William Bulmer

The obituary for William Bulmer published in the Gentlemen's Magazine - 1830.

William Bulmer

1830, Sept. 9. Died, William Bulmer, printer, whose name is associated with all that is correct and beautiful in typography. By him the art was matured, and brought to its present high state of perfection. This celebrated typographer was a native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he was apprenticed to Mr. Thompson, in the Burnt House-entry, St. Nicholas's Churchyard, from whom he received the first rudiments of his art. During his apprenticeship he formed a friendship with Thomas Bewick, the celebrated engraver on wood, which lasted with great cordiality throughout life. It was their practice, whilst youths, to visit together every morning, a farm-house at Elswick, a small village about two miles from Newcastle, and indulge in Goody Coxen's hot rye-cake and buttermilk, who used to prepare these dainties for such of the Newcastle youths who were inclined to enjoy an early morning walk before the business of the day commenced. During the period of the joint apprenticeships of these young aspirants for fame, Bulmer invariably took off the first impressions of Bewick's blocks, at his master's printing-office, at Newcastle, where Bulmer printed the engraving of the Huntsman and Old Hound, which obtained for Bewick the premium from the society of arts, in London. Mr. Bulmer afterwards suggested to his friend Bewick an improvement, of which he availed himself, of lowering the surfaces of the blocks where the distance or lighter parts of the engraving were to be shown to perfection. When Mr. Bulmer first went to London, his services were engaged by Mr. John Bell, who was then publishing his beautiful miniature editions of the poets, Shakspeare, &c.

About 1787, an accidental circumstance introduced Mr. Bulmer to the late George Nicol, esq. bookseller to king George III. who was then considering the best method of carrying into effect the projected magnificent national edition of Shakspeare, which he had suggested to Messrs. Boydell, ornamented with designs by the first artists of this country. Mr. Nicol had previously engaged the skilful talents of Mr. William Martin, of Birmingham, in cutting sets of types, after approved models, in imitation of the sharp and fine letter used by the French and Italian printers; which Mr. Nicol for a length of time caused to be carried on in his own house. Premises were then engaged in Cleveland-row, St. James's, and the "Shakspeare press" was established under the firm of "W. Bulmer and Co." This establishment soon evinced how judicious a choice Mr. Nicol had made in Mr. Bulmer to raise the reputation of his favourite project “This magnificent edition (says Dr. Dibdin) which is worthy of the unrivalled compositions of our great dramatic bard, will remain as long as those compositions shall he admired, an honourable testimony of the taste and skill of the individuals who planned and conducted it to its completion. The text was revised by G. Steevens and Isaac Reed. Mr. Bulmer possessed the proof sheets of the whole work, on which are many curious remarks by Steevens, not always of the most courteous description; also some original sonnets, a scene for a burlesque tragedy, some graphic sketches, &c.” “The establishment of the Shakspeare press (continues Dr. Dibdin,) was unquestionably an honour both to the founders in particular, and to the public at large. Our greatest poet, our greatest painter, and two of our most respectable publishers and printers, were all embarked in one common white-hot crucible; from which issued so pure and brilliant a flame or fusion that it gladdened all eyes and hearts, and threw a new and revivifying lustre on