Watson, James (d.1722) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60
Watson, James (d.1722)

by Thomas Finlayson Henderson
1904 Errata appended.

WATSON, JAMES (d. 1722), Scottish printer, and the publisher of the famous ‘Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scottish Poems,’ was the son of a merchant in Aberdeen who had advanced money to two Dutch printers to set up a printing establishment in Edinburgh. Failing to make their business remunerative, they made over their printing house to the elder Watson, who, having craved repayment of a sum of money lent to Charles II when in exile, obtained instead the gift of being sole printer of almanacs in Scotland, and was also made printer to his majesty's family and household, with a salary of 100l. a year. He died in 1687.

The son set up as a printer in 1695 in Warriston Close, on the north side of the High Street, whence, in 1697, he removed to premises in Craig's Close, opposite the Cross, long afterwards known as the King's Printing-house. In 1700 he was imprisoned in the Tolbooth for printing a pamphlet on ‘Scotland's Grievance regarding Darien,’ but was released by the mob, who on 1 June forced an entrance into the prison by burning and battering down the doors. In 1700 he began to publish the ‘Edinburgh Gazette,’ and he was also the printer of the ‘Edinburgh Courant,’ which was first issued (19 Feb. 1705) as a tri-weekly paper. In 1709 he opened a bookseller's shop next door to the Red Lion and opposite the Luckenbooths, which faced St. Giles's Church.

On the expiry of the patent of king's printer conferred on Andrew Anderson, and then held by his widow, Watson entered into negotiations with Robert Fairbairn and John Baskett [q. v.] (queen's printer for England) to apply for the patent in Fairbairn's name, each to have one-third of the patent. The application was successful, the patent being obtained in August 1711. On Fairbairn becoming printer to the Pretender, in 1715, Mrs. Anderson, along with Baskett, applied for a new gift, on the ground that the late patent was void; but the court of session decided in Watson's favour, and on appeal to the lords its judgment was confirmed. In 1713 Watson issued a ‘History of Printing’—mainly translated from the French of J. de la Caille, Paris, 1689—with a ‘publisher's preface to the printers in Scotland,’ containing various particulars regarding Watson's own business. In beauty and accuracy of workmanship Watson quite surpassed his Edinburgh contemporaries, the most important example of his art being his folio bible, 1722. But the book by which he will be longest and most worthily remembered is his ‘Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scottish Poems,’ issued in three parts (1706, 1709, 1711), and containing many characteristic examples of the older ‘makers,’ as well as various contemporary broadsides. It properly inaugurates the revival of the Scots vernacular poetry, which, through Ramsay and Ferguson, was to culminate in Burns; and it was the main source, with Ramsay's ‘Evergreen,’ of Burns's acquaintance with the older Scottish poets. Watson died on 22 July 1722. In the obituary notice of his widow, then Mrs. Heriot, who died on 20 July 1731, it is stated that by Watson, her previous husband, she had a very considerable estate.

[Preface to the Reprint of the Choice Collection, 1869; Lee's Memorial for the Bible Societies; Preface to Watson's History of Printing; Dickson and Edmonds's History of Printing in Scotland.]

T. F. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.277
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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9 i 41-42 Watson, James (d. 1722): for Painting’ read Printing’