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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XXII - The Elzevirs of Scotland and the Foulis Academy


JOHN GIBSON, in his History of Glasgow, after recounting how the printing of books was first begun in the city in 1638 by George Anderson, and how Robert Sanders settled here about 1661, and, followed by his son, carried on a printing business till after 1730, says there was no good printing in Glasgow till 1735, when Robert Urie began the production of books "in a very good taste and manner." He adds, "How far it has been improved since that time the many elegant and splendid editions of books in different languages, printed by Robert and Andrew Foulis, who began in 1740, are a sufficient testimony." [History, p. 245.]

The progress of printing was of course dependent to a considerable extent upon progress in the art of typefounding. This art also was late in coming to Glasgow. The pioneer of typefounding in Scotland was Peter Rae, minister of Kirkbride. At his press in that quiet parish, and afterwards in Dumfries, Rae printed some sixteen works, including a "History of the Rebellion of 1715." He was followed by James Duncan, letter-founder in Glasgow, who has already been mentioned in these pages, and who, with his family, continued to print and sell books in the city for something like a century. According to the Burgh Records, "James Duncan, printer and type-maker," was appointed "the toun's printer" in October 1719. Duncan printed many chapbooks, as well as Dougal Graham's rhyming chronicle of " the '45," the first and second editions of which are much sought after. [Dougal Graham was of course himself a printer, issuing from his press a series of chapbooks, mostly of his own writing, which, coarse but vivid, reflected the rustic life of his time, and enjoyed an enormous popularity. For the authorship of these he has been called the Scottish Rabelais.] A departure on a higher and more artistic level was made, however, by Alexander Wilson, Professor of Astronomy in Glasgow University. Beginning to practise the craft of type-founding in his native city of St. Andrews about 1740, Wilson removed shortly afterwards to Camlachie, then a village near Glasgow, and the types produced there by him and his sons attained before long a European reputation. His "Scotch type" was spoken of throughout the kingdom as a sine qua non for excellence of printing, and in France was known as the "style Ecossais." In Glasgow itself his services to printing were recognized by the Town Council, which made him a burgess " upon account of his great ingenuity in typefounding, by which printing has been advanced in this city within these few years to a great degree of perfection." [Burgh Records, 3rd Oct. 1757; Cleland's Annals, ii. 467; Coutts' list. University of Glasgow, p. 230.] He was also appointed "Type-founder to the University."

The fame of Wilson's types was due chiefly to the publications of the Glasgow printers, Robert and Andrew Foulis. As frequently happens in successful enterprise, the brothers began business at a psychological momentówhen Wilson's new and beautiful style of type was becoming available. Their beginnings were characteristic enough. They were the sons of a Glasgow maltman, Andrew Faulls, and their mother, Marion Patterson, was evidently a woman of parts, for she herself attended to the education of all her four boys. Robert, the eldest son, was born in 1707, and, like his Edinburgh contemporary, Allan Ramsay, practised for some years as a barber. Andrew, born in 1712, was bred for the ministry, and for a time taught Greek, Latin, French, and philosophy. But Robert, with an ambition common to many Scotsmen, attended Professor Francis Hutcheson's lectures on moral philosophy at the University. By Hutcheson he was advised to start business as a printer and bookseller, and by way of preparation he worked for a time in a Glasgow printing house. Then with his brother he paid a visit to Oxford, and spent some time in the Bodleian library, studying examples of the printer's art. The two also went to the Continent for a further study of books, printing, and editions. They made two journeys of this sort, paying their expenses by collecting specimen editions abroad, and selling them in London at a profit. Thus fortified, they began business in Shuttle Street, near the University, in 1741.

Until that time most of the Greek and Latin classics used in this country were imported from the Continent, and were both costly and scarce. In this direction the Foulis brothers saw their opportunity. During their first year, besides three other works, they produced a Cicero and a Phaedrus. One of their other books was a work by Principal Leechman, and they were rewarded two years later by being appointed printers to the University. Perhaps to mark the event they forthwith produced the first book printed in Greek in Glasgow, Demetrius Phalerus de Elocutione, and in the following year they proceeded with their famous "immaculate" Horace. This was intended to be an absolutely perfect edition. The proofs were read by George Ross, the Professor of Humanity, and James Moor, Professor of Greek, whose sister Robert Foulis married; and after hours had been spent by them and other experts over each page, each sheet was hung up in the college for a fortnight, and a reward of fifty pounds offered for the detection of any error. Notwithstanding all the care taken, however, when the edition was published it was found by Dr. Dibdin to contain no fewer than six typographical errors, one of them in the first line of the first page. [Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 35.]

