Devonshire Characters and Strange Events/Andrew Brice, Printer

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ADREW BRICE, an Exeter printer, was born 21 August, 1692, "in the house where Mary Hellier now lives [1719] near the Butcherow."[1] He was educated to be a dissenting minister, and received a good grounding in classical studies. But owing to the pinched circumstances of his father, and probably also his own disinclination for the pastorate, he was withdrawn from school, and at the age of seventeen apprenticed to a printer. His earliest biographer[2] states:—

"Mr. Bliss, a printer of Exeter, wanting a person capable of correcting the press, young Brice (aged 17) was proposed to, and accepted by him as an apprentice for the term of five years. However, having long before his service expired inconsiderately contracted marriage, and being unable to support a family of a wife and two children, he enlisted as a soldier in order to cancel his indentures; and, by the interest of his friends, very soon procured his discharge." Bliss in his paper, the Mercury, 30 December, 1715, inserted this advertisement: "Whereas Andrew Brice, who is my Lawful Apprentice, hath, without any Cause, in the midst of a Flush of Business, and when I was disabled by Illness from working myself, roguishly absconded and deserted my Service to my present great Loss of Businress [sic], and Damage, this is to forbid all Persons
Andrew Brice, Printer- Devonshire characters and strange events.jpg

Reproduced by kind permission from a print in the possession of Dr. Brushfield

to entertain or Employ the said Andrew Brice in any Business, or upon any Account, whatsoever; for, acting by the Advice of the Learned in the Law, I am resolved, upon Notice thereof to prosecute such as shall so do. If he returns not to my Business in a very short Time, I shall apply myself to the Magistrates of this City for Justice in this Case.

"N.B. I am inform'd his dependence is on Mr. Bishop; but I am greatly deceiv'd, if He is not a Person of more sense; and better understands what belongs to an Apprentice, than to encourage such a Rascal as shall so basely leave his Master without the least Cause. JOE BLISS."

What became of Brice during the next two years is not known, but in 1717 he was back in Exeter, for on 22 March of that year Bliss inserted the following paragraph in his Protestant Mercury: "N.B. Having received reiterated Assurances from several Gentlemen, that, notwithstanding that Villain Brice's Opposition against me, they are firmly resolved to continue in my Interest: To oblige them, therefore, and the rest of my Customers, I shall for the future publish my News on no worse Paper than this, Price One Penny. I can't forbear remarking, how that sorry Rascal has opened his Printing Press with a most rediculous and shabby Advertisement, and a shameful obscene bawdy Ballad, which deserves to be burnt. Curious Specimens of Rare Genius and Great Capacity."

It is evident from this that Brice had already taken up his permanent abode in Exeter, and had established himself there with a printing press of his own. His place of business was in Southgate Street, and he started a paper of his own, the Postmaster, or Loyal Mercury. In the "Journals of the House of Commons" we find under date 19 December, 1718: "Complaint having been made to the House, as a printed Pamphlet, intituled The Postmaster, or the Loyal Mercury, Friday, November the 28th, 1718; Exon. Printed by Andrew Brice, at the head of the Serge Market in Southgate Street. Wherein the Resolutions and Proceedings of this House are falsely represented and printed, in Contempt of the Order, and in Breach of the Privilege of this House; the said Pamphlet was delivered in at the Clerk's Table; and several Paragraphs thereof being read: Ordered That the said Andrew Brice do attend this House upon Wednesday the 14th January."

On the day appointed Brice presented himself at the Bar, and it was ordered "that the said Andrew Brice be, for the said Breach of Privilege, taken into Custody of the Sergeant of Arms." Next day, having acknowledged his offence, "he was accordingly brought to the Bar: when he, upon his Knees, received a Reprimand from Mr. Speaker; and was discharged out of Custody, paying his Fees."

Brice introduced a new feature into his paper by devoting the first two pages to some tale or narrative of voyages, continued from week to week, in the style of the French feuilleton. His paper terminated its career on Friday, 23 April, 1725, owing to the imposition of a Stamp Duty of a penny for every whole sheet; but on the ensuing 3Oth April, in the same year, appeared a new journal from his press, entitled Brice's Weekly Journal, price twopence.

