Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Newbery, John
NEWBERY, JOHN (1713–1767), publisher and originator of many books for the young, born in 1713 at Waltham St. Lawrence, Berkshire, was son of a small farmer. He acquired the rudiments of learning in the village school, but was almost entirely self-taught in other branches of knowledge. He was an untiring reader, and soon obtained a wide knowledge of literature. In 1730 he went to Reading, and found congenial occupation as assistant to William Carnan, proprietor and editor of one of the earliest provincial newspapers, the ‘Reading Mercury.’ Carnan died in 1737, and left all his property to his brother and to Newbery, who married his employer's widow, although she was six years older than himself. After making a tour of England—and his commonplace books shed some curious light on the manners and customs of his time—Newbery began publishing at Reading in 1740. In 1744 he opened a warehouse in London, removing in 1745 to the Bible and Sun in St. Paul's Churchyard. Here he combined with his work of a publisher the business of medicine vendor on a large scale. The fever powder of Dr. Robert James [q. v.] was a chief item of his stock.
As a publisher Newbery especially identified himself with several newspaper enterprises in London and the provinces, and employed many eminent authors to write for his periodicals. In 1758 he projected ‘The Universal Chronicle or Weekly Gazette,’ in which Johnson's papers called the ‘Idler’ were first printed. He started on 12 Jan. 1760 the ‘Public Ledger,’ in which Goldsmith's ‘Citizen of the World’ first saw the light. He undertook the separate publication of the ‘Idler’ and the ‘Rambler,’ as well as Johnson's ‘Lives of the Poets,’ and thus came into close connection with Dr. Johnson. Oliver Goldsmith seems to have written for his ‘Literary Magazine’ as early as 1757. He also wrote for Newbery his ‘Life of Beau Nash’ in 1762, in which year he went to reside in a country lodging at Islington kept by a relative of the publisher; and when the poet was in dire straits in 1763 Newbery advanced him 11l. upon the ‘Traveller.’ It was not to him, however, but to his nephew Francis, that Johnson sold the MS. of Goldsmith's ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ for 60l. in that same year. Another of Newbery's literary clients, Christopher Smart, married his stepdaughter, Anna Maria Carnan, and Newbery showed much kindness to Smart's wife and daughters [see Le Noir, Elizabeth Anne]. The unfortunate Dr. William Dodd, who was hanged for forgery, was connected, like Smollett, with the ‘British Magazine,’ and he also edited from 1760 to 1767 the first religious magazine, which was projected by Newbery in 1760, and was styled ‘The Christian Magazine.’
Newbery was the first to make the issue of books specially intended for children an important branch of a publishing business. The tiny volumes in his ‘Juvenile Library’ were bound in flowered and gilt Dutch paper, the secret of the manufacture of which has been lost. They included ‘The Renowned History of Giles Gingerbread, a Little Boy who lived upon Learning;’ ‘Mrs. Margery Two Shoes’ (afterwards Lady Jones); and ‘Tommy Trip and his Dog Jowler.’ He also inaugurated the ‘Liliputian Magazine’ [see Jones, Griffith, 1722–1786]. The authorship of these ‘classics of the nursery’ is an old battle-ground. Newbery wrote and planned some of them himself. ‘He was,’ says Dr. Primrose in the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ ‘when we met him at that time actually compiling materials for the history of one Mr. Thomas Trip;’ and if this can hardly be accepted as proof positive, says Mr. Austin Dobson, it may be asserted that to Newbery's business instinct are due those ingenious references to his different wares and publications which crop up so unexpectedly in the course of the narrative. For example, in ‘Goody Two Shoes’ we are told that the heroine's father ‘died miserably’ because he was ‘seized with a violent fever in a place where Dr. James's powder was not to be had.’ Newbery's account-books and those of Benjamin Collins of Salisbury, with whom he was associated in many publishing enterprises, show that he was assisted in the production of many of his books for the young by Oliver Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, Giles Jones, and less known authors of his time.
Newbery's portrait is for ever enshrined in the pages of the ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’ ‘That glorious pillar of unshaken orthodoxy,’ Dr. Primrose, formerly of Wakefield, for whom, as all the world knows, he had published a pamphlet against the deuterogamists of the age, describes him as a ‘red-faced, good-natured little man who was always in a hurry.’ ‘He was no sooner alighted,’ says the worthy vicar, ‘but he was in haste to be gone, for he was ever on business of the utmost importance.’ An article in the ‘Idler,’ gently satirising Newbery as Jack Whirler, by Dr. Johnson, confirms this: ‘When he enters a house his first declaration is that he cannot sit down, and so short are his visits that he seldom appears to have come for any other reason but to say he must go.’ ‘The philanthropic bookseller’ of St. Paul's Churchyard was plainly a bustling, multifarious, and not unkindly personage, though it is equally plain that his philanthropy was always under the watchful care of his prudence. Essentially commercial and enterprising, he exacted his money's worth of work, and kept records of his cash advances to the needy authors by whom he was surrounded. Newbery died on 22 Dec. 1767, at his house in St. Paul's Churchyard, and was succeeded in his business by his son Francis, who is separately noticed.
Goldsmith is supposed to have penned the riddling epitaph:
What we say of a thing that has just come in fashion,
And that which we do with the dead,
Is the name of the honestest man in the nation:
What more of a man can be said?