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Editor's Introduction

Front matter
Book I
Book II
Book III
Back matter

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The Right Divine of Kings to Govern Wrong!

Introduction to the Electronic Edition

[1] In February of 1819, John Childs, a prominent dissenter and prosperous printer from Bungay, Suffolk, wrote to William Hone to congratulate him on his recent publication of the Cruikshank-engraved "Bank Note, Not to be Imitated." In his letter, Childs mentions a then obscure publication of Daniel Defoe called Jure Divino (1706):

The plan [of the Bank Note parody] is worth the copy right of fifty folio volumes and will I trust raise such a cry against the Bugbear, that some real good may arise from it—future ages will say of it as Daniel Defoe said of legitimacy—
'Posterity when Histories relate this passive sham, will ask what Monsters that———'
You have seen his Jure Divino? 'tis a famous old book— [1]

Though Defoe's reputation at that time rested almost exclusively his work as a novelist—especially as the author of Robinson Crusoe—it turns out that Childs was familiar enough with Jure Divino to quote the poem in passing and refer to it as a "famous old book." For his part, Hone responded with some enthusiasm for Defoe's poem.

Old De Foe is a man after my own heart, respecting whom and his works I know more, perhaps, than any other living admirer of him—his 'Jure Divino' is indeed a famous old book, and yet I fear would not (I wish it would) bear re-printing.[2]

Readers of Hone's correspondence will perhaps not be surprised by his familiarity with Jure Divino, even though Defoe's poem had not been reprinted since its first appearance a century earlier. At least as early as 1813, Hone had been a close friend of Walter Wilson, a fellow antiquarian and dissenter, who in 1830 would publish his three-volume Memoir of the Life and Time of Daniel De Foe which stood through much of the nineteenth century as the standard biography, building upon and displacing George Chalmers's earlier Life of Daniel De Foe (1790). Wilson was a collector of Defoe materials, and Hone, serving as Wilson's agent in London, was always on the lookout for any Defoe publications that might come into his hands. Hence, it is probably not an idle boast on Hone's part to claim that he knows more about Defoe than "any living admirer." [3]

[2] But in his February 1819 reply to Childs, Hone also regrets the fact that Defoe's poem would "not . . . bear re-printing." This view changed in 1821, likely because of two immediate political contexts: the emergence of the Holy Alliance on the continent and the public controversy over the so-called Queen Caroline Affair. To summarize briefly the latter episode: The Prince of Wales—since 1811, the "Prince Regent"—had for years been estranged from his wife, Caroline of Brunswick. The Prince had lived a profligate and extravagant life, much to the disgust of the radical community for whom he had become the very image of self-serving corruption. For her part, Caroline had been living a similarly dissolute existence chiefly in Italy in the company of her personal secretary, Bartolomeo Pergami. Relations between the Prince and Princess were hostile, to say the least, but an effort in 1818 to investigate Caroline's behavior in preparation for potential divorce proceedings came to nothing, partly because any investigation of the Princess's conduct would inevitably bring the Prince's conduct under closer scrutiny as well. On the death of George III in January 1820, the Prince became George IV, and Caroline was technically entitled to the rank of Queen Consort. In June 1820, Caroline returned from the continent, and her procession to London was treated with great enthusiasm by the radicals and great consternation and annoyance by the royalists. A trial ensued in which the Queen's behavior was challenged in Parliament, but the charges against her were withdrawn in early November, an event met with great celebration among the radical community for whom Caroline, whatever her personal faults, had become a symbol of all victims of public corruption. (Hone, incidentally, was one of the most active of the radical publicists who used the occasion to lampoon the new king—see especially The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder, "Non Mi Ricordo," and The Form of Prayer, all 1820.) The Queen's trial and de facto acquittal sparked great controversy within the Anglican church, and, even while that trial was still under way, William Howley, then the Bishop of London, made a number of statements supporting the charges against the Queen from a "moral, constitutional, and religious point of view." This position was taken in the press, perhaps more generally than Howley intended, as a claim of divine right: The king can do no wrong. This was, of course, an unsustainable position in comparison to the more principled oppostion of the Queen's supporters.

[3] For radicals like Hone, the debate over the king's moral responsibility came at a particularly sensitive moment. Just a few years before, the free-thinking, proto-democratic ideals of the French Revolution came to a practical conclusion when Napoleon suffered his final defeat at Waterloo. Then in 1815 on the continent a "Holy Alliance" was organized to express the conviction that Christian morality was the only legitimate principle upon which to base public policy. The Alliance, originally the work of Francis I of Austria, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and King Frederick William III of Prussia, was eventually affirmed in principle by the newly restored Louis XVIII of France and by the British Prince Regent. From the point of view of the radicals, the emergence of the Holy Alliance signaled a shoring up of Church and State monarchies against the will of "the People." In the English context in particular, the frankly religious character of the Alliance further exposed the hypocrisy of the Prince Regent and, more broadly, confirmed the radicals' suspicions of a corrupt collusion of church and state that was intended to suppress emergent democratic ideals. Certainly it was difficult to resolve the Prince Regent's well-known penchant for mistresses, wine, and other extravagancies with his support for the principles of the Holy Alliance. By providing tangible images through which these political divisions could be represented in print, the "Queen Caroline Affair" served as the catalyst that enabled publicists and satirists like Hone to bring this long-simmering ideological clash into prominence.

