Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fry, Francis


FRY, FRANCIS (1803–1886), bibliographer, born at Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol, on 28 Oct. 1803, was the second son of Joseph Storrs Fry (1769–1835). He was educated at a large school at Fishponds, in the neighbourhood of Frenchay, kept by a quaker named Joel Lean, and commenced his business training at Croydon. From his twentieth year to middle age he devoted himself to the rapidly increasing business of the firm of J. S. Fry & Sons, cocoa and chocolate manufacturers, at Bristol, in which he was afterwards a partner. In 1833 he married Matilda, only daughter of Daniel and Anne Penrose, of Brittas, co. Wicklow. He took a part in the introduction of railways in the west of England, and was a member of the board of the Bristol and Gloucester railway, which held its first sitting 11 July 1839, retaining his position during the various amalgamations of the line until its union with the Midland. He was also a director of the Bristol and Exeter, the South Devon, and other railways. He took a principal share in managing the Bristol Waterworks (1846) until his death. In 1839 he removed to Cotham, between Bristol and Redland, and built a house close to the old Tower, represented in many of the books which he afterwards purchased. With William Forster, father of W. E. Forster [q. v.], and Robert Alsop he visited Northern Italy in 1850, as a deputation from the Society of Friends to various crowned heads, praying for their countenance in the abolition of slavery (B. Seebohm, Memoirs of William Forster, 1865, ii. 284). In 1852 he made proposals to the railway companies for a general parcel despatch throughout the United Kingdom. He catalogued the library of the Monthly Meeting at Bristol in 1860, and visited Germany. A discovery made by him at Munich about the books printed at Worms by Peter Schœffer the younger enabled him to decide that Tyndale's first English New Testament came from Schœffer's press. Two years later Fry produced his careful facsimile reprint, by means of tracing and lithography, of Tyndale's New Testament (1525 or 1526), the first complete edition printed in English, from the only perfect copy known, now in the Baptist College, Bristol. In the same year he edited a facsimile reprint of the pamphlet known as the ‘Souldier's Pocket Bible,’ distributed to Cromwell's army, and discovered by G. Livermore of Boston, who had himself reprinted it the previous year. Several editions were circulated among the soldiers during the American civil war. It was somewhat altered and enlarged as the ‘Christian Soldier's Penny Bible’ (1693), also facsimiled and edited by Fry. In 1863 he issued a couple of small rare pieces illustrative of Tyndale's version, and in 1865 published his remarkable bibliographical treatise on the Great Bible of 1539, the six editions of Cranmer's Bible of 1540 and 1541, and the five editions of the authorised version. Fry visited many private and public libraries to collate different copies of these bibles, and was able to settle the peculiarities of the various issues. This work was followed by his account of Coverdale's translation of the Scriptures, and his description of forty editions of Tyndale's version, most of which vary among themselves. These three books are marked by laborious accuracy, great bibliographical acumen, and a profound acquaintance with the history of the English Bible.

He was a member of the committee of the Bristol Philosophical Society, as well as of the Bristol Museum and Library. Books and china formed his chief study. His collection of specimens produced at the Bristol factory between 1768 and 1781 was particularly complete. Many examples are described by Hugh Owen (Two Centuries of Ceramic Art in Bristol, 1873, pp. 78–9, 97, 243, &c.). His collection of bibles and testaments numbered nearly thirteen hundred, chiefly English, especially editions of the versions of Tyndale, Coverdale, and Cranmer, but with a number of first editions in other languages. He took an active interest in many associations for social improvement. He died 12 Nov. 1886, soon after the completion of his eighty-third year, and was buried in the Friends' graveyard at King's Weston, near Bristol.

His writings are: 1. ‘A Catalogue of Books in the Library belonging to the Monthly Meeting in Bristol,’ 3rd edit. Bristol, 1860, 8vo. 2. ‘The First New Testament printed in the English Language (1525 or 1526), translated from the Greek by William Tyndale, reproduced in facsimile, with an Introduction,’ Bristol, 1862, sm. 8vo. 3. ‘The Souldiers Pocket Bible, printed at London by G. B. and R. W. for G. C. 1643, reproduced in facsimile, with an Introduction,’ London, 1862, sm. 8vo (this consists of texts of Scripture, chiefly from the Geneva version, with special applications). 4. ‘The Christian Soldiers Penny Bible, London, printed by R. Smith for Sam. Wade, 1693, reproduced in facsimile with an Introductory Note,’ London, 1862, sm. 8vo (No. 3 altered, with the texts from the authorised version somewhat incorrectly quoted). 5. ‘A proper Dyaloge betwene a gentillman and a husbandman eche complaynynge to other their miserable calamite through the ambicion of clergye with a compendious olde treatyse shewynge howe that we ought to have the Scripture in Englysshe, Hans Luft, 1530, reproduced in facsimile, with an Introduction,’ London, 1863, 8vo. 6. ‘The prophete Jonas, with an Introduction by Wm. Tyndale, reproduced in facsimile, to which is added Coverdale's version of Jonah, with an Introduction,’ London, 1863, 8vo (Nos. 5 and 6 reproduced from the unique copies in the library of Lord Arthur Hervey). 7. ‘The Standard Edition of the English New Testament of the Genevan Version,’ London, 1864, 8vo (reprinted from the ‘Journal of Sacred Literature,’ July 1864). 8. ‘A Description of the Great Bible, 1539, and the six editions of Cranmer's Bible, 1540 and 1541, printed by Grafton and Whitchurch; also of the editions in large folio of the Authorised Version printed in 1611, 1613, 1617, 1634, 1640; illustrated with titles and with passages from the editions, the genealogies and the maps, copied in facsimile, also with an identification of every leaf of the first seven and of many leaves of the other editions, on fifty-one plates, together with an original leaf of each of the editions described,’ London, 1865, folio. 9. ‘The Bible by Coverdale, 1535, remarks on the titles, the year of publication, &c., with facsimiles,’ London, 1867, 8vo. 10. ‘A List of most of the Words noticed exhibiting the peculiar orthography used in Tindale's New Testament,’ Bristol, 1871, folio (single sheet, circulated to inquire as to the edition ‘finished in 1535’). 11. ‘A Bibliographical Description of the Editions of the New Testament, Tyndale's Version in English, with numerous readings, comparisons of texts, and historical notices, the notes in full from the edition of November 1534, an account of two octavo editions of the New Testament of the Bishop's version, without numbers to the verses, illustrated with 73 plates,’ London, 1878, 4to. 12. ‘Description of a Title-page of a New Testament dated anno 1532,’ Bristol, 1885, 4to (with facsimile of title-page, two leaves).

[A Brief Memoir of Francis Fry of Bristol, by his son, Theodore Fry, privately printed, 1887, 8vo, with portraits of Fry and members of his family, and other illustrations; Joseph Smith's Descriptive Catalogue of Friends' Books, 1867, i. 814–15.]

H. R. T.