Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Almon, John
ALMON, JOHN (1737–1805), bookseller and journalist, was born at Liverpool on 17 Dec. 1737. He was sent to school at Warrington, and afterwards apprenticed (March 1751) to a printer and bookseller at Liverpool. In September 1758 he left his native town to visit Holland and several other parts of Europe, and in the following year obtained employment in London as a journeyman printer. Here he speedily became acquainted with the booksellers, who discovered his abilities as a ready writer, and as an intelligent observer of the occurrences of the day.
Almon had already produced several pamphlets, when, in Jan. 1761, Mr. Say, the printer and proprietor of the ‘Gazetteer,’ determined to engage him at a fixed salary, in order the better to meet the rivalry of the ‘Public Ledger,’ to which Goldsmith then contributed. Some of Almon's letters to the ‘Gazetteer’ were reprinted in a volume. After the death of George II he produced ‘A Review of his late Majesty's Reign,’ and he wrote, upon Mr. Pitt's resignation in October 1761, ‘A Review of Mr. Pitt's Administration,’ which obtained for him introductions to several distinguished members of the opposition. Lord Temple patronised him at once, and afterwards made Almon the factotum of his party. Burke and other members of the opposition learned to place the utmost confidence in his ability and discretion. In a short time Almon was enabled to sever his connection with the ‘Gazetteer,’ and to establish himself in Piccadilly as a book and pamphlet seller. He was appointed bookseller to the opposition club, ‘The Coterie.’ A great influx of business and increased reputation resulted. A number of opposition pamphlets continued to issue from his house; and as the expenses were usually prepaid, and he was allowed all the profits of sale, his fortune was assured.
It was, however, as the friend and confidant of John Wilkes that Almon became most distinguished. Their acquaintance began in October 1761, and, from that date until Wilkes's death in 1797, they continued on the most friendly and affectionate terms. Almon regarded Wilkes as another Hampden or Sidney; Wilkes called Almon his ‘friend, and an honest worthy bookseller.’ During Wilkes's absence in France they corresponded with each other most assiduously, although they were obliged to resort to the assistance of travelling friends and others, in order to defeat post-office espionage. Many of Almon's letters are in existence, although as yet unpublished, and they show him to have been a very careful tradesman, yet fully in earnest in his political views. He gave hearty support to Wilkes and his patrons during their struggle with the ministers, and of course did not entirely escape the consequences. In 1770, for the crime of selling a copy of the ‘London Museum’ (which contained a reprint of Junius's letter to the king), he was convicted, and ultimately fined and bound over to good behaviour for two years. He shortly afterwards published ‘The Trial of John Almon,’ which of course reproduced Junius's letter in the guise of the Attorney-General's information.
Almon did not confine himself to the publication of other people's writings. He either wrote or edited a number of miscellaneous works, which were more or less successful in meeting the public taste. A ‘History of the late Minority,’ published in 1765, had a sale of many thousand copies, and was more than once reprinted. The ‘Political Register,’ a periodical started in May 1767, was discontinued after the second volume, having given offence to high authorities. The ‘New Foundling Hospital for Wit’ and the ‘Asylum for Fugitive Pieces’ were collections of a lighter character, contributed by himself and others. Some effusions by Wilkes lie undiscovered in these periodical publications. ‘A Collection of all the Treaties of Peace, Alliance, and Commerce, between Great Britain and other Powers, from the Revolution in 1688 to 1771,’ was twice reprinted, with additions. About the year 1771, Almon was enabled by his parliamentary friends to write a short sketch of each day's debate, which he printed regularly in the ‘London Evening Post.’ In 1774 he began the first monthly record of proceedings in Parliament, under the title of ‘The Parliamentary Register;’ and he subsequently printed a résumé of the debates from 1742 up to the beginning of his ‘Register.’
Having accumulated a moderate fortune, Almon resigned his business into the hands of Mr. Debrett early in the year 1781, and retired to Boxmoor in Hertfordshire, where he occupied himself with various compilations. But retirement proved irksome to him, and he returned to London in 1784, became proprietor and editor of the ‘General Advertizer,’ and recommenced business at 183 Fleet Street. He was afterwards for two years a common councilman. In 1786 he was tried before Lord Mansfield for a libel; and this, together with the doubtful success of his newspaper, brought him into such financial difficulties that he was compelled to live in France for a time. He at length retired again to Boxmoor, living on what remained of his fortune, and occupying his last years with an edition of Junius and some other works. He died on 12 Dec. 1805.
Almon was twice married, first, in 1760, to Miss Elizabeth Jackson, who brought him ten children, and died in 1781. His second wife was Mrs. Parker, widow of the proprietor of the ‘General Advertizer.’
Besides the works already mentioned, Almon either wrote or edited: 1. ‘The Conduct of a late Noble Commander examined’ (1759). 2. ‘A Military Dictionary,’ published in weekly numbers, folio (about 1760). 3. ‘A History of the Parliament of Great Britain from the Death of Queen Anne to the Death of George II.’ 4. ‘An Impartial History of the late War, from 1749 to 1763.’ 5. ‘A Review of Lord Bute's Administration’ (1763). 6. ‘A Letter to J. Kidgell, containing a full Answer to his Narrative’ (concerning Wilkes's ‘Essay on Woman’). 7. ‘A Collection of the Protests of the House of Lords’ (1772). 8. ‘A Letter to the Earl of Bute’ (? 1772). 9. ‘The Remembrancer,’ a monthly collection of papers relating to American Independence,’ &c. 10. ‘A Letter to the Right Hon. Charles Jenkinson,’ and ‘A Letter to the Interior Cabinet’ (1782). 11. ‘Free Parliaments’ (1783). 12. ‘The Causes of the present Complaints’ (1793). 13. ‘Anecdotes of the Life of the Right Hon. Wm. Pitt, Earl of Chatham.’ 14. ‘Biographical, Literary, and Political Anecdotes of several of the most eminent persons of the present age’ (1797). 15. ‘The Correspondence of the late John Wilkes with his Friends, printed from the original MSS., in which is introduced memoirs of his life’ (5 vols., 1805).[MSS. Addit. 30875, f. 5; 30868, f. 136; 30869, ff. 95, 106, 110, 119, 123, 128, 139, 144, 151, 153, 157; 30870, f. 107; 20733; Gent. Mag. xxxv. 45, 243, 248, 282, xl. 240, 286, 541, xli. 80, lxxv. 1179, 1237; Public Characters, 1803–4; Timperley's History of Printing, ff. 721, 724, 758, 822; Correspondence of Wilkes, passim; Junius, ed. J. A., notes, passim.]