Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Valpy, Abraham John

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VALPY, ABRAHAM JOHN (1787–1854), editor and printer, was the second son of Richard Valpy [q. v.] by his second wife, Mary, daughter of Henry Benwell of Caversham, Oxfordshire. He was born in 1787, and, after being trained under his father at the Reading grammar school, matriculated from Pembroke College, Oxford, on 25 April 1805. He was elected on 30 March 1808 Bennet (Ossulston) scholar of his college, graduated B.A. in 1809, M.A. in 1811, and for a short time from 7 June 1811 was fellow on the same foundation. In 1809 he printed for private circulation ‘Poemata quæ de præmio Oxoniensibus posito annis 1806, 1807, et 1808 infeliciter contenderunt.’

Valpy published at Reading in December 1804, while still a schoolboy, and with a dedication to his fellow-pupils, a volume of ‘Epistolæ M. T. Ciceronis excerptæ,’ which reached a fifth edition in 1829. He flattered himself with the hope of rivalling the fame of Aldus and Stephanus as a classical printer and editor, and with this object in view he was bound apprentice to a freeman of London, Humphrey Gregory Pridden. In 1807 he was admitted a liveryman of the Stationers' Company.

Valpy commenced business in Took's Court, Chancery Lane. In 1822 he moved to Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, where William Bowyer, the English printer whom Valpy hoped to equal in reputation for learning, had ended in 1777 his career in business. For many years he published, either under his own editing or under the supervision of some classical scholar, numerous works, especially in ancient literature. The chief work edited by himself was an edition of Brotier's ‘Tacitus,’ which came out in 1812 in five volumes, and was afterwards more than once reissued. His principal assistants in editing were E. H. Barker of Thetford, George Burges, George Dyer, and T. S. Hughes. Most of the volumes that he published bore on the title-page the Greek digamma, which he adopted as a trade-mark and monogram. He is said to have placed it on his carriage (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 51, 96, 135–6). About 1837 he sold his printing materials, parted with his large stock of books and copyrights, and retired into private life. From that date he applied his energies to the University Life Assurance Company and to other undertakings in which he was interested either as a director or a shareholder. He died without issue at St. John's Wood Road, London, on 19 Nov. 1854. He married at Burrington, Somerset, on 25 Feb. 1813, Harriet, third daughter of Sydenham Teast Wylde, vicar of that parish. She survived him, dying at St. John's Wood Road on 19 June 1864.

An oil painting of Valpy, three-quarter-length, was the property of G. C. B. Valpy, formerly of 13 Portland Place, London, W.

The ‘Classical Journal’ was started by Valpy in 1810, and continued by him until December 1829, and from March 1813 to December 1828 he brought out the ‘Pamphleteer’ in fifty-eight quarterly parts. His first great work was the reissue of the ‘Thesaurus Græcæ Linguæ’ of Henry Stephens the younger (cf. Classical Journal, No. xix., 1814). The ‘Thesaurus,’ which Valpy and Barker edited, came out between 1816 and 1828 in twelve volumes, and the last of them was in two parts, containing the ‘Glossaria Græco-Latina’ of Labbé. This vast enterprise suffered from a crushing article by Charles James Blomfield (afterwards bishop of London) in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ xxii. 302–48 (1820).

Between 1819 and 1830 Valpy reissued in 141 volumes the well-known Delphin classics under the editorial care of George Dyer [q. v.], and from January 1822 to December 1825 he was patron, printer, and publisher of a periodical called ‘The Museum.’ During the years 1830–4 he brought out ‘The Family Classical Library; English translations of Greek and Latin classics,’ in fifty-two volumes, and in 1831 he started an ‘Epitome of English Literature,’ in the philosophical portion of which appeared a condensation of Paley's ‘Moral Philosophy,’ Paley's ‘Evidences of Christianity,’ and Locke's ‘Essay on the Human Understanding.’ An edition of ‘The Plays and Poems of Shakspere’ was published by him in fifteen volumes (1832–4), and in 1834 he began a serial work on the ‘National Gallery of Painting and Sculpture,’ but only four half-crown parts saw the light.

[Gent. Mag. 1813 i. 282, 1855 i. 204–5, 1864 ii. 126; Burke's Family Records, 1897, p. 612; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ix. 759; information from Mr. George Wood, bursar of Pembroke College.]

W. P. C.