Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Biographical Notes on Robert Withy (part 1)

I wasn't able to attend this week's conference on Bibliography Among the Disciplines, but did follow a bit on Twitter under the tag #BxD17. One of the memes was "When you fall down a rabbit hole, go for it!" In that vein, my latest rabbit hole is Robert Withy.

I've written about him and his publications about whist and quadrille many times. The most important essay was a series (parts one, two, and three) establishing conclusively that it was he and not Anna Letitia Barbauld who wrote Short Rules for Short Memories at the Game of Whist under the pseudonym "Bob Short".

The rabbit hole is the Withy biography. I happened on some fascinating sources and wanted to pull them together, much as I did for bookseller Francis Cogan. The most important source is an article in Miscellanea, Genealogica et Heraldica, volume III, new series, edited by Joseph Jackson Howard, London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1880. The article is called "Pedigree of Withy of Berry Norbert and Westminster" and includes information compiled by the Vicar of All Saints', Lambeth and transcribes genealogical information from the Withy family bible. It is available for download from Google Books.

I have a couple of other interesting sources that I will save for later; now here is the first part of a chronology of what I've learned about Withy:

1732-12-11 Robert Withy is born, the son of Hilborne (an upholsterer) and Elizabeth Withy of Coleman Street, London.

1747-07-07 Hilborne binds Robert as an apprentice to the bookseller John Rivington for £105. [McKenzie, Stationers' Apprentices]

1754-09-03 Withy is free of the Stationers' Company. [McKenzie]

1755 Withy begins a bookselling and print-selling career. Some of his imprints are at the sign of the Dunciad in Cornhill. See this lovely broadside advertising his business. Other imprints show Withy in partnership with John Ryall at Hogarth's Head opposite Salisbury Court, Fleet Street. A broadside from that business survives as well. [ESTC]

There are 107 entries in ESTC listing Withy as a publisher. I haven't gone through these in detail to find out what role he played or how many were in partnership with John Ryall. The first 101 are dated from 1755 to 1767, when, as we shall see, Withy left the trade.

1756-02-01 Withy marries, as is noted in the London Evening Post of February 3:
Sunday last Mr. Robert Withy, a bookseller in Fleet-Street, was married to Miss Amelia Hope, daughter of Roger Hope, Esq. of Windsor, an agreeable lady with a handsome fortune. 
One the one hand, this is clearly our Robert Withy. On the other, the marriage does not show up in Miscellanea, which notes two marriages, the first of which is the listed immediately below. What is the story of this ignored marriage? A mystery!

1758-03-16 Withy marries Mary, daughter of William and Elizabeth Johnson. The couple had thirteen children from 1759 to 1778, most of whom died in child birth or infancy. There were two sons name Robert who did not survive, followed by a third Robert (born 1768-06-20) who went on to become an attorney and author. [Miscellanea]

1762-03-02 Thomas Dale becomes an apprentice of Withy. [McKenzie]

1766-08-20 Withy leaves the print-selling trade, selling his remaining inventory at auction. The 19 page catalogue survives, titled:
A Catalogue of the Remaining Part of the Stock in Trade, of Mr. Robert Withy, of Cornhill, Print-Seller, who is going into another branch of business: Consisting of a great variety of prints, elegantly framed and glazed for furniture, and in portfeuilles; maps and plans upon rollers; drawing-books copper plates perspective machines, and other effects...which will be sold at auction by Samuel Paterson, at Essex-House in Essex Street, in the Strand, on Wednesday August the 20th, 1766, and the two following days, to begin each day exactly at twelve o'clock. [ESTC, ECCO]
1767-05-21 Withy sells his books and copyrights at a bookseller trade sale. [ESTC] At this point, Withy became a stock broker and auctioneer.

(updated 10/20/2017 with more complete and primary source information on the next section)

1768-02-04 An advertisement appears in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser: As we shall see, it was Withy who placed the advertisement.
An estate for seven years to be sold. To prevent trouble, none need apply who cannot deposit four thousand pounds, five hundred of which to be advanced on making out the title, which is a very good one, and the remainder not to be paid till the deeds are executed. Enquire of C. D. at Baker's Coffee-House, Exchange Alley. 
Nonetheless trouble ensued, and quickly. That day, the House of Commons issued two orders as a result of that advertisement. They ordered that Charles Say, printer of the Gazetteer and the person who keeps Baker's Coffee House attend Parliament the next morning, Friday, February 5. (p580)
[Aside: My account is taken from the Journals of the House of Commons. an 1803 reprint, available for download from Google Books. The Journal reports orders, such as the two above, and who was giving testimony, but not always the substance of the testimony.]
The proceedings continue over the next week and a half:
  • On February 5, the House discussed a bill that might possibly be relevant to our story, a bill for the further and more effectual preventing bribery and corruption in the election of members to serve in Parliament. (583) The orders for Say and the keeper of Baker's House were carried over until Monday. (584) On Monday they were carried over until Tuesday. (589)
  • On February 9, Charles Say, printer of the Gazetteer testified that Robert Withy delivered handwritten copy of the advertisement to Say's clerk, Hugh Jones, on February 3. Samuel Purney, keeper of Baker's Coffee House, said that Withy asked him to delivery any letters which came in response to the advertisement to Withy's home. Purney did so.Withy was directed to appear on Thursday Februrary 11 and bring in any letters he received. Purney and Jones were also directed to attend. (596)

