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June 8, 2013


Good news … Declan Kavanagh and Conrad Brunstrom’s co-authored paper on Arthur Murphy – the ludicrously busy mid eighteenth century Irish polymath is now available on JSTOR.  Details here –

You can download it and read it from there.

Murphy’s funniest play, The Upholsterer (1758), carries the pleasant message – ‘Mind Your Own Business’.  As the central character Quidnunc (‘What News’) obsesses about geopolitics instead of upholstery, his business goes from bad to worse.  This play is actually an extrapolation of a joke penned by Joseph Addison for Richard Steele’s Tatler fifty years earlier, about an Upholsterer obsessed by the War of Spanish Succession rather than the Seven Years War.

Murphy had penned a pro-ministerial journal called The Auditor, defending the Bute ministry from Wilkes and Churchill’s The North Briton.  The experience led to him swearing off politics forever, and even inserting a joke against himself into a 1763 restaging of the play – reheating a prank successfully played on him by Wilkes and Churchill.

Murphy is an early example of the populist anti-populist.  As far as he is concerned, politics is what other people do, and telling people to not to get mixed up in politics is not a political act.  Of course, this is nonsense, but it is persistent and influential nonsense.  Supporting the status quo is ‘common sense’ while challenging the status quo is ‘political’ – i.e. nasty.  In his earlier Gray’s Inn Journal, he had devoted a few numbers to attacking the democratic pretensions of the Robin Hood Society London debating club.  For Murphy – democracy is cacophony.  The trading classes cannot get beyond their own narrow circle of experiences and when they think they can – their conversation only betrays their own limitations, creating an ugly discord.

Murphy also had the ability to write quite nasty and scatological poems (“The Naiads of the Fleet Ditch”) while getting all upset when people wrote similar poems back to him.  Put crudely (and it usually was put crudely) – he could dish it out but he just couldn’t take it.

Oh, and he also wrote a play in which a daughter breast-feeds her own father – The Grecian Daughter.  More of that on some other occasion I think.


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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Now on JSTOR and elsewhere…

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