Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Carey, Mathew
CAREY, MATHEW (1760–1839), bookseller, was born at Dublin 28 Jan. 1760, the son of a prosperous baker. He was a dull boy, but became a voracious reader of novels and romances. At about fifteen years of age he was apprenticed to a bookseller; at seventeen he produced his first essay, published in the ‘Hibernian Journal,’ on duelling. In 1779 he wrote a pamphlet urging the repeal of the penal code against catholics. A prosecution was threatened, and Carey was put on board the Holyhead packet with a little money and a letter of introduction to Franklin. Carey remained with Dr. Franklin in Paris for some months, and subsequently for a short period with the younger Didot. He returned to Dublin, and conducted for some time the ‘Freeman's Journal.’ In 1783 his father gave him the means of establishing a paper of his own, ‘The Volunteer's Journal,’ which soon acquired a very decided influence on public opinion, suiting the heated temper of the time. At length (April 1784) proceedings were taken against the proprietor, who was thrown into prison. He was also charged with a libel on the Irish premier, John Foster. On being released from prison at the end of the parliamentary session, with an ex-officio information still hanging over his head, he disposed of his newspaper, and sailed for Philadelphia.
From a fellow-passenger who had letters of introduction to Lafayette, the latter learned that ‘Carey the persecuted printer’ had arrived by the same boat. Lafayette now provided him with sufficient means to enable him to start in business. Forty years later, when Lafayette visited America, Carey repaid the 400 dollars. Carey immediately issued proposals for establishing the ‘Pennsylvania Herald.’ The first number was issued on 25 Jan. 1785. In August he undertook reporting the debates in the House of Assembly. This was so well done, that it gave an advantage for his paper over all competitors. Carey fought his only duel with another journalist, and a wound laid him up for more than a year. In October 1786 he began, in partnership with others, the ‘Columbia Magazine.’ He soon withdrew, and in January 1787 issued the first number of the ‘American Museum,’ which became very popular, but did not pay, and was discontinued at the end of 1792. About this time Carey married Miss Flahavan. He now started a bookselling and printing business. In 1793 he sat on the committee of health appointed in consequence of an outbreak of yellow fever. About the same time he started an association called the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland, of which he was secretary for many years. In 1796 he helped to form a Sunday school society, which he alleges to be the first started in America. About this time William Cobbett was actively employed in Philadelphia. He had a paper war with Carey, of which specimens will be found in Peter Porcupine's works; in ‘A Plumb-Pudding for the Humane, Chaste, Valiant, Enlightened Peter Porcupine, by his obliged friend, Mathew Carey;’ and in ‘The Porcupiniad, a Hudibrastic Poem,’ in which Carey has versified some of Cobbett's paragraphs with very little verbal alteration. In 1798 Carey repudiated the charge of being a ‘United Irishman.’
Carey published American editions of Guthrie's ‘Geography’ and Goldsmith's ‘Animated Nature,’ and in 1801 a quarto Bible. From 1802 to 1805 Carey was a director of the Bank of Pennsylvania. Among his other enterprises was the attempt to establish an annual book fair on the plan of that at Leipzig, to be held alternately at New York and Philadelphia. It was discontinued after a few years' trial. Carey's position now enabled him to influence many public questions. In 1814 he published ‘The Olive Branch, or Faults on both sides, Federal and Democratic, &c.’ Ten editions were struck off in little more than three years. Carey had always the wrongs of Ireland on his mind. On reading Godwin's ‘Mandeville,’ in which the alleged atrocities of 1641 are largely illustrated, he at once sat down to prepare a work vindicating the Irish from such charges. After much labour and expense he published in 1819 ‘Vindiciæ Hibernicæ, or Ireland vindicated. An attempt to develop and expose a few of the multifarious errors and falsehoods respecting Ireland in the histories of May, Temple, Whitelock, Borlase, Rushworth, Clarendon, Cox, Carte, Leland, Warner, [Catherine] Macaulay, Hume, and others.’ No sooner was this labour off his hands than Carey began to appear as a political economist. He advocated protection for American native industry, and produced many tracts in support of his theories. He associated with some other Philadelphia citizens in the formation of a society for the promotion of national industry, which helped to circulate his pamphlets gratuitously.
Carey retired from business in 1824. During the latter portion of his life he continued to take active part in works of public charity and utility, in promoting education, and the construction of roads, canals, and other public works. In 1832 he made the liberal offer of endowing a chair of political economy in the university of Maryland, which was, however, not accepted. His death occurred in September 1839. Besides the above-mentioned, Carey published a selection of pieces in prose and verse which had already appeared in the ‘Co1umbia Magazine;' ‘A Short Account of the Malignant Fever lately prevalent in Philadelphia’ (1793); ‘Essays on Political Economy’ (1822); ‘Thoughts on Penitentiaries and Prison Discipline' (1831); ‘Letters on the Colonization Society’ (which reached a twelfth edition in 1838); ‘Female Wages and Female Oppression’ (1835); and a host of tracts and other ephemeral writings, the mere titles of whichoccupy four closely printed pages in Sabin’s ‘Dictionary of Books relating to America’ (iii. 338–42). He was father of Henry Carey, well known as an American economist.
[New England Magazine, v. 405, 489, vi. 60, 93, 227, 306, 400, vii. 61, 145, 239, 320, 401, 481 (autobiographical); Hunt's Merchant's Magazine, 1839, f. 429; Duyckinck's Cyclo. of Amer. Literature, i. f. 667; American Almanack, 1841, f. 215; Nile's Register, xx. 345, xxxiv. 337; Porcupine's Works, iv. 53, x. 59, 60; Janson's The Stranger in America (1807), 418, 419; William Cobbett, a biography (1875); One Hundred Years of Publishing, 1785–1885.]