Herbert, William (1718-1795) (DNB00)

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HERBERT, WILLIAM (1718–1795), bibliographer, was born 29 Nov. 1718, and was educated at Hitchin, Hertfordshire. He was apprenticed to a hosier, and on the expiration of his articles took up his freedom of the city, and opened a shop in Leadenhall Street, London. He was admitted to the livery of his company and chosen a member of the court of assistants. In order to learn the art of painting on glass he gave up the hosiery business, but about 1748 accepted a situation as purser's clerk to three ships belonging to the East India Company. After an adverture with some French men-of-war at Tellicherry, he made a long overland journey with a small company of natives. While in India he adopted a kind of oriental dress and let his beard grow. On returning to England he drew plans of various settlements, for which the company gave him 300l. These plans were included in a publication issued by Bowles, printseller, near Mercers' Chapel. Herbert established himself as a chart-engraver and printseller on London Bridge; there is a mezzotint with this imprint. A fire, which took place on the bank of the Thames the very night of his entrance upon his new premises, suggested to him the plan of a floating fire-engine, which was afterwards carried into practical effect. In 1758 he published, 'at the Golden Globe, under the Piazzas, London Bridge,' 'A new Directory for the East Indies, with general and particular charts for the navigation of those seas, where-in the French Neptune Oriental has been chiefly considered and examined, with additions, corrections, and explanatory notes,' a quarto volume, with folio charts. Herbert, who calls himself 'hydrographer,' states in the dedication to the East India Company, 'all that has been set forth in the Neptune Oriental has been carefully examined and compared with the particular remarks and journals of ships in your honour's service, as also some country ones, besides many curious charts and plans I have been favoured with, as well as many collected whilst I was in India.' A second and third edition, unaltered, were issued. William Nicholson supplied the practical sea-knowledge. A fourth edition, 'with additions,' was published by Herbert's successor in 1775; a fifth edition, 'enlarged by S. Dunn,' appeared in 1780. When the houses on London Bridge were pulled down, about 1758, Herbert removed to a shop in Leadenhall Street, on the site afterwards covered by an addition to the India House. He married his first wife about the time of his residence on London Bridge. After a short stay in Leadenhall Street he moved to 27 Goulston Square, Whitechapel, and was married a second time to a niece of the Rev. Mr. Newman, 'pastor of the meeting in Carter Lane,' a woman with money, but of weak intellect. He brought out catalogues of 'books, charts, and maps,' and his business profits, added to his wife's income, enabled him to live well and to buy old books and manuscripts. When in Goulston Square he published the second edition of 'The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire,' by Sir Robert Atkyns (1768). The first edition (1712) had become very rare, a number of copies having been burnt at the great fire of Bowyer's printing-office; the greater part of the second edition was also destroyed by fire, and it also is extremely rare.

Herbert sold his business and stock to Henry Gregory for a thousand guineas, and retired to a country house at Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. He purchased the house, and among other additions built a library, in which he used to sit all day 'under a circular skylight, in the intervening period of every meal.' After the death of his second wife he married Philippa, daughter of John Croshold, mayor of Norwich, and niece of Robert Marsham of Stratton Strawless, Norfolk, who also brought him a good fortune. She died in 1808.

Ames's interleaved copy of his 'Typographical Antiquities,' with the plates, blocks, and copyright, came into Herbert's possession [see Ames, Joseph], and in 1780 he issued proposals for a new edition, upon which he had then been engaged twenty years. In 1785 was published the first volume, a quarto, printed with worn type, on poor paper, of 'Typographical Antiquities, or an Historical Account of the Origin and Progress of Printing in Great Britain and Ireland; containing Memoirs of our ancient Printers,and a Register of Books printed by them, from the year 1471 to 1500. Begun by the late Joseph Ames, considerably augmented, both in the Memoirs and number of books.' Five hundred copies of the small-paper and fifty large-paper copies composed the edition. The book was very favourably reviewed (Gent. Mag. lv. 117, and Monthly Review, lxxiii. 326, &c.) A second volume appeared in 1786 (Gent. Mag. lvi. 421, &c.), and the third and concluding volume in 1790. He busied himself in the preparation of a reimpression, and left an interleaved copy in six volumes, with a number of 'small-paper books in which he took his extracts from such books as were discovered since his publication.' He died childless, 18 March 1795, in his seventy-seventh year, and was buried in Cheshunt churchyard.

In Dibdin's edition of the 'Typographical Antiquities' (i. 71) there is a mezzotint of Herbert, 'from an original painting upon glass,' and a vignette by an imaginative oriental artist (ib. p. 95). Herbert is described as short and stout, shy and reserved with strangers, diffident as to his attainments, and a strict presbyterian in religion. He had many small eccentricities, among others that of always writing the personal pronoun with a small i (see his Preface). His rich library of old English books was dispersed after his death; his name, written in a bold clear hand on title-page or fly-leaf of the volume, is familiar to book-collectors. A catalogue of some of his books was published in 1796 by his nephew, Isaac Herbert, bookseller, of 29 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He spared no labour in the preparation of his great work; he searched the registers of the Company of Stationers, ransacked the public and private libraries of the kingdom, and carried on an extensive correspondence with owners of rare books. Some of his letters to Cole, Steevens, Chiswell, Dalrymple, G. Mason, and others are preserved by Nichols (Lit. Anecdotes and Illustrations, passim), and a part of his manuscript collections may be seen in the British Museum. His knowledge of old English books in their outward form was very great, but the literature itself had small interest for him; his edition of the 'Typographical Antiquities' increased three times the size of the original of Ames. The unfinished edition of Dibdin has not superseded it, and it remains a monument of industry, and the foundation of our bibliography of old English literature.

[Dibdin prefixed a biography to his edition of the Typogr. Antiq. 1810, i. 73-95, chiefly based on a notice by Gough in Gent. Mag. March 1795, pp. 261-2; see also Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 264-266.]

H. R. T.