Fancourt, Samuel

, a native of the West of England, who may be termed the inventor of circulating libraries, was, at the beginning of the last century, pastor of a congregation of protestant dissenters in Salisbury, where he had a number of pupils for near twenty years. Professing a creed very different from, the opinions of | Calvin, as appears by his numerous publications, he incurred the displeasure of persons of that persuasion, and a controversy arose in which clergymen of the establishment and the dissenters had an equal share. It turned on the divine prescience, the freedom of the human will, the greatness of the divine love, and the doctrine of reprobation. Driven from a comfortable settlement to the great metropolis, where he acquired no new one as a teacher, Mr. Fancourt, about 1740 or 1745, established the first circulating library for gentlemen and ladies, at a subscription of a guinea a year for reading; but in 1748 extended it to a guinea in all, for the purchase of a better library, half to be paid at the time of subscribing, the other half at the delivery of a new catalogue then in the press, and twelve pence a quarter beside, to begin from Michaelmas 1754, to the librarian. Subscriptions were to be paid without further charge to the proprietors, but to pay only from the time of subscribing; out of which quarterly payments were to be deducted the rent of the rooms to receive the books, and accommodate subscribers, a salary to the librarian to keep an open account, and to circulate the books; a stock to buy new books and duplicates as there was occasion; the expence of providing catalogues, and drawing up writings for settling the trust. This trust was to be vested in twelve or thirteen persons chosen by ballot out of the body of proprietors; and the proposer, Mr. Fancourt himself, was to be the first librarian, and to continue so as long as he discharged his office with diligence and fidelity. Every single subscriptionentitled the subscriber to one book and one pamphlet at a time, to be changed ad libitum for others, and kept ad Libitum, if not wanted by other subscribers. Mr. Fancourt advertised himself also in these proposals as a teacher of Latin, to read, write, and speak it with fluency in a year’s time or less, at twelve guineas a year, one guinea a month, or twelve pence an hour, allowing five or six hours in a week. The great hypercritic of Mr. Fancourt’s design was the late Dr. C. Mortimer. Not to trace the poor librarian through every shifting of his quarters, he fixed at last at the corner of one of the streets in the Strand, where, encumbered with a helpless and sick wife, turned out of fashion, and outplanned by a variety of imitators, and entangled with a variety of plans, not one of which could extricate him from perplexities, this poor man, who may be said to have | first circulated knowledge among us, sunk under a load of debt, unmerited reproach, and a failure of his faculties, brought on by the decay of age, precipitated by misfortunes. His library became the property of creditors, and he retired in humble poverty to Hoxton-square, where some of his brethren relieved his necessities till the close of his life, in his ninetieth year, June 8, 1768. As a preacher, though neither what is now called popular, nor pastor of a London congregation, he was occasionally called upon to fill up vacancies, and is said to have preached with a considerable degree of manly eloquence.

He published three or four occasional sermons, besides his tracts against Calvinistic principles, which were answered by Messrs. Morgan, Norman, Bliss, Millar, and Eliot, all, or mostly, dissenting ministers, and defended in various pamphlets by the author. 1


Gent, Mag. vol. LIV.