Paper War of 1752-1753

In 1752, Henry Fielding started a "paper war" between the various authors on London's Grub Street. Although it began as a dispute between Fielding and John Hill, other authors, such as Christopher Smart, Bonnell Thornton, William Kenrick, Arthur Murphy, and Tobias Smollet were soon contributing.

The "war" lasted until 1753 and spanned many of London's publications. It eventually resulted in countless essays, poems, and even a series of mock epic poems starting with Smart's The Hilliad. Although it is unknown what actually started the dispute, it resulted in a divide of authors who either supported Fielding or supported Hill, and few in between.


Henry Fielding started a "paper war" in the first issue of the Covent-Garden Journal (4 January 1752) against "hack writers". In response, John Hill claimed in the London Daily Advertiser (9 January 1752) that Henry Fielding proposed a fake paper war that would involve them "giving Blows that would not hurt, and sharing the Advantage in Silence." Such an event is believed to have occurred (if it occurred) on 28 December 1751. It is known that Hill met Fielding for legal business between 26 December and 28 December 1751 after Hill was robbed.

Before Hill had revealed this information, he attacked Fielding's Amelia in the London Daily Advertiser on 8 January 1952 where he claimed that the books title character "could charm the World without the Help of a Nose." In response to both the revelation and personal attacks, Fielding wrote on 11 January 1752:

"If the Betrayer of a private Treaty could ever deserve the least Credit, yet his Lowness here must proclaim himself either a Liar, or a Fool. None can doubt that he is the former, if he hath feigned this Treaty, and I think few would scruple to call him the latter, if he had rejected it.
Regardless of the merits of Hill's claim, a war was soon started: by the third issue of the Covent-Garden Journal, Fielding narrowed his satire upon John Hill.

Although Hill, Fielding, Smart, Thornton, Kenrick, Murphy, and Smollet all involved in the dispute, not all of them used their actual names; instead, many preferred to use pseudonyms along with their standard attacks. Fielding wrote as "Sir Alexander Drawcansir", Hill as "The Inspector", Thornton as "Madam Roxanna", Smart as "Mrs. Mary Midnight". It was under these pseudonyms that various authors soon responded to Fielding's attacks and his "Universal Register Office". If this was not enough, Fielding started a dispute, just a few months before, against Philip D'Halluin, a former employee who established the competing "Public Register Office" in King Street, Covent Garden. However, Hill had previously aiding Fielding in this matter. To complicate things even further, D'Halluin hired Bonnell Thorton, a friend of Smart, to attack Fielding and Hill.

Later, Hill attacked both Fielding and Smart, 13 August 1752, in the only issue of the The Impertinent to be produced. Although the work was published anonymously it was commonly known to be produced by Hill, and he soon followed up the pamphlet in the London Daily Advertiser. With his 25 August 1752 The Inspector column, he harshly criticizing Smart's Poems on Several Occasions. Fielding was unable to leave the fight until the sixth issue of the Covent-Garden Journal published since the beginning of the fight.

The Papers

Although it is quite possible that the first work in the "war" was produced by Smart on 29 April 1751, it is also possible that the origins of the dispute could be traced even further back to Hill's publications between February and March 1751. Fielding's first paper in the "war" was also the first issue The Covent-Garden Journal on 4 January 1752. In it, Fielding attacked all of the writers of Grub Street, which brought a quick response. Hill responded twice and claimed that Fielding was planning a fake dispute on 9 January 1752, Smollet attacked Hill's piece on 15 January 1752, and Thornton soon responded against Fielding in Have At You All: or, The Drury Lane Journal on 16 January 1752.

During this time, personal works, such as Fielding's Amelia, became targets.; On 11 January 1752, Fielding responded to Hill and those who supported his view of Amelia in The Covent-Garden Journal by ironically stating:

"a famous Surgeon, who absolutely cured one Mrs Amelia Booth, of a violent Hurt in her Nose, insomuch, that she had scarce a Scar left on it, intends to bring Actions against several ill-meaning and slanderous People, who have reported that the said Lady had no Nose, merely because the Author of her History, in a Hurry, forgot to inform his Readers of that Particular."
Not only did Hill attack the work, Thornton wrote satires of Amelia in the Drury-Lane Journal. Thornton's satires were first published on 16 January 1752 and included a fake advertisement for a parody novel called "Shamelia", playing off of title of Fielding's parody Shamela. He later parodied the work on 13 February 1752 in a piece called "A New Chapter in Amelia." Tobias Smollett joined in and published the pamphlet Habbakkuk Hilding anonymously on 15 January 1752. Although there was much criticism, there was some support for the work, and an anonymous pamphlet was written to attack "Hill and 'the Town'" and praise the novel.On 25 January 1752, Fielding defended his work again by bringing the novel before the imaginary "Court of Censorial Enquiry", in which the prosecutors are Hill and the other critics and it is they, not Amelia that are truly put on trial.

