AUTOBIOGRAPHY, ADVENTURE STORY AND POLITICAL COMMENTARY

ID: 17678
950.00
An enquiry into the rise, progress, and consequences of the National Debt,

MANUSCRIPT: Benjamin FARMER,, An enquiry into the rise, progress, and consequences of the National Debt, with the means by which it may be liquidated. By Timothy Quidnunc. With some account of the author by the editor. [n.d. but ca.1785?].

Manuscript in ink on paper, 4to., (2) + 51 + (12)pp., excluding blanks, in an unbound volume, sewn into original paper wrappers (the wrappers stained and with loss to lower, the ms not affected, however). Easily legible and in very good state of preservation, the upper wrapper having the single phrase, 'By Mr. Benjamin Farmer.>'

The author was Benjamin Farmer, a member of the Quaker Farmer family and closely related to the Galton family who were active in the manufacture of guns in the Birmingham area in the 18th century. Samuel Galton (1720-99), who had married into the Farmer family, had moved into the gun manufacturing business, in partnership with the Farmers, who had nearly been ruined by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. During the summer of 1755 Benjamin Farmer had arrived in Lisbon armed with a letter of introduction to Abraham Castres, the English Envoy Extraordinary, from Sir Thomas Robinson, 'secured on the back of the reputation of the great Birmingham gunmakers Farmer & Galton, who supplied the government as well as the burgeoning markets of India and slave traders, both black and white, in Africa. It had not been a good summer for the family. Benjamin had had a schooner confiscated by the Portuguese in the Cape Verde islands which he sought to reclaim; and his cousin James Farmer, the gunmaker, was desperately trying to remain solvent after a foreign partner in Lisbon had caused him such huge losses that he had secretly remortgaged an estate that was already in lieu to his partner Samuel Galton. The commercial acumen of the Farmers' fathers, Thomas and Joseph, had seemingly not been replicated in the next generation, which was widely considered 'a little mad'; and Benjamin himself even admitted that his friends were wont to say that he possessed 'all sense but common sense'. On arrival in Lisbon, he moved into the house of a fellow English merchant on one side of a courtyard overlooked by the apartment of a 'poor lieutenant of the Green regiment' whose eldest daughter liked to gaze 'very smirkingly' at him; and from there he set about soliciting the assistance of his influential cousin, David Barclay, Farmer & Galton's Lisbon agent, the banker Sam Montaigut, and Abraham Castres in the hope of securing redress at the Portuguese Court.' [Edward Paice, Wrath of God: the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755,> 2008, pp.58-59]. The main body of the text is nothing to do with the National Debt, but seems to be the autobiography and rambling thoughts of Benjamin Farmer, alias 'Timothy Quidnunc', describing his adventures in Europe of the second half of the 18th century. The use of the name 'Quidnunc' presumably indicated to the 18th century reader that the story's hero was a gossipmonger or someone eager to be told news and scandals. We are told that Timothy was 'of a middling family near the center of England', of a 'remarkably quick temper' who got into frequent fights at school. He fought on the King's side at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, travelled on business to Portugal, where he was 'robbed and treated with great cruelty', and was involved in a fight with a French gentleman. He was caught up in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and helped save a local family, and witnessed the subsequent Lisbon fire. [Several pages are devoted to his own experiences in the earthquake and its aftermath]. He recounts the conspiracy of the nobles in Portugal, the brutal executions, the expulsion of the Jesuits from Portugal in 1759, and the general political turmoil. In one story he recounts at length a desperate incident when he was captured by bandits and held hostage after being falsely accused of robbery, eventually being saved by a 'good looking portly man with an air of importance'. He compares the political and economic state of Portugal and Spain with that of Ireland, muses on British colonial policies and concludes that Britain had made 'as great an error, or very near it' with regard to Ireland. On p.35 he refers not only to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations> but also to 'Quidnunc's' own book, A view of the internal policy of Great Britain> (1764) which has up to now tentatively been ascribed to Rev. Robert Wallace (1697-1771). The Wallace attribution is not confirmed by Wallace's recent biographical notice in ODNB [by B. Barnett Cochran] nor is it confirmed by, for example, Thomas Adams [American Controversy,> I, p.18]. Adams records that the BM copy has the manuscript note: 'In White's Catalogue the author of this interesting work is said to have been Dr Robert Wallace (1679-1771) one of the ministers of Edinburgh, the author of Characteristics of the Present Political State of Great Britain> published in 1758. This work is not mentioned among the Doctor's Works> in Memoirs of his Life and Writings> (see Scots Mag.> 1809, p.591.' The final section of this manuscript (pp.36 onwards) recounts the return of Timothy to England, attempting to gain a living by distilling turpentine (early on the works were set on fire by a careless worker), which depended on the American trade. There is a story about him watching some poor boys swimming in a tide-mill reservoir and rescuing two of them from drowning. He goes on to talk of the political situation vis vis the American Settlements, taxation of the colonies and other events in America in which Timothy shows at first evident pro-Colonial sympathies then, when the American revolution begins, concern that 'had the democratick power of the English constitution in America been destroyed, the power of the people and their House of Commons at home would most probably have shared the same fate. It was self murder. But success he thought impossible, for never yet had young millitary Republicks been conquered'. His own business lost trade through the war. Timothy finally reflects on the balance of power in England between Crown and Parliament, corruption of politics, the death of Rockingham and the rise of Fox and North and the advent of the Pitt ministry and the 1784 India Bill. The author seems to indicate at the end that he was a friend of Henry Beaufoy (d. 1795), the Whig politician. This is a strange but fascinating manuscript, of value in perhaps four ways. 1. It provides an intimate first hand account of an English businessman's personal experience of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and fire. 2. It offers evidence that Robert Wallace was not, as some have assumed, the author of A view of the internal policy of Great Britain> (1764) but that Benjamin Farmer himself should now be acknowledged as the likely author. 3. It adds substantially to the mercantile history of Birmingham and the Galton-Farmer partnership, and Anglo-Portuguese trading relations. 4. It is also a mixture of political commentary on the period ca. 1750 - ca. 1785, vivid autobiography with life stories and anecdotes of adventures, and perhaps, in part an allegorical moral tale. I acknowledge, with gratitude, advice and help given me by Edward Paice, whose scholarly study of the Lisbon earthquake (Wrath of God: the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755,> Quercus, 2008) includes several references to Benjamin Farmer and to the present manuscript.