Upcott, William (DNB00)

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UPCOTT, WILLIAM (1779–1845), antiquary and autograph-collector, born in Oxfordshire in 1779, was the natural son of Ozias Humphry [q. v.] by Delly Wickens, daughter of an Oxford shopkeeper, and was called Upcott after the maiden name of Humphry's mother. His father bequeathed to him his miniatures, pictures, drawings, and engravings, as well as a very extensive correspondence with many leading men, and from him Upcott derived his passion for collecting.

Upcott was bred up as a bookseller; being at first an assistant of R. H. Evans of Pall Mall, and then of John Wright of Piccadilly. While at the latter shop he attracted the attention of Dean Ireland, William Gifford, and the writers in the ‘Anti-Jacobin’ who frequented that establishment, and he witnessed the affray there between Gifford and Dr. Wolcot, assisting afterwards to eject Wolcot (Gent. Mag. 1846, ii. 603). When Porson was made librarian of the London Institution, Upcott was appointed as his assistant (23 April 1806), and he continued in the same position under William Maltby [q. v.]. Every inch of the walls in his rooms, whether at the London Institution or in his subsequent residence, was ‘covered with paintings, drawings, and prints, most of them by Gainsborough or Humphry;’ all the drawers, shelves, boxes, and cupboards were crammed with his collections. In 1833, while at the London Institution, he was robbed of the whole of his collection of gold and silver coins and some other curiosities, whereupon more than five hundred of the proprietors signed a memorial for his reimbursement from its funds, and 500l. was voted to him. On 30 May 1834 he resigned his office (Cat. of Lond. Instit. Libr. i. p. xxiv).

Upcott spent the rest of his days at 102 Upper Street, Islington. The house in his time was called ‘Autograph Cottage,’ and in imitation of the plan adopted by William Oldys, he fitted up a room with shelves and a hundred receptacles into which he dropped a quantity of cuttings on various subjects (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 328). In 1836 he privately printed a brief catalogue of the ‘original letters, manuscripts, and state papers’ which he had been collecting for more than twenty-five years, in the hope that they might be bought for some public institution. One of his greatest finds was the original manuscript of Chatterton's extravaganza ‘Amphitryon,’ which he chanced upon in the shop of a city cheesemonger. This was purchased by the British Museum in 1841 (see art. Chatterton, Thomas; Addit. MSS. 12050).

Upcott died, unmarried, at Islington on 23 Sept. 1845. His portrait was painted by William Behnes, and a private plate engraved by Bragg in March 1818. Another portrait of him, drawn on stone by Miss H. S. Turner, daughter of Dawson Turner, was engraved by Netherclift; it is inserted, with the addition of a facsimile of his signature, in the sale catalogue of his effects at the British Museum; a third portrait, by G. P. Harding, was lithographed by Day and Haghe, and signed by Upcott on 27 March 1837.

Upcott's library, books, manuscripts, prints, and drawings were sold by Sotheby at Evans's auction-rooms, 106 New Bond Street (15 June 1846 and following days), and are said to have realised 4,125l. 17s. 6d.; a large-paper copy of the catalogue, formerly belonging to Dawson Turner, priced, and containing the cancelled title-page, is at the British Museum. He owned about thirty-two thousand letters, illustrated by three thousand portraits, many of which were engraved in C. J. Smith's ‘Historical and Literary Curiosities.’ Many of the autograph letters were bought for the nation, and now form Additional MSS. 15841 to 15957 at the British Museum. These volumes, 116 in number, comprise 15841–54, albums mostly of foreign princes and scholars; 15856, papers of John Nicholas; 15857–8 and 15948–51, Browne and Evelyn papers; 15859–64, Burton's diary (edited by J. T. Rutt); 15865, Curtius letters, 1643–7; 15866–90, Dayrolles correspondence; 15891, letters received by Sir Christopher Hatton; 15892–8, Hyde correspondence (edited by S. W. Singer); 15913, ‘The Snuff-Box,’ a poem by Shenstone; 15918–19, catalogue raisonné of auction catalogues, 1676–1824; 15920, catalogue of his own books; 15921–9, collections on topography of Great Britain in continuation of his printed volumes; 15930–2, Oxfordshire collections; 15936, Worsley letters, 1714–22; 15937–46, letters of foreign princes and English statesmen; 15947, Prior's papers while at Paris; 15952–15954, papers on the French army in Italy, 1799–1813; 15855 and 15955–7, Anson papers. The sketch-books of Ozias Humphry (Addit. MSS. 15958–69) were purchased by Thomas Rodd at the sale, but were at once resold to the British Museum.

The chief of Upcott's collections which were not acquired by the British Museum consisted of the correspondence of Ralph Thoresby (which was edited by the Rev. Joseph Hunter) and of Emanuel da Costa. A large series of autograph letters from Upcott's stores was purchased by Captain Montagu Montagu, R.N., and left by him at his death on 3 July 1863 to the Bodleian Library (Macray, Annals of Bodl. Libr. p. 299). Many of Humphry's finest works passed at Upcott's death to his friend, C. H. Turner of Godstone, and still belong to his family [see Humphry, Ozias].

Upcott published in 1818, in three volumes, a ‘Bibliographical Account of the Principal Works relating to English Topography,’ a work of great labour and utility. Unfortunately the compiler's intention of embracing Scotland and Ireland in a future work was never fulfilled, and his book is now to a large extent superseded by the ‘British Topography’ (1881) of Mr. John P. Anderson, who refers in his preface to Upcott's ‘excellent catalogue.’ Upcott revised for the press the first (quarto) edition of ‘Evelyn's Diary,’ brought out by William Bray in 1818, and for the (octavo) edition of 1827 he carefully collated the copy with the original manuscript at Wotton and made numerous corrections. In 1825 he further edited Evelyn's ‘Miscellaneous Writings.’ He reprinted in 1814 Andrew Borde's ‘Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge,’ and in 1819 Edmund Carter's ‘History of the County of Cambridge.’

Southey was indebted to Upcott for the transcript of Sir Thomas Malory's ‘King Arthur’ (1817). Upcott corrected it for the press. He took an active part in the publication of the ‘Garrick Correspondence,’ and in the preparation of the ‘Catalogue of the London Institution,’ and is believed to have aided in compiling the ‘Biographical Dictionary’ of 1816. The Guildhall Library originated in a suggestion by him, and in 1828 he superintended the arrangement of the books in it (Welch, Modern London, p. 162). In a copy of the 1818 edition of Thomas Gray's ‘Poems’ in two volumes, now in the British Museum, Upcott inserted a large number of additional illustrations and of suggestive notes very beautifully written in his own hand.

[Gent. Mag. 1845 ii. 540–1, 1846 i. 473–6 (by A. B. i.e. Dawson Turner); Memoirs of Dodd, Upcott, and Stubbs 1879 (reprinted from Temple Bar, xlvii. 89–104); Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 47, x. 331, 334, xi. 34; Barker's Lit. Anecdotes, 1852, ii. 5, 6.]

W. P. C.