Saturday, October 15, 2011

Charles Robson

Charles Robson was a real mystery, but there were other ways of uncovering his details. Happily, and thanks to a friend in the USA I was able to get the obituary of Mr. Robson, native of Kelso, from his 1876 obituary in "The Bookseller."

He was the genial man I thought him to be, the self taught linguist who memorised vocabulary in Greek, Latin and Hebrew in the dark fords between street lamps on his way home. There is no doubt in my mind that Smythe was inspired by his employer and was himself an autodidact with Robson merely adding force to the trajectory of Smythe's home environment where John Benny was a teacher. There is a rumour that Robert's parents owned a bookshop on the strand. That would make sense too.

From the 'Bookseller" of March 1st 1876.

"Feb. 10. - At 8, Union Rd, Tufnell Park, Charles Robson, aged seventy, of the firm of Robson and Sons, printers, Pancras Rd, and last surviving Member of the once well known eminent printing firm of Robson, Levey and Franklyn of Great New Street, Fetter lane. Born in Kelso in 1805, the eldest of a numerous family of brothers and sisters, he at an early age was broight to London to seek his fortunes. Entering Moye's Printing Office, Greville Street, Hatton-Garden, as a reading boy, his assiduity and intelligence secured for him in 1820 his indentures as a compositor, from which he was soon promoted to the reading closet. Here he soon saw that if her was to rise above his fellows he must become master of Latin and Greek, and others languages if possible. He Therefore se to work to teach himself, and to fighting out alone whatever he wished to learn, and a determination to arrive at exact knowledge, whatever trouble it might cost him, that his reputation in afterlife is attributed. Wholly self taught, he acquired a thorough knowledge of the Latin and Greek classics, as well as considerable proficiency in Hebrew, Arabic and other dead languages. So industrious was he, and such a utiliser of time, that when living about four miles from his business, and walking home often very late at night, his favorite practice was to take off a sentence of the book he was studying and con it over between the lamps. Not unnaturally feeling dissatisfied with his position as reader, he, in 1834, in conjunction with the late Mr. Levey, determined to commence business on his own account and a house was taken in St. Martin's Lane for the purpose. Here the correctness and carefulness of the work soon raised for the new firm a host of friends, and larger premises became necessary. These were found in Great New Street and many of the books published with their imprint are amongst the choicest productions of the press; especially may be mentioned "Poems and Picnics" published by Mr. James Burns in 1846, one of the best specimens of fine woodcut printing we are acquainted with. In the new office the whole surge of the reading was committed to Mr. Robson, and this naturally brought him into communication with many eminent men. In 1829 he edited Dr. Robinson's Lexicon to the Greek Testament, which is admitted by all students who saw the book to be invaluable, though from circumstances attending it's publication it never attained the publicity it deserved, and it was shortly afterwards pirated by Dr. Bloomfield. In 1855 he undertook for the late David Brogue the editing of Webster's English Dictionary, a work of great labour, many parts being published entirely rewritten; but the death of the publisher occurring soon after the completion of the work, this too, did not meet with the success to which it was entitled. Of kindly, unassuming disposition, nothing delighted him more than to give any one the benefit of his knowledge, which would always be thoroughly relied upon. Hence the esteem in which he was held by such men as Thomas Carlyle; Alexander Dyce who acknowledge in his preface the assistance rendered him by Mr. Robson on his edition of Shakespeare; and John Forester, all of whom fully appreciated his value as an accurate and learned printer. Like the two latter, he also now has passed away, beloved by all who knew him, full of years and honour."

Now, how is that for an obituary? just as I recalled him to be. Now, it puts me in mind of the Levey's character (George Levey's obituary surely must have made it into 'The Bookseller" ) but more of that anon.

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