DUCKETT, George (1684-1732), of Hartham House, Corsham, Wilts. and Dewlish, Dorset
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Family and Education
b. 19 Feb. 1684, 1st s. of Lionel Duckett† of Hartham House by Martha, da. of Samuel Ashe† of Langley Burrell, Wilts., sis. of Joseph Ashe*; bro. of William Duckett†. educ. Trinity, Oxf. 1700; M. Temple 1703. m. settlement 28 Mar. 1711 (with £3,000), Grace (d. 1755), da. and h. of Thomas Skinner of Dewlish, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1693.1
Commr. excise 1723–d.
Duckett’s family had been established in Wiltshire since the 16th century. As lord of the manor of Calne, the youthful Duckett was thus assured of a seat there when he came of age in 1705. He stood as a Whig, despite a sharp contest which created ‘a great tumult’ in the town. Though marked as a ‘Churchman’ in one analysis of the new Parliament, his return was accounted a ‘gain’ for the Whigs by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), and he voted on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker. It would appear that Defoe had recommended him to the ministry for appointment to some local office (as a means of dealing a blow to the Tory interest in Wiltshire) but unavailingly: at least nothing had been done by May 1706, when Defoe complained to Robert Harley* about it.2
Duckett spoke on the proceedings against Charles Caesar* on 19 Dec. 1705, probably in favour of the House taking action against Caesar for his remarks during the debate on the regency bill, and was recorded as having voted on the Court side in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the bill on 18 Feb. 1706. His only other action of note occurred on 6 Mar. when he reported from the committee examining a petition exposing abuses in the administration of the Fleet prison. In the next session he acted as teller on 5 Dec. 1706 for receiving a petition from the six clerks in Chancery, and presented a highway bill relating to Calne which failed to reach the statute book (Duckett owned the mortgage of the turnpike at Calne). He was more active in the 1707–8 session. He reintroduced the Calne highway bill and this time piloted it through the House. He was also named to draft a bill to end the embargo on the export of white woollen cloth, a measure of interest to his constituents. He acted as a teller on four occasions: for adjourning debate on the report of the committee investigating the publication of An Argument Proving that . . . Man May Be Translated into . . . Eternal Life, without Passing through Death . . ., written by his friend John Asgill* (9 Dec.); again for the adjournment of a later debate on the book (18 Dec.), in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Asgill’s expulsion from the House; on 12 Dec., with Robert Walpole II, on an additional clause offered to the land tax bill; and on 9 Feb. 1708, on an adjournment motion to put off consideration of a private bill in favour of Francis Annesley*. He was listed as a Whig in an analysis of the House in early 1708.3
Returned again at Calne after another contest in 1708, Duckett successfully prosecuted in March 1709 a complaint of breach of privilege against an agent of the former Tory MP Sir George Hungerford, for delivering ‘declarations in ejectment’ to his tenants at Calne, though he was unable to secure the inclusion in the complaint of Hungerford himself. He voted for the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. He contested Calne once more as a Whig in the 1710 election, which cost him at least £58 in legal fees. This time, however, there was a double return, and the Tory majority in the new House decided against him and his Whig partner.4
Out of Parliament, Duckett retired to the country to live with his father-in-law in Dorset. As a minor pamphleteer and satirist, he had become a familiar figure in Whig literary circles. He was a close friend of the poet Edmund Smith, and a regular correspondent and collaborator of Thomas Burnet, and was thus on the fringes of the coterie presided over by Joseph Addison*. To Tories, on the other hand, he was little more than a ‘rattle-pate’. He devoted his time to his books and to composing occasional pieces of political satire in the Whig cause. These were written, according to his friend Burnet, ‘not . . . to turn a penny but to enlighten the darkened part of the British nation’. They included an answer to Swift’s