The Letters Of Junius And The Epistle To The Hebrews -- By: I. Woodbridge Riley

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 058:232 (Oct 1901)
Article: The Letters Of Junius And The Epistle To The Hebrews
Author: I. Woodbridge Riley


The Letters Of Junius And The Epistle To The Hebrews

A Comparative Study In Higher Criticism

Mr. I. Woodbridge Riley

AFTER baffling three or four generations of critics, the Letters of Junius have been allowed to take rank among English classics under a pseudonym. Like the autobiography of a certain famous statesman, “the author has not yet been announced”; and this in spite of a continuous stream of conjectural literature coming down from the last century concerning the “Great Unknown.” “Junius Rumours,” “Another Glance at Junius,” “Junius Unmasked,” “The Identity of Junius with a Living Character Established”—these and similar titles serve to mark the ebb and flow of the tide of speculation. Such pamphlets, essays, and even elaborate works may be considered mere literary driftwood; they yet testify to the force of an unsatisfied critical curiosity. The question still remains: Who wrote that series of Letters on political affairs which appeared in a London newspaper a decade before the American Revolution? They may be at present

of little intrinsic interest, except for their treatment of the Freedom of the Press, and the Discontents in the Colonies, but at the time they created no small stir in the literary and political world. They were eulogized by Dr. Johnson, and quoted with admiration by Edmund Burke. Of the “invisible state satirist,” the latter said: “Kings, Lords, and Commons are but the sport of his fury. Were he a member of this House, what might not be expected from his knowledge, his firmness and integrity? He would easily be known by his contempt of all danger, by his pointed penetration and activity.”

The attention paid to these philippics and the celebrity they acquired were not due so much to their bold and pungent style, as to the air of mystery thrown over them by the author himself. Threescore of the Letters, collected in book form, were prefaced by this tantalizing statement: “I am the sole depository of my own secret, and it shall perish with me.” On the other hand, the interest arising from concealment was increased by a certain self-disclosure enveloped in the cloud of a fictitious name. Junius was no dim figure. In his forceful vindication of public rights against an obstinate king and a distracted Parliament, he appeared to High Whigs “the very genius of English liberty,” and his book became “almost a sort of Bible or inspired exposition of popular principles.” Moreover, to the Tories, Junius was no indefinite personality; he was too dangerous to be a shadow. Somehow the “Terrible Unknown” obtained a great quantity of secret intelligence, which he boldly applied in exposing political wrongs. Thus Junius’ sources of informati...

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