Benjamin Motte

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Benjamin Motte (/mɒt/; November 1693 – 12 March 1738[1]) was a London publisher and son of Benjamin Motte, Sr. Motte published many works and is well known for his publishing of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.[2]


Benjamin Motte was born in the parish of St Botolph (Aldersgate), London to Benjamin Motte Sr. and Anne Clarke.[1] He was born in early November 1693 and baptised soon after on 14 November.[1] Some of his first mentions are of his early publications and when he took over Benjamin Tooke's publishing business.[3]

It was not under 7 February 1715 that Motte was free from his publishing patrimony, and he took off as a bookseller in 1719.[1] Motte's place of business in Fleet Street (London) was located in Middle Temple Gate. This space was passed to Motte by his predecessor, Benjamin Tooke, and then passed to Motte's replacement, Charles Bathurst, in 1738 upon his death.[4] Motte was then asked to become partners with the Tooke publishing firm after Benjamin Tooke's brother, Samuel Tooke, died in December 1724,[5] and as he took the position, he became the only active member of the publishing firm.[1] On 21 December 1725, Motte married Elizabeth, the daughter of Rev. Thomas Brian, and had two children.[1]

Throughout his career, Motte had three apprentices: George Hall, Thomas Isborne, and Jonathan Russell.[6] After taking over the Tooke publishing firm, he partnered with his brother, Charles, until 1731.[1] Although he had no partner from 1731–1734, Motte took up his apprentice, Charles Bathurst, as his apprentice.[1]

In 1726, Jonathan Swift sent Motte a copy of Gulliver's Travels, to be printed anonymously.[7] Motte took great care to protect the identity of the author and employed five publishing houses to speed production of the book and avoid pirating.[8] In 1727, Motte formed his first direct contract with Swift and Alexander Pope to publish their Miscellanies.[3] As part of the contract, Motte paid Tooke for the original copyright to the work.[3] Motte's work with Jonathan Swift was complicated and risky; one, An Epistle to a Lady, brought about Motte's arrest in 1734.[1]

Edmund Curll, as was his habit, claimed that he had the rights to some of Swift's miscellanies. Curll had obtained the works illegitimately and had published them to spite Swift, and he used the controversy with Motte to attempt to generate publicity.[9] Although Curll was unwilling to do anything about the reproduction, Pope turned from Motte as his publisher for a fourth edition of the Miscellanies over a payment dispute and other publication-related complaints.[10] Pope finally bought out his contract with Motte for twenty-five pounds.[11]

Near the end of his life, in 1735, Motte sued the printer George Faulkner of Dublin over Faulkner's importing into Britain of Swift's Works. In Motte v. Faulkner, Motte claimed that many of the works reproduced were under copyright held by Motte from the purchase of the original copyright for many of Swift's writings from Tooke and from a contract directly with Swift to publish Gulliver's Travels. The London courts upheld Motte's claim and ordered that Faulkner's edition of Swift's Works to be kept from importation into England.


Although Motte is most known for his production of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, he produced other great works. Many of these works were published on his own, but he did work with many other printers including Samuel Ballard, Charles Bathurst, Bernard Lintot, William Mears, James Round, George Strahan, and Jacob Tonson.[12]

Misc. contributions:

  • Dan Brown's Oratio Dominica "The Lords Prayer in Above a Hundred Languages, Versions, and Characters." (1713) – Motte was typographer for the various languages of the Lord's Prayer. He also wrote the preface and signed it "B. M. Typogr. Lond."
  • The Royal Society's The Philosophical Transactions From the Year 1700 (Where Mr Lowthorp Ends) to the Year 1720 edited by Motte in 1721.

Notable publications[edit]

The 1728 The Last Volume of Swift and Pope's Miscellanies including Pope's Peri Bathous provoked many pamphlets to be produced against the books.[10]

Motte's edition of Isaac Newton's Principia (1729) was translated by Andrew Motte (1696–1734), his brother a mathematician and very briefly the lecturer on geometry at Gresham College.[13][14] This was the first English edition and the first translated edition that included the Scholium Generale found in the second Latin edition (1726).[13] This edition was the most commonly taught version of Newton's Principia in English and was therefore considered the "authorized version".[15] However, even when later revised by Florian Cajori this edition was deemed "awkward" and "inaccurate" in some locations since it was based on the second Latin edition.[16]

Motte's edition of William Giffard's Cases in midwifry is the earliest published record of using Chamberlen forceps during childbirth.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i J. J. Caudle Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ Ehrenpreis p. 1012
  3. ^ a b c Ehrenpreis p. 739
  4. ^ Fleet Street and the Press
  5. ^ The Daily Post, London, Number 1635, 22 December 1724
  6. ^ Book Trade Masters – Motte
  7. ^ Ehrenpreis p. 494
  8. ^ Clive Probyn, "Swift, Jonathan (1667–1745)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press 2004
  9. ^ Ehrenpreis p. 742
  10. ^ a b Ehrenpreis p. 743
  11. ^ Ehrenpreis p. 744
  12. ^ Lynch
  13. ^ a b Smet and Verelst p. 1
  14. ^ Peter Harrington Books, recent acquisitions[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Swerdlow p. 349
  16. ^ Shapiro Principia review
  17. ^ Radcliffe, Walter. Milestones in midwifery; And, the Secret Instrument Jeremy Norman Co. 1989


  • Ehrenpreis, Irvin. Jonathan Swift: Volume III. Harvard University Press, 1983.
  • De Smet, Rudolf; Verelst, Karin (2016). "Newton's Scholium Generale: The Platonic and Stoic Legacy — Philo, Justus Lipsius and the Cambridge Platonists". History of Science. 39: 1–30. doi:10.1177/007327530103900101. S2CID 141907610.
  • Swerdlow, N. M (2016). "Essay Review: The New Principia". Journal for the History of Astronomy. 32 (4): 349–356. doi:10.1177/002182860103200405. S2CID 125629186.
  • List of Motte's 1720 publications 3 May 2008
  • Shapiro, Alan E. Physics Today Principia Review American Institute of Physics. 3 May 2008
  • Fleet Street And The Press Reprinted by Old and Sold's Antiques Digest 3 May 2008

External links[edit]