Virtue, James Sprent (DNB00)

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VIRTUE, JAMES SPRENT (1829–1892), art publisher, was born at 26 Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, London, on 18 May 1829.

His father, George Virtue (1793?–1868) publisher, born about 1793, was the founder in London of a publishing business the main feature of which was the production of illustrated works, generally issued in numbers. He selected accomplished artists and employed the best engravers, and produced books that have been rarely surpassed in elegance and correctness. Chief among his publications were the following, all illustrated by William Henry Bartlett [q. v.]: ‘Switzerland,’ by William Beattie, 2 vols. 1836; ‘Scotland,’ by W. Beattie, 1838; ‘The Waldenses,’ by W. Beattie, 1838; ‘American Scenery,’ 2 vols. 1840; ‘Description of the Beauties of the Bosphorus,’ by Miss Pardoe, 1840; and ‘The Danube, its History and Scenery,’ by W. Beattie, 1844. Virtue created a business of prodigious extent. It has been calculated that during his career he issued upwards of twenty thousand copper and steel engravings. For many years he was the proprietor of the ‘Art Journal,’ which he conducted with great liberality. In 1842 he became a common councilman for the ward of Farringdon Within, and more recently was the deputy of his ward. He was a member of the court of the Stationers' Company and a director of the Great Central Gas Company. He died at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Morrison, Porchester Square, London, on 8 Dec. 1868 (Art Journal, January 1869, p. 25; Register and Mag. of Biography, February 1869, p. 133).

On attaining the age of fourteen James Sprent was apprenticed to his father, and in 1848 sent to the branch establishment in New York. In a business capacity he made many journeys through the United States and Canada, and, returning to England in 1850, was admitted a liveryman of the Stationers' Company. Returning to America in the same year, he largely extended the connection in the United States, and finally came back to England in 1855, when his father retired from active business. On succeeding to the management he published many important works of art, among them the Royal, 1855, the Turner, 1859–66, and the Landseer galleries, 1871, which appeared first in the ‘Art Journal.’ In 1862, in conjunction with his elder brother, George Henry Virtue, F.S.A., he organised a second business at 1 Amen Corner, under the name of Virtue Brothers & Company; but on the death of his brother, on 21 July 1866, this business was sold. In 1871 Samuel Spalding was admitted a partner in the business at 26 Ivy Lane, 294 City Road, and 31 Farringdon Street, and in 1874 Frederic Richard Daldy, of the firm of Bell & Daldy, was also taken into the house. The business was conducted much upon the old lines, new and improved editions of illustrated works being issued, one of which was Charles Knight's ‘Shakespeare,’ commenced in 1871. This work was purchased by the firm in 1868. The new and improved edition had an extensive sale. Among other works published by the firm were illustrated editions of the Holy Bible, 1861–5, three volumes, and ‘Picturesque Palestine’ (1880). Upwards of 25,000l. was spent on the production of the volumes, the speculation proving very remunerative. In 1855 Virtue succeeded his father as proprietor of the ‘Art Journal,’ and retained the property until his death. It was under his auspices and with his advice that the ‘Journal’ embarked upon the illustrations of the great galleries—the Royal, the Sheepshanks, the Vernon, and the Turner—which so largely made its fame. Virtue was one of the founders of the London Rowing Club, and for many years took an active part in the management. For several seasons he gave an annual prize of a sculling boat to be competed for by the scullers. He died at 3 Prince's Mansions, Victoria Street, London, on 29 March 1892, and was buried at Walton-on-Thames on 2 April. He married, in 1867, Miss J. E. Shirreff.

[Numismatic Chron. 1892, p. 26; Times, 7 April 1892, p. 10; Stationery Trades Journal, 30 April 1892, p. 150; Art Journal, May 1892, p. 160; information from Herbert Virtue, esq.]

G. C. B.