Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilford, John

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WILFORD, JOHN (fl. 1723–1742), bookseller, was actively engaged in his profession in 1723 when he began issuing a monthly circular of new books, a circumstance which would seem to preclude his identification with the John Wilford who entered Merchant Taylors' school in March 1717. Shortly after 1730, when fortunes were being made in the trade by books issued in weekly parts, Wilford, whose place of business was in the Old Bailey, entered the ranks of publishers, but obtained no more than a precarious footing; after 1742 he drops out of notice, but he may very possibly have been the John Wilford of Southampton Street who died on 2 Jan. 1764 (Gent. Mag. 1764, p. 46).

From March 1723 to December 1729 Wilford issued in monthly parts, at threepence each, a well-compiled price-list called ‘A Monthly Catalogue or General Register of Books, Sermons, Plays, and Pamphlets, printed or reprinted either at London or the two Universities.’ Appended to most of the numbers are proposals for printing various works by subscription. During 1731–2 he employed Thomas Stackhouse (1677–1752) [q. v.] upon ‘the whole works’ of archbishop Sir William Dawes [q. v.], with a preface and life of the author. In order to swell the third volume to the required size, Stackhouse complained that Wilford had insisted upon his ‘padding out’ Dawes's ‘Duties of the Closet’ with a set of miscellaneous prayers by various authors. In 1732 in his scarce ‘Bookbinder, Bookprinter, and Bookseller refuted,’ Stackhouse gives a comical account of Wilford and a fellow-publisher Edlin disputing, at the Castle Tavern in Paternoster Row, as to whether there was money to be made out of a Roman history in weekly parts. Edlin strongly advocated the attempt, but Wilford's talk ran all upon the remunerative properties of devotional tracts and family directors.

During the summer of 1734 Wilford was arrested by a government messenger in consequence of his name being on the title-page of an opposition squib, Swift's anonymous ‘Epistle to a Lady,’ containing a furious attack upon Sir Robert ‘Brass’ [Walpole]. Wilford referred the matter back to Lawton Gilliver, and the matter was eventually dropped, though not before Swift's responsibility had been betrayed (see Pilkington, Memoirs, i. 171; Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vii. 319 n.) Early in 1735 Wilford published Dr. John Armstrong's ‘Essay for Abridging the Study of Physick.’ During the same period he was publisher of the ‘Daily Post-Boy,’ and a sharer in Curll's venture with Pope's quasi-unauthorised ‘Letters.’ The advertisement to this work in May, setting forth the names of Pope's titled correspondents, was held to be a breach of privilege, and Wilford was summoned with Curll to attend in the House of Lords, where he was examined but disclaimed responsibility, and after a second attendance on 13 May 1735 he was discharged. During 1741 Wilford issued in weekly parts to an extensive body of subscribers ‘Memorials and Characters, together with the Lives of Divers Eminent and Worthy Persons (1600–1740), collected and compiled from above 150 different authors, several scarce pieces and some original MSS. communicated to the editor … to which is added an appendix of monumental inscriptions’ (London, 1741, 4to; ‘price 1l. 6s. 6d. in sheets’). The ‘Lives’ (some 240 in number, one-third of them being those of ladies) are for the most part drawn from funeral sermons, but a few are borrowed from Wood's ‘Athenæ,’ Thoresby's ‘Leeds,’ Prince's ‘Worthies of Devon,’ and similar works; while one or two are abridged from regular ‘Lives’ by Walton or other biographers. Wilford assumed the credit of editorship, and the book is invariably known as ‘Wilford's Lives,’ but it was in reality the work of obscure compilers in his pay, chief among whom was John Jones (1700–1770) [q. v.] At the time of publication Wilford was living at the Three Luces in Little Britain, still the stronghold of the bookselling trade, prior to the migration to Paternoster Row.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii. passim; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vi. 428, 443; Lowndes's Bibl. Manual, ed. Bohn; Timperley's Cyclopædia of Printing; Roberts's Earlier History of English Bookselling, 1889; Thoms's Curll Papers, 1879, p. 100; London Magazine, ix. 512, x. 260; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.