Next to the Horace the most famous publication of the Foulis press was the splendid Homer, in four folio volumes, issued between 1756 and 1758. An edition of Cicero in twenty volumes was also produced, which for its type is preferred to the Elzevir edition. Altogether 554 worksópoetry, plays, classics, translations, and othersówere issued from the bookshop in Shuttle Street. All the productions of the press were notable for the beauty, fine taste, and perfection of their printing, and the Foulis brothers have on that account been justly named the Elzevirs of Scotland.

The Foulis bookshop became a favourite resort of professors and students, and the sales of books by auction carried on there by Andrew Foulis in the winter evenings were the scene of some amusing episodes. In 1753, on his return from a two-year sojourn on the Continent, Robert was admitted a member of the Literary Society newly formed at the college. This was the first literary society in Glasgow, and among its members were Dr. Francis Hutcheson and Professor Adam Smith. Robert Foulis read fifteen papers to its meetings.

But already he had another project in his mind. He had been impressed by the effects of the teaching of art on the Continent, and his idea was to establish a great academy of painting, sculpture, engraving, and other fine arts in his native city. He brought competent masters from abroad, and with the financial help of three notable Glasgow citizens, proceeded to set tip his academy. The University let him have the use of several rooms for studios and a hall for exhibitions, and the Duke of Hamilton allowed the students to copy the old masters in his galleries. Financially he was supported by Campbell of Clathic, Glassford of Dougalston, and Provost Archibald Ingram. For twenty years he put up a brave fight to make Glasgow a home of the fine arts. Nor was his effort without results. Among the pupils of the Academy who achieved fame were William Cochrane, the portrait painter, David Allan, "the

Scottish Hogarth," remembered best by his illustrations to Ramsay's "Gentle Shepherd," and James Tassie, a Pollokshaws stone mason whose medallions of the well-known men of his time in a glass paste which he himself invented, are much sought after to-day. [Foulis's Academy had an example in the short-Iived School of St. Luke, set up in Edinburgh in 1729, of which Allan Ramsay, son of the poet, was almost the sole product of note.] The display of works, also, which was made on the King's birthday each year with a view to make known the achievements of the Academy, and to secure patronage, set the example for our modern picture exhibitions. Further, there can be little doubt that the Academy itself afforded a model for the Royal Academy established in London in 1768. Perhaps the occasion on which Robert Foulis saw his hopes most nearly realized was on the Coronation Day of King George III., when the Academy held a great exhibition in the open air, in the inner quadrangle of the College. [A rare print, after a drawing by David Allan, reproduced in Macgeorge's Old Glasgow, p. 126, depicts this display. The print affords, by the way, a good idea of the costumes fashionable in Glasgow in 1761.]

But, so far as Glasgow was concerned, Foulis's idea was too far in advance of its time. Even a hundred years later, when the Glasgow coachbuilder, Archibald MacLellan, built his galleries in Sauchiehall Street, and filled them with the Old Masters which formed the nucleus for the superb collection in the Fine Art Galleries at Kelvingrove to-day, the effort only achieved a doubtful approval, and brought ruin upon his own affairs. It was not till late in the nineteenth century that the "Glasgow School" of painters brought artistic fame to the city. The first blow fell upon Robert Foulis when Provost Ingram, one of his chief supporters, died in 1770. But the worst stroke came when one day Robert's brother Andrew, while showing a visitor the view of the city from the high ground in Drygate, was seized with an apoplexy, and died on the spot. Andrew had been the practical partner, who kept the business going with his auction sales of books, and his death meant the end of the great enterprise. With a sinking heart, Robert carried the pictures and models of his Academy to London, where he opened an exhibition. But everybody of note had left town at the time, and a very great personage whose patronage was hoped for did not attend. Against the advice of Christie, the auctioneer, the works of art were put up for sale, and realized only trifling sums, though two pictures bought by Glasgow University were considered by Raeburn to be either by Raphael or one of his pupils. When all costs were defrayed the balance in Foulis's hands was just fifteen shillings! Sadly he set out for home, but on the way, at Edinburgh, he fell ill, and died on 2nd June, 1776. He was 69 years of age, his debts amounted to £6500, and his family were left destitute. The printing house in Shuttle Street was advertised for sale on 31st October, 1782. [Duncan's Literary History of Glasgow (Maitland Club).] Andrew Foulis, younger, remained official printer to the University, with rooms in the College, till 1795, but he never emerged from financial difficulties. When he died in 1829 the Faculty made a gift of £5 to pay for his funeral, and for twenty-five years it made an annual allowance to support his sister Elizabeth, who had married her father's foreman printer, Robert Dewar. [Coutts, Hist. Univ. Glasgow, p. 331.]


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