Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Copinger, Walter Arthur

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COPINGER, WALTER ARTHUR (1847–1910), professor of law, antiquary and bibliographer, born on 14 April 1847 at Clapham, was second son of Charles Louis George Emanuel Copinger and his wife Mary, relict of George James, and daughter of Thomas Pearson of Shepperton, Surrey. Educated at the private school of John Andrews at Wellesley House, Brighton, he passed to University College, Durham, but left Durham without completing his course to enter the office of a relative who was a solicitor in London. He did not remain there long. In 1866 he was admitted a student of the Middle Temple, and after spending a short time in the chambers of T. Bourdillon, a well-known conveyancing counsel, he was called to the bar on 26 Jan. 1869. He had mastered the principal treatises of law, and especially the law of real property. After his call he turned his attention to the law of copyright, and in 1870 he published a work on the 'Law of Copyright in Works of Literature and Art' (4th edit. 1904).

Meanwhile in 1870 Copinger settled in Manchester, and commenced practice as an equity draughtsman and conveyancer, and in the chancery court of the county palatine of Lancaster. His work as a conveyancer increased so rapidly that he soon ceased to take court work and became the leading conveyancer out of London. At the same time he was widely consulted on questions of copyright. He owed his success to his complete grasp of the intricacies of the law, especially that relating to real property, to his mental acuteness, his memory, his power of concentration, and his easy style of draughtsmanship. Pupils found his chambers an admirable school of training, for he had the power of making law live.

Amid his heavy professional work Copinger continued to write on legal subjects, more particularly on conveyancing. In 1872 appeared an exhaustive 'Index to Precedents in Conveyancing'; and in 1875 'Title Deeds, their Custody and Production of other Documentary Evidence at Law and Equity.' His 'Law of Rents with special Reference to the Sale of Land in Consideration of a Rent Charge,' which was written many years before, was published in 1886, in collaboration with Professor Munro. In 1876 he published 'An Essay on the Abolition of Capital Punishment,' which, to his amusement, was so enthusiastically received by the abolitionists that his intention to publish another pamphlet demolishing all the arguments in the first was abandoned.

In 1888 Copinger was appointed lecturer in law in the Owens College, Manchester, and in 1892, upon the resignation of Professor Munro, ho became professor of law, and finally dean of the faculty of law in the Victoria University. He received the Lambeth degree of doctor of laws from Archbishop Benson in 1889, and that of M.A. from the Victoria University in 1905, He was president of the Manchester Law Society's Library, and of the East Anglians of Manchester and district.

Copinger pursued versatile interests with untiring industry. Besides being an expert in old property law, he was also a keen bibliographer and antiquary, and took a deep interest in theology. Unfortunately all his bibliographical and historical work lacks the essential quality of minute accuracy. Largely owing to his efforts, supported by Richard Copley Christie [q. v. Suppl. I], the Bibliographical Society was founded in London in 1892; he was the society's first president, and held the office for four years, doing much to establish the society on a firm basis. Between 1895 and 1898 he published his most important bibliographical work, the 'Supplement to Hain's Repertorium bibliographicum,' comprising 7000 corrections of and additions to the collations of fifteenth-century works described or mentioned by Hain, and a list of nearly 6000 works not referred to by Hain. This work extends to upwards of 1630 closely printed double-column pages, and is of great value for reference, but it must be used with caution. He contributed several papers to the 'Transactions of the Bibliographical Society,' including an exhaustive monograph on the fifteenth-century printed editions of Virgil. In 1892 he published a fine folio volume on 'Incunabula Biblica,' being a bibliographical account of 124 editions of the Latin Bible printed between 1450 and 1500. At his Manchester residence, The Priory, Greenheys, he set up a small press, at which he printed for private circulation four volumes: 1. ‘Catalogue of the Copinger Collection of Editions of the Latin Bible,’ 1893. 2. ‘Corrections and Additions to the Catalogue of Incunabula in the Mazarin Library,’ 1893. 3. Reprint of Leland's ‘New Year's Gift to Henry VIII,’ 1895. 4. ‘On the Authorship of the First Hundred numbers of the “Edinburgh Review,”’ 1895. Nos. 3 and 4 bear the serial title ‘Bibliographiana.’

Copinger was quite as keenly interested in genealogy, heraldry, and manorial history. In 1882 he published his ‘History of the Copingers or Coppingers’ (new enlarged edit. 1884), in which he traces the descent of his family from the Danes in the tenth century, when they appear to have settled in Suffolk and in the south of Ireland. The energies of his last years were devoted almost exclusively to the history of Suffolk. In 1902 he issued the ‘History of the Parish of Buxhall,’ of which he was lord of the manor. Between 1904 and 1907 the ‘History of Suffolk as described by Existing Records’ (in 5 vols.) made its appearance together with the ‘Manors of Suffolk: Notes on their History and Devolution’ (7 vols. 1905–11). He also found time to compile the ‘History of the Smith-Carrington Family’ (2 vols. 1907), and to write ‘Heraldry Simplified,’ which appeared in the year of his death.

In religion Copinger was an Irvingite, and for a number of years was the angel of the Catholic Apostolic church in Manchester. His interest in theology was wide and deep. The work which he valued most among his writings was a huge treatise from his pen on ‘Predestination, Election, and Grace’ (1889). His other theological writings were: ‘Testimony of Antiquity … being a Reprint of the Homily by Elfric,’ edited by himself, 1877; ‘Thoughts on Holiness, Doctrinal and Practical,’ 1883; ‘Contributions to Hymnody,’ 1886; ‘The Bible and its Transmission,’ 1897; A new translation of ‘Imitatio Christi,’ 1900; and Law's ‘Serious Call adapted to the Requirements of the Present Day,’ 1905.

Copinger mainly found all the relaxation which he allowed himself in a change of work; but music always attracted him. He played several instruments, including the pianoforte and violin, and found time to compose a number of musical pieces, amongst which is a collection of seventy-five original hymn tunes.

Copinger was an ardent book-collector, and accumulated a considerable library. It was rich in early printed books, Bibles, manuscripts, and printed editions of the ‘Imitatio Christi,’ hymn books, Elzevirs, and general works of reference. Genial and affable with every one, he was always ready to place not only the rich stores of his knowledge but the resources of his library at the disposal of any student.

He died at his residence in Manchester on 13 March 1910 from pneumonia following an attack of influenza. He was buried at Birch, Rusholme, Manchester. On 3 Sept. 1873 Copinger married Caroline Agnes, eldest daughter of Thomas Inglis Stewart, vicar of Landscove, Devon. She predeceased him, leaving two sons and three daughters.

[Manchester Faces and Places, viii. 8–12 (portrait); Manchester Univ. Mag., vii. 182–4; Copinger's History of the Copingers, 1884; Manchester Guardian, 14 March 1910; Athenæum, 26 March 1910; Dr. Copinger's own and other notes communicated by Mr. C. W. Sutton; private information and personal knowledge.]

H. G.