Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/French, Gilbert James

FRENCH, GILBERT JAMES (1804–1866), biographer of Samuel Crompton, was born 18 April 1804 at Edinburgh, where his father is said to have been a ‘manufacturer.’ He received a fair education, and was apprenticed to a draper. He migrated from Edinburgh to Sheffield, and thence to Bolton, where he settled and ultimately developed a considerable trade in the textile fabrics of all kinds worn by clergymen and otherwise used in the services of the church. He cultivated a taste for archæology, especially for ecclesiology, and formed an extensive library. In July 1840 there appeared a communication, signed with his initials, in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ containing a sketch of the story of James Annesley [q. v.], with indications of its resemblance to that of Henry Bertram in ‘Guy Mannering,’ to which no reference is made in Scott's introduction. The sketch was reproduced in ‘Chambers's (Edinburgh) Journal’ for 7 March 1841. French expanded this communication in a pamphlet ‘printed for presentation’ in 1855, and entitled ‘Parallel Passages from Two Tales, elucidating the Origin of the Plot of “Guy Mannering.”’ To consecutive numbers of the ‘Bolton Chronicle,’ commencing 26 April 1856, he contributed a series of letters, which he collected and again ‘printed for presentation’ only in the same year as ‘An Enquiry into the Origin and Authorship of some of the Waverley Novels.’ Here French developed, with new facts and illustrations, the old theory, revived by W. J. Fitzpatrick in 1856, that Scott's brother Thomas and his wife, Mrs. Thomas Scott, were the virtual authors of the earlier Waverley novels. In 1852 French zealously promoted the establishment of the Bolton Free Library, and being president in 1857–8 of the Bolton Mechanics' Institution he delivered to its members several lectures, two of which, on ‘The Life and Times of Samuel Crompton [q. v.]’, were expanded into the meritorious biography published in 1859. He contributed generously to the support of Crompton's surviving son when old and poor, and he raised a subscription of 200l., with which a monument was erected over Crompton's grave in the Bolton parish churchyard. French died at Bolton 4 May 1866. He was a member of the London Society of Antiquaries, and a corresponding member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He read several papers before the Archæological Association of Great Britain and Ireland, which appeared in their ‘Transactions.’ The following are those of his writings not already referred to which are in the Library of the British Museum:

  1. ‘Practical Remarks on some of the Minor Accessories to the Services of the Church,’ 1840.
  2. ‘The Tippets of the Canons Ecclesiastical,’ 1850.
  3. ‘Hints on the Arrangement of Colours in Ancient Decorative Art;’ 2nd edit. 1850.
  4. ‘Bibliographical Notices of the Church Libraries at Turton and Gorton, bequeathed by Humphrey Chetham,’ 1855 (vol. xxxviii. of the Chetham Society's publications).
  5. ‘Remarks on the Mechanical Structure of Cotton Fibre,’ 1857.
  6. ‘An Attempt to Explain the Origin and Meaning of the Early Interlaced Ornamentation found on the Ancient Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man,’ 1858.
  7. ‘Decorative Devices for Sunday Schools,’ 1860.

[French's writings; family information.]

F. E.