Howell, John (1788-1863) (DNB00)

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HOWELL, JOHN (1788–1863), polyartist, born at Old Lauriston, Edinburgh, in 1788, was apprenticed to a bookbinder, but

afterwards was an assistant to Robert Kinnear, bookseller, in Frederick Street, Edinburgh, and subsequently spent five years with the firm of Stevenson, printers to the university, where he effected improvements in the art of stereotyping. He next returned to his trade of bookbinding at a workshop in Thistle Street, was patronised by Scott among others, and invented the well-known `plough' for cutting edges. Acquainted with many odd handicrafts, he opened a shop as curiosity dealer and china and picture repairer at 22 Frederick Street, where the sign over the door described him as a `polyartist.' The shop was not very successful, and Howell removed his business to 110 Rose Street, where he died 4 April 1863. He was married and left a family.

Howell on one occasion attempted to use a flying machine in what are now the West Princes Street Gardens, but broke one of his legs in the experiment. At another time, having made, at considerable expense, a model in the shape of a fish, he entered the machine, tried to swim under water at Leith, and was nearly drowned. He was more successful as an amateur doctor and dentist, and introduced the manufacture of Pompeian plates. His writings show considerable diligence. He published: 1. `An Essay on the War-galleys of the Ancients,' Edinburgh, 1826, 8vo. 2. `The Life and Adventures of Alexander Selkirk,' Edinburgh, 1829, 12mo. 3. `The Life of Alexander Alexander,' Edinburgh, 1830. He also edited the 'Journal of a Soldier of the 71st Regiment, 1806-1815,' and the 'Life of John Nichol, the Mariner,' and wrote several of Wilson's 'Tales of the Borders.'

[Scotsman, 6 April 1863; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 491, iii. 19, 78, 379, 4th ser. ii. 393, 500.]

W. A. J. A.