In the meantime Samuel Farley, an enterprising printer, had started a rival paper, Farley's Exeter Journal, and this seriously interfered with the sale of Brice's Journal. This led to bickering that reached a climax in 1726, when there ensued an open quarrel, and Brice was obliged to publish an apology. According to his own admission, he had acted in an injudicious and unjustifiable manner. However, he wrote: "The Parleys have vauntingly given out, That they will totally effect my Overthrow, and that I am now tottering on the Brink of Destruction; For that Sam the younger is now actually gone to London to swear some dreadful Thing (I know not what) against me," and he intimates that he may possibly be compelled to shift his quarters to Bristol.

In 1727 Brice energetically took up the case of the treatment of insolvent debtors. In his Journal of 8 September appeared "The Case of Mr. Charles Lanyon, &c., of Newlyn, near Penzance, Merchant, a Prisoner in the Sheriff's Ward in St. Thomas's," with a copy of a letter to Mr. George Glanvill, gaoler of this prison, which had been disregarded by him; and a postscript commencing: "We have desired Mr. Brice, in pure Commiseration, to insert this Account in his Journal, that the World may be made sensible of our Sufferings."

On 20 October he contrasted the manner in which Dally, the keeper of Southgate Prison, treated those committed to his charge with that of Glanvill at St. Thomas's. "Be it known to my Country Readers, that that very worthy Governor is as distinguishable for Humanity, Good-nature, Charity, and Indulgence to the poor People under his Guard and Care, as He in St. Thomas's is for Revenge, Savageness, Cruelty, and a long et cœtera of abhorred Things which want a Name."

Brice doubtless had good cause to bring before the public the atrocious manner in which insolvent debtors were treated, but he did this in an intemperate manner, and with personal abuse that Glanvill could not allow to pass without placing the matter in the hands of his lawyer, and legal proceedings were taken against Brice. In his Journal of 10 November is the remarkable paragraph: "This is to give Notice, that the poor Printer hereof, who expects never to be free from Trouble till Death or Dishonesty takes him under Tutelage, was last Week sued by the most merciful Governour of St. Thomas's. But he dares lay 2d. ob. neither he nor his Councel knows for what. Well! the Comfort is he fears none but God. … However, being just going to drink, Mr. Grandvile, my humble Service t'ye!"

Up to the end of the year Brice continued to hammer at Glanvill; one of his leaders, being a specially vituperative one, he repeated twice; and in his paper of 16 August, 1728, he accused Glanvill of riding round the country, visiting the gentlemen empanelled on the jury for the trial of the case, to endeavour to prejudice and influence them in his own favour against Brice. After several adjournments the case was tried; and judgment was given against Andrew Brice, and a fine and costs imposed, amounting to a large sum.

Dr. Brushfield says truly: "That Brice's language was strong, outspoken, coarse, and at times savage, no one will dispute he was undoubtedly a hard hitter, and went straight to the mark. In reflecting upon him, due regard must be had to the coarse period in which he lived. Let any one read the accounts given by the debtors themselves and others (in Brice's Weekly Journal, 8 September, 1717, 19 July, and 6 December, 1728); and if they even make allowance for some exaggeration, let them ask themselves whether anything could be more revolting than Glanvill's treatment of the debtors, and whether Brice's language could be too strong in his condemnation of such practices. In such a case, truth, if vigorously expressed, was a libel in law. His active sympathies were roused by, what appeared to him to be, the gross injustice and cruelty of the keeper of St. Thomas's Ward. His enthusiasm never wavered in the support of what he deemed to be a good cause; and no subject did he prosecute more vigorously than that of rendering some assistance to the confined debtors. Under such circumstances, trouble, expense, and future consequences were never considered by him."

Brice could not and would not pay his fine; and it has been asserted that he was sent to prison. This, however, seems not to have been the case. He retired into his own house, and remained there in voluntary confinement for seven years; where he still continued to produce his Journal. That of 27 February, 1730, contains some information about him in a leading article. After alluding to "the vile Prosecution commenced against" him "near Two Years and a Half since," he thus refers to the consequences of the action: "I've the sad Choice of paying that other Honourable Man, my gentle Adversary above a Hundred Pounds, go to Gaol (the Den of Legion Woe), or retire from and guard against the horrid Catchpoles' rapacious Clutches. The first none who can't instruct me honestly to get the Sum will, I presume, advise me to comply with; the second I've a natural Antipathy against; and therefore the latter, how much soever it may rub against the grain, I'm forced to submit to." Then follows the first announcement of a poem he had composed during his retirement, entitled Freedom; and this had appended to it a notice of another poem, "already printed, to be published very soon," entitled "Behemoth, or, The horrid bloody Monster of St. Thomas's (an Island scituate directly under the Æquinoctial Line, between Guinea and Lower Æthiopia, subject to the Portuguese)." This, of course, was another attack upon Glanvill, but no copy of it is now known to exist.