Windsor Prophecy, ‘A Prophecy of Merlin’s’, printed in the Protestant Post Boy in May 1712; a squib on the so-called ‘Band-Box Plot’, ‘A Great Plot . . . or, Mine Ar[s]e in a Ban-Box’, published in the Flying Post in the following November; possibly a ballad on the same theme; Dr D[avena]nt’s Prophecys (December 1712), in which he skilfully applied against the present Tory ministry arguments drawn from the early writings of Charles Davenant*; The Plotter Found Out . . . (after Nov. 1713); and John Bull’s Last Will and Testament, in 1713, an attack on the peace, and on the ministers’ supposed Jacobitism, in which he displayed a particular concern with the likely damage which the terms would inflict upon the woollen manufactures, a staple industry of his own borough of Calne. There were also other projects which never reached print, including a ‘History’ which Burnet felt ran the risk of a libel prosecution. He freely gave advice and historical examples to Burnet, who confessed, ‘I would not have anything of mine come out without a dash or two of honest George’s pen’. Whether or not Duckett wrote for money, there is evidence that his finances were under some strain after 1711: his lease of Hartham and removal to his father-in-law’s, where he stayed until 1714, and his decision not to contest the next parliamentary election. Burnet wrote to him in November 1712:
I must own I think George is in the right to let elections rub on, for, by God, none that stand against a court but are soon either ruined or rascals; the latter my friend can never be, and the former I hope he never will be; and therefore I am glad he does not think of throwing his money into a kennel.5
Duckett seems to have given his interest to two other Whigs in 1713, who were well beaten by the Tories. After the succession of George I he entertained some thought of putting up again himself – he had by now returned to the family home at Hartham – but in the end settled for bringing in another Whig instead. When he finally returned to Parliament in 1722, he lasted there less than a year, accepting a post as a commissioner of excise, with a salary of £800 p.a., and thereby disqualifying himself in February 1723. His writing continued, often in collaboration with Burnet, with whom he wrote some verses to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and, in 1715, A Second Tale of a Tub, intended as a satire on Robert Harley, now Lord Oxford, who was variously characterized as ‘Robert Powell the puppet-show man’ and ‘Oliver Volpone’. But he and Burnet were best known for Homerides, their attack on, and parody of, Pope’s translation of Homer, earning them a place in the Dunciad, in which, in its first edition, Duckett was declared to be ‘famed . . . for pious passion to the youth’. Duckett’s writings also adumbrate his evident anti-clericalism, for although his father had urged that he be brought up ‘in the protestant religion according to the orthodox reformed episcopal Church of England’, he was later described as ‘an inveterate enemy to the clergy’, while a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, suggested that ‘no clergyman will keep him company’. The preface of his Summary of Religious Houses (1717), in which work he was partly assisted by Burnet, is strongly critical of monastic excesses.6
Duckett died on 6 Oct. 1732 without making a will, and administration of his estate was granted to his widow, then of St. Clement Danes, Westminster. His heir, Lionel, entered into possession of the estates in 1742 but had to convey lands worth £45,000 to cover debts and settle portions for his six brothers and sisters. One of Duckett’s sons, Thomas, later sat for Calne.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
Unless otherwise stated, this biography is based upon Letters of Burnet to Duckett ed. Nichol Smith.
- 1. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxiv. 218; G. F. Duckett, Duchetiana, 40, 46–48, 66, 79.
- 2. VCH Wilts. v. 210–11; Duckett, 59; J. Aubrey, Wilts. Colls. 32; Defoe Letters, 111, 116.
- 3. Cam. Misc., xxiii. 54; Duckett, 60.
- 4. Aubrey, Wilts. Colls. 83; Duckett, 46–48, 60, 66, 79.
- 5. Duckett, 59–60; Hearne Colls. vii. 337; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vii. 576–81; John Bull’s Last Will and Testament (1713), 16–24.
- 6. A Second Tale of a Tub (1715) passim; Duckett, 59; Hearne Colls. 337.
- 7. Prob. 6/108, f. 208v; Duckett, 48, note 20aa.