1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Almon, John

ALMON, JOHN (1737-1805), English political pamphleteer and publisher, was born at Liverpool on the 17th of December 1737. In early life he was apprenticed to a printer in his native town, and he also spent two years at sea. He came to London in 1758 and at once began a career which, if not important in itself, had a very important influence on the political history of the country. The Whig opposition, hampered and harassed by the Government to an extent that threatened the total suppression of independent opinion, were in great need of a channel of communication with the public, and they found what they wanted in Almon. He had become personally known to the leaders through various publications of his own which had a great though transient popularity; the more important of these being The Conduct of a late Noble Commander [Lord George Sackville] Examined (1759); a Review of his late Majesty’s Reign (1760); a Review of Mr Pitt’s Administration (1761); and a number of letters on political subjects. The review of Pitt’s administration passed through four editions, and secured for its author the friendship of Earl Temple, to whom it was dedicated. Brought thus into the counsels of the Whig party, he was persuaded in 1763 to open a bookseller’s shop in Piccadilly, chiefly for the publication and sale of political pamphlets. This involved considerable personal risk, and though he generally received with every pamphlet a sum sufficient to secure him against all contingencies, he deserves the credit of having done much to secure the freedom of the press. The government strengthened his influence by their repressive measures. In 1765 the attorney-general moved to have him tried for the publication of the pamphlet entitled Juries and Libels, but the prosecution failed; and in 1770, for merely selling a copy of the London Museum containing Junius’s celebrated “ Letter to the King, ” he was sentenced by Lord Mansfield to pay a fine of ten marks and give security for his good behaviour. It was this trial that called forth the letter to Lord Mansfield, one of the bitterest of the Junius series. Almon himself published an account of the trial, and of course did not let slip the opportunity of reprinting the matter that had been the ground of indictment; but no further proceedings were taken against him. In 1774 Almon commenced the publication of his Parliamentary Register, a monthly report of the debates in parliament, and he also issued an abstract of the debates from 1742, when Richard Chandler’s Reports ceased, to 1774. About the same time, having earned a competency, he retired to Boxmoor in Hertfordshire, though he still continued to write on political subjects. He became proprietor in 1784 of the General Advertiser, in the management of which he lost his fortune and was declared insolvent. To these calamities was added an imprisonment for libel. The claims of his creditors compelled him to leave the country, but after some years in France he was enabled to return to Boxmoor, where he continued a career of undiminished literary activity, publishing among other works an edition of Junius. His last work was an edition of Wilkes’s correspondence, with a memoir (1805). He died on the 12th of December 1805. Almon’s works, most of which appeared anonymously, have no great literary merit, but they are of very considerable value to the student of the political history of the period.