Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Granger, James

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GRANGER, JAMES (1723–1776), print collector and biographer, son of William Granger, by Elizabeth Tutt, daughter of Tracy Tutt, was born of poor parents at Shaston, Dorsetshire, in 1723. On 26 April 1743 he was matriculated at Oxford, as a member of Christ Church, but he left the university without taking a degree (Foster, Alumni Oxon. ii. 549). Having entered into holy orders, he was presented to the vicarage of Shiplake, Oxfordshire, a living in the gift of the dean and chapter of Windsor. In the dedication of his ‘Biographical History of England’ to Horace Walpole, he states that his name and person were known to few at the time of its publication (1769), as he ‘had the good fortune to retire early to independence, obscurity, and content.’ He adds that ‘if he has an ambition for anything, it is to be an honest man and a good parish priest,’ and in both those characters he was highly esteemed. His liberal political views gave rise to Dr. Johnson's characteristic remark: ‘The dog is a whig. I do not like much to see a whig in any dress, but I hate to see a whig in a parson's gown.’ The preparation of the materials for his ‘Biographical History’ brought him into correspondence with many collectors of engraved portraits and students of English biography. Writing on 28 Nov. 1771, two years after the appearance of the first edition, he mentions that his book had ‘in money and marketable commodities’ brought him in above 400l. (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 22). In 1773 or 1774 he accompanied Lord Mountstuart, afterwards Earl of Bute, on a tour to Holland, where his companion made an extensive collection of portraits. Some time before his death he tried unsuccessfully to obtain a living within a moderate distance of Shiplake. On Sunday, 14 April 1776, he performed divine service apparently in his usual health, but, while in the act of administering the sacrament, was seized with an apoplectic fit, and died next morning.

His works are:

  1. ‘Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution, consisting of Characters dispersed in different Classes, and adapted to a Methodical Catalogue of Engraved British Heads. Intended as an Essay towards reducing our Biography to System, and a help to the knowledge of Portraits; with a variety of Anecdotes and Memoirs of a great number of persons not to be found in any other Biographical Work. With a preface, showing the utility of a collection of Engraved Portraits to supply the defect, and answer the various purposes of Medals,’ 2 vols. Lond. 1769, 4to, and a supplement consisting of corrections and large additions, 1774, 4to; 2nd edit. 4 vols. 1775, 8vo; 3rd edit. 4 vols. 1779, 8vo; 4th edit. 4 vols. 1804, 8vo; 5th edit., with upwards of four hundred additional lives, 6 vols. 1824, 8vo. A continuation of the work from the revolution of 1688 to the end of the reign of George I appeared in 3 vols. Lond. 1806, 8vo, the materials being supplied by the manuscripts left by Granger and the collections of the editor, the Rev. Mark Noble, F.S.A. Previously to the publication of the first edition of Granger's work in 1769 five shillings was considered a liberal price by collectors for any English portrait. After the appearance of the ‘Biographical History,’ books, ornamented with engraved portraits, rose in price to five times their original value, and few could be found unmutilated. In 1856 Joseph Lilly and Joseph Willis, booksellers, each offered for sale a magnificent illustrated copy of Granger's work. Lilly's copy, which included Noble's ‘Continuation,’ was illustrated by more than thirteen hundred portraits, bound in 27 vols. imperial 4to, price 42l.. The price of Willis's copy, which contained more than three thousand portraits, bound in 19 vols. fol., was 38l. 10s. It had cost the former owner nearly 200l. The following collections have been published in illustration of Granger's work: (a) ‘Portraits illustrating Granger's Biographical History of England’ (known under the name of ‘Richardson's Collection’), 6 pts. Lond. 1792–1812, 4to; (b) Samuel Woodburn's ‘Gallery of [over two hundred] Portraits … illustrative of Granger's Biographical History of England, &c.,’ Lond. 1816, fol.; (c) ‘A Collection of Portraits to illustrate Granger's Biographical History of England and Noble's continuation to Granger, forming a Supplement to Richardson's Copies of rare Granger Portraits,’ 2 vols. Lond. 1820–2, 4to.
  2. ‘An Apology for the Brute Creation, or Abuse of Animals censured,’ 1772. This sermon was preached in his church on 18 Oct. 1772, and, as a postscript states, gave almost universal disgust to his parishioners, as ‘the mention of horses and dogs was censured as a prostitution of the dignity of the pulpit, and considered as a proof of the author's growing insanity.’
  3. ‘The Nature and Extent of Industry,’ a sermon preached before the Archbishop of Canterbury in the parish church of Shiplake on 4 July 1775. This was gravely dedicated: ‘To the inhabitants of the parish of Shiplake who neglect the service of the church, and spend the Sabbath in the worst kind of idleness, this plain sermon, which they never heard, and probably will never read, is inscribed by their sincere well-wisher and faithful minister, J. G.’ This and the previous discourse were favourably received by the public, and many clergymen and others purchased numbers of them for distribution.
  4. ‘Letters between the Rev. James Granger, M.A. [sic], and many of the most eminent Literary Men of his time: composing a copious history and illustration of the Biographical History of England. With Miscellanies and Notes of Tours in France, Holland, and Spain, by the same Gentleman,’ London, 1805, 8vo, edited by J. P. Malcolm, author of ‘Londonium Redivivum.’

A portrait of him was in the possession of his brother, John Granger, who died at Basingstoke on 21 March 1810, aged 82. His collection of upwards of fourteen thousand engraved portraits was dispersed by Greenwood in 1778, but the sale is said to have been not very productive.

[Addit. MSS. 5824 f. 61 b, 5225 f. 132 b, 5992 f. 184, 28104 f. 42; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Boswell's Johnson; Dibdin's Library Companion, 1824, ii. 109; Gent. Mag. xlvi. 106, 168, 192, 207, 313, lii. 223, 277, 433, lxxiii. pt. ii. p. 895, lxxx. pt. i. p. 294; Granger's Biog. Hist. 5th edit. introd.; Granger Correspondence; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 112; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 495; C. J. Smith's Hist. and Lit. Curiosities, pl. 34.]

T. C.