Baskerville, John

, a celebrated printer, was born at Wolverley, in the county of Worcester, in 1706, heir to a paternal estate of 60l. per annum, which fifty years after, while in his own possession, had increased to 90l. He was trained to no occupation, but in 1726 became a writing-master at Birmingham. In 1737 he taught at a school in the Bull-ring, and is said to have written an excellent hand. As painting suited his talents, he entered into the lucrative branch of japanning, and resided at No. 22, in Moor-street; and in 1745 he took a building lease of e’ght acres two furlongs, north-west of the town, to which he gave the name of Easy Hill, converted it into a little Eden, and built a house in the centre: but the town, daily increasing in magnitude and population, sooi> surrounded it with buildings. Here he continued the business of a japanner for life: his carriage, each pannel of which was a distinct picture, might be considered the pattern card of his trade, and was drawn by a beautiful pair of cream-coloured horses. His inclination for letters induced him, in 1750, to turn his thoughts towards the press. He spent many years in the uncertain pursuit, sunk 600/, | before he could produce one letter to please himself, and some thousands before the shallow stream of profit began to flow.

His first attempt was a quarto edition of Virgil, 1756, price one guinea, but now much more valuable. This he reprinted in 8vo, 1758, and in that year was employed by the university of Oxford on an entire new-faced Greek type. Soon after this he obtained leave from the university of Cambridge, to print a bible in royal folio, and two editions of the Common Prayer, in three sizes, for which permission he paid a considerable premium. The next in order of his works was, “Dr. Newton’s edition of Milton,1759, 2 vols. 8vo; “Dodsley’s Fables,1761, 8vo “Juvenal andPersius,” 176i,8vo; “Congreve’s Works,1761, 3 vols. 8vo “The Book of Common Prayer,1762, 8vo, and an edition in 12mo; “Horace, edited by Mr. Livie, 1762, 8vo;” Addison’s Works, 1763, 4 vols. 4to “Dr. Jennings’s Introduction to the knowledge of Medals,1763, 8vo. He also printed editions of Terence, Catullus, Lucretius, Sallust, and Florus, in royal 4to.

These publications rank the name of Baskerville with those persons who have the most contributed, at least in modern times, to the beauty and improvement of the art of printing. But after the publication of his folio Bible in 1763, he appears to have been weary of the profession of a printer; or at least declined to carry it on, except through the medium of a confidential agent. In 1765, he applied to his friend the eminent Dr. Franklin, then at Paris, to sound tue literati respecting the purchase of his types but received for answer, “That the French, reduced by the war of 1756, were so far from being able to pursue schemes of taste, that they were unable to repair their public buildings, and suffered the scaffolding to rot before them.

In regard to his private character, he was much of a humourist, idle in the extreme, but his invention was of the true Birmingham model, active. He could well design, but procured others to execute: wherever he found merit he caressed it: he was remarkably polite to the stranger, fond of shew: a figure rather of the smaller size, and delighted to adorn that figure with gold lace. Although constructed with the light timbers of a frigate, his movement was stately as a ship of the line. During the twentyfive last years of his life, though then in his decline, he retained the singular traces of a handsome man. If he | exhibited a peevish temper, we may consider that good-nature and intense thinking are not always found together. Taste accompanied him through the different walks of agriculture, architecture, and the fine arts. Whatever passed through his fingers, bore the lively marks of John Baskerville.

He died without issue, Jan 8, 1775. We lament to add, that in his will, executed about two years before, he unblushingly avows not only his disbelief, but his contempt for revealed religion, and that in terms too gross to be transcribed. The same aversion to Christianity induced him to order that he should be buried in a tomb of masonry, in the shape of a cone, under a wind-mill in his garden. This was accordingly performed, and although his dwelling-house was destroyed in the riots in 1791, his remains continued undisturbed. In April 1775, his widow wholly declined the printing business, but continued that of a letter-founder until Feb. 1777. Many efforts were used after Baskerville’s death to dispose of his types in this country, but without effect; and in 1779, they were purchased by a literary society of Paris for 3,700l. and were afterwards employed on a splendid edition of Voltaire’s Works. Many unjust and unnecessary reflections are made, in the work which furnishes the principal part of this memoir, on the booksellers and universities having declined to purchase those types. The answer is easy. Baskervilie himself derived little advantage from them; and at the time they were offered for sale, and for many years afterwards, the principal works which came from his press were sold at a price so inferior as to render any farther speculation hopeless. 1


Hutton’s Hist. of Birmingham.—Nichols’s Life of Bowyer. Biog— Brit.