London: Printed by J. Bennet, for WIlliam Abington, 1684. Item #00811
Rumbustious and Vitriolic, Satiric and Savage
L’ESTRANGE, Roger. The Observator, in Dialogue. The First Volume…[Nos. 1 (Wednesday April 13, 1681)-470 (Wednesday, January 9, 1683)]. London: Printed by J. Bennet, for William Abington, 1684.
First collected edition of The Observator, Nos. 1-470. Folio (13 1/8 x 8 1/8 inches; 333 x 207 mm.). , [4, “To the Reader”], [8, “The Table”], [3, contents], [1, blank] pp. followed by The Observator Nos. 1-470 (unpaginated). Engraved frontispiece portrait of Roger L’Estrange, dated 1684, by R. White after G. Kneller.
Modern antique-style panelled calf. Covers decoratively ruled and tooled in blind, spine richly tooled in gilt in compartments with six raised bands and red morocco gilt lettering label, board edges and turn-ins decoratively tooled in blind, marbled endpapers. An excellent copy.
“The Reader will find in the First Number of This Collection, the True Intent, and Design of the Undertaking; And he will likewise find, in the very Date of it, (April 13. 1681.) the Absolute Neccessity of some Such Application, to Encounter the Notorious Falsehoods; the Malicious Scandals, and the Poysonous Doctrines of That Season” (“To the Reader”).
"Rumbustious and vitriolic, satiric and savage, week after week for six years and through two million words, Roger L'Estrange's newspaper, the Observator, corroded the foundations of Whiggery…
"The Observator was the work of a compulsive writer, a feat of literary endurance…L'Estrange was, said his enemies, the 'scribbler-general of Tory-land'…Its prose hectic, its thoughts haphazard, the Observator lay, its author admitted, somewhere 'betwixt fooling and philosophizing.' It transposed to print the Restoration's fondest verbal facility, raillery, delivering a cascade of libel and abuse, tempered by seriocomic moralizing, and philosophy and political theory reduced to epithets and exclamations...
"Its deliberate coarseness puts it at an arresting remove from the high eloquence of Dryden. Polite it was not. The Observator was Toryism at its most unbuttoned and vulgar. It was routinely scatological, or, more precisely, urological. The Whig newsmonger Langley Curtis is 'the common piss pot [for] the fanatical clubs about town." Henry Care, 'holds up his leg and pisses upon the government…
"The relentless repetitiveness of the Observator is half-redeemed by its inventiveness. The Whigs are not just a faction: they are a 'cabal,' 'consult,' consistory,' 'confederacy,' conspiracy,…' This was politics by thesaurus" (Mark Goldie. Roger L'Estrange's Observator and the Exorcism of the Plot. In Roger L'Estrange and the Making of Restoration Culture, edited by Anne Duncan-Page and Beth Lynch, pp. 67-68).
Roger L'Estrange (1616-1704) fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War. In 1644 he led a conspiracy to deliver the town of Lynn to the king and was sentenced to death as a spy. He escaped and took refuge in Holland.
In 1653, he returned to England. By 1659, however, he was making his presence as a Royalist known. He printed several pamphlets supporting a return of Charles II.
As a reward for his propaganda, L'Estrange was appointed Surveyor of the Imprimery (Printing Press) in 1663. Thereafter, also appointed Licenser of the Press, he retained both positions until the lapse of the Licensing of the Press Act in 1679.
As Licenser and Surveyor, L’Estrange was charged with the prevention of the publication of dissenting writings, and authorized to search the premises of printers and booksellers on the merest suspicion of dissension. L’Estrange excelled at this, hunting down hidden presses and enlisting peace officers and soldiers to suppress their activities. He soon came to be known as the “Bloodhound of the Press.” He succeeded not only in checking allegedly seditious publications but also in limiting political controversy and reducing debate.
Toward the end of 1680, he was forced to flee the country by the political opposition but on his return in 1681 he established The Observator, a single sheet printed in double columns on both sides. It was written in the form of a dialogue between a Whig and a Tory (later Trimmer and Observator), with the bias on the side of the latter. During the six years of its existence, L'Estrange wrote with a consistent fierceness, meeting his enemies with personal attacks characterized by sharp wit.
The Glorious Revolution (1688–89), in which King James II lost the throne, cost L’Estrange his official post. Accomplished in languages, he afterward supported his wife and himself chiefly by translations of many standard authors, including the lively Fables of Aesop, and other Eminent Mythologists: with Morals and Reflexions (1692).