Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Foulis, Robert

FOULIS, ROBERT (1707–1776), printer, the eldest son of Andrew Faulls, maltman, of Glasgow, and of Marion Patterson, was born in Glasgow, 20 April 1707. Besides Andrew [q. v.] the elder [see end of this article], there were two younger sons, James, a clergyman, and John, a barber, who all owed their early education to their mother. Robert changed his name from Faulls to Foulis (pronounced Fowls), the surname of an old and distinguished county family. Robert was first apprenticed to a barber, and while practising on his own account attended the lectures of Francis Hutcheson [q. v.], who urged him to become a printer and bookseller. In 1738 he and his brother Andrew visited Oxford, and returned to Glasgow after a few months' absence in England and on the continent. They went to France in 1739, and were introduced through the Chevalier Ramsay into the public libraries. They collected specimens of the best editions of the classics and rare books, for which they found a ready sale in London. In 1741 Robert began bookselling in Glasgow. For a short time Robert Urie printed books for him. He then set up a press, and in the same year produced two editions of ‘The Temper, Character, and Duty of a Minister of the Gospel,’ of Dr. William Leechman, a Cicero, a Phædrus, and a couple of other works.

Foulis was appointed printer to the university of Glasgow 31 March 1743, and in that year produced the first Greek book printed in the city, ‘Demetrius Phalereus de Elocutione, Gr. et Lat.,’ sm. 8vo. Special type after a Stephens model was cast for him. His press-correctors were George Ross, professor of humanity in the university, and James Moor, whose sister he married, professor of Greek. Dr. Alexander Wilson, who had established a typefoundry at Camlachie, near Glasgow, was of great help to him. He made another journey to France in order to show his examples of typography, and to collect manuscripts and good editions of the classics. In 1744 the well-known ‘immaculate’ Horace, sm. 8vo (with six errors), appeared. The proof-sheets of this book were hung up in college and a reward offered for each inaccuracy discovered. Three editions of Horace of no value subsequently came from the Foulis press. About this time was issued ‘A Catalogue of Books, lately imported from France, containing the scarcest and most elegant editions of the Greek and Roman Classics.’ By 1746 there had been produced twenty-three classical editions, and in 1747 the fine Greek ‘Iliad,’ 2 vols. 4to, ‘very beautiful … and more correct than the small one in 12mo printed at the same place after Dr. Clarke's edition’ (Harwood, View of the Editions of the Classics, 1782, p. 4). Among the publications of 1748 were ‘The Philosophical Principles,’ 2 vols. 4to, of the Chevalier Ramsay, an edition of ‘Hardyknute,’ and specimens of Scottish verse, many of which subsequently came from the Foulis press. The following year was marked by the Cicero, 20 vols. sm. 8vo, after Olivet's text, in a type preferred by Renouard to that of the Elzevir edition (Catalogue de la Bibliothèque d'un Amateur, 1819, ii. 75), and a Lucretius in sm. 8vo, which is still sought after. Foulis also circulated proposals for printing by subscription the works of Plato in Greek, which produced a promise from John Wilkes to obtain a hundred subscribers to the undertaking (see an interesting letter, ap. Duncan, Notices and Documents, pp. 54–5). In 1750 upwards of thirty works, many in polite literature, were printed, the largest number the Glasgow press had yet given forth in a single year. In an undated letter (ib. p. 18) Foulis states that in 1751 he made a fourth journey, lasting near two years, abroad with a brother. During his absence the printing office under the direction of his partner Andrew issued twenty-nine works in 1752 and eighteen in 1753. In 1752 was commenced the publication of the series of single plays of Shakespeare.

Having sent home his brother (not Andrew) with a painter, an engraver, and a copperplate printer, Foulis returned to Scotland in 1753, and soon afterwards instituted his academy for painting, engraving, moulding, modelling, and drawing. The idea had been suggested on the first visit to Paris (1738) by observations of the ‘influence of invention in drawing and modelling on many manufactures.’ The use of several rooms for the students and of a large apartment (afterwards the Faculty Hall) for an exhibition was granted by the university. He received practical help from three Glasgow merchants, Mr. Campbell of Clathic, Mr. Glasford of Dougalston, and Mr. Archibald Ingram, who afterwards became partners in the undertaking; while Charles Townshend, the Earl of Northumberland, and others threw cold water upon it.

A literary society, to which Adam Smith, Dr. Robert Simson, Dr. Reid, Dr. Black, and others belonged, was founded in Glasgow College 10 Jan. 1752, and Foulis was admitted the next year. It was the duty of each member in turn to read a paper, and he delivered fifteen discourses, chiefly on philosophical subjects (see list in Duncan, op. cit. pp. 134–135). He is said to have anticipated some of Beccaria's views.