The Covent-Garden Journal served Fielding well, and he used it in his attacks upon Hill and Hill's supporters in the Journall piece called "Journal of the present Paper War between the Forces under Sir Alexander Drawcansir, and the Army of Grub-street". The work was modeled after Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books and Fielding pretended to be military leader that would lead "English VETERANS" against those who were identified with the Greek and Roman classics along with the modern French literature. However, he changed roles on the fourth issue, produced on 14 January 1752, and transformed himself into a "judge". By February, Kenrick joined in and "dramatized" the "Paper War" in a production called Fun and proceeded to defend Fielding. Charles Macklin followed suit by holding a benefit on 8 April 1752 at the Covent Garden with a two act play called The Covent Garden Theater, or Pasquin Turn'd Drawcansir; the play portrayed Fielding attacking the Hill and his followers, the "Town".

A pamphlet in the London Daily Advertiser called The March of the Lion, 29 January 1752, links various authors involved in the war and is the first to introduce Smart via a reference to his "Mrs. Mary Midnight" pseudonym, although Smart was not yet a participant. However, Smart did begin a direct participation in the matter 4 August 1752 with the publication in The Midwife of a parody on Hill's "Inspector" persona. In the piece, Smart responded to Hill's attack on Smart's "Old Woman's Oratory" show and a claim by Hill that the show was dead. Hill was quick to respond; he attacked both Fielding and Smart in a piece published on 13 August 1752, the one and only issue of the The Impertinent. In the work, Hill claimed that authors either write because "they have wit" or "they are hungry". He further claimed that Smart,

"wears a ridiculous comicalness of aspect, that makes people smile when they see him at a distance: His mouth opens, because he must be fed; and the world often joins with the philosopher in laughing at the insensibility and obstinancy that make him prick his lips with thistles."
The work was published anonymously, with some trying to claim Samuel Johnson as the author, and Hill tried to hide his authorship by attacking the essay in the 25 August 1752 "The Inspector" (No. 464). However, he was soon exposed and it became common known that Hill produced both, and he soon followed up the pamphlet in the London Daily Advertiser.

With his 25 August 1752 The Inspector column, he harshly criticizing Smart's Poems on Several Occasions. Although Hill claimed to praise Smart, he did so in a manner, as Betty Rizzo claims, "that managed to insult and degrade Smart with patronizing encouragement. This essay, along with Hill himself, was responded to with an attack by Arthur Murphy in the 21 October 1752 edition of the Gray's Inn Journal. Following Murphy, Thornton attacked both Hill and Fielding in The Spring-Garden Journal on 16 November 1752. The Gentleman's Journal issue of November 1752 came out with a quick retort and claimed that those who supported Hill "espoused the cause of Gentleman" and those who sided with Fielding espoused the cause "of the comedian." This essay accomplished little but to polarize both sides even furthermore. Hill then responded to Murphy, and their dispute was printed in a supplement of the December issue of the Gentleman's Journal.

On 1 February 1753, Smart published The Hilliad, an attack upon Hill that one critic, Lance Bertelsen, describes as the "loudest broadside" of the war. The response to The Hilliad was swift: Samuel Derrick responded directly with his The Smartiad; Arthur Murphy criticized Smart for his personally attacking Hill; and Rules for Being a Wit tried to provoke further response from Smart. However, Smart stopped responding to either of these assaults. Soon after, Hill ended his attacks with the final being in December of 1752.

See also



  • Battestin, Martin. Henry Fielding: A Life. New York: Routledge, 1989. 738 pp.
  • Bertelsen, Lance. "'Neutral Nonsense, neither False nor True': Christopher Smart and the Paper War(s) of 1752-53." In Christopher Smart and the Enlightenment, edited by Clement Hawes, 135-52. New York, NY: St. Martin's, 1999. 308 pp.
  • Goldgar, Bertrand. "Fielding's Periodical Journalism." In The Cambridge Companion to Henry Fielding, edited by Claude Rawson, 94-108. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 204 pp.
  • Mahony, Robert and Rizzo, Betty. Christopher Smart: An Annotated Bibliography 1743-1983. New York: Garland, 1984.
  • Mounsey, Chris. Christopher Smart: Clown of God. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2001. 342 pp.
  • Rizzo, Betty. "Notes on the War between Henry Fielding and John Hill, 1752-53," The Library 6, vii (1985). pp. 338-353.
  • Sabor, Peter. "Amelia." In The Cambridge Companion to Henry Fielding, edited by Claude Rawson, 94-108. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 204 pp.
  • Smart, Christopher. The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart, IV: Miscellaneous Poems English and Latin. Ed. Karina Williamson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987. 440 pp.

Search another word or see comicalnesson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature