounds extremely great, he expected the first authors of the kingdom to appear as competitors; and offered the allotment of the prize to the universities. But when the time came, no name was seen among his writers that had been ever seen before; the universities and several private men rejected the province of assigning the prize. At all this Mr. Cave wondered for awhile, but his natural judgment, and a wider acquaintance with the world, soon cured him of his astonishment, as of many other prejudices and errors. Nor have many men been seen raised by acci, dent or industry to sudden riches, that retained less of the meanness of their former state,
He continued to improve his Magazine, and had the satisfaction of seeing its success proportionate to his diligence, till in the year 1751 his wife died of an asthma. He seemed not, at first, much affected by her death, but in a few days lost his sleep and his appetite, which he never recovered; but after having lingered about two years, with many vicissitudes of amendment and relapse, fell, by drinking acid liquors, into a diarrhoea, and afterwards into a kind of lethargic insensibility, in which one of the last acts of reason which he exerted, was fondly to press the hand which is now writing this little narrative. He died on January 10, 1754, having just concluded the twenty-third annual collection.
He was a man of large stature, not only tall but bulky, and was, when young, of remarkable strength and activity. He was generally healthful, and capable of much labour and long application; but in the latter years of his life was afflicted with the gout, which he endeavoured to cure or alleviate by a total abstinence both from strong liquors and animal food. From animal food he abstained about four years, and from strong liquors much longer; but the gout continued unconquered, perhaps unabated.
[* The London Magazine terminated its existence in 1785. E.]