Griffiths, Ralph (DNB00)
|←Griffiths, Michael|| Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23
GRIFFITHS, RALPH, LL.D. (1720-1803), founder, proprietor, and publisher of the 'Monthly Review,' born in Shropshire in 1720, was of Welsh origin. He began life as a watchmaker at Stone in Staffordshire, where he attended the presbyterian meeting. He came to London and entered the service of Jacob Robinson, publisher of 'The Works of the Learned.' Tom Davies (1712?-1785) [q. v.] made his acquaintance about 1742, 'and preferred his company and conversation to that of' his employer; many years after this they were partners with others in an evening newspaper, and the two continued intimate for sixteen or seventeen years. Griffiths had a bookseller's shop in St. Paul's Churchyard in 1747, at the sign of the Dunciad. Here, on 1 May 1749, he produced the first number of the 'Monthly Review,' with but little preliminary advertisement. There was at the time no regular literary review in England, and the venture did not at first meet with much success. In 1754 Griffiths removed to Paternoster Row, and five years later was in the Strand, still keeping the sign of the Dunciad. It was in 1757 that Oliver Goldsmith made the memorable bargain with Griffiths, with whom he was to board and lodge, and for a small salary to devote himself to the 'Review.' Goldsmith never acknowledged his contributions, twelve in number, from April to September 1757, and four in December 1758 (reprinted in Cunningham's edition, 1855, iv. 265-333), and complained that the editor and his wife tampered with them. The connection lasted only five months. Goldsmith said he was ill-treated and overworked; his employer retorted that he was idle and unpunctual. Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths have been severely dealt with by the biographers of Goldsmith, who, however, is not likely to have been an efficient sub-editor (J. Forster, Life, 1876, vol. i. passim; De Quincey, Sketches, 1857, pp. 212-17). The next year Griffiths had a fresh quarrel with his late assistant about some books and a suit of clothes, which ended in Goldsmith agreeing to undertake certain literary work to balance the claim (Life, i. 118, 120). Griffiths devoted all his energy to the 'Review.' Its circulation increased, and at one time it was reported to produce 2,000l. a year. He is sometimes accused of having published at an immense profit the infamous 'Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure' [see Cleland, John], but it was a mild imitation of the original work which he issued in 1750 with a eulogy in his 'Review,' March 1750, pp. 431-2 (PisanusFraxi, Catena librorum tacendorum, 1885, pp. 63, 92, 95). He purchased a mansion (Linden House, the site being now occupied by Linden Gardens) at Turnham Green, and set up a couple of coaches. On 25 June 1761 Benjamin Collins of Salisbury purchased a fourth share of the 'Review' for 755l. 12s. 6d. (C. Welsh, Life of J. Newbery, 1885, p. 19). The rivalry of the 'Critical Review' (1756-1817), at one time conducted by Smollett, injured Griffiths's venture. Johnson's comparison of the qualities of the two periodicals is well known (Boswell, Life, ed. G. B. Hill, ii. 39, iii. 32). Recalling the figures of some of those who habitually attended Chiswick Church about the middle of the century, Sir Richard Phillips speaks of 'portly Dr. Griffiths … with his literary wife, in her neat and elevated wire-winged cap' (Walk from London to Kew, 1817, p. 213). Griffiths's first wife, Isabella, here mentioned, died 25 March 1764, aged 52. Wedgwood, writing to his brother, 16 Feb. 1765, refers to 'your good doctor Mr. Griffiths, I need not mention you know he hath one of the warmest places in my heart' (E. Meteyard, Life of Josiah Wedgwood, 1865, i. 363). Griffiths visited Burslem in the following year, but was very anxious to return to 'his beloved Turnham Green' (ib. i. 460).
In 1767 he married a second wife, Elizabeth, the third daughter of Samuel Clarke, D.D., of St. Albans (1684-1750) [q. v.] She died 24 Aug. 1812. A sister married Dr. Rose of Chiswick, a neighbour and intimate friend of Griffiths. He still carried on his business with the old Dunciad sign in the Strand, 'near Catherine St., 1772, where we perfectly remember his shop to be a favourite lounge of the late Dr. Goldsmith' (European Mag. January 1804, p. 4). He failed, however, and the 'Review' became the sole property of Collins, who put fresh commercial life in it, while it remained under the editorship of Griffiths, who recovered his proprietary rights about 1780. His last shop was in Pall Mall, probably near the house of Payne and Foss, the last of whom was his cousin. Griffiths died at Turnham Green, 28 Sept. 1803, in his eighty-third year, and was buried at Chiswick. His will is reprinted by W. C. Hazlitt (Essays by T. G. Wainewright, 1880, pp. 335-7). The family residence, Linden House at Turnham Green, fell to his grandson, Thomas Griffiths Wainewright.
He had a brother, a planter in South Carolina, who came to England about 1767, and returned as an agent for Wedgwood (Meteyard, Life, ii. 6). By his second wife he had two daughters and a son, George Edward Griffiths (d. 1829), for whom Provost Hodgson and Byron had friendly feelings (Life of Francis Hodgson, 1878, i. 133, 223-224). The son edited the 'Monthly Review,' which he sold in 1825, and was known as a horticulturist. He was a man of considerable literary ability, and wrote epigrams and vers de société. He died suddenly, unmarried, at Turnham Green, in January 1829. Ann (1773-1794), one of the two daughters, married in 1793 Thomas Wainewright of Chiswick. Her only child was Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, 'Janus Weathercock,' the forger and poisoner.
Nichols describes Griffiths as 'a steady advocate of literature, a firm friend,' fond of domestic life, and possessing great social gifts (Lit. Anecd. iii. 507). As a companion 'he was free-hearted, lively, and intelligent, abounding beyond most men in literary history and anecdote' (W. Butler, Exercises, 1811, p. 346). The degree of LL.D. was granted to him without solicitation by the university of Philadelphia. A portrait, engraved by Ridley, is given in the 'European Magazine,' January 1804, where it is stated that the son was about to publish memoirs of his father, a promise never fulfilled. A three-quarter length portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence is still in the possession of Griffiths's great-grand-nephew, who also owns a head by Wainewright, the grandson.
The first series of the 'Monthly Review' runs from 1749 to December 1789, 81 vols.; the second from 1790 to 1825, 108 vols.; the third, a 'new series,' from 1826 to 1830, 15 vols.; and the fourth from 1831 to 1845, 45 vols. It then came to an end. There is a general index (1749-89), 3 vols., by Ayscough, and another by 'J. C.' (1790-1816), 2 vols. The copy belonging to Griffiths and his son, who had noted the initials and names of contributors from the commencement down to 1815, is now in the Bodleian Library.
[Information contributed by Mr. G. T. Clark. See C. Knight's Shadows of the Old Booksellers, 1865, pp. 184-8; Essays and Criticisms by T. G. Wainewright, ed. W. C. Hazlitt, 1880; Timperley's Encyclopædia, 1842, pp. 677, 816; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 351, 377, 458, 6th ser. i. 509, ii. 208, 275-6; Nichols's Illustr. vii. 249; Lit. Anecd. iii. 506-8, viii. 452, ix. 665; T. Faulkner's Hist. and Antiq. of Brentford, Ealing, and Chiswick, 1845, pp. 329, 466.]