Whilst preparing for the publication of Freedom he lost his mother and wife, and this delayed its issue.

Brice took advantage of every Sunday, a day on which debtors could not be arrested, to walk abroad. Many attempts were made to seize him, but all failed. He kept himself too close, and was too much on his guard. On one occasion a bailiff named Spry disguised himself as a clergyman and entered his office under pretence that he had got a book he desired to have published by Brice; but that worthy did not allow himself to be seen.

The profits from the sale of his poem on "Freedom" were said to have been sufficiently large to enable him to compound with his creditors and regain his liberty. After this he opened a printing press at Truro, the first in Cornwall. But the venture did not succeed, and he soon gave it up.

From the outset of his career Brice had exhibited a strong partiality for the drama, and when players came to Exeter they were hospitably received at his table.

In 1743, John Wesley visited Exeter for the second time, and preached in the open air. He probably produced considerable effect, for some time after this visit the local comedians were prosecuted as vagrants and forced to give up their theatre in Waterbeer Street. Thereupon the Methodists purchased it and converted it into a meeting-house. Brice at once took up the cause of the players, and in 1745 published a poem entitled "The Play-house Church, or new Actors of Devotion." In consequence of this, says the early biographer of Brice, "the mob were so spirited up that the Methodists were soon obliged to abandon the place to its former possessors, whom Mr. Brice now protected by engaging them as his covenant-servants to perform gratis."

All the playing fraternity who visited Exeter became acquainted with Brice, and while valuing his hospitality and support, could not fail to notice and be amused at his eccentricities. When Garrick produced Colman's play, The Clandestine Marriage, in 1766, Dr. Oliver says: "There was some hesitation what tone would be most suitable to Lord Ogleby—it was decided at last that Mr. King should assume Mr. A. Brice's." The part, an important one, was originally intended for Garrick: but on his declining it, Mr. King was requested to undertake it. He at first hesitated, but finally consented, and made a great hit with it. "Mr. King—as Lord Ogleby—seemed to give a relief and glow to the character which was not intended by the author."[3]

The character does not accord with what we know of Brice. Lord Ogleby is a hypochondriac, a fop, an aged flirt, who leers at the ladies and makes up his complexion. "I have rather too much of the lily this morning in my complexion," he says to his valet; "a faint tincture of the rose will give a delicate spirit to my eyes for the day." He converses in French, he chirps out stanzas, whilst twinged with rheumatism. "Love is the idol of my heart," says the old fop, "and the demon, interest, sinks before him." But that there is a strong vein of sarcasm in Lord Ogleby, there seems to be no element in the character that agrees with that of Brice.

We now arrive at the production of the Grand Gazetteer, the work upon which rests principally Brice's claim to literary celebrity. Upon it he expended much labour and money. "The very Books by us us'd in the composition … cost far above £100," he says. It was issued in forty-four shilling numbers, each consisting of thirty-two pages, and was begun in 1751, and the last number appeared in 1755. This was one of the earliest gazetteers published in England, and certainly the most important. Writing fifty years after its completion, Dyer, the Exeter bookseller, in 1805, termed it, at that date, "the best, the most comprehensive, and even the most learned Gazetteer in the English language"; but if we may trust Brice in the matter, he lost money on the publication.

His last published work was an heroic-comic poem entitled The Mobiad, being a description of an Exeter election "by Democritus Juvenal, Moral Professor of Ridicule and plaguy-pleasant Fellow of Stingtickle College; vulgarly Andrew Brice." London, 1770.

Dr. Brushfield has shown good reasons for attributing to Andrew Brice, assisted by Benjamin Bowring, of Chumleigh, the composition of The Exmoor Scolding and Courtship that first appeared in Brice's Journal.[4]

Brice's latter days were spent in strife with his nephew, Thomas Brice, who was connected with the Exeter Journal, and with Mr. Andrews and B. Trewman, who had been employed in his printing office, and who left him and started a new paper on their own account, the Exeter Mercury.

