Alexander Gordon: Sheltered in High Places

“When Persons of high Dignity patronize Learning, it demonstrates a Greatness of Soul, no less advantageous to their own Characters, than beneficial to the Sciences which are blest with their enlivening and extensive Influence:  For Knowledge and Virtue are so inseparable, that whatever promotes the one, must necessarily produce the other.” —Alexander Gordon.

I noted in my last post that when Itinerarium Septentrionale was published in 1726, Alexander Gordon received Royal attention:

Edinburgh, August 22.  Several persons of Distinction, etc. are gone hence to meet their Graces the Duke and Dutchess of Athol, who are expected in Town this Night.

We hear that Mr. Alexander Gordon, Author of the Book entitul’d Itinerarium Septentrionale, had the Honour to present their Royal Highnesses with his Book, and was very graciously received; and for his future Encouragement, were please to subscribe to his Proposals for the Maps he designs to publish of the Roman Walls in Britain.  That Gentleman is shortly expected in Scotland, to illustrate a Project which will greatly redound to the Advantage of Trade and Navigation in Britain (Caledonian Mercury, August 22, 1726).

I noted, too, that three years later when Gordon published his History of Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia, he received even greater Royal attention:

Monday last Mr. Alexander Gordon, Author of the Itinerarium Septentrionale, presented his new History of Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia, to the King and Queen, was very graciously received, and had the Honour to kiss their Majesties Hands; and on Tuesday he presented the said book to the Prince, and had the Honour to kiss his R. Highness’s Hands also (Caledonian Mercury, March 27, 1729).

I shared those ephemera because they were among the early notices that I found of Alexander Gordon as I made my way through the “musty,” digitized versions of newspapers published in Scotland and England in an effort to chronicle Gordon’s journey from the Old World to the New World where he would serve as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council and where he would write “The Humourist” essays that appeared in the South Carolina Gazette.

How truly wonderful that Gordon’s early—and, let me hasten to add, important—scholarly works were of such high caliber and of such historical significance that Royalty took notice and favoured him.  Even so, I never intended for him to dawdle—even Royally—for so many months before I continued my account of his journey.

But it has not been for naught.  It has given me the opportunity to explore Gordon’s  writings more fully.  In doing so, I became impressed by the dedications that he included in his publications.  They explain, in part, why Royalty favoured him—and why, apparently, he was favoured in other high places— and, they make for generally “good” reading since they far outdistance superficial and formulaic dedications, thereby providing more glimpses of Alexander Gordon than can be found in “The Humourist” essays alone.

I have gathered all the dedications, and they shall serve as the basis of today’s post!  (We shall finish Gordon’s journey to South Carolina another day!)

Let’s start with his 1726 Itinerarium Septentrionale, dedicated to Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, 2nd Duke of Dover, and Vice Admiral of Scotland (1698-1778):

To His Grace


Duke of

Queensberry and Dover, etc.

My Lord,

As the Monuments of Antiquity, exhibited in the following Sheets, are chiefly intended to illustrate the Roman Actions in Scotland, and, of consequence the Achievements of its Ancient Inhabitants, Your Grace will here perceive, from uncontested Authorities, how great the Struggle has been, in the One for Conquest, the Other, for Liberty to their Country.

This being the general Scope of the present Essay, there is none to whom I can so naturally have recourse for Protection, and Countenance, as Your Grace, whose illustrious Ancestors have, for Ages, been so eminent in defending and establishing their Nation’s Honor and Liberty, and certain it is, the Name of Douglas, is too highly exalted in the Annals of Europe, to bring this in Doubt. What pleasure must I then receive, in finding Patronage from one who Possesses, as by Hereditary Right, the many shining Qualities of his renowned Forefathers: All which, joyn’d with a condescending Goodness, Humanity, Knowledge, and Sweetness of Temper, finish the Character of one truly Noble.

Long have I wish’d for an Opportunity to evidence my Gratitude, to your Grace, for many Favours, already received, both at Home and Abroad and, indeed, the small Tribute, I now offer, has its greatest Merit in proceeding from a grateful Heart.  I can never sufficiently express the Sense I have of your generous Encouragement, shewn me at my first Entrance on this Work, for when many were multiplying Difficulties, and starting discouraging Objections against me, You, my Lord, was far from crushing me in the Attempt, not thinking it just to condemn my Work, till it was seen and examin’d.  If, then, any Shadow of Merit be found therein, I shall most willingly acknowledge, that its Success is, in a great measure, owing to Your Grace, and some other learned and generous Patrons.  With Pleasure, therefore, I lay it at Your Feet, and reckon all the Pains and Trouble I have taken therein, well rewarded, in having, hereby, an Opportunity of declaring to the World, That, with most profound Deference, I am,

May it please Your Grace,

Your Grace’s most Obedient,

and most Obliged, humble Servant

Alexander Gordon.

