Cooper, Thompson (DNB12)

COOPER, THOMPSON (1837–1904), biographer and journalist, born at Cambridge on 8 Jan. 1837, was eldest son of Charles Henry Cooper [q. v.] the Cambridge antiquary, by his wife Jane, youngest daughter of John Thompson of Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire.

A younger brother, John William Cooper (1845-1906), graduated from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, LL.B. in 1866, LL.M. in 1869, and LL.D. in 1880; was called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn in 1868, but resided in Cambridge almost all his life, taking a prominent part in municipal affairs, becoming revising barrister for the county, and acting as local correspondent for 'The Times'; he died at Cambridge on 10 Nov. 1906. He added a fifth: volume (posthumously published, 1908) to his father's 'Annals of Cambridge,' and revised the four previous volumes of the work.

Thompson Cooper, educated at a private school kept at Cambridge by the Rev. John Orman, was articled to his father, who became a solicitor in 1840, and was admitted in due time to the profession. But the law was only nominally his vocation, and he took no part in his father's considerable business. His real inheritance was a love of biographical and antiquarian research. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries at the early age of 23, and never ceased, while he lived, to investigate antiquarian bye-ways of literature.

Biography was his principal interest. Cooper collected, while still a boy, materials for a work that should rival the 'Athenaæ Oxonienses' of Anthony à Wood. His father joined in the project, with the result that in 1858 appeared the first volume of 'Athenæ Cantabrigienses,' containing memoirs of the authors and other eminent men, being alumni of Cambridge, who died between 1500 and 1585. A second volume, published in 1861, carried the work forward to 1609. A part of the third volume was printed, but not published, when the father died in 1866; and, though the university offered to defray the cost of printing the manuscript, neither Thompson Cooper nor his younger brother, John William Cooper, [see above] had leisure to complete the undertaking.

From 1861 onwards Cooper was a working journalist, his first engagement being that of a sub-editor of the 'Daily Telegraph.' In 1862 he became a parliamentary reporter of that paper. He had learned shorthand, the Mason-Gurney system, and, besides putting it to practical purposes, published a manual of the system, 'Parliamentary Shorthand,' as early as 1858. Later, he became a recognised authority on the history of the art. A long connection with 'The Times' began in 1866, and ended only with his death. He was a parliamentary reporter from 1866 to 1886, when he was appointed to write the daily summary of the debates in the House of Commons; an arduous post, requiring accuracy, conciseness, and familiarity with parliamentary and public affairs. In 1898 he became summary-writer in the House of Lords, and performed the less exacting duties of that office until the short illness that preceded his death.

Cooper's work for ‘The Times’ left him leisure which he filled industriously. In the compilation of this Dictionary, almost from its inception in 1884 to the publication of the first supplement in 1901, he took a useful and important part. From 1884 to 1891 he prepared from his vast collection of biographical data the successive preliminary lists of names (Baalun-Meyrig) which were distributed at half yearly intervals among the contributors. As a writer of memoirs his work continued longer. No less than 1422 articles from his pen were published in the 63 original volumes (1885–1901). His chief subjects were Roman catholic divines and writers. But he was also responsible for many Cambridge graduates of early date and modern journalists and shorthand writers. His literary and historical insight was not profound, but he had a rare faculty for gathering from obscure sources biographical facts, and his eagerness to acquire new knowledge never lost a youthful zest.

In 1869 Cooper projected a new periodical, the ‘Register and Magazine of Biography,’ but it ceased with the completion of one volume. His most important independent work was his ‘Biographical Dictionary,’ mainly of Englishmen, which first appeared in 1873, and to which a supplement was added ten years later. This incorporates the materials of the unpublished third volume of ‘Athenæ Cantabrigienses,’ and contains much that, at the time of its publication, was not elsewhere accessible. He also wrote biographies published under the title of ‘The Hundred Greatest Men,’ and the letterpress to a series of photographic reproductions of portraits called ‘Men of Mark’ (1876–1883). He was responsible for four editions of ‘Men of the Time,’ 1872, 1875, 1879, and 1884. He was a frequent contributor to ‘Notes and Queries’ for fifty years, his first contribution appearing on 29 Jan. 1853, and his last on 21 April 1903.

He died at his house in Brixton on 5 March 1904, and was buried, with the rites of the Roman catholic church, in Norwood cemetery. He had become a Roman catholic in early life. He married at a youthful age, his wife being a widow with children. He had no issue.

[The Times, March 1904; the Journalist, March 1903; private information.]

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