Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Roper, Abel

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ROPER, ABEL (1665–1726), tory journalist, younger son of Isaac Roper, was born at Atherstone in Warwickshire in 1665. He was adopted in 1677 by his uncle, Abel Roper, who published books from 1638 at the Spread Eagle, opposite St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet Street; he was master of the Stationers' Company in 1677, and gave the company a large silver flagon (Arber, Transcript of Stationers' Registers, iv. 429; Mr. Waller's Speech in Parliament, 6 July 1641; Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. ii. 76; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 579). When he was fourteen, young Roper was apprenticed to his uncle, but on the latter's death, in 1680, he was turned over to the printer Christopher Wilkinson. He showed a talent for learning, and is said to have spoken Greek by rote before he understood Latin. Under his uncle's will (P.C.C. 40 Bath) he received 100l. on the completion of his apprenticeship, with all the elder Roper's copyrights; and having married, when he was thirty, the widow of his last master, he set up business in one side of a saddler's shop near Bell Yard, opposite Middle Temple Gate, but afterwards he moved next door to the Devil tavern, at the sign of the Black Dog.

Roper is said to have worked for the revolution, and to have been the first printer of ‘Lilliburlero.’ The preface to ‘The Life of William Fuller, the pretended evidence,’ 1692, is signed by Roper. A warrant was issued for his arrest in May 1696, on an information that, under the name of John Chaplin, he had printed a paper on the assassination plot called ‘An Account of a most horrid Conspiracy against the Life of his most sacred Majesty,’ with intent to give notice to the people mentioned in it to fly from justice. He had been committed to prison on 18 April, but must have been released soon afterwards (Add. MS. 28941, f. 92; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 47). Roper sided with Tom Brown, the comic writer (1663–1704), in his quarrel with Richard Kingston [q. v.], and after 1700 he undertook the publication of Brown's works. Brown subsequently assisted Roper in ‘The Auction of Ladies,’ a series of lampoons which ran to eight or nine numbers. Roper got into trouble with the Earl of Nottingham for his ‘Newsletters into the Country,’ with Secretary Boyle, and with Secretary Trumbull for printing a play without license, and he was summoned before the lord mayor and court of aldermen for reflecting upon the Society for the Reformation of Manners. A Frenchman named Fontive, who wrote the ‘Postman,’ was Roper's assistant, and afterwards his partner.

In May 1695 Roper had started a newspaper called the ‘Post Boy,’ which appeared three times a week, and was the rival of the whig ‘Flying Post,’ begun by George Ridpath (d. 1726) [q. v.] in the same month. Roper's enemies said he wrote for either party, according as he was paid. John Dunton, who commends Roper's honesty, says that the ‘Post Boy’ was written by a man named Thomas, and on his death by Abel Boyer [q. v.], compiler of the ‘Annals of Queen Anne,’ which Roper published (cf. Life and Errors, 1818, pp. 210, 431–3). After editing the ‘Post Boy’ for Roper for four years, Boyer grew dissatisfied and started a ‘True Post Boy’ of his own, which, he complained, Roper tried to burke (cf. Mr. Boyer's Case, August 1709; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iv. 83).

When Steele lost the post of gazetteer in October 1710, Roper, on whose behalf Lord Denbigh had written to Lord Dartmouth as early as June, was an unsuccessful candidate for the vacant post [see King, William, (1663–1712); Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. v. 296, 298]. Next year (November 1711) Roper gave great offence by papers printed in the ‘Post Boy’ on behalf of the proposed peace, and, upon complaint of the envoys extraordinary from the king of Portugal and the Duke of Savoy, he was arrested on a warrant from Lord Dartmouth, and bound over to appear at the court of queen's bench. He escaped further punishment by begging pardon and publishing a recantation. It was suspected that men of greater importance were behind the scenes and made use of Roper's paper for party purposes (Boyer, Political State of Great Britain, 1711, pp. 670–8; Wentworth Papers, pp. 212, 215). We know that Swift sometimes sent paragraphs to the ‘Post Boy,’ ‘as malicious as possible, and very proper for Abel Roper, the printer of it’ (Journal to Stella, 17 Nov. and 12 Dec. 1712, 26 Jan. 1713). The pamphlet ‘Cursory but Curious Observations of Mr. Abel R—er, upon a late famous Pamphlet entitled “Remarks on the Preliminary Articles offered by the F. K. in hopes to procure a general Peace,”’ 1711, appears to be mainly a satire upon Roper, who is made to say, ‘I am called Abel, without the least respect to the station I bear in the present ministry.’ Another piece, ‘Tory Annals, faithfully extracted out of Abel Roper's famous writings, vulgarly called “Post Boy and Supplement,”’ 1712, is in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh (cf. Ashton, Queen Anne, ii. 67–74).

‘The Character of Richard St[ee]le, Esq., with some remarks by Toby, Abel's kinsman,’ appeared on 12 Nov. 1713, and was often mentioned in the ‘Post Boy.’ This libel was either by Dr. William Wagstaffe, in whose ‘Miscellaneous Works’ it appeared in 1726, or by Swift; it was certainly not by Roper (Aitken, Life of Steele, i. 410–15, ii. 302; Dilke, Papers of a Critic, i. 366–82; Notes and Queries, 3rd and 6th ser.) The writer of a well-informed but hostile pamphlet called ‘Some Memoirs of the Life of Abel, Toby's Uncle, by Dr. Andrew Tripe,’ which appeared on 11 Dec. 1725, says that ‘Toby’ was Roper's nephew, Edward King, son of Thomas King, a farrier of Coventry, and Ruth Roper, Abel's sister; King helped in his uncle's business.

Soon after Queen Anne's death the ‘Post Boy’ gave offence to the whig government, and Roper was examined on 27 Aug. 1714. He said he had for some time not been concerned in the paper; and John Morphew, the publisher of it, said he did not know the author of the offending articles, but that it was long since he had accounted to Roper for the profits (State Papers, Dom. George I, bdle. i. Nos. 33, 36). Subsequently Roper sank into obscurity, and he died on 5 Feb. 1726, the same day as his old opponent Ridpath, leaving behind in the ‘Post Boy’ ‘abundant testimonials of his zeal for indefeasible hereditary right, for monarchy, passive obedience, the church, the queen, and the doctor’ (Read's Weekly Journal, 12 Feb.; Daily Post, 7 Feb. 1726). By his will, dated 19 Aug. 1725 (P. C. C. 57 Plymouth), his property was to be divided into three equal parts, according to the custom of the city of London, one part going to his wife, Mary Roper, and the second to his son Francis. Out of the third portion of his property he left to his son his right and title to the copy of certain books, and small legacies to his brother, John Roper of Atherstone, and others. There is an engraving of Roper, with his nephew Toby, by Vandergucht (published in March 1713), and a mezzotint by G. White, after H. Hysing.

[Some Memoirs of the Life of Abel, Toby's Uncle, by Dr. Andrew Tripe, 1726; Noble's Continuation of Granger, 1806, ii. 308–11; Caulfield's Portraits of Remarkable Persons (Revolution to George II), i. 142–5; Bromley's Portraits, p. 241; Nichols's Lit. Anecd.]

G. A. A.