Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Francis, John (1811-1882)

FRANCIS, JOHN (1811–1882), publisher of the ‘Athenæum,’ was born in Bermondsey on 18 July 1811. His father, James Parker Francis of Saffron Walden, Essex, married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Perkins of Ware, and came to London to carry on the business of a leather-dresser. For twenty-five years he was honorary secretary of the Leather-dressers' Trades Union, and died 24 Aug. 1850, aged 73. John received his earliest education from F. Painter, in Long Lane, Bermondsey. He afterwards attended a nonconformist school in Unicorn Yard, Tooley Street, Southwark, the master of which helped him in 1823 to apprentice himself to E. Marlborough, the well-known newspaper agent, 4 Ave Maria Lane. Having served his full time, in September 1831 he entered the office of the ‘Athenæum’ as a junior clerk, but he showed such ability that he became business manager and publisher of the journal on 4 Oct. At fourteen years of age he taught in the Sunday school of Dr. John Rippon's chapel, Carter Lane, Southwark, and was superintendent when Dr. Rippon removed to New Park Street in 1833. In 1849 Francis joined the new Bloomsbury Chapel under the pastorate of Dr. William Brock, and did good service as a district visitor in St. Giles's. At an early period of his business career his attention was drawn to the heavy fiscal restrictions on the newspaper press, and he took an active and prominent part in trying to remove them. While Milner Gibson fought the battle in parliament, Francis did more than any man out of doors towards bringing about the repeal of the advertisement duty of 1s. 6d. on each advertisement, of the stamp duty of 1d. on each newspaper, and lastly of the paper duty of 1½d. per pound, which charges were successively repealed in 1853, 1855, and 1861. During the long agitation on this question he was constantly engaged in deputations to the leading ministers of the day, and was really the founder of the Association for the Repeal of the Paper Duty, on behalf of which he visited Edinburgh and Dublin in company with John Cassell [q. v.] and Henry Vizetelly. In 1863 his services were rewarded by the presentation, at 47 Paternoster Row, of a testimonial from gentlemen representing the press and the Association for the Repeal of the Taxes on Knowledge. ‘The Bookseller’ of 26 April 1861 (pp. 215–216) contains a paper by him on ‘The Progress of Periodical Literature from 1830 to 1860,’ and on 7 Jan. 1870 he contributed to the ‘Athenæum’ an essay on ‘The Literature of the People.’ He undertook the charge of the commercial affairs of ‘Notes and Queries’ in 1872, in addition to his other work, and in October 1881 he celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his becoming publisher of the ‘ Athenæum.’ For many years he resided at 2 Catherine Street and then at 20 Wellington Street, in connection with his publishing offices. Later on he lived at 11 Burghley Road, Highgate Road; but he returned in 1881 to 20 Wellington Street, Strand, London, where he died on 6 April 1882, and was buried in Highgate cemetery on 18 April, near the grave of Faraday, in the presence of many literary men. In his memory two John Francis pensions were founded in connection with the Newsvendors' Benevolent Institution. His wife, Charlotte Collins, died 7 Dec. 1879, aged 71.

Francis's elder son, John Collins Francis, succeeded him as publisher of the ‘Athenæum,’ and his younger son, Edward James Francis, was manager of the ‘Weekly Dispatch’ from 1875 till his death, 14 June 1881.

[J. C. Francis's John Francis, publisher of the Athenæum, 1888, i. 1–19, 45–7, 226, ii. 173 et seq., 545–50, with portrait; Times, 11 April 1882, p. 5, 12 April, p. 1, 19 April, p. 12; Athenæum, 15 April 1882, p. 476, and 27 Dec. 1884, p. 826; Sunday School Chronicle, 21 April 1882, p. 205; Grant's Newspaper Press (1871), ii. 299, 313, 320; Henry J. Nicoll's Great Movements, 1881, 269–339; Bookseller, 3 May 1882, and 5 March 1883 and 1885.]

G. C. B.