In 1755 the Select Society of Edinburgh offered a silver medal for the best printed and most correct book of at least ten sheets (Scots Mag. 1755, pp. 126–30), which was awarded the following year to the Foulises for their sm. folio Callimachus, 1755 (ib. 1756, p. 195). This is one of their masterpieces, and is much sought after; it contains some rather commonplace plates, designed by pupils of the academy. The Horace (3rd edition, 1756) also received a medal. An edition of the ‘Nubes’ of Aristophanes in Greek (1755) and a translation of Hierocles (1756) are prized by collectors. The ‘Anacreon,’ 8vo (1757), and Virgil, 8vo (1758), are commended by Harwood for their beauty and correctness. Medals were bestowed by the Select Society for the ‘Iliad’ (1756) and for the ‘Odyssey’ (1758), the famous Greek Homer in four stately folio volumes, which for accuracy and splendour is the finest monument of the Foulis press. Flaxman's designs were executed for this book. ‘As the eye is the organ of fancy,’ says Gibbon, ‘I read Homer with more pleasure in the Glasgow folio; through that fine medium the poet's sense appears more beautiful and transparent’ (Miscellaneous Works, 1814, v. 583). In Harwood's opinion a Thucydides of 1759 is ‘by far the most correct of all the Greek classics published at Glasgow’ (View, p. 29).

During this time Foulis had struggled with great difficulty in his academy. Proper teachers were scarce, and the public seemed unwilling to patronise native artists. Some promising students were sent abroad to study at the expense of the academy. One of these was William Cochrane, another was Archibald Maclauchlane, who married a daughter of Foulis. It should not be forgotten that David Allan and James Tassie were also pupils. Foulis advertised proposals (Scots Mag. 1759, p. 47) for gentlemen to subscribe to the academy with the right of choosing prints, designs, paintings, models, or casts to the value of their subscriptions. The objects were shown at Edinburgh in the shop of Robert Fleming, as well as at the gallery in Glasgow. An Herodotus (1761, 9 vols. sm. 8vo) ‘is beautifully printed and reflects distinguished honour on the university of Glasgow,’ says Harwood (View, p. 23). On the occasion of the coronation of George III the inner court of the college was decorated with paintings from the academy, shown in a print after a picture by D. Allan (reproduced in MacGeorge's ‘Old Glasgow,’ 1880, pp. 134–5). The academy pictures were exhibited on the king's birthday in subsequent years down to about 1775. In January 1763 Foulis states that ‘the academy is now coming into a state of tolerable maturity. … Modelling, engraving, original history-painting, and portrait-painting’ were ‘all in a reputable degree of perfection’ (Letter ap. Duncan, p. 86). About this time there was printed ‘for the use of subscribers’ a folio priced list showing the great variety of the productions, ‘Catalogue of Pictures, Drawings, Prints, Statues, and Busts in Plaister of Paris, done at the Academy,’ including ‘a Collection of Prints, the plates of which are the property of R. and A. Foulis.’ It is reprinted by Duncan (op. cit. pp. 91–115).

Towards the end of 1767 Foulis obtained permission from Gray, through Dr. Beattie, to publish an edition of his poems, which were then being issued in London by James Dodsley. In a letter to Beattie (1 Feb. 1768) Gray says: ‘I rejoice to be in the hands of Mr. Foulis, who has the laudable ambition of surpassing his predecessors, the Etiennes and the Elzevirs, as well in literature as in the proper art of his profession’ (Works, 1836, iv. 102). The book accordingly appeared in the middle of 1768, a handsome quarto, whose special features are explained by Beattie in a letter to Arbuthnot (Letters, 1820, i. 47–49). Beattie also had a share in the literary direction of the folio ‘Paradise Lost’ (1770), which he calls ‘wonderfully fine’ (Letter to Foulis, 20 June 1770, ap. Duncan, pp. 35–36).

Archibald Ingram, one of the partners in the academy, died 23 July 1770. The academy was dissolved. Never pecuniarily successful, it was now eclipsed by the new Royal Academy in London. The printing office was continued, but with lessened activity. A series of plates after the cartoons of Raphael, issued in 1773, may be considered to belong rather to the work of the academy than to the press. They printed down to the death of Andrew in 1775. This blow quite crushed Robert, for the two brothers were deeply attached. The increased commercial responsibility was too much for him, and he decided to send the pictures, which had been used as models in the academy, to London, where he arrived in April 1776 with Robert Dewar from the printing office, who married his daughter. The season was late, and the sale proceeded against the advice of Christie, the auctioneer. The collection is described in ‘A Catalogue of Pictures, composed and painted chiefly by the most admired masters, in which many of the most capital are illustrated by descriptions and critical remarks by Robert Foulis,’ London, 1776, 3 vols. 12mo. The net result of the three nights' sale was very disappointing, for which some cause may be discovered in the absence of any evidence of genuineness in the printed descriptions. Foulis was deeply mortified, and on his way home died suddenly at Edinburgh 2 June 1776, aged 69.

