The son of a cobbler, Cave was born in Rugby, Warwickshire and attended the grammar school there, but was expelled after being accused of stealing from the headmaster. He worked at a variety of jobs, including timber merchant, reporter and printer. He conceived the idea of a periodical that would cover every topic the educated public was interested in, from commerce to poetry, and tried to convince several London printers and booksellers to take up the idea. When no one showed any interest, Cave took on the task by himself. The Gentleman's Magazine was launched in 1731 and soon became the most influential and most imitated periodical of its time. It also made Cave wealthy.
Cave was an astute businessman. He devoted all his energy to the magazine, and rarely left its offices at St John's Gate, Clerkenwell. He made use of a large number of contributors, most famously Samuel Johnson, who was always grateful to Cave for having provided his principal employment for many years.
Cave suffered from gout. He is buried at St. James Church, Clerkenwell.
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