He was a disappointed man in his family. He was twice married, but both his wives, and all his children, died before him. He himself died of general decay, at the age of eighty-three, on 7 November, 1773. In his will he desired that he might be attended to his grave by his brother masons of St. John's Lodge. His remains were removed to the Apollo Room, where during his lifetime he had often presided at masonic gatherings, and there they were exposed for several days on show to the public, who were charged a shilling a head to view them. The money raised was to defray the expenses of his funeral.

On Sunday, 14 November, "the morrow of St. Brice's day," the interment took place in St. Bartholomew's churchyard. Two hundred members of various lodges, in masonic costume, and with all their regalia, together with several hundred of the inhabitants, walked in procession from the New Inn to the grave. A funeral elegy, written by J. E. Whitaker and set to music by J. E. Gaudry, was performed at the grave to the accompaniment of orchestral music. No monumental stone marks the spot where he lies, but the following epitaph, as suitable, is given by Polwhele:

Here lies Andrew Brice, the old Exeter printer,
Whose life lengthen'd out to the depth of its winter;
Of his brethren masonic he took his last leave,
Inviting them all to a lodge at his grave,
Who, to show their respect and obedience, came hither,
(Or rather, the mob and the masons together)
Sung a hymn to his praise in a funeral tone,
But disliking his lodging, return'd to their own.

Dr. Brushfield thus gives his appreciation of Andrew Brice: "The character of Andrew Brice, although very pronounced, is by no means an easy one to estimate or to describe. His natural good abilities, aided by a good education, placed him in a position far above his compeers, and we can well understand Polwhele's remark on the Parleys being 'no match for the learning and abilities of Brice.' That he possessed literary talents of a high order is shown by his article on Exeter in his Gazetteer. Of another order of composition, and as displaying his versatility in a praiseworthy direction, some of, his newspaper articles may be mentioned. But, on the other hand, when excited by political animosity or by private enmity, he appears to have thrown off all restraint, and as he was a master in the arts of vituperation, satire, and unscrupulous sneering, and coarse in his statements, we are not surprised to learn that he was constantly embroiled in literary and even in more active warfare. He was vigorous and thorough in all that he did; a model of plodding perseverance, as the circumstances of his early life have already demonstrated, a man of strong feelings and powerful resentment. Testy, painfully sensitive, never forgetting or forgiving an injury, and governed by strong impulses, whether for good or for evil. And yet, like those of a large class, his faults were far more patent to the world than were his virtues. His character was antithetic, powerful in extremes. Although a good fighter, even when on the losing side, he often acknowledged himself to be in the wrong. In his daily life no one was kinder, displayed more hospitality, or was more charitable all these good qualities were especially exhibited to his poorer relatives, as well as to the 'poor players.' Of him Dr. Oliver reports 'that he was a great favourite with his brother Exonians; he … was frank, humorous, and independent.' He calls him 'facetious,' a point of character on which Andrew appeared to pride himself, as he sometimes dubbed himself ’Merry Andrew,' at other times ’Andrew, surnamed Merry.' He certainly possessed strong individuality, and was eccentric in speech, in manner, and dress."

It often happens that what a man has done and least values is all that remains of him to be really appreciated in after times. So was it with Andrew Brice. His Gazetteer has long been superseded. But his Exmoor Scolding and Courtship, which he so little appreciated that he did not care to acknowledge his part authorship, has been printed and reprinted, and is valued to this day as one of the most important dialect works in the English language, and the two were published as a specimen of the folk-speech of the north-east of the county in 1879 by the English Dialect Society, edited by Mr. F. T. Elworthy. Of the various authorities for the life of Andrew Brice it is unnecessary here to speak; all have been superseded by the admirable monograph by Dr. Brushfield in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1888. He has been able to correct many errors into which earlier biographers fell.

Several portraits of Brice exist, mainly line engravings. But the best is a mezzotint engraved by Jehner and published in 1781.

  1. Entries in an old Bible, in the Western Antiquary, 1885, p. 196.
  2. Universal Magazine for 1781.
  3. Memoirs of P. Stockdale, I, 313-14. London, 1809.
  4. "The Exmoor Scolding and Courtship," by T. N. Brushfield, M.D., in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association for1888.