the threefold arts of painting, engraving, and printing. The nation appeared to be not less struck than astonished; and our venerable monarch George III. felt anxious not only to give such a magnificent establishment every degree of royal support, but, infected with the matrix and puncheon mania, he had even contemplated the creation of a royal printing-office within the walls of his own palace!” One of his majesty's principal hopes and wishes was, for his own country to rival the celebrity of Parma in the productions of Bodoni; and Dr. Dibdin pleasantly alludes to what he calls the Bodoni Hum, — of “his majesty being completely and joyfully taken in, by bestowing upon the efforts of Mr. Bulmer's press, that eulogy which he had supposed was due exclusively to Bodoni’s.” The first number of the Shakspeare appeared in January, 1794; and at once established Mr. Bulmer's fame as the first practical printer of the day. Dr. Dibdin has given (Bibliographical Decameron, ii. 384–395,) a curious and copious list of the “books printed at the Shakspeare press,” with judicious remarks, to which we must refer our readers, noticing only such as are the most eminent in execution. Next to the Shakspeare, perhaps the edition of the Poetical Works of John Milton, in 3 vols, folio, 1793–1797, is the finest production of Mr. Bulmer's press. Dr. Dibdin seems to prefer this work even to the Shakspeare itself. In 1795, Mr. Bulmer printed a beautiful edition in 4to. of the Poems of Goldsmith and Parnell, one copy on white satin, and three on vellum. The volume is dedicated to the founders of the Shakspeare printing-office, Messrs. Boydells and Nicol. “The present volume,” says Mr. Bulmer, in his advertisement, “in addition to the Shakspeare, the Milton, and many other valuable works of elegance, which have already been given to the world through the medium of the Shakspeare press, are [is] particularly meant to combine the various beauties of printing, type-founding, engraving, and paper making; as well with a view to ascertain the near approach to perfection which those arts have attained to this country, as to invite a fair competition with the best typographical productions of other nations. How far the different artists who have contributed their exertions to this great object, have succeeded in the attempt, the public will now be fully able to judge. Much pains have been bestowed on the present publication to render it a complete specimen of the arts of type and block-printing. The ornaments are all engraved on blocks of wood, by my earliest acquaintances, Messrs. Bewick, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and London, after designs from the most interesting passages of the poems they embellish. They have been executed with great care, and I may venture to say, without being supposed to be influenced by ancient friendship, that they form the most extraordinary effort of the art of engraving upon wood, that ever was produced in any age, or any country. Indeed, it seems almost impossible that such delicate effects could be obtained from blocks of wood. Of the paper it is only necessary to say, that it comes from the manufactory of Mr. Whatman.” Besides the wood-cuts, the work was embellished with eight very superior vignettes. — The biographical sketches of Goldsmith and Parnell, prefixed to the work, were by Isaac Reed. — This volume was highly appreciated by the public; two editions of it, in 4to. were sold, and they produced a profit to the ingenious printer, after payment of all expenses, of £1,500. Stimulated by the great success of the work, Mr. Bulmer, in 1796, was induced to prepare an embellished quarto edition of Somerville's Chase. Three copies were printed on vellum. It is thus dedicated,

