John Nichols

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:899-900.

1826, Nov. 26. Died, JOHN NICHOLS, F.S.A. printer, and editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, who was distinguished alike for superior talents, indefatigable industry, and undeviating integrity, and of whom the profession of the art of typography may feel justly proud, as an example so worthy to be emulated. John Nichols was born at Islington, February 2, 1744-5, and received his education at an academy kept by Mr. John Shield, a man of considerable learning. In 1754 he was placed apprentice to Mr. William Bowyer, who appears to have quickly discovered in his pupil that amiable and honourable disposition which distinguished him all his life. From the moment he became Mr. Bowyer's apprentice, he was intent on the acquisition of solid knowledge. Mr. Bowyer appears to have been not only the instructive master, but the kind and indulgent friend to his apprentice, and was often anxious to amuse him by encouraging a taste for poetry; and from 1761 to 1766 he became a constant votary of the muses, his productions making no inconsiderable figure in the periodical journals. During his minority he produced some prose essays on the manners of the age, such as they appeared to one who had been no inattentive observer. These were merely his amusements, and indicative of an ambition which at his early age was surely pardonable. His more serious hours were devoted to the business of the press. His leading object was to please his master in the superintendence of the learned works printed by him, and in this he succeeded so well, that the relative situations of master and servant soon merged into a friendship, the compound of affection on one side, and of reverence on the other. So amply had he fulfilled his master's expectations, as to prudence and judgment, that before his apprenticeship expired, he sent him on a business of very great importance, to the university of Cambridge; and another proof of the value he placed on Mr. Nichols's services, when the period of them had expired, by returning to his father half of his apprentice fee; and considering his assistance was of great importance in his printing establishment, he took him into partnership in the year 1766. This union, one of the most cordial that ever was formed, lasted until the death of Mr. Bowyer, in 1777. In 1778 Mr. Nichols obtained a share in the Gentleman's Magazine, of which he became the editor, and it had not been long under his care before it obtained a consequence which it had never before reached. In 1781 he was elected an honorary member of the society of antiquaries at Edinburgh; and, in 1785, of that of Perth. In 1784 he was elected a member of the common council for the ward of Farrington without, and on the death of Mr. Wilkes he declined the honour of becoming an alderman in his room. In 1804 Mr. Nichols was chosen master of the stationers' company, a situation which he termed "the summit of his ambition." On the 8th of January, 1807, by an accidental fall, at his house in Red Lion passage, Mr. Nichols had one of his thighs fractured; and on the 8th of February, 1808, experienced a far greater calamity, respecting not only himself but the public, in the destruction by fire of his printing office and warehouses, with the whole of their valuable contents. Under these two remarkable instances, he displayed a temper and courage rarely to be found. In December, 1811, he bade a final adieu to civic honours, intending also to withdraw from a business in which he had been for upwards of half a century assiduously engaged; and hoping (Deo volonte) to pass the evening of his life in the calm enjoyment of domestic tranquillity.

In 1766, Mr. Nichols married Anne, daughter of Mr. William Cradock, of Leicester, by whom he had two daughters. On the death of this lady he married the daughter of Mr. William Green, of Hinckley, by whom he had one son and four daughters.

In 1771 Mr. Nichols gave to the stationers' company the portrait of Robert Nelson, esq. and of the elder Bowyer, with a bust of the younger Bowyer; to which, in 1798 he added the portraits of archbishop Chicheley, sir Richard Steel, and Matthew Prior.

The extent of Mr Nichols's literary productions will appear more extraordinary when we add, that during the period he was engaged in some of those duties of public life which necessarily demanded a considerable portion of time and attention. To enumerate his literary labours would far exceed our limits, for they extend from 1763 to the year of his decease, and it may with truth be said, that if usefulness be a test of merit, no man in our days has conferred more important favours in the republic of letters. The number of publications of which Mr. Nichols was either the author or the editor amounted to sixty-seven. By those of superior rank Mr. Nichols was treated with the respect due to his character of a gentleman and man of letters; while his inferiors found him useful, kind, and benevolent, always a friend, and often a patron. His remains were interred in Islington church yard, where those of his parents, and all his children who died before him, are deposited. Mr. Nichols, at the time of his death, was probably the oldest inhabitant of Islington, and his grave is only a few yards from the house in which he was born. There are several good portraits of Mr. Nichols, and also a bust by Giannelli. Many poetical tributes appeared to the memory of Mr. Nichols, and from amongst them we select the following from the pen of Mr. Taylor.

Here Nichols rests, whose pure and active mind
Through life still aim'd to benefit mankind.
For useful knowledge eager from his youth,
To lengthen'd days in keen pursuit of Truth.
What ruthless time had destin'd to decay,
He well explored and brought to open day;
Yet still he search'd not with a Bigot's zeal
To gain what Time would for Oblivion steal,
But that such works recorded should remain
As taste and virtue gladly would retain.
And though intent to merit public fame,
Warmly alive to each domestic claim;
He, like the patriarchs, revered of yore,
To all his kindred due affection bore.
Prompt with good humour all he knew to cheer,
And wit with him was playful, not severe;
Such was the sage, whose reliques here below,
Beloved by many a friend, without one foe.