  • On February 11, Withy admitted placing the advertisement, but said that he had received no replies. Purney testified that Withy had frequently ordered letters directed to C. D. to be sent to him. Withy did not bring in any letters, saying that he had received none in response to the advertisement. Purney, contested that claim, informing the house that he had received letters since February 4 which he had delivered to Withy. (603)
  • Withy then opened up. He said that he had received letters from John Reynolds about the borough of Milborne-Port; and that he received instructions from Reynolds to place the advertisement and to refer replies to Reynolds. He received replies from three attorneys, Hickey, Seagrave, and Coulthurst, all whom he referred to Reynolds. Withy claimed he was present at a conversation between Reynolds and Hickey in which Reynolds said that there were some boroughs available at a reasonable price, naming Milborne Port, Reading, and Honiton. Hickey made a deposit for the borough of Redding, and Hickey identified his principal as Mr. Nightingale. (603)
This gives enough clues to sort out what is going on. Milborne Port and Honiton were "rotton boroughs", defined in the Wikipedia as Parliamentary boroughs so small that could be used by a patron to gain influence within the House of Commons. Milborne Port is mentioned specifically. A Rowlandson print from 1807 satirizes Honiton as a rotton borough. So, it seems that Parliament is investigating an effort to buy a seat in the House of Commons. Back to the proceedings.
  • Parliament ordered Reynolds, Hickey, Seagrave, and Coulthurst to attend the next day, and ordered Withy to be taken into custody to ensure his appearance. Withy was to speak with no one outside the presence of the Serjeant at Arms, and to send or receive no letters. (603).
  • On February 12, Hickey, Seagrave, and Coulthurst, and Withy appeared, but Reynolds was apparently out of town. There was much testimony, including Withy recanting some details of his earlier testimony.The attorney Hickey was not present at the meeting where Reynolds named the three boroughs; it was Reynolds and not Hickey who made the agreement about Reading; and that Nightingale was the principal of Reynolds. The proceedings were continued until Monday February 15. John Reynolds was charged with "corrupt practices relating to several boroughs", Withy was to be held in custody until Monday February 15 to be further examined. John Reynolds was ordered taken into custody to answer the charge. (606)
  • February 15, the House had a first reading of the bill for preventing bribery and corruption in the election of members to serve in Parliament. (610)
  • February 15, John Reynolds still could not be found. Parliament petitioned His Majesty, to issue a royal proclamation for apprehending John Reynolds with the promise of reward. Hickey and Withy were examined, both separately and together, although there is no report of their testimony. The House voted 83 to 37 that Joseph Hickey was guilty of a corrupt attempt to obtain a seat in the House on behalf of a client and he was taken into custody. After further testimony, it was ordered "that the said Robert Withy be discharged out of custody, without paying any fees. (610)
And so ends the story, at least as to Withy. In a 1774 treatise on election law by a "Gentleman of the Inner-Temple", the author noted it was singular to discharge a prisoner without paying any fees. (p116).

Not so for Hickey and Reynolds. On February 18, Hickey petitioned to be discharged, admitting his guilt and promising to avoid incurring censure of the house. He was order to be discharged the next day. (p617). Reynolds was not so fortunate. He was brought to the House on the 18th, and after his testimony and thought of others, including Withy, he was confined to Newgate. His Majesty was requested to direct the Attorney General to prosecute Reynolds.

1778-01-07. Wife Mary dies delivering twins.

1781-01-31 Withy advertises a card with rules for whist in the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser:
No Puff Poz. This day is published, neatly printed on a card. The fourth edition, with additions. Price on 2d. or 1s. a dozen. A New Year's gift for grown masters and misses. Hoyle Abridged; or Twelve short standing rules for short memories, at the Game of Whist. By Bob Short. Printed for the benefit of Families to prevent Scolding, and sold by the author, at Baker's Coffee-house, Exchange-alley, where he attends daily to answer all questions relating to the game of whist. Advice to the poor gratis...N. B. Signed by the author in such a manner as to defy all counterfeits. 
There is one surviving card in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. One side has "Twelve Short Standing Rules for short Memories at the Game of Whist" beginning with "Lead from your strong suit." and "Lead thro' on honour." The other side has an advertisement for Withy's business:
Robert Withy, Stock Broker and Auctioneer, begs leave to inform his friends and the public that he continues to buy and sell by commission, at public or private sale, estates, life annuities, mortgages, reversions, government and all other securities, also the same valued, and lives insured on the most reasonable terms.
The utmost value given for household furniture and other effects, to be remov’d or sold on the premises. All orders directed for him at Baker’s Coffee House, Change Alley, or at his house...
 This takes us to the beginning of his writing about whist. More soon...

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