Prentice, Archibald (DNB00)

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PRENTICE, ARCHIBALD (1792–1857), journalist, son of Archibald Prentice of Covington Mains in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, and Helen, daughter of John Stoddart of The Bank, a farm in the parish of Carnwath, was born in November 1792. He was descended from an old covenanting family. After a somewhat meagre education at a neighbouring school, Archibald was, when only twelve years old, apprenticed to a baker in Edinburgh; but, the occupation proving uncongenial, he was in the following summer (1805) apprenticed to a woollen-draper in the Lawnmarket. Here he remained for three years, when he removed to Glasgow as a clerk in the warehouse of Thomas Grahame, brother of James Grahame [q. v.] the poet. Two years later he was appointed traveller to the house in England, and in 1815 Grahame, acting on his advice, removed his business from Glasgow to Manchester, and at the same time admitted Prentice into partnership in the firm.

At this time there existed in Manchester a small weekly newspaper, called ‘Cowdroy's Gazette,’ to which Prentice, who took a keen interest in politics, occasionally contributed. But the ‘Gazette’ was hardly influential enough to satisfy the requirements of the Manchester reformers, and in May 1821 the ‘Manchester Guardian’ was founded, as the organ of radical opinion. It was immediately successful, and commanded a wide circulation; but the political principles of its editor, John Edward Taylor, proving after a short time unsatisfactory to the more advanced radicals, of whom Prentice was one, he was induced to purchase ‘Cowdroy's Gazette,’ and to start an opposition paper. Accordingly, in June 1824, the first number of the ‘Manchester Gazette’ appeared under his editorship. The year 1826 was one of great commercial depression, and after a strenuous but ineffectual effort he found himself unable to keep the paper afloat by his independent exertions. The ‘Gazette’ was, however, soon incorporated with the ‘Manchester Times,’ and he was appointed sole manager of the new paper, the first number of which appeared on 17 Oct. 1828. His method of conducting the paper was not always agreeable to his contemporaries, and on 14 July 1831 an action for libel was brought against him by one Captain Grimshawe, of whom he had said that he gave indecent toasts at public dinners. In the indictment Prentice was styled a ‘labourer,’ and in his defence, which he conducted himself, he said that he gloried in being ‘a labourer in the field of parliamentary reform.’ He was acquitted, and was presented with a silver snuff-box ‘by one hundred of his fellow-labourers.’

Towards the close of 1836 an anti-corn-law association was started in London by Joseph Hume and other parliamentary radicals; but the association attracted little attention, and it was mainly due to Prentice that the centre of agitation was transferred from the metropolis to Manchester. On 24 Sept. 1838 he induced several prominent Manchester merchants to meet him at the York Hotel, and the result of their meeting was the foundation of the Anti-Corn-Law League. For the next eight years he devoted himself heart and soul as editor and lecturer to the propagation of free-trade principles, sacrificing in his zeal for the cause both health and strength and the prospect of worldly wealth. His paper, from being a newspaper in the ordinary sense, came to be merely an organ for the advancement of the movement unattached to party, and it was perhaps not unnatural that a company should have been formed in 1845 to run another radical paper—the ‘Manchester Examiner’—wholly devoted to the manufacturing interest. The new venture proved a serious blow to the ‘Manchester Times,’ and in 1847 Prentice was compelled to dispose of his interest in that journal, and in the following year the ‘Times’ was incorporated with the ‘Examiner’ as the ‘Manchester Examiner and Times.’ His friends were indignant at the treatment thus meted out to him, and one of them, John Childs [q. v.], strongly remonstrated against the injustice of it. ‘I have known him’ (i.e. Prentice), he wrote to Colonel Thompson, ‘more than thirty years, a faithful, earnest, principled man, and he never forfeited a principle. He was the father, the intellectual and moral guide, of the League through its childhood and youth into manhood, and I should like to know what Cobden and Bright would have done on many a stormy day without him. Shall I say what they would have done without his help? But now that they are become machines for working Reform-Club tactics, and Prentice does not, as he never did, go in that groove, the insolence of factory-system wealth swaggers in his face with an opposition paper and ten thousand pounds.’ Having disposed of his paper, Prentice sought relaxation and health in a short visit to the United States in 1848. Of his experiences he wrote an interesting and at that time a valuable account in his ‘Tour in the United States,’ which he published in a cheap form in order to promote emigration.

On his return from America he obtained an appointment in the Manchester gas office, which afforded him sufficient leisure for the literary work to which he devoted the remainder of his life. Always an advocate of temperance principles, he became latterly an ardent apostle of total abstinence, and on the formation of the Manchester Temperance League in 1857, he accepted the post of treasurer. One of his last lectures was on the bacchanalian songs of Burns. He was seized with paralysis, resulting from congestion of the brain, on 22 Dec. 1857, and died two days later in his sixty-seventh year.

Prentice married, on 3 June 1819, Jane, daughter of James Thomson of Oatridge, near Linlithgow. She survived him many years, and was buried by his side in the Rusholme Road cemetery, Manchester.

A good portrait of Prentice forms the frontispiece to his ‘Tour in the United States.’ In addition to this and his work as a journalist, he edited in 1822 ‘The Life of Alexander Reid, a Scotish Covenanter,’ and was the author of ‘Historical Sketches and Personal Recollections of Manchester,’ published in 1851, and ‘A History of the Anti-Corn-Law League,’ London, 1853, which is still the standard work on the subject.

[Prentice's papers and a portrait in oil became the property of his niece, Mrs. Emily Dunlop of Northwich, Cheshire, from whom the writer derived much of the information contained in the present article. See also Macmillan's Mag. October 1889, pp. 435–43, and Prentice's Hist. Sketches of Manchester.]

R. D.