Collier, John (1708-1786) (DNB00)

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COLLIER, JOHN, 'Tim Bobbin' (1708–1786), author and painter, son of the Rev. John Collier, minister of Stretford, near Manchester, 'a poor country curate whose stipend never amounted to 30l. a year,' was born at Urmston on 16 Dec. 1708, and baptised at Flixton on 6 Jan. 1708-9. He was in all probability educated by his father, who intended to bring him up for the church. In his fourteenth year, however, he was apprenticed to a Dutch-loom weaver at Newton Moor, Mottram, but after little more than a year, having prevailed with his master to cancel the indentures, he became an itinerating schoolmaster. This roving occupation he continued until 1729, when he was appointed sub-master at the free school at Milnrow, near Rochdale, under the Rev. Robert Pearson, with whom he shared the annual salary of 201. On Pearson's death in 1739 Collier succeeded him as master, though he did not procure his license from the Bishop of Chester until 1742. He held the position up to his death in 1786, with the exception of an interval of some months in 1751, when he filled the situation of bookkeeper to a cloth manufacturer at Kebroyd in Yorkshire. His patron at Milnrow was Colonel Richard Townley of Belfield, who remained his friend to the end and wrote his biography after death. He began early to exercise his faculty for rhyming, and he acquired a knowledge of music, drawing, painting, modelling, and etching. Townley reports that his landscapes and portraits were drawn in good taste. At Shaw chapel and elsewhere there are some sacred figures by him; but serious painting he soon abandoned for caricature, and in the course of his career he produced large numbers of grotesque pictures of buffoons and hideous old women, painted in a style which is absolutely devoid of artistic merit. They found a ready sale in the north of England, and many specimens were until lately to be met with, chiefly in the drinking-rooms of old public-houses. He came to be styled the Lancashire Hogarth, but the designation is inappropriate. He turned his hand occasionally to carriage and sign painting, and to gravestone carving, as well as to land surveying, at which he was expert.

In 1739 he wrote ' The Blackbird,' a versified satire on Mr. Samuel Chetham of Castleton, and first used the signature of 'Tim Bobbin.'

From an early period Collier appears to have made a study of the Lancashire dialect. He was an acute observer of character, and for many years used to take note of every quaint and out-of-the-way term or phrase he heard in village alehouses and elsewhere. He had some acquaintance with Anglo-Saxon and early English literature, and possessed a good library for a man in his position. Among his books was a copy of Chaucer's ' Canterbury Tales,' printed by Caxton, which after- wards passed into Earl Spencer's collection. In 1746 appeared the first edition of his 'View of the Lancashire Dialect, hy way of Dialogue between Tummus o' William's o' Margit's o' Roaf's and Meary o' Dick's o' Tummus o' Peggy's.' It is mainly on this humorous work, the value of which is increased by a glossary, that his claim to remembrance rests. It was one of the first books of its kind, and soon had great popularity. It was seven times reprinted by the author, with engravings by himself, and concurrently there were several pirated editions. Of the authorised edition of 1775 there was an impression of six thousand copies. Up to the present date at least sixty-four editions have been published (Fishwick). Many of the editions bear the title of 'Works of Tim Bobbin,' and include his miscellaneous poems and letters. The best edition is that issued by Westall of Rochdale in 1819 (reprinted in 1862). Other notable editions are Cowdroy and Slack's, Salford, 1812; one with plates by George Cruikshank, 1828, and one edited by Samuel Bamford, 1850.

In 1757 Collier published 'Truth in a Mask, or Shudehill Fight, being a Short Manchester Chronicle of the Present Times,' and in 1771 'The Fortune Teller, or the Court-Itch at Littleborough.' In 1771 appeared also his 'Curious Remarks on the History of Manchester,' under the name of Muscipula, Senr.,' and in 1773 ' More Fruit from the same Pannier, or additional Remarks on the History of Manchester.' The object of the last two pamphlets, in which he was assisted by Colonel Townley, was to refute and ridicule some parts of Dr. John Whitaker's 'History of Manchester.' It has been shown by Mr. J. E. Bailey that the piece called 'Lancashire Hob and the Quack-Doctor,' included in Collier's works, was really written by the Rev. Henry Brooke (1694-1757) [q. v.] In 1772-3 Collier published a folio volume of twenty-six engravings, with poetical descriptions, entitled 'The Human Passions delineated, in above 120 figures, droll, satyrical, and humourous,' some of which had been before sold as separate plates. Other editions in folio were published in 1810, 1819, 1858, and 1860, and in quarto in 1811 and 1846.

He married in 1744 Mary Clay of Flockton, near Huddersfield, who had been brought up by the pious Lady Elizabeth Hastings. She was fourteen years his junior and had some little property, which is said to have been soon dissipated by her husband's intemperate habits (Corry). He died at Milnrow on 14 July 1786, and was buried in Rochdale churchyard. Some of his manuscripts, in his remarkably neat hand, are preserved at the Chetham Library.

Collier's eldest son, John, was settled for many years as a coachmaker at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and there published ' An Essay on Charters, in which are particularly considered those of Newcastle, with remarks on its constitution, customs, and franchises' (1777, 8vo, pp. vi, 108), and 'An Alphabet for Grown-up Grammarians,' 1778, 8vo. His second son, Thomas, printed at Penrith in 1792 a pamphlet entitled 'Poetical Politics,' but the whole impression was seized and burnt with the exception of a single copy. Charles, his third son, was a portrait painter. All three were very eccentric men, and the eldest became hopelessly insane long before his death.

[Townley's Acct. of Collier in Aikin's Manchester, 1795, and in several editions of Tim Bobbin; Corry's Memoir in edit, of 1819; Heywood on the South Lane. Dialect, in Chetham Society, vol. lvii. 1861; Canon Raines's annotated copy of the same in the Chetham Library; Raines's MSS. vol. ix. in Chetham Library; Jesse Lee's unpublished memoir (1839) and manuscript collections in Manch. Free Library; Whitaker's Whalley, 1872, i. pp. xl, 234; Bamford's Dialect of S. Lane, 1850; Bailey's Old Stretford, 1878, p. 41; Bailey on Lancashire Hob, in Manch. Notes and Queries, 1886; Waugh's Village of Milnrow, 1850; Waugh's Birthplace of Tim Bobbin, 1858; Procter's Literary Remin. and Gleanings, 1860, pp. 17-29; Baines's Lancashire; Axon's Lane. Gleanings, 1883, p. 75. For bibliography see Briscoe's Literature of T. B. 1872; Fishwick's Lane. Library, 1875; Fish wick's Rochdale Bibliog. in Papers of the Manch. Literary Club, vol. vi.; Axon's Literature of the Lane. Dialect in English Dialect Society's Bibliographical List, 1877, pp. 61-6.]

C. W. S.