Edwards, James (DNB00)

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EDWARDS, JAMES (1757–1816), bookseller and bibliographer, born in 1757, was the eldest son of William Edwards (1720–1808) of Halifax, who in 1784 set up James and a younger son, John, as the firm of Edwards & Sons in Pall Mall, London. John died soon afterwards, and the business was continued by James with great success. A third son, Thomas (d. 1834), was a bookseller in Halifax. Richard, another son, at one time held a government appointment in Minorca. Messrs. Edwards & Sons sold many valuable libraries. One sale in 1784 was formed principally from the libraries of N. Wilson of Pontefract and H. Bradshaw of Maple Hall, Cheshire. Among others dispersed in 1787 was the library of Dr. Peter Mainwaring. James accompanied in 1788 his fellow-bookseller, James Robson, to Venice, in order to examine the famous Pinelli library, which they purchased and sold by auction the following year in Conduit Street, London. In 1790 Edwards disposed of the libraries of Salichetti of Rome and Zanetti of Venice, and in 1791 that of Paris de Meyzieu. He had purchased at the Duchess of Portland's sale in 1786 the famous Bedford Missal, now in the British Museum, described by Richard Gough in 'An Account of a Rich Illuminated Missal executed for John, duke of Bedford, Regent of France under Henry VI, 1794, 4to. This description was dedicated by the author to Edwards, 'who, with the spirit to purchase [the missal], unites the taste to possess it.' 'Let me recommend the youthful bibliomaniac to get possession of Mr. Edwards's catalogues, and especially that of 1794,' says Dibdin (Bibliomania, i. 123). He made frequent visits to the continent, where many of his most advantageous purchases were made. About 1804, having acquired a considerable fortune, he resolved to retire from trade, and with the Bedford Missal and other literary and artistic treasures he went to live at a country seat in the neighbourhood of Old Verulam. He was succeeded by Robert Harding Evans [q. v.] On 10 Sept. 1805 he married Katharine, the only daughter of the Rev. Edward Bromhead, rector of Reepham, Norfolk, and about the same period bought the manor-house at Harrow, where some of the archbishops of Canterbury had once lived. The house is finely situated among gardens, in which was an alcove mentioned by Dibdin, some of whose imaginary bibliomaniacal dialogues are supposed to be carried on in the surrounding grounds. Edwards was hospitable and fond of literary society. Some of his books were sold by Christie, 25–28 April 1804. The remainder, a choice collection of 830 articles, fetched the large sum of 8,467l. 10s. when it was sold by Evans 5–10 April 1815 (Gent, Mag, lxxxv. pt. i. pp. 135, 254, 349; and Dibdin, Bibliographical Decameron, 1817, iii. 111–27). He died at Harrow 2 Jan. 1816, at the age of fifty-nine, leaving five children and a widow, who afterwards married the Rev. Thomas Butt of Kinnersley, Shropshire. His last instructions were that his coffin should be made out of library shelves. A monument to his memory is in Harrow Church.

Edwards was Dibdin's 'Rinaldo, the wealthy, the fortunate, and the heroic... no man ever did such wonderful things towards the acquisition of rare, beautiful, and truly classical productions... he was probably born a bibliographical bookseller, and had always a nice feeling and accurate perception of what was tasteful and classical' (ib. iii. 14–16).

[Gent. Mag. lxxxvi. pt. i. 180-1; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 422, 641, v. 324, vi. 296, ix. 153, 808; Nicholl's Illustrations, iv. 881-4, v. 678, viii. 457, 474, 631; Clarke's Repertorium Bibliographicum, 1819, pp. 442-6; Timperley's Encyclopædia, 1842, pp. 825, 933.]

H. R. T.