Samuel Pordage (1633-1691)

Samuel Pordge, the eldest son of clergyman John Pordage and his first wife Mary Lane, was born and baptized in London in 1633. Little is known of his early life. At the age of 11, he was admitted to the Merchant Taylors’ School and subsequently studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, but there are no other records of his activities until 1660. During this year, while Pordage was living with his father, he published his first works, a translation of Seneca’s Troades and a book of poems in the style of Robert Herrick. Also during this year, Pordage married Dorcas Langhorne, with whom he had at least two children.

In 1661 Pordage’s first major work was printed by Lodowick Lloyd, a publisher known for his interest in the mystical. The long poem Mundorum explicatio ambitiously attempts an explanation of “the External, Internal, and Eternal worlds,” beginning with the fall of man. Fusing theology with magic and mysticism, the poem takes the form of a creation epic with three distinct parts and was based on Jakob Boehme’s version of the Genesis story. The first part concentrates on the creation and fall of man, significantly depicting a double fall: the first being a fall from the androgynous Adam into man and woman, the second being the consumption of the forbidden fruit. The second and third parts of the poem depict the journey of a pilgrim through the celestial and eternal worlds. Because of the influence of Boehme’s philosophy, some scholars have suggested Pordage’s father, a professed follower of Boehme, may have written the poem. Though the style of the work suggests that Samuel Pordage was the primary author, it remains possible that he could have collaborated with his father.

It is thought that Pordgae entered the service of the Duke of Buckingham in the early 1660s, and in the mid- to late-1660s, he worked as steward to the Philip Herbert, fifth earl of Pembroke. With the exception of Eliana, a long prose romance sometimes attributed to him, Pordage published no other works in the 1660s, but spent his time writing plays that would become popular in the next decade. His heroic dramas include Herod and Mariamne and The Siege of Babylon, both performed at the Duke’s Theatre and subsequently published in the 1670s. For the subject matter of these tragedies, he was particularly indebted to French prose romances and the author Gauthier de Costes de La Calprenède.

In the late 1670s and 1680s, Pordage, like many other authors, turned to politics as subject matter for his work. In 1679, Pordage published an edition of John Reynolds’s The Triumph of God’s Revenge Against the Sin of Murther dedicated to the earl of Shaftesbury. In 1681, he published an anonymous attack on Charles II’s chief minister the earl of Danby titled A New Apparition of S. Edmund-Bery Godfrey’s Ghost to the E. of D—, for which his printer was forced to publically apologize. In 1682, Pordage published what may be his best-known work, Azaria and Hushai, a satirical Whig response to Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. Similarly, he responded to Dryden’s second attack on Shaftesbury, The Medal: a Satire Against Sedition, with his own The Medal Revers’d: a Satire Against Persecution. Dryden was considered the champion of the Tory cause, and some claimed that Pordage produced the best of the Whig responses to Dryden’s famous satires. Though he had Whig connections, Pordage remained loyal to the king, composing in 1684 The Loyal Incendiary, or, The Generous Boutefieu on the conspiracy to assassinate Charles II at the Rye House.

In the last stage of his career, Pordage undertook several translations. Between 1681 and 1684, he translated treatises on neurology and psychology by Thomas Willis and was the first to use the word “psychology” in its modern sense in his translation of De anima brutorum. The last record of Pordage is a mention of him as a member of the Worthy Society of Lincoln’s Inn in 1691. How, when, and where he died is unknown.


Emily Donahoe


Works Cited

Smith, Nigel. “Pordage, Samuel (bap. 1633, d. in or after 1691).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford UP, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.

Aitken, George Atherton. “Pordage, Samuel (1633-1691?)” Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 46. Smith, Elder & Co., 1885-1900. Wikisource. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.

“Samuel Pordage.” Wikipedia. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.