John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty by Arthur H Cash - review by Richard Boston

Richard Boston

A Libertine & Liberty

John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty


Yale University Press 496pp £20

In Newcastle one day in 1768 forty-five gentlemen sat down at forty-five minutes past one with forty-five gills of wine and forty-five new-laid eggs. At forty-five minutes past two they began a meal of five courses, each of which had nine dishes, making forty-five. The sirloin of beef weighed forty-five pounds… and so on. At the same time in markets throughout the country the number forty-five appeared on such objects for sale as buttons, buckles, brooches, snuff-boxes and mugs. The cause of all this excitement was No 45 of the North Briton, the editor and author of which, John Wilkes MP, had been sent to the Tower. 

As celebrated as the number forty-five was the figure of Wilkes himself. According to his son-in-law, ‘In china, in bronze, or in marble, he stood upon the chimney-piece of half the houses of the metropolis’. It was just as well that in those days there were no tee-shirts for his

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