Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beatniffe, Richard

BEATNIFFE, RICHARD (1740–1818), bookseller, was born in 1740 at Louth in Lincolnshire, and was adopted and educated by his uncle, the Rev. Samuel Beatniffe, rector of Gaywood and Bawsey in Norfolk. He was apprenticed to a bookseller at Lynn of the name of Hollingworth, who was in the habit of taking four apprentices. When we are told that all the four were expected to sleep in one bed, that the sheets were changed only once a year, and that the youths were dieted in the most economical manner, it says much for the sturdiness of Beatniffe that he was the only apprentice Hollingworth had for forty years who remained to serve his full time. The temptations of the hand of his master's daughter, who was deformed in person and unpleasing in manners, together with a share in the business, were not able to retain Beatniffe in Lynn. Upon the termination of his apprenticeship he went to Norwich, and worked there for some years as a journeyman bookbinder. His old master Hollingworth, if harsh, must have been also generous, since he advanced Beatniffe 500l. for the purchase of the stock of Jonathan Gleed, a bookseller of London Lane, in Norwich. Shortly after this period Beatniffe produced his excellent little 'Norfolk Tour, or Traveller's Pocket Companion, being a concise description of all the noblemen's and gentlemen's seats, as well as of the principal towns and other remarkable places in the county,' of which the first edition appeared in 1772, the second in 1773, the third in 1777, the fourth in 1786, the fifth in 1795, and the sixth and last in 1808, 'greatly enlarged and improved.' This edition extended to 399 pages, or about four times the size of the first. In the advertisement the author states that he had carefully revised every page, 'and by the friendly communications of several gentlemen In the county and [his] own observations during the last ten years greatly enlarged' It. Improvements and additions were made by the author to each successive edition, and most of the places described were personally visited. It Is written in a plain manner, and is full of information. Mr. W. Rye says: 'The numerous editions to which it ran show it had considerable merit, and in its notes and illustrations there is much useful and interesting reading' (Index to Norfolk Topogr. 1881, p. xxvii).

His biographer tells some characteristic anecdotes of the bookseller's unyielding toryism, of his rebuffs to chaffering customers, and of his unwillingness to supply the London trade. He preferred to sell to private buyers, and indeed was often loth to part with his 'jewels,' as he styled his rarities. Beloe, who knew him, has described Beatniffe as 'a shrewd, cold, inflexible fellow, who traded principally in old books, and held out but little encouragement to a youth who rarely had money to expend. … The principal feature of this man's character was suspicion of strangers, and a constant apprehension lest he should dispose of any of his libri rarissimi to some cunning wight or professed collector. If any customer was announced as coming from the metropolis, he immediately added at least one-third to his price' (Sexagenarian, 1818, ii. 246). Booksellers have not unseldom thought it necessary to cultivate blunt and eccentric manners; but Beatniffe's knowledge of books, skill as a bookbinder, and business habits, made him a prosperous tradesman. For many years he owned the best collection of old books among provincial dealers, and was long the first secondhand bookseller in Norwich. He published a few works. His first catalogue was printed in 1779, and his last in 1808; they contained many rare volumes, which he knew how to price at their full value. Among the libraries purchased by him was that of the Rev. Dr. Cox Macro, of Little Haugh in Suffolk, who died in 1767, after having brought together a rich treasure of early-printed books, old poetry, original letters, and autographs. The library remained unexamined for forty years, when it came into Beatniffe's hands at the commencement of the century for the small sum of 150l. or 160l. On being sold piecemeal the collection realised nine or ten times as much.

Beatniffe married Martha Dinah Hart, who died in 1816, daughter of a writing-master and alderman of Bury St. Edmund's, by whom he had a son and a daughter. Having amassed a considerable fortune, Beatniffe retired from business a short time before his death, which took place 9 July 1818, in the seventy-ninth year of his age, at Norwich. He was buried in the nave of the Norwich church of St. Peter at Mancroft.

[Biography by the Rev. James Ford in Nichols's Illustrations, vi. 522-8; see also iv. 746, viii. 491; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 672, viii. 467, ix. 365; Gent. Mag. 1818, ii. 93, 286.]

H. R. T.