An Essay towards Fixing the True Standards of Wit, Humour, Railery, Satire, and Ridicule (1744)


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INTRODUCTION

The _Essay_ here reproduced was first advertised in the London _Daily
Advertiser_ as "this day was published" on Thursday, 17 May 1744 (The
same advertisement, except for the change of price from one shilling
to two, appeared in this paper intermittently until 14 June). Although
on the title-page the authorship is given as "By the Author of a
Letter from a By-stander," there was no intention of anonymity, since
the Dedication is boldly signed "Corbyn Morris, Inner Temple, Feb. 1,
1743 [44]."

Not much is known of the early life of Corbyn Morris. Born 14 August
1710, he was the eldest son of Edmund Morris of Bishop's Castle,
Salop. (_Alumni Cantabrigienses_). On 17 September 1727 he was
admitted (pensioner) at Queen's College, Cambridge, as an exhibitioner
from the famous Charterhouse School. Exactly when he left the
university, or whether he took a degree, is not certain.

Morris first achieved some prominence, though anonymously, with
_A Letter from a By-stander to a Member of Parliament; wherein is
examined what necessity there is for the maintenance of a large
regular land-force in this island_. This pamphlet, dated at the end,
26 February 1741/42, is a wholehearted eulogy of the Walpole
administration and is filled with statistics and arguments for the
Mercantilist theories of the day. At the time there was some suspicion
that the work had been written either by Walpole himself or by his
direction. When the _Letter from a By-stander_ was answered by the
historian Thomas Carte, an angry pamphlet controversy ensued, with
Morris writing under the pseudonym of "A Gentleman of Cambridge."
Throughout, Morris showed himself a violent Whig, bitter in his
attacks on Charles II and the non-jurors; and it was undoubtedly this
fanatical party loyalty which laid the foundation for his later
government career.

The principal facts of Morris's later life may be briefly summarized.
On 17 June 1743 he was admitted at the Inner Temple. Throughout
the Pelham and Newcastle administrations he was employed by the
government, as he once put it, "in conciliating opponents." From
1751 to 1763 be acted as Secretary of the Customs and Salt Duty in
Scotland, in which post he was acknowledged to have shown decided
ability as an administrator. From 1763 to 1778 he was one of the
commissioners of customs. He died at Wimbledon 22 December 1779
(_Musgrave's Obituary_), described in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ as a
"gentleman well known in the literary world, and universally esteemed
for his unwearied services and attachment to government."

Throughout his long years of public service he wrote numerous
pamphlets, largely on economic and political questions. Merely the
titles of a few may be sufficient to indicate the nature of his
interests. _An Essay towards Deciding the Question whether Britain be
Permitted by Right Policy to Insure the Ships of Her Enemies _(1747);
_Observations on the Past Growth and Present State of the City of
London_ (containing a complete table of christenings and burials 1601-
1750) (175l); _A Letter Balancing the Causes of the Present Scarcity
of Our Silver Coin_ (1757).

It would be a mistake, however, to consider Morris merely as a
statistical economist and Whig party hack. A gentleman of taste and
wit, the friend of Hume, Boswell, and other discerning men of the day,
he was elected F.R.S. in 1757, and appears to have been much
respected. In later life Morris had a country place at Chiltern Vale,
Herts., where he took an active delight in country sports. One
of his late pamphlets, not listed in the _D.N.B_. account of him,
entertainingly illustrates one of his hobbies. _The Bird-fancier's
Recreation and Delight, with the newest and very best instructions for
catching, taking, feeding, rearing, &c all the various sorts of SONG
BIRDS... containing curious remarks on the nature, sex, management,
and diseases of ENGLISH SONG BIRDS, with practical instructions for
distinguishing the cock and hen, for taking, choosing, breeding,
keeping, and teaching them to sing, for discovering and caring their
diseases, and of learning them to sing to the greatest perfection_.

Although there is little surviving evidence of Morris's purely
literary interests, a set of verses combining his economic and
artistic views appeared in a late edition of _The New Foundling
Hospital for Wit_ (new edition, 1784, VI, 95). Occasioned by seeing
Bowood in Wiltshire, the home of the Earl of Shelburne, the lines are
entitled: "On Reading Dr. Goldsmith's Poem, the Deserted Village."

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