Bowyer, William (1699-1777) (DNB00)

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BOWYER, WILLIAM, the younger (1699–1777), 'the learned printer,' only son of William Bowyer the elder [q.v.] and his second wife, Dorothy Dawks, was born at Dogwell Court, Whitefriars, London, on 19 Dec. 1699, a few months after his father had set up in business as a printer and issued his first book. Early in life he was placed under Ambrose Bonwicke the elder [q. v.], at Headley, near Leatherhead. Bowyer so won his master's affection, that when his father suffered in the great fire of 1712, he was gratuitously taught and boarded by Bonwicke for a year, without any intimation that it was the good divine's own deed. In June 1716 his father placed him as a sizar at St. John's, Cambridge, but seems to have dealt not very kindly in the matter of finances. Here he was under Dr. Christopher Anstey and Dr. Newcome, and in 1719 obtained Roper's exhibition, and wrote 'Epistola pro Sodalitio à rev. viro F. Roper mihi legato,' but did not take a B.A. degree. He was therefore not a candidate for a fellowship in 1719, as sometimes stated. In 1722 he was still at college without a degree, and about this time he began to help his father in correcting learned works for the press, Dr. Wilkins's great folio edition of Selden's works being the first, and for this he drew up an epitome 'De Synedriis veterum Ebræorum,' and memoranda of 'Privileges of the Baronage' and 'Judicature in Parliament.' His father took him into partnership towards the end of 1722, retaining the management of the business, and delegating the learned work to his son. In 1727 he wrote and published 'A View of a Book entitled Reliquiæ Baxterianæ' [see Baxter, William, 1650-1723], which was received with high approbation from Dr. Wotton, Samuel Clarke, and other men of letters. On 9 Oct. 1728, shortly after his mother's death, he married Anne Prudom, his mother's niece, a ward of his father, acquiring with her freehold farms in Yorkshire and Essex. On 17 Oct. 1731 his wife died in her twenty-sixth year, leaving one child only, Thomas, born 1730, a previous son, William, having died in infancy. In 1729 he wrote the preface to Bonwicke's life of his son - 'A Pattern for Young Students in the University,' &c., London, 12mo ; and in the same year he was appointed, through Onslow, the speaker, to print the votes of the House of Commons, an office he held under three speakers, and for nearly fifty years, in spite of efforts to prejudice him as a nonjuror. In 1730 he edited Dr. Wotton's posthumous work, 'A Discourse concerning the Confusion of Languages at Babel,' London, 8vo. In 1731 he wrote 'Remarks on Mr. Bowman's Visitation Sermon on the Traditions of the Clergy,' exposing that gentleman's deficiency in Latin and Greek, as well as in ecclesiastical history. The 'Sermon' and these 'Remarks' made a great stir at the time. In 1732 Bowyer was involved in a literary dispute with Pope, which seems to have ended with the poet's expressing a good opinion of his critic. The same year he published 'The Beau and Academick,' a translation of Haseldine's 'Bellus Homo et Academicus,' recited in the Sheldonian theatre. In 1733 he wrote in the magazines many letters and papers on Stephen's 'Thesaurus.' In May 1736, at the recommendation of Drake, the antiquary, Bowyer was appointed printer to the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was elected a fellow the July following. He made several valuable contributions to the society, of which are noteworthy one on 'The Inscription on Vitellius at Bath,' and a 'Dissertation on the Gule or Yule of our Saxon Ancestors.' The same year, in conjunction with Dr. Birch, he formed the Society for the Encouragement of Learning, an institution which promised well, but had a very brief existence. In 1738 he became liveryman of the Stationers' Company, of which he was afterwards called on the court in 1763, and fined for the office of master in 1771. In 1741 he put into useful form two schoolbooks, 'Selectæ ex Profanis Scriptoribus Historiæ,' and 'Selectæ e Veteri Testamento Historiæ,' with his own prefaces. In 1742 he edited a translation of Trapp's 'Latin Lectures on Poetry,' with additional notes ; and also the seventh volume of Dr. Swift's 'Miscellanies,' 8vo ; and in 1744 he wrote a pamphlet on the 'Present State of Europe,' chiefly from Puffendorf, which is now exceedingly scarce.

