Bowyer, William (1663-1737) (DNB00)

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BOWYER, WILLIAM, the elder (1663–1737), printer, son of John Bowyer, citizen and grocer of London, by Mary, daughter of William King, citizen and vintner of London, was born in 1663, apprenticed to Miles Flesher, printer, in 1679, and admitted to the freedom of the Company of Stationers 1686. By his first wife, who died early, he had no issue. By his second wife, Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Dawks (a printer who had been employed on Bishop Walton's Polyglot Bible) and widow of Benjamin Allport, bookseller, he was father of William Bowyer the younger, 'the learned printer' [q. v.], and a daughter Dorothy married to Peter Wallis, a London jeweller. In 1699, a few months before the birth of his son, he began business as a printer at the White Horse in Little Britain, and here he produced his first book, a neat small 4to, of 96 pp., 'A Defence of the Vindication of King Charles the Martyr justifying his Majesty's title to Εἰκὼν Βασιλική in answer to … Amyntor [i.e. John Toland],' Lond. 1699, 4to. Immediately after he removed to Dogwell Court, Whitefriars. In 1700 he was made liveryman of the Stationers' Company, and was chosen one of the twenty printers allowed by the Star-chamber. On 29 Jan. 1712-13 a fire destroyed his printing-office and dwelling, and one member of the family was burnt to death. Plant and stock were consumed; Atkyn's 'Gloucestershire,' Bishop Bull's 'Primitive Christianity,' L'Estrange's 'Josephus,' part of Thoresby's 4 Ducatus Leodiensis,' and many other works, with some valuable manuscripts, were lost. The estimated total loss was 5,146l., but this was more than half replaced by the produce of a king's brief granted 6 March 1713 for a charitable collection, the contributions of friends and a subscription of his own fraternity amounting to 2,539l. In remembrance of this kindness he had several tail-pieces and devices engraved, representing a phoenix rising from the flames, with suitable mottoes used afterwards in some of his best books. Continuing his business at the houses of friends, he at length returned to Whitefriars, October 1713, where he became the foremost printer of his day, until the fame of his learned son overshadowed his. The latter was taken into partnership in 1722, and his duty thenceforward was to correct the press, while his father up to his death retained the executive, the imprint of their works continuing to be 'Printed by William Bowyer.' The list, with copious notes, of all the works published by him is given in Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes,' from 1697 to 1722, 230 pages, and of the joint works, 1722 to 1737, 370 pages.

Bowyer died 27 Dec. 1737, having survived his wife ten years, and was buried in the church of Low Leyton, Essex, in the south-west corner of which is an inscription to the memory of the Bowyer family generally. There is a marble monument erected by his son to his memory in the same church. In the stock room at Stationers' Hall there is a brass tablet, also by his son, commemorative of his loss by fire in 1712-13, and of the donations of the Stationers' Company and friends. By the side of it hangs a half-length portrait of Bowyer, which has been well described as that of 'a pleasant round-faced man' and 'a jolly good-looking man in a flowing wig.' An engraving of it by Basire Bowyer is the frontispiece of Nichols's first volume of 'Literary Anecdotes.'

In 1724 Bowyer was a nonjuror; we know nothing more of his religious views except a few traces, in his early life, recorded by Ord in the 'History of Cleveland,' where it is said that he had a controversy with a priest who defended the conduct of his sister, a professed nun of the order of Poor Clares, at Dunkirk. The letters commence October 1696, and end in June 1697, at the time when he was a journeyman printer at Daniel Sheldon's in Bartholomew Close. He seems to have been a very kind-hearted man, and ever ready to show kindness to others. He was the principal means of establishing the elder Caslon as a typefounder.

J. W.-G.