Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roby, John
ROBY, JOHN (1793–1850), author of ‘The Traditions of Lancashire,’ son of Nehemiah Roby and Mary Aspull, his wife, was born at Wigan, Lancashire, on 5 Jan. 1793. His father was for many years master of the grammar school at Haigh, near Wigan, and his eldest brother, twenty-seven years his senior, was William Roby [q. v.] John was educated chiefly at home, and in a desultory way. His natural tastes were for music, painting, poetry, and the drama. While yet a child he played the organ at the Countess of Huntingdon's chapel at Wigan, and afterwards for fifteen years acted as organist at the independent chapel at Rochdale. Jerdan, who with other literary men found in him a generous benefactor, states that he had the best ear for music that he ever met.
In 1819 he joined at Rochdale as managing partner the banking firm of Fenton, Eccles, Cunliffe, & Roby. For this position he had, among other qualifications, that of a remarkably clear head for arithmetical calculations. He retired in 1847, through failing health, and removed to Malvern. Roby was drowned in the wreck of the Orion, near Portpatrick, Wigtonshire, on 18 June 1850, while on his way from Liverpool to Glasgow, and was buried at Providence Chapel, High Street, Rochdale. He married, in 1816, the youngest daughter of James Bealey of Derrickens, near Blackburn, by whom he had nine children. She died on 3 Jan. 1848, and in the following year he married Elizabeth Ryland Dent, who survived. There is a portrait of Roby in the Rochdale Free Library; another is engraved in the third edition of the ‘Traditions,’ and a third in the ‘Remains.’
Roby's first acknowledged publication was ‘Sir Bertram, a Poem in Six Cantos,’ Blackburn, 1815, but two anonymous parodies on Scott, ‘Jokeby, a Burlesque on “Rokeby,”’ 1812, and ‘The Lay of the Poor Fiddler, a Parody on “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,”’ 1814, are ascribed to him (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vi. 257). The work by which he is best known, ‘Traditions of Lancashire,’ was issued at London in 1829, 2 vols. A second series followed in 1831, 2 vols. Later editions were issued in 1840, 1843, 1867, and subsequently. The early editions were beautifully illustrated by E. Finden, after drawings by George Pickering [q. v.] Crofton Croker contributed one of the pieces, the ‘Bargaist or Boggart.’ The tales are rather inflated and overwrought, but are valuable for the local traditions which they embody, though some of the narratives are mainly drawn from the author's fancy. Sir W. Scott had a good opinion of them. Roby also wrote: 1. ‘Lorenzo, or a Tale of Redemption,’ Rochdale, 1820; of this volume of heavy verse three editions came out in the same year. 2. ‘The Duke of Mantua, a Tragedy,’ 1823. 3. ‘Seven Weeks in Belgium, Switzerland, Piedmont, Lombardy,’ &c., 1838, 2 vols. 4. ‘Legendary and Poetical Remains,’ including some of his contributions to ‘Blackwood’ and ‘Fraser, posthumously published in 1854, with a memoir by his widow.
[Memoir in Legendary and Poetical Remains; Robertson's Old and New Rochdale, p. 218; Jerdan's Autobiogr. 1853, ii. 24; Fishwick's Lancashire Library, 1875, p. 271; Allibone's Dict. of Authors; Lancashire Funeral Certificates (Chetham Soc.), p. 95, being correction of an error in the legend of Father Arrowsmith; letters of Mrs. Trestrail (Roby's widow) in Athenæum, 14 Oct. 1882, and Manchester City News, 1 April 1893.]