‘A Catalogue of Books, being the entire stock in quires of the late Messrs. R. and A. Foulis,’ announces the sale by auction at Glasgow 1 Oct. 1777. Their affairs were finally wound up in 1781 by Robert Chapman, printer, and James Duncan, bookseller. The debts amounted to over 6,500l.; nearly the whole of the stock was purchased by James Spottiswood of Edinburgh. The printing house in Shuttle Street was advertised for sale 31 Oct. 1782.

In the course of thirty-six years Robert and Andrew Foulis produced over 554 works, the number (known to be incomplete) in the list given by Duncan (Notices and Documents, pp. 49–78, 147–9); 461, being one of the most extensive collections extant, are in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Most of the books are reprints of standard authors; few are original. When published their chief merits were careful editing, convenient size, good paper, artistic appearance, and cheapness. They are now much sought after as admirable specimens of typography, and are noticeable for their severely plain elegance. ‘Nothing has ever been done [in Glasgow] to rival the results attained by the Foulis press,’ says Professor Ferguson. ‘The works produced by it are quite entitled to rank with the Aldines, Elzevirs, Bodonis, Baskervilles, which are all justly renowned for the varied excellencies they possess, but no provincial, and certainly no metropolitan, press in this country has ever surpassed that of the two brothers’ (The Library, March 1889, p. 95).

There is a medallion portrait of Foulis by Tassie, of which an engraving is given by Duncan (op. cit.) and by Dibdin (Bibl. Tour, ii. 765). A print of an engraving of the academy in the fore-hall, Glasgow College, after a drawing by D. Allan, is in MacGeorge's ‘Old Glasgow’ (p. 302).

Robert was of short stature, robust, well-proportioned, amiable, and sociable. During the winter the brothers sold books by auction. Andrew usually acted as auctioneer, for Robert was not a businesslike salesman. On one occasion he refused to sell ‘Tom Jones,’ as ‘improper for the perusal of young persons.’ He was twice married: first, in September 1742, to Elizabeth, daughter of James Moor; she died in 1750, having had five daughters. His second wife was a daughter of William Boutcher, seedsman, of Edinburgh; she also died before her husband, who survived several of his daughters. His son, Andrew the younger, carried on the printing in the same style, and many of his books are not inferior to those of the older firm, whose name he used. A Virgil, 2 vols. folio (1778), a ‘Cicero de Officiis,’ 12mo (1784), and a Virgil, 12mo (1784), deserve mention. He died in 1829 in great poverty. Alexander Tilloch entered into partnership with Foulis in 1782, in order to carry on his reinvention of stereotyping.

Andrew Foulis the elder (1712–1775), born at Glasgow 23 Nov. 1712, was originally intended for the church, and received a more regular education than his elder brother Robert. For some time he taught Greek, Latin, French, and philosophy in Glasgow. From 1738 to his last moments the life of Andrew cannot be dissociated from that of his partner Robert. Of the two brothers Andrew was more strictly the man of business; after the foundation of the academy the responsibility of the printing, bookselling, and binding departments fell mainly on him. Between 1764 and 1770 he read eleven papers (see list in Duncan, p. 135) before the Literary Society of Glasgow, to which he was elected in 1756. He died suddenly of apoplexy 18 Sept. 1775, at the age of sixty-three (Scots Mag. 1775, p. 526).

[Information obligingly contributed by Dr. David Murray from his forthcoming work, An Account of the Foulis Academy and of the Progress of Literature, Art, and Science in Glasgow. Many facts are given in Notices and Documents illustrative of the Literary History of Glasgow (by William James Duncan), Maitland Club, 1831, 4to, reprinted with additions, Glasgow, 1886; see also an interesting article by Professor John Ferguson on the Brothers Foulis and early Glasgow Printers in The Library, March 1889; T. Mason's Public and Private Libraries of Glasgow, 1885; T. B. Reed's Old English Letter Foundries, 1887; J. Strang's Glasgow and its Clubs, 2nd ed. 1857; Dibdin's Bibl. Tour in Northern Counties and Scotland, 1838, vol. ii.; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 217, 691, viii. 475, 569, and Illustrations, ii. 167.]

H. R. T.