[4] Such were the key historical contexts for Hone's renewed interest in Defoe's Jure Divino, the argument of which seemed strangely apropos to the current political debates in 1820-21.[4] For a few weeks beginning in late 1820 Hone rewrote, condensed, and reordered Defoe's 12-book poem. He regularized Defoe's meter, added footnotes and an extended Preface to suggest the relevance of the argument to contemporary English politics, and in some cases rewrote lines and passages in order to reflect his own political and social thinking rather than Defoe's. The resulting Right Divine of Kings to Govern Wrong! (the title is borrowed from Alexander Pope's Dunciad) was published in Hone's Ludgate Hill shop in late February or very early March of 1821—a letter from Hone to Childs dated 3 March 1821 accompanies a printed copy of Hone's text.

[5] Though there are several copies of Hone's poem in libraries across the UK and USA, the Right Divine seems to have been through just a small number of printings, and there do not appear to be any particularly great difficulties in selecting a copy text for a modern edition. The present electronic edition is based chiefly on three witnesses: a copy from the original printing which is now located at the University of Illinois; a copy that was included in 1826 collected volume called Facetiae and Miscellanies which I own; and a similar Facetiae and Miscellanies copy which is available through Google Books. (The separate Right Divine publication is not listed in Google Books.) In collating these witnesses, I have found no significant discrepancies. Since my aim with the electronic edition is to bring the work—interesting in many literary, political, and historical contexts—into broader circulation rather than to provide a thorough scholarly edition and textual history, I have not brought more witnesses into the collation.

[6] The electronic edition exists in two forms here on the Hone BioText. First, the "TEI markup" link will take readers to the TEI-encoded file which is the base text for the electronic edition as a whole. I produced this file by hand-transcribing the text into an XML file using a slightly modified version of the TEI (P5) as available within the oXygen XML software. Second, the set of HTML links will take readers to a more comfortable, reader-friendly web edition of the poem. To produce these HTML pages, I transformed the XML file (using the Sebastian Rahtz's extremely useful XSLT stylesheets that are publicly accessible from Oxford University Computing Services) and then split the resulting raw HTML document into the separate files for the front matter, three books, and back matter that make up the publication. I then edited the files to fit the BioText stylesheets, added line numbers, and corrected footnote references. The result is this electronically accessible diplomatic edition of Hone's poem.

[7] I have tried throughout to be accurate to Hone's original text as printed in 1821. If readers discover errors of transcription or errors in my proofreading, I would very much appreciate a comment to that effect—comments and corrections may be directed to me at


Even a modest electronic edition like this is the result of many hands, most of which are working silently in the background. In the present case, I would like to acknowledge in particular Bruce McComiskey and Tonya Perry whose scholarly writing retreat here at UAB in the summer of 2010 gave me a clear week in which to begin to assemble my Right Divine materials; Paula Backscheider and my colleagues in an NEH summer seminar many years ago who taught me the techniques of archival research (and who also piqued my interest in Daniel Defoe and the romantics); Elayne Gardstein for her help in navigating the Adelphi Hone Archive; and especially Deanna and Carolyn for putting up with the bibliographer in the basement.


1. 1 February, 1819; British Library, Add. MS 40120, ff. 116-117. John Childs became acquainted with Hone after the latter's famous Trials in late 1817. The two maintained a life-long friendship and correspondence which, though still unpublished, is remarkable for its wit, humor, and insights into the aims and methods of the radical and dissenting publishers of the day. The lines quoted are from Defoe's Jure Divino (Book 4, p. 72): "Posterity when Histories relate / This Passive Sham, will ask, What Monster's that?" [return]

2. 3 February, 1819; quoted in Frederick Hackwood's William Hone: His Life and Times, (New York, 1912), p. 212. [return]

3. It is, of course, remarkable that even before Hone embarked on his career as a radical publisher, parodist, and pamphleteer, he had the model of Defoe's energetic rhetoric and inventive publishing efforts firmly in mind. [return]

4. Among the most useful accounts of Jure Divino are Paula Backscheider's "The Verse Essay, John Locke, and Defoe's Jure Divino" (ELH 55.1 [1988]: 99-124) and John Richetti's The Life of Daniel Defoe (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2005; see especially pp. 103-110). Defoe's poem is itself available in Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and in Google Books. [return]