- Roger L’Estrange and the Making of Restoration Culture
Conservative talk radio hosts in the United States would have no trouble embracing Roger L’Estrange (1616–1704) as one of their own. The seventeenth-century journalist, press censor, and propagandist led vitriolic attacks on the Whig party in his London news sheet, the Observator. He spoke to the “loyal middling ranks,” including Church of England clergy and provincial Tories who chafed under what they saw as “Whig demagoguery and mob rule” (71). He was both a tool of the Tory party and an embarrassment to the late Stuart regime.
The editors of Roger L’Estrange and the Making of Restoration Culture aim to look beyond the journalist’s “influential and colourful public career, and his strident public persona” (3). To that end, they have gathered together a number of interdisciplinary perspectives on the journalist and his career. The book is dedicated to the late Harold Love, author of L’Estrange’s entry in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and includes works by experts in English literature, history, music, and political thought. It contributes to the study of the history of the book, printing history and censorship, and political discourse in the public sphere. It also includes a comprehensive annotated bibliography of L’Estrange’s works.
L’Estrange began his career as a royalist author and agitator during the Civil War. After a short exile in Holland, he returned to Cromwell’s England where he occupied himself with cultural activities. Andrew Ashbee’s “‘My Fiddle is a Bass Viol’: Music in the Life of Roger L’Estrange” describes his keen interest in music and his talent as a musician. Roger North called him “an expert violinist” (152), while John Evelyn recalled their evening spent with the violinist Thomas Baltzar (155). Later, he was accused of using music as a cover for secret talks with Cromwell—hence the nickname “Noll’s Fiddler”—but he vigorously denied the charge. [End Page 55]
After Cromwell’s death in 1658, L’Estrange began a pamphleteering campaign against the Rump Parliament and radicals in general. Beth Lynch describes this formative phase of his development in “Rhetoricating and Identity in L’Estrange’s Early Career, 1659–1662.” He gained employment as surveyor of the imprimery and moved into an office above the shop of his bookseller, Henry Brome. His pamphlet war with Richard Baxter and Edward Bagshaw caused him to become “the most obsessive persecutor of actual or imagined nonconformity and, in effect, the antagonistic architect of nonconformist identity,” according to Lynch (7).
L’Estrange used his power as surveyor, and later licenser, to interfere with the publication of works by John Milton, among others. Nicholas von Maltzahn argues that the censor successfully re-cast John Milton as a republican with Jesuitical principles, a regicide, a monster of faction, and a “blind guide” (51). His characterization was surprisingly influential: “Owing to Milton’s evil reputation, Whigs did not much invoke Milton before the Revolution of 1688–89, even when they did draw directly on his works” (45).
L’Estrange had little respect for oppositional writers working after 1660, considering them far less gifted than their Civil War counterparts. He felt that stationers, not authors, were “the real agents of sedition” (53). Andrew Marvell was an exception, one of the “great Masters of the Popular Stile,” who played a cat-and-mouse game with the licenser (54). Martin Dzelzainis describes Marvell’s clandestine efforts in his “L’Estrange, Marvell and the Directions to a Painter: The Evidence of Bodleian Library, MS Gough London 14.”
Mark Goldie, meanwhile, looks at “Toryism at its most unbuttoned and vulgar” in his delightful essay, “Roger L’Estrange’s Observator and the Exorcism of the Plot” (68). He argues that the Observator was “an outwork of popular Royalism, a voice of the backbench, as much as a mouthpiece of the court” (69). L’Estrange used it to harry Titus Oates and his “train of buggering lackeys,” Whigs, Dissenters, and Trimmers (77). In it, he left...