Settle, Elkanah, 1648-1724

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Elkanah Settle (1 February 1648 – 12 February 1724) was an English poet and playwright. He was born at Dunstable, and entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1666, but left without taking a degree. His first tragedy, Cambyses, King of Persia, was produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1667. The success of this play led the Earl of Rochester to encourage the new writer as a rival to John Dryden. Through his influence, Settle's The Empress of Morocco (1673) was twice performed at Whitehall, and proved a great success. It is said by John Dennis to have been "the first play that was ever sold in England for two shillings, and the first play that was ever printed with cuts." These illustrations represent scenes in the theatre, and make the book very valuable.

The play was printed with a preface to the Earl of Norwich, in which Settle described with scorn the effusive dedications of other dramatic poets. Dryden was obviously aimed at, and he co-operated with John Crowne and Thomas Shadwell in an abusive pamphlet entitled "Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco" (1674), to which Settle replied in "Some Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco revised" (1674). In the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, in a passage certainly by Dryden's hand, he figures as "Doeg."Neglected by the court party, he took an active share in the anti-popish agitation. When this subsided he helped expose Titus Oates, and with the Revolution of 1688, he veered towards the Whig party. Having lost the confidence of both sides, "recanting Settle" abandoned politics for the appointment (1691) of city poet.

From 1700, he initiated what has been called a "successful racket" where he would write occasional poems, typically eulogistic or nuptial verse, have them bound up in notably ostentatious armorial bindings, which he would send to the wealthy person whose arms he used. The economics of the practice are unclear; he may have had them commissioned, or been offering them for sale, or (a subtle distinction) have offered to present them in return for literary patronage in cash or some other form. If the book was returned he would try another patron with a new set of arms, altering personal references as required; where the subject matter was shared (as in a wedding) much of the verse could be recycled from one poem to another, and the scholar F. C. Brown has noticed that as many as two-thirds of the lines in Settle's wedding poems are "common to all." The books were bound for Settle by an unknown binder, whose work is remarkable for being "the only instance in which a particular binder has consistently ornamented a large series of bindings with heraldic designs" outside of Royal binders. The bindings are sufficiently distinctive to be known as Settle bindings. More than 100 examples survive, from between 1700 and 1723. In his old age he kept a booth at Bartholomew Fair, where he is said to have played the part of the dragon in a green leather suit devised by himself. He became a poor brother of the Charterhouse, where he died.

Settle is one of the dunces in Alexander Pope's The Dunciad, handing over his authority to Lewis Theobald and in the 1742 edition Colley Cibber. Settle appears in Boswell’s life of Dr Johnson, when John Wilkes ascribes the poet’s obscurity to his ‘queer’ name.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Settle, Elkanah, 1648-1724. To the most renowned the President and the rest of the Knights' of the most noble Order of the Toast [manuscript], ca. 1700. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Settle, Elkanah, 1648-1724. Autograph letter signed : [London?], to an unidentified recipient, ca. 1701. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Clarence Louis Frank Gohdes Papers, and undated, bulk, 1811-1990s, 1905-1981 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf Purcell, Henry, 1659-1695. [The fairy queen [microform]. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
referencedIn Vol. I, ff. 220, XVIII cent.includes:f. 1 William King, d 1729 Archbishop of Dublin: Letter to S. Madden: 1701.: Copy.f. 5 Francis Gwyn, politician: Letter to R. Harley: 1693.: Copy.f. 5b Narcissus Luttrell, annalist; bibliographer: Letter to R..., 18th century British Library
referencedIn HEATH AND VERNEY PAPERS. Vol. V (ff. 292). Miscellaneous theological and literary works, 17th Cent. Ineluded are :-1. " A Coller of SS. composed of severall gemms, and made up into ye forme of a chayne for a Judge," and " A Coller of SS. consistinge ..., 1553-1685 British Library
creatorOf Elkanah Settle letters to patrons Houghton Library
referencedIn Sir Hans Sloane, Baronet: Original correspondence, chronologically arranged: 17th-18th centt.includes:ff. 1-11 Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax: Letters to Sir H. Sloane: 1699, and n.d.f. 12 George Montagu, Earl of Halifax: Letters to Sir H. Slo... British Library
referencedIn " PASTOR Fido, or the Faithful Shepherd a play by Elkanah Settle. Many lines in the first printed edition of 1677 are here wanting. The names of the actors, all women, are inserted (f. 1 b), and this version may perhaps represent the piece as it was ... British Library
creatorOf Letter from Frank C. Brown to T. J. Wise concerning the bibliography of Elkanah Settle, Thalia Triumphans, 1720, and other items; 6 Dec. 1908. Also included is a cutting (f. 110) from a bookseller's catalogue advertising a copy of Settle's The Life a... British Library
referencedIn English-language manuscript verse in the Houghton Library: First-line index, ca. 1000-ca. 1820. Houghton Library
creatorOf Purcell, Henry, 1659-1695. The fairy queen [microform] : partial Purcell autograph. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Settle, Elkanah, 1648-1724. Absalom senior, or, Achitophel / by Elkanah Settle. University of Colorado, Boulder
referencedIn Hall, Henry, ca. 1656-1707. Collection of sacred and secular songs by late 17th century composers [manuscript], ca. 1710. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Deedes, William, b. 1660,. Dramatic miscellany with extracts from verse plays by Dryden, Orrery and others [manuscript], ca. 1690. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn BLENHEIM PAPERS. Vol. CCLX (ff. 210). (1) Verses, chiefly relating to Marlborough and his victories; circ. 1704-[1722?], n.d. Partly French, Dutch and Latin. Partly printed. ff. 1-95b. Including: — (a) Prologue for a performance of the opera, Camill..., 1699-1731 British Library
referencedIn Collection of anti-Catholic texts, [ca. 1690]. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Purcell, Henry, 1659-1695. [The fairy queen [microform]. Harvard University, Loeb Music Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Deedes, William, b. 1660, person
associatedWith Dryden, John, 1631-1700. person
associatedWith Gohdes, Clarence, 1901 person
associatedWith Kit-Cat Club (London, England) corporateBody
associatedWith Purcell, Henry, 1659-1695. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Lille B4 FR
Oxfordshire ENG GB


Birth 1648-02-01

Death 1724-02-12

Active 1553

Active 1731





Ark ID: w67q9qgm

SNAC ID: 87299033