Three years later (1729) he published his The Lives of Pope Alexander VI and His Son Caesar Borgia, and it was dedicated to James Graham, 4th Marquis and 1st Duke of Montrose (1682-1742):

To His Grace


Duke of Montrose

My Lord,

As an Acknowledgment for the many Instances of Favour, with which Your Grace has been pleased to honour me, I beg Leave in all Humility to shelter the following History under Your Grace’s Protection.

But if I had no peculiar Motives of Gratitude, a Work of this Kind should naturally be Addressed to One who is accurately acquainted with the great and active Scenes of Human Life:  And as it is Mine, that just Penetration should be accompanied with all the Indulgence of Candor and Humanity, In Your Grace these shining Qualities go Hand in Hand; they naturally support and adorn each other.

If what I have written deserves any Degree of Favour from the Publick, it will not give me so much Satisfaction from any View of Interest or Reputation, as for having an Opportunity of declaring to the World that am, with sincerest Veneration,

My Lord,

Your Grace’s most Obliged, and

Most Faithful Servant,

Alexander Gordon

In 1730, Gordon’s translation was published:  The Compleat History of the Ancient Amphitheatres. More Peculiarly Regarding The Architecture of those Buildings, and in Particular that of Verona. By the Marquis Scipio Maffei. Made English from the Italian Original by Alexander Gordon, A.M., Adorned with Sculptures. (It is interesting to note, here, that Francesco Scipione, marquis di Maffei [1675-1755] was a well-known Italian Dramatist, archaeologist, and scholar.)  Gordon dedicated his translation to Sir George Bowes (1701-1760), a member of the English Parliament and the founder of the Grand Alliance of coal owners, established to control the London coal trade:


George Bows

Of Streatleham-Castle, Esq;

If a Descent from an Illustrious Race of Patriots, such as Camden is Witness that your Predecessors have been; if the Possession of a Plentiful Fortune, of a Numerous and Powerful Friendship, and of a General Esteem, were sufficient to render a Man happy; there are very few that would have a greater Share of Felicity than your self: But you are sensible, Sir, that the best Judges of Human Nature would not esteem you such, notwithstanding these Advantages, did you not possess the Nobler Endowments of the Mind.  These are the Qualities that improve the Gentleman, a mere amiable Character, into that of the highest Utility, the Patriot: ‘Tis by these alone that Honours, Riches, and Interest become useful, and conduce not only to the Happiness of the Possessor, but to that of Mankind in general; ’tis by these, that a Man not only dispenses Good in his own Time, but entails a lasting and improveable Felicity on After-Ages.

The Advantage of your Patronage to this Piece, might here be a sufficient Reason for a Dedication, had I not been affected with a much stronger Motive, the Desire I have of declaring to the World how much I am indebted to your Bounty.  I am sensible that this Performance is a very small Return for the Favours I’ve received; and yet I should think my Labour very well bestowed, could I deserve the least Part of that Approbation you will give the Learned Author of the Original.  I have this at least in my favour, that ’tis much more difficult to translate than to compose.

That you may long live, and continue to be the Patron of Learning and Virtue, and the Happiness of such as are honoured with your Friendship, is the sincere Wish of,


Your most Humble and

most Obliged Servant,

Alexander Gordon.

When Gordon’s one and only comedy Lupone: or, the Inquisitor was published in 1732, he dedicated it to Cosmo George Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon (ca. 1720-1752) who was eleven years old at the time.  (Yes, like you, I am intrigued by the shared surname, but, at this point, I cannot connect our Alexander Gordon with the illustrious House of Gordon.)  Lupone is a Dominican Friar and chief Inquisitor, and the play takes place in Naples.

To His Grace


Duke of Gordon.

My Lord,

The Sincere Regard for Truth, of which your Grace has given the World such early Examples, renders you the proper Patron of every Attempt that tends to the Exposing those whose Employment is to promote the most pernicious Error that ever deluded Mankind.

