Samuel Rousseau

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Samuel Rousseau
Born 1763
Died December 4, 1820(1820-12-04) (aged 57)
Ray Street, Clerkenwell, London
Nationality British
Known for Arabic – English dictionary

Samuel Rousseau (1763–1820) was a British Oriental scholar and printer. He compiled the first Arabic-English dictionary and translated and printed the first English language editions of several important Arabic works. He was related to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher, being descended from Jacob Rousseau, Jean-Jacques' great uncle, who had been sent from Geneva to London to look after the family watchmaking business there and who had married into the Huguenot community and become a British subject.

Family background[edit]

Baptised Samuel Kent Rousseau in St Ann's Church, Blackfriars, London on 20 November 1763, he was the eldest son of Phillip Rousseau, a printer working for William Bowyer, and his wife Susannah. Phillip died in 1814 and was buried at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street.

Bowyers, which was later taken over by John Nichols (printer), took on Samuel as an apprentice in 1778. He was later joined by his younger brother, James, but whereas James spent the rest of his working life as a compositor and editor for Nichols, Samuel preferred to set up his own business, although he was occasionally employed by Nichols in collecting epitaphs, and other remains of antiquity for The Gentleman's Magazine.

According to Timperley,[1] Samuel Rousseau was "a singular instance of patient perseverance in the acquirements of the ancient languages". Whilst working as an apprentice and journeyman, he taught himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, and the Syriac language. To these he added French and several other modern tongues.

On 27 May 1787, he married Mary Silvester at Tottenham. They had two daughters, one called Elizabeth.

Translator, printer and publisher[edit]

After his apprenticeship, he set up his own printing business in Leather Lane, Holborn, and later moved to Wood Street, Clerkenwell, where he established the Arabic Press. He commissioned the making of Arabic type and set about translating and printing several classic works of Arabic literature, including "The Flowers of Persian Literature" [1]. He also taught Persian. Other works he published included the prophetic writings of Joanna Southcott.

The press was a financial failure and eventually he sought new employment as Master of Joye's Charity School (see List of former schools in the City of London) in St Ann's, Blackfriars.

Rousseau also edited a variety of works for booksellers and, as he was more interested in raising money to support himself and his family rather than achieve literary fame, most of his works appeared under a fictitious name. According to Timperley,[1] "they have, however, proved generally successful to the publishers, as their objects were useful; and nothing ever appeared in them contrary to good morals, or the established religion and government".


Around 1817 he suffered a paralytic stroke which continued to increase, and joined to a cancerous affliction in the face made him incapable of holding a pen or even of feeding himself. In dire poverty, and with two daughters wholly dependent on him, he was supported by a large grant from the Royal Literary Fund. He died at his home in Ray Street, Clerkenwell, on 4 December 1820, at the age of 57. The remains of the grant enabled his daughters to give him a decent burial in the churchyard of St James Church, Clerkenwell.


Apart from a small entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, the legacy of Samuel Rousseau is virtually unknown today and he lacks any serious attempt at a biography.


  1. ^ a b A Dictionary of Printers and Printing (1839) by Charles Henry Timperley

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