In 1768, radical bookseller John Almon began publishing The New Foundling Hospital for Wit, compilations of poetry, prose and scathing frontispieces that attacked political figures and often impugned their spouses and families. The most notorious contributor was John Wilkes, a British MP whose opposition to King and Parliament forced him to flee England in 1763 to escape charges of sedition and blasphemous libel. His return, his imprisonment and his popularity made him a vaunted figure in the cause of liberty.
Dr. Nichol became interested in the largely forgotten series while researching a reference to an affair was alleged in Wilkes’ Essay on Woman, which appeared in the first volume of The New Foundling Hospital for Wit.
After publishers Pickering and Chatto agreed to publish the satirical miscellany anew, Dr. Nichol spent two years compiling, writing and editing introductions, endnotes and indices, and drawing on the expertise of numerous scholars and colleagues. The project was made challenging by the rarity of original volumes libraries in Britain held only five of the six, and the final volumes had to be purchased privately.
“I like to think that this satire had a fair bit of influence on the attitudes of the people in the streets, and their feelings toward the arrogance of the king and government an arrogance that cost them the American colonies,” Dr. Nichol said.
He also noted, “It was a very important time for freedom of the press, and for using the press to take on the establishment,” adding that John Almon himself was responsible for ending the British ban on reporting parliamentary debate.