Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Woodfall, George

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WOODFALL, GEORGE (1767–1844), printer, son of Henry Sampson Woodfall [q. v.], was born in 1767, and was his father's partner in the printing business till December 1793, when the father retired. George afterwards removed to Angel Court, Snow Hill, where he carried on his father's business by himself till 1840, when his eldest son, Henry Dick Woodfall, who was the fifth eminent printer of that name, became his partner. George Woodfall was esteemed as a typographer. A copy of the Bible from his press in 1804 is said to contain but one error. Dibdin styles him ‘the laborious and high-spirited typographical artist to whom we are indebted for the quarto reprints of our “Old Chronicles” and for the reprint of “Hakluyt's Voyages”’ (Bibliographical Decameron, ii. 406). When Queen Victoria dined at Guildhall on 9 Nov. 1837, being five months after her accession, she was presented with a quarto volume, ‘beautifully printed and illustrated by Mr. George Woodfall,’ containing the words of the music then sung. Two copies only were produced, the second being deposited among the city archives (Timperley, Encycl. of Printing, p. 952). Woodfall's eminence as a printer was recognised by his brethren; he was usually chosen chairman at the meetings of the London master-printers. In 1812 he was elected a stock-keeper of the Stationers' Company; in 1825 member of the court of assistants, and master of the company in 1833–4. He was re-elected stock-keeper in 1836, and in 1841 he was elected master for the second time. In 1823 he became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1824 of the Royal Society of Literature. He served on the general committee of the Royal Literary Fund from 1820 to 1828, and, on his resignation, was elected to the council, an office which he filled till his death, with the exception of the period between March 1835 and March 1838, when he was treasurer to the corporation. He was a commissioner for the lieutenancy of the city of London.

When König, the inventor of the steam printing-press, visited London in the autumn of 1806 in quest of the financial help which had been denied to him in Saxony, Austria, and Russia, he found a sympathetic listener in Thomas Bensley [q. v.], who requested his fellow-printers, Woodfall and Taylor, to join him in examining König's invention. Woodfall pronounced against it, little dreaming that its adoption in his own office would afterwards increase to an extraordinary extent the amount of printing executed within a given time. The work by which Woodfall is best known now, and upon which he prided himself, was an edition of Junius's ‘Letters’ in three volumes, published in 1812. Several years were occupied in compiling the work, for which John Mason Good [q. v.] wrote a preliminary essay and notes. John Taylor (1757–1832) [q. v.] went through the files of the ‘Public Advertiser’ at Woodfall's request, ‘in order to see if there were any works of Junius previous to his signature under that name’ (Taylor, Records of my Life, ii. 254). One hundred and forty letters were marked, and of these 113 were printed as being ‘by the same writer under other signatures.’ A few of them were authentic; but there was no other evidence for the others than the personal opinion of Woodfall and Taylor (Woodfall MSS. in Brit. Mus.). Woodfall has left it on record, on his father's authority, that Junius wrote the ‘Letters’ signed ‘Lucius,’ ‘Brutus,’ and ‘Atticus,’ and such testimony commands the same respect as his father's affirmation that, to his personal knowledge, ‘Francis did not write a line of Junius.’

Among Woodfall's manuscripts in the British Museum is a detailed review of John Jaques's ‘Junius and his Works,’ in which Woodfall combats the notion that Francis either did or could have written the letters with that signature. Many of Junius's letters in manuscript, which his father had preserved, passed to Woodfall, who printed the unpublished ones and added facsimiles of the handwriting. Woodfall left these papers to his son, Henry Dick Woodfall, from whom they passed, through Joseph Parkes [q. v.], to the British Museum. In notes of Woodfall's career, written by James Fenton, who was long a corrector for the press in the firm now represented by Messrs. Woodfall & Kinder, it is written: ‘Never, even to his son Henry Dick Woodfall, did he ever divulge the author of Junius's “Letters;” he said so in his will (which I saw at Doctors' Commons myself, J. Fenton).’ The only reference to Junius in the will, which is now in Somerset House, is the following: ‘And I also give to him [H. D. Woodfall] all my manuscript correspondence and letters, including those from the author of Junius.’ George Woodfall died on 22 Dec. 1844 at his house in Dean's Yard, Westminster.

[Ann. Reg. lxxxvi. 291; Timperley's Encycl. of Printing; Taylor's Records of my Life; Literary Gazette, 1844; and information supplied by Messrs. Woodfall & Kinder.]

F. R.