In 1747 he married his housekeeper, a widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Bill, who had lived with him fourteen years. In 1750 he wrote a prefatory critical dissertation to Kuster's treatise, 'De vero usu Verborum Mediorum,' also a Latin preface to Leedes's 'Veteres Poetæ citati,' works, printed together, of which new editions with improvements were issued in 1773, 12mo, 1806, 8vo, 1822, 12mo. The valuable and extensive notes on Colonel Bladen's 'Translation of Caesar's Commentaries' signed 'Typogr.' were by Bowyer, 1750. He also wrote the long preface to Montesquieu's 'Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,' Lond. 1751, and translated the dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates. The same year he gave to the world the first translation of Rousseau's 'Paradoxical Oration on the Arts and Sciences,' which gained the Dijon prize in 1750, and wrote a preface to the work. Excepting a few brief periods of retirement to Knightsbridge, Bowyer clung to business very closely, and his great labours in producing an immense number of learned works at length told upon his constitution. He therefore entered into partnership in 1754 with Mr. James Emonson, a relative, and Mr. Spens, a corrector of the press, and afterwards editor of 'Lloyd's Evening Post,' and took another house in Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, to enjoy 'a freer and sweeter air' in the garden grounds attached. A separation of partnership took place in 1757, when Bowyer resumed the active duties of his profession. This year he took as his apprentice John Nichols, then thirteen years of age, who was soon entrusted with the management of the office. In 1761, through the interest of the Earl of Macclesfield, president of the Royal Society, Bowyer became printer for that institution, and held the same office under five presidents up to his death. The same year he published 'Verses on the Coronation of their late Majesties, King George II and Queen Caroline,' spoken by scholars of Westminster School, with translations of all the Latin copies. In this humorous pamphlet he had the assistance of Mr. Nichols. In 1762 he edited the thirteenth and fourteenth volumes of Swift's Works, 8vo, and in 1763 appeared his excellent edition of the Greek Testament in 2 vols. 12mo, pp. 488, to which he added 'Conjectural Emendations,' &c., paged separately, pp. 178. These critical notes, selected from the works of Bishop Barrington, Markland, Schultz, Michaelis, Owen, Woide, Gasset, and Stephen Weston, were considered of very great value. A second edition of the 'Conjectural Emendations' appeared in 1772, 8vo; 3rd ed. 1782, 4to; 4th ed., much enlarged, 1812, 4to. In 1765 Bowyer had some intention of purchasing a lease of exclusive privilege of the university press, but the scheme fell through. Early in the next year he took into partnership the apprentice-manager of his business, and thenceforward the ever-increasing success of the business was insured. The typographical anecdotes of the Bowyer Press from 1722, when Bowyer became a partner with his father, to 1766, when he took John Nichols into partnership, extend in Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century' to 703 closely printed 8vo pages, and from the latter date to his death in 1777 the joint productions of Bowyer and Nichols occupy in description and anecdotes 293 further pages of the same work. In 1766 Bowyer brought out with an excellent Latin preface—'Joannis Harduini Jesuitse ad censuram Scriptorum Veterum Prolegomena.' In 1767 he was appointed to print the rules of parliament and the journal of the House of Lords through the influence of the Earl of Marchmont; and at this time, for want of room, the printing-office was removed from Whitefriars to Red Lion Passage, where he placed the sign of Cicero's head, and styled himself 'Architectus Verborum.' The anxiety consequent upon this removal from the place of his birth brought on a touch of paralysis, that affected him throughout his after life. In 1771 his second wife died, aged 70. She had assisted in correcting the press until young Nichols took her place. In the preface to the second edition of 'Conjectural Emendations,' 1772, Bowyer craves indulgence from his readers in consequence of suffering from palsy and affection of the stone and bilious colic, but still continued his literary labours. In 1773 he translated and published 'Select Discourses from Michaelis, on the Hebrew Months, Sabbatical Years,' &c. 12mo; in 1774 he published anonymously his well-known work, 'The Origin of Printing, in Two Essays, 8vo,' in which he was assisted by Dr. Owen and Mr. Missy. A second and enlarged edition appeared in 1776, 8vo, with a supplement in 1781, 8vo, by Mr. Nichols. In 1776 he was laid up for weeks with paralysis; still he managed to push forward his last editorial work, Dr. Bentley's 'Dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris,' which was not published until 1782 (8vo), five years after his death.

In the last year of his life he published 'Rolls of Parliament' in six folio volumes, and thirty-one volumes of the 'Journal of the House of Lords,' and he had a multitude of works in the press—for instance, the two handsome folios of 'Domesday Book,' which were not completed until 1783. He died on 18 Nov. 1777, aged 77. Most of his learned pamphlets, essays, prefaces, corrections, and notes have been reprinted as 'Miscellaneous Tracts by the late William Bowyer … collected and illustrated with notes by John Nichols, F.S.L. Edin.,' London, 1785, 4to, pp. 712.

Bowyer was a man of very small stature, and in the jeux d' esprit of his day we find him called 'the little man,' 'a little man of great sufficiency.' In character he was very amiable, and his cheerful disposition and learned conversation cemented many a lifelong friendship. Every species of distress was relieved by him, and so privately that the knowledge of his kindness came only from letters found after his death. His will, made 30 July 1777, often reprinted, is full of an affectionate and grateful spirit to the institutions and families of persons who had helped his father in the trouble of the great fire. To his own profession this will shows him a great benefactor, and his bequests are now administered by the Stationers' Company. For religion he had a great regard, and his moral character was unimpeachable. In the church of Low Leyton, Essex, there is a white marble monument to the memory of his father and himself, with a Latin inscription by him. A bust of him is placed in Stationers' Hall, with his father's portrait, and the brass plate underneath has an inscription in English in reference to the fire of 1712. His portrait by Basire is the frontispiece to vol. ii. of Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes,' 1812, 8vo. The 1812 edition of his 'Conjectural Emendations' has a fine quarto-sized portrait of him as 'Gulielmus Bowyer, Architectus Verborum, æt. lxxviii.,' with various emblems beneath, including the phoenix, symbolical of the rise of the new firm from the memorable fire. There are also inferior portraits in Hansard's 'Typographia' and Wyman's 'Bibliography of Printing.' Each representation reveals to us a severe face as of one of the old puritans, in remarkable contrast to the genial faces of his father and his successor. His son Thomas survived him. He was intended to be his father's successor in business, but seems to have been a very wayward youth, though it is clear from his father's gossiping letters on domestic matters that it was the stepmother's refusal to take proper care of 'Tom,' and her extraordinary affection for her young nephew, Emonson, that disgusted the lad and turned the current of his life. Ordained by Bishop Hoadly for the church, and for a time curate at Hillsdon, Middlesex, he then became a military man, but changed once more to a quaker shortly before his father's death. He had several estates from his grandfather Prudom, and his father's will dealt very kindly with him. For some time he resided at a secluded village near Darlington, calling himself 'Mr. Thomas,' and died suddenly in 1783, aged 53.

[Bowyer's Works; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, i. ii. iii. &c.; Nichols's Illustrations of Literature; Nichols's Miscellaneous Tracts, 1785; Wyman's Bibliog. of Printing; Hansard's Typographia.]

J. W.-G.