The name was chosen in all probability because he had already signed Lucius and Brutus, and wished to exhaust the name of Lucius Junius Brutus the Roman patriot. Whoever the writer was, he wrote under other pseudonyms before, during and after the period between January 1769 and January 1772. He acknowledged that he had written as Philo-Junius, and there is evidence that he was identical with Veteran, Nemesis and other anonymous correspondents of the Public Advertiser. There is a marked distinction between the letters of Junius and his so-called miscellaneous letters. The second deal with a variety of subjects, some of a purely personal character, as for instance the alleged injustice of Viscount Barrington the secretary at war to the officials of his department. But the letters of Junius had a definite object to discredit the ministry of the duke of Grafton. This administration had been formed in October 1768, when the earl of Chatham was compelled by ill health to retire from office, and was a reconstruction of his cabinet of July 1766. Junius fought for the return to power of Chatham, who had recovered and was not on good terms with his successors. He communicated with Chatham, with George Grenville, with Wilkes, all enemies of the duke of Grafton, and also with Henry Sampson Woodfall, printer and part owner of the Public Advertiser. This private corresponderace has been preserved. It is written in the disguised hand used by Junius.
The letters are of interest on three grounds their political significance, their style, and the mystery which long surrounded their authorship. As political writings they possess no intrinsic value. Junius was wholly destitute of insight, and of the power to disentangle, define and advocate principles. The matter of his letters is always invective. He began by a general attack on the ministry for their personal immorality or meanness. An ill-judged defence of one of the body the marquess of Granby, commander-in-chief volunteered by Sir William Draper, gave him an easy victory over a vulnerable opponent. He then went on to pour acrimonious abuse on Graf ton, on the duke of Bedford, on King George III himself in the letter of December 19, 1769, and ended with a most malignant and ignorant assault on Lord Chief Justice Mansfield. Several of his accusations were shown to be unfounded. The practical effect of the letters was insignificant. They were noticed and talked about. They provoked anger and retorts. But the letter to the king aroused indignation, and though Grafton's administration fell in January 1770, it was succeeded by the long-lived cabinet of Lord North. Junius confessed himself beaten, in his private letter to Woodfall of January 19, 1773. He had materially contributed to his own defeat by his brutal violence. He sinned indeed in a large company. The employment of personal abuse had been habitual in English political controversy for generations, and in the 18th century there was a strong taste for satire. Latin literature, which was not only studied but imitated, supplied the inspiration and the models, in the satires of Juvenal, and the speeches of Cicero against Verses and Catiline.
If, however, Junius was doing what others did, he did it better than anybody elsea fact which sufficiently explains his rapid popularity. His superiority lay in his style. Here also he was by no means original, and he was unequal. There are passages in his writings which can be best described in the words which Burke applied to another writer: A mere mixture of vinegar and water, at once vapid and sour. But at his best Junius attains to a high degree of artificial elegance and vigour. He shows the influence of Bolingbroke, of Swift, and above all of Tacitus, who appears to have been his favorite author. The imitation is never slavish. Junius adapts, and does not only repeat. The white heat of his malignity animates the whole. No single sentence will show the quality of a style which produces its effect by persistence and repetition, but such a typical passage as follows displays at once the method and the spirit. It is taken from Letter XLIX to the duke of Grafton, June 22, 1771:
The profound respect I bear to the gracious prince who governs this country with no less honor to himself than satisfaction to his subjects, and who restores you to your rank under his standard, will save you from a multitude of reproaches. The attention I should have paid to your failings is involuntarily attracted to the hand which rewards them; and though I am not so partial to the royal judgment as to affirm that the favor of a king can remove mountains of infamy, it serves to lessen at least, for undoubtedly it divides, the burden. While I remember how much is due to his sacred character, I cannot, with any decent appearance of propriety, call you the meanest and the basest fellow in the kingdom. I protest, my Lord, I do not think you so. You will have a dangerous rival in that kind of fame to which you have hitherto so happily directed your ambition, as long as there is one man living who thinks you worthy of his confidence, and fit to be trusted with any share in his government ... With any other prince, the shameful desertion of him in the midst of that distress, which you alone had created, in the very crisis of danger, when he fancied he saw the throne already surrounded by men of virtue and abilities, would have outweighed the memory of your former services. But his majesty is full of justice, and understands the doctrine of compensations; he remembers with gratitude how soon you had accommodated your morals to the necessities of his service, how cheerfully you had abandoned the engagements of private friendship, and renounced the most solemn professions to the public. The sacrifice of Lord Chatham was not lost on him. Even the cowardice and perfidy of deserting him may have done you no disservice in his esteem. The instance was painful, but the principle might please.What is artificial and stilted in this style did not offend the would-be classic taste of the 18th century, and does not now conceal the fact that the laboriously arranged words, and artfully counterbalanced clauses, convey a venomous hate and scorn.
The pre-established harmony between Junius and his readers accounts for the rapidity of his success, and for the importance attributed to him by Burke and Johnson, far better writers than himself. Before 1772 there appeared at least twelve unauthorized republications of his letters, made by speculative printers. In that year he revised the collection named Junius: Stat nominis umbra, with a dedication to the English people and a preface. Other independent editions followed in quick succession. In 1801 one was published with annotations by Robert Heron. In 1806 another appeared with notes by John Almon. The first new edition of real importance was issued by the Woodfall family in 1812. It contained the correspondence of Junius with HS Woodfall, a selection of the miscellaneous letters attributed to Junius, facsimiles of his handwriting, and notes by Dr Mason Good. Curiosity as to the mystery of the authorship began to replace political and literary interest in the writings. Junius himself had been early aware of the advantage he secured by concealment. The mystery of Junius increases his importance is his confession in a letter to Wilkes dated September 18 1771. The calculation was a sound one. For two generations after the appearance of the letter of January 21 1769, speculations as to the authorship of Junius were rife, and discussion bad hardly ceased in 1910. Joseph Parkes, author with Herman Merivale of the Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis (1867), gives a list of more than forty persons who had been supposed to be Junius. They are:
The reasons for believing that Sir Philip Francis was Junius are very strong. His evasions were only to be expected. Several of the men he attacked lived nearly as long as himself, the sons of others were conspicuous in society, and King George III survived him. Sir Philip, who had held office, who had been decorated, and who in his later years was ambitious to obtain