“To the Patrons of fine Printing:” “When the exertions of an individual to improve his profession are crowned with success, it is certainly the highest gratification his feelings can experience. The very distinguished approbation that attended the publication of Goldsmith's Traveller, Deserted Village, and Parnell's Hermit, which was last year offered to the public, as a specimen of the improved state of typography in this country, demands my warmest acknowledgements; and is no less satisfactory to the different artists who contributed their efforts towards the completion of the work. The Chase, by Somerville, is now given as a companion to Goldsmith; and it is almost superfluous to observe, that the subjects which ornament the present volume, being entirely composed of landscape scenery, and animals, are adapted, above all others, to display the beauties of wood-engraving.”

In 1804, the above two works were reprinted in one octavo volume, by Mr. Bulmer, with the same embellishments, for Messrs. Cadell and Davies, who had purchased the blocks. Museum Worsleyanum, 1798–1803,2 vols, folio, English and Italian. Sir Richard Worsley5 expended £27,000 on this work, which was never published. 6 Portraits of the Sovereigns of the Turkish Empire, with biographical sketches in French and English; large folio. By John Young, esq. This work was printed at the expense of the sultan Selim, and the whole impression was sent to the Ottoman court. The Antiquities of the Arabs in Spain, by Cavannah Murphy, 1816, large folio. This herculean folio rivals Denon's7 Egypt, in nobleness of design, splendour of execution, and richness of material. The History of the Arabs in Spain, &c,8 4 to. 1816. This volume is a companion to the above. The Typographical Antiquities of Great Britain, by T. F. Dibdin. Vols. ii. iii. and iv. The union of the red and black inks, the proportioned spaces, and the boldness and singularity of the cuts, render these books very beautiful of their kind. Bibliotheca Spenceriana, 4 vols.9 This work, considering the bulk of the volumes, and the quantity of matter introduced, is perhaps the most brilliant bibliographical production in existence, on the score of mere typographical excellence. Only fifty-five copies were struck off upon large paper, in royal 4to., eight of which were reserved by earl Spencer for presents. Upon the completion of this work, carried on without intermission for nearly four years, the printer presented Dr. Dibdin with a richly-wrought silver cup, of an antique form. Of all the works executed at the Shakspeare press, the Bibliographical Decameron, three vols. 8vo. by T. F. Dibdin, is acknowledged to be the most eminently successful in the development of the skill and beauty attached to the art of printing. Never was such a variety of ornament — in the way of wood-cuts and red and black ink £ exhibited. The quantity of matter, by way of note, is perhaps no where exceeded, in a performance which unites splendour of execution with curiosity of detail. The paper is also of the finest quality. We have not space to enumerate the private reprints of Mr. Bulmer for the Roxburghe club, the history of which will be found in Dibdin's Bibliographical Decameron, vol. iii. pp. 69–74. One of the chief difficulties Mr. Bulmer had to contend with, was the providing of good black printing ink. That formerly used by printers was execrable. Baskerville had made his own ink, as well as type, about 1760, which enabled him to produce such fine work; and Mr. Robert Martin, his apprentice, was still living when Mr. Bulmer began business. He first supplied Mr. Bulmer with fine lampblack, for his experiments in fine printing; but the difficulty of obtaining an adequate supply, induced Mr. Bulmer to erect an apparatus for the purpose of making his own ink, and he succeeded to the extent of his wishes in producing a very superior black. In the Shakspeare, which was nine years in hand, the same harmony of tint and richness of colour prevail, as if the ink had been all made at one time, and the last sheet inked by the same hand in the same hour as the first: this single work probably contains more pages than Bodoni ever printed. Much must have been owing to the aid of good and congenial quality in the paper, and insured in effect by the experience and skill which Mr. Bulmer was so competent to impart to his workmen; and that a great deal must hare depended on, and been effected by, the two last-named requisites, is very apparent, from his being able to produce the same effect in ink of another colour, namely red.” After continuing in business with the highest credit for about thirty years, Mr. Bulmer retired in 1819, with a well-earned fortune, to a genteel residence at Clapham Rise, and was succeed at the Shakspeare press by his partner, Mr. William Nicol, the only son of his friend. Mr. Nicol,in his Octoglot folio edition of Virgil, edited by W. Sotheby, esq. has proved himself a most diligent and able successor. But whilst we have justly placed Mr. Bulmer in the first rank of his profession, let us not forget that he had equal claims to distinction among those whose memory is revered for their many private and domestic virtues. We may then truly say, that his art was deprived of its brightest ornament, and his friends had to lament the loss of one not easily surpassed in every moral excellence. Mr. Bulmer was one of the oldest members of the honourable band of gentlemen pensioners, and of which William Gifford was paymaster. It was the practice of Mr. Gifford, whenever an exchequer warrant was issued for the payment of the quarterly salaries of the gentlemen of the band, to inform its members, by a circular letter, that their salaries were in a course of payment; but on many of these occasions he was wont to depart from his usual routine, and indulge himself in a poetical notice to Mr. Bulmer. From a variety of these momentary effusions of the satirist, we select the following:

An Admonitory Epistle to the Right Worthy Gentleman, W. Bulmer, Gentleman Pensioner.
“O thou who safely claim'st the right to stand
Before thy king, with dreaded axe in hand,
My trustiest Bulmer! know upon my board
A mighty heap of cash (O golden wind !)
Now lies for service done, the bounteous meed.
Haste then, in Wisdom's name, and hither speed ;
For if the truth old poets sing or say,
Riches straight make them wring and fly away!”

To William Bulmer, esq. brother to Sir Fenwick Bulmer, knight. Sept, 1821.
“Dread Sir, whose blood, to knighthood near,
Is sixpence now an ounce more dear
Than when my summons issued last;
With cap in hand, I beg to say.
That I have money to defray
The service at the quarter past.”

Mr. Bulmer died at Clapham Rise, on the 9th of September, in his 74th year, and his remains were interred on the 16th, at St-Clement Danes, Strand, (in which parish his brother had long resided,) attended to the grave by a numerous and respectable company of mourning friends. He left a widow; but had no children. The portrait which we present of Bulmer, is from one faithfully executed in lithography in 1827,painted and drawn on stone by James Ramsay.

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