Samuel Bagster the Elder
Samuel Bagster the elder (1772–1851), was the founder of the publishing firm of Bagster & Sons.
Samuel Bagster was born on 26 December 1772, the second son of George and Mary Bagster, of St. Pancras. He was educated at Northampton under the Rev. John Ryland, and, after serving an apprenticeship with William Otridge, commenced business as a general bookseller on 19 April 1794 in the Strand, where he remained until 1816.
Printing the Bible
A few years before he left, the rarity and consequent costliness of all polyglot bibles gave him the idea of supplying the want of a handy and inexpensive edition. He first brought out a Hebrew Bible, which was followed by the Septuagint, both in foolscap octavo. The production of English bibles was a monopoly in the United Kingdom, confined in England to the king's printer and the two great universities, in Scotland to Sir D. H. Blair and John Bruce, and in Ireland to Mr. Grierson. It had been decided, however, that the patent did not apply to bibles printed with notes.
Bagster's polyglot bible
Bagster brought out in 1816 ‘The English version of the polyglot bible’ (with a preface by T. Chevalier), in foolscap octavo size, containing a selection of over 60,000 parallel references, mainly selected and all verified by himself. The book was extremely successful. Every detail in its production was superintended by the publisher, who introduced a new style of binding in the best Turkey Morocco, with flexible tight backs, the sheets being sewed with thin thread or silk. He also used prepared sealskins, which, with their ‘pin-head grain,’ were much admired.
Move and other printing
In 1816 he moved to 15 Paternoster Row. The first issue of the ‘Biblia Sacra Polyglotta Bagsteriana’ appeared between 1817 and 1828, four volumes in foolscap octavo and quarto form, containing, besides the prolegomena of Dr. Samuel Lee, the Hebrew Old Testament with points, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament, the Latin Vulgate, the authorised English version, the Greek Textus Receptus of the New Testament, and the Peshito or ancient Syriac version. An edition was printed of a quarto French, Italian, Spanish, and German Bible, which Lowndes states was entirely destroyed by fire on the premises in March 1822, when only twenty-three copies of the New Testament portion were preserved. A folio edition of the polyglot was published in 1828, repeated in 1831, and subsequently, presenting eight languages at the opening of the volume, and including all the ancient and modern versions above mentioned. Copies of the different texts and translations were brought out separately, and in various combinations. Although best known for publishing religious works, other books were sometimes issued, including 'A Synoptical Compend of British Botany, Arranged After the Linnean System' by John Galpine.
In consequence of the arbitrary regulations of the excise authorities, paper could only be had of certain sizes. It was partially owing to Bagster's exertions that the rules were modified. Two other forms of the English bible were issued, and, all of them harmonising page for page, began what is known as the ‘Facsimile Series.’ The publication of the first volume of the polyglot was followed in 1821 by an octoglot edition of the liturgy of the Church of England in a handsome quarto. The eight languages were English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, ancient Greek, modern Greek, and Latin.
In 1822 Bagster made the acquaintance of the self-taught Orientalist, William Greenfield, of whose life he wrote an interesting account in the ‘Imperial Magazine’ (1834, pp. 9, 63). Greenfield had suggested a lexicon to the polyglot edition of the Hebrew Bible, which caused him to be engaged as a proof-reader to the various learned publications Bagster was then bringing out. In 1824 Bagster circulated the prospectus of a polyglot grammar in twenty or thirty languages upon the principles of comparative philology, also the suggestion of Greenfield, who in 1827 edited for the publisher his ‘Comprehensive Bible,’ with 4,000 illustrative notes, 500,000 marginal references, a general introduction, and a variety of other useful information. Bagster's Syriac New Testament (1828–29) Hebrew New Testament (1830), Polymicrian Greek Lexicon (1829), Schmidt's Greek Concordance (1829), and, in fact, all the small and beautifully printed Polymicrian series, were also edited by Greenfield.
Many books were subsequently printed by Bagster. A fine quarto issued in 1841 is specially deserving of mention. It is ‘The English Hexapla,’ giving the six most important versions in our tongue of the New Testament, being those of Wyclif (1380), Tyndale (1534), Cranmer (1539), the Genevan (1557), the Anglo-Rhemish (1582), and the authorised (1611), together with the Greek text after Scholz, and a valuable historical account of the English translations. Another noteworthy publication was the ‘Bible of every land,’ 4to, supplying specimens of over 270 different languages and versions.
The well-known motto of the firm, πολλαὶ μὲν θνητοῖς γλῶτται, μία δ'ἀθανάτοισιν, is said to have been due to the Rev. H. F. Cary (Notes and Queries, ser. i. v. 587). We are informed by a member of the family that the Latin version, multæ terricolis linguæ, cœlestibus una, was by William Greenfield. As the two versions appear on Greenfield's tomb, it is very probable that they were both by him.
Bagster married on 19 December 1797 Miss Eunice Birch, who survived him twenty-six years, dying on the eve of her 99th birthday. He died at his residence in Old Windsor on 28 March 1851, aged 78 and is commemorated with a large ledger slab memorial at Abney Park Cemetery. Eunice is interred with Samuel and their eldest son Samuel Bagster the Younger (1800-1835) who printed many of the firm's publications. Due to Samuel the younger's early death, his brother Jonathan (1813–1872) succeeded the elder Samuel as senior member of the firm.