Probably the most famous of all ‘uncracked’ pseudonyms is that of Junius, the 18th century author, whose letters, 70 in number, in the London Public Advertiser between January 21, 1769, and January 21, 1772, revealed many intimate scandals of the day and were generally ‘agin the government’ and antiroyalist, (one of the letters was an impudent one addressed to King George III in person).
Even today, over two hundred years later, and after much ingenious detective work and extremely thorough searching of contemporary documents, the identity of the infamous writer remains in doubt. Almost always using the name Junius, but occasionally switching to Lucius, Brutus and possibly Nemesis, the author clearly had the objective of ruining the ministry for the years 1767 to 1770 and lord privy seal from 1771 to 1775.
Who was he? After a consideration of his style – he had an original and fine command of language – his classical name (but to which Junius, actual or fictional, was the allusion, if there indeed was an allusion?), and all the other many historical and political facets of the time, some 50 names were proposed as the real author. The most likely of these is popularly held to be Sir Philip Francis (1740–1818), and Irish-born politician, who was known to have written a number of letters to the papers under pseudonyms. But this is only a conjecture. Other names suggested as the true author have been Edward Gibbon, Edmund Burke, John Wilkes, Lord Chesterfields, Thomas Paine, Lord Chatham (whom Junius loyally and actively supported), Lord Shelburne, Horace Walpole, Isaac Barré, George Grenville, Lord Temple, Henry Grattan, Alexander Wedderburn, Lord George Sackville, and Horne Tooke.
‘The mystery of Junius increases his importance,’ wrote the author himself, and this proved to be so, if only in the form of several imitators. With pseudonyms such as Junius Ridivivus, Junius Secundus, Philo-Junius, and Junius itself. ‘I am the sole depository of my own secret, an it shall perish with me,’ also wrote the sharp-tongued satirist, whom even 20th-century technology has failed unmask.
The ‘Letters of Junius’ in fact made a significant contribution to journalistic history in that they established the fashion for the anonymity of leading articles in the press today.
Room, A. (1981), ‘Names with a Difference’, Naming Names, p.64
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