The wicked Priest, supported by an ignorant and superstitious Multitude, is a Character of such terrible Importance to Publick Happiness and Liberty, that its horrid Consequences can never be too often represented to the People.

This, being the subject of the present Piece, has made me presume to implore your Grace’s Patronage, believing that the Design, rather than the Performance, may be my Excuse.  I am, with the utmost Respect,

My Lord,

Your Grace’s most obedient

humble Servant,

Alex. Gordon.

Also in 1732, he published his Additions and Corrections, by Way of Supplement, to the Itinerarium Septentrionale, dedicating it to James Macrae (1677-1744), Scottish seaman, administrator, and Governor of Fort St. George from 1725-1730).  (Fort St. George was the first English fortress in India.)

To the Honourable

James Makrae, Esq.

Late Governor of Fort St. George.


The many Favours I have received from you, when I was honour’d with your Acquaintance Abroad, and the Continuance of them at Home, oblige me to take the first Opportunity of declaring to the World, how much I am indebted to your Friendship.

The Remains of Antiquity I am describing, are such as illustrate the History of the noblest and most successful Resistance of any to the Violence of the Usurping Romans, their Description may therefore be worthy of your Acceptance, more, indeed, from the Dignity of the Subject treated, than the Manner of describing them.  The Bravery of our Heroic Ancestors against those whom Tacitus calls Raptores Orbis, The Plunderers of the World, has too near a Remembrance to your own, not to affect you, since the same Man who defended the Cassandra with so much Resolution, against Pyrates of a still worse Nature, must with equal Courage have defended his Country, had he lived in those Days.

Accept therefore these Papers, not as any Retribution for the many Favours received, but as a sincere Acknowledgment of a grateful Heart.  I am,


Your most humble, and

most obliged Servant, 

Alex. Gordon.

Gordon returned to his Italian interests in 1733 with a publication that fascinates and perplexes me because it is a revised and corrected translation of The Book of Common Prayer from English to Italian!  It is titled Il libro Delle Preghiere Publiche ed Administrazione de’ Sacramenti, ed Altri Riti e Cerimonie delIa Chiesa, Secondo ruso della Chiesa Anglicana; Insieme col Saltero over i Salmi Di David, Come hanno da esser recitati nelle Chiese.  E la forma e modo di fare, ordinare e consacrare Vescovi, Presbiteri e Diaconi: Questa nuova Impressione revista e corretta per Alessandro Gordon, A.M. 

The story behind the Italian version of The Book of Common Prayer is intriguing.  According to The Book of Common Prayer Among the Nations of the World, Chapter XII, Italian Translations, the first translation was begun by William Bedell (Bishop of Kilmore and Armagh) who had an “expressed desire to win over the people of Venice to Protestanism.”  The Bishop died in 1642, but it was not until 1685 that Edward Browne (Clare Hall, Cambridge) edited the translation for publication.

How Alexander Gordon became involved in the revised 1733 edition shows his entrepreneurial spirit:  he saw the translation as an educational tool for teaching Italian!  Stefano Villani’s “Italian Translations of the Book of Common Prayer enlightens and is worthy of extensive quotation:

A new edition of Brown’s text was then published in 1733 by the Scot Alexander Gordon. … Gordon in his ‘Letter to the readers’ of the Libro delle Preghiere Publiche, after having retold the story of the first edition of 1685 (basing himself on Brown’s old introduction), explains the reasons that led him to publish ‘this new edition’. First of all it was impossible to find copies of the edition of 1685. …secondly it presented several spelling errors and some lexical inaccuracy; and thirdly several prayers and other things relevant to the rites and ceremonies of 1685 were no longer in use. At the end of his letter to the reader, Gordon gives another reason that convinced him of the necessity for this translation. Gordon writes that ‘the Italian language being greatly estimated by the English nobility and by other persons of value and knowledge’ (‘essendo la lingua italiana grandemente stimata appresso lanobilità inglese ed altre persone di merito e sapere’), there were ‘many’ who required a translation of the Anglican liturgy ‘in that sweetest language’ (‘inquella dolcissima lingua’) so that ‘reading it often’ they ‘could improve their knowledge of that language’ (‘leggendola spesso, potessero avanzar nellaconoscenza della detta lingua’).

Since the liturgy was known by heart by every member of the Church of England, everyone who wanted to study Italian could read the translation in that language of the Book of Common Prayer, with the great advantage of being able to grasp the meaning of phrases without a dictionary.  At a time when the practice of completing the intellectual formation of young British nobles and writers with the Grand Tour in Italy was already common, to propose an edition of the Libro delle Preghiere Publiche as a sort of educational aid for teaching the Italian language, could open a very large market, and demonstrates, once again, the ingenuity of this whimsical scholar [emphasis supplied].

 Gordon’s translation contained not only his “Letter to the Readers” but also, as we have come to expect, a dedication.  It is in Italian, and begins, “Al Reverendissimo ed Illustrissimo Padre in Dio, Edwardo Chandler.”  Edward Chandler (1668?-1750) was Bishop of Litchfield from 1717 to 1730 and, then, Bishop of Durham from 1730 on.

In 1737, he dedicated his An Essay towards Explaining the Hieroglyphical Figures on the Coffin of the Ancient Mummy belonging to Capt. William Lethieullier to Sir Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1728 until 1761.   The National Trust observes that “he held the post for 33 years in five successive parliaments and was known as the Great Speaker.”

To the

Right Honourable

Arthur Onslow, Esq;

Speaker of the Hon House of Commons, etc.


When Persons of high Dignity patronize Learning, it demonstrates a Greatness of Soul, no less advantageous to their own Characters, than beneficial to the Sciences which are blest with their enlivening and extensive Influence:  For Knowledge and Virtue are so inseparable, that whatever promotes the one, must necessarily produce the other.  Yet such is the unhappy Effect of a too indulgent Education, that many Persons who by their high Rank and native Genius might have been useful Ornaments to Mankind, suffer themselves to be wholly captivated by the lost Delusions of Sense, which generally make too successful a Court to Persons of ample Fortunes and distinguish’d Birth, and know nothing of the genuine Pleasure that follows the delightful and self-rewarding Pursuits of an intelligent Mind.

‘Tis not therefore surprising, That Literature and the Sciences, should apply themselves to Personages who stand forth as illustrious Exceptions to this too general a Depravity.  Nor is it to be wonder’d at, that among the most Eminent of the Learned, even Persons of meaner Abilities, (attracted by the Sunshine which diffuses it self over the whole World of Science, from the Countenance of the Truly Great) should be ambitious to mingle their humbler Offerings.

Hence, Sir, arises the Liberty I take of presuming to shelter the following Essay under YOUR Name, not induced by the Worth of the Performance, but the Nature of the Subject.

That You May long live the Mecænas of this Age, and continue to do Honour to the exalted Station to which Your own Merit has raised You, is the sincere Wish, of,


Your most Humble, and

Most Obedient Servant

AlexR Gordon.

Also in 1737, he dedicated his An Essay towards Explaining the Ancient Hieroglyphical Figures, on the Egyptian Mummy, in the Museum of Doctor Mead, Physician in Ordinary to His Majesty to Richard Mead.  As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, Mead was “a leading 18th-century British physician who contributed to the study of preventive medicine. A graduate of the University of Padua (M.D., 1695) and of Oxford (M.D., 1707) and a staff member of St. Thomas’ Hospital and Medical School, London (1703–15), Mead attended some of the foremost personalities of the day, including King George I, Queen Anne, King George II, the British prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Isaac Newton, and the poet Alexander Pope.”


Doctor Mead.


The many Obligations you have conferr’d upon me, make me lay hold of the least Opportunity to render you the humble Acknowledgments of a grateful Heart: And indeed, besides this superior Inducement, I could not, with equal Propriety, have recourse to any other Patronage for the following Essay, that owes its Being to your noble Museum; which, among many other invaluable Treasures of Antiquity and Erudition, contains the curious Monument of the antient Egyptians, that is the Subject thereof.

The easy Access to this inestimable Repository, which you so generously afford to every one who is inquisitive after Knowledge, and the chearful Assistance you are so ready to lend to whatever tends to the Promotion of Learning, and the polite Arts, have justly intitul’d you to the Esteem of Mankind.  Which that you may continue long to enjoy, is the Wish of all those who have the Honour to be known to you, among whom no one can join with greater Fervour than,


Your most humble and

most obliged Servant,

Alexander Gordon.

And so it was that for this eleven-year chapter of his life (1726-1737), our Alexander Gordon—our illustrious antiquarian and true Renaissance man—found himself favoured again and again as he repeatedly paid tribute to and solicited “shelter” from friends in high places.

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