Library Bulletin No 6

A Tribute to Three Men

  • Arthur Collins (1681/2 – 1760): Lifelong genealogist.
  • Barak Longmate (1737/8 – 1793): Heraldic engraver and genealogist.
  • Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges (1762 – 1837): Genealogist, debtor, inferior poet, reprint publisher, critic of the honours system under Pitt, and proprietor of an exclusive private press.

Collins Peerage

Comments

I am not conscious of delivering the least untruths… of these, and other families I have published… . Collins's preface to third edition(?) of the Peerage, 1756.

In his preface to Collins's Peerage, 1812 edition, Brydges wrote:

Collins was a most industrious, faithful and excellent genealogist; to the families which then came within the compass of his work, he left little of pedigree to be done, except a continuation to the present day. But he was more: he was to a certain extent a biographer and historian.

Collin's Peerage was 'a very poor peerage as a work of genius, but an excellent book for diligence and fidelity'. Thomas Carlyle, commenting on the great deal of help afforded him by the Peerage when working on his book on Oliver Cromwell (published 1845).

Background to the Peerage

It is a remarkable fact that in a country where the classification and structure of its nobility has been so meticulous, there had been no satisfactory publication on the peerage by 1700, either contemporary or retrospective. Collins’s work was to hold sway from 1711 to the middle of the nineteenth century. This was achieved by the skill and dedication of three men and a profusion of revised editions and supplementary volumes. So complex is the story of this remarkable work that even today, in order to understand its development, we are referred to Lowndes Bibliographer's Manual (1864 edition).

At the turn of the eighteenth century Collins became aware of this lack, and spent much of his life and income dedicated to his Peerage. He produced the first 470 page edition, probably in 1711 and not 1709 as stated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). It is unusual to find the compilers of major reference works to be so self-effacing as Collins and, later, Longmate were. Collins name does not appear as the compiler until the 1735 edition (sometimes called the first edition); nor does Longmate’s name appear on the title page of his fifth edition, published 1779 (supplement 1784, making nine volumes in all). As one would expect from a man whose profession was that of engraver, the engraved coats-of-arms are exemplary, and superior to those of the 1812 edition.

Brydges was also a trusted and expert genealogist, despite his aberration when researching his own lineage, where he claimed the Barony of Chandos, leading him to purchase and spend a great deal of money on renovating Sudely Castle. Brydges lost his legal case, between 1790 and 1803 (an interesting precursor to Dickens’s depiction of the legal profession in Bleak House); Brydges was probably descended from yeoman stock and grocers.

The ODNB says that Brydges' 1812 edition was only superseded by the publication of Cokayne’s Complete Peerage (eight volumes, 1887-98 – there is a copy in the Society's Library). Researchers should note that Cokayne, even in its later edition of thirteen volumes (1910 to 1959), deals only with title-holders and their wives. Collins, apart from many lengthy entries which give histories of individuals, includes details of many late Georgian nobility via *cadets and **collaterals.

I had always assumed that the Brydges edition superseded all earlier ones, and said so in Library Bulletin No. 4. When browsing through the Harvester Press Bibliography of British History …. 1714-1789 I read that 'intervening editions are valuable'. So when doing research, that extra check might just be worthwhile – try the nine volume Longmate first, though tracing the supplementary ninth volume may be difficult. The Society also holds the 1714 edition, listed on the title page as the third edition.

Did You Know?

That the Library holds the outstanding volume A Biographical dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 by Colvin (fourth edition, 2008).

Did You Also Know?

That almost 500 entries were deleted from the 1978 edition onwards. So, be careful what you discard.

Footnotes

*Cadets – issue by the younger son or brother, or the youngest.

**Collaterals – descending from the same stock or ancestor, but not one from the other; as distinguished from lineal. Lineal descendants proceed one from another in a direct line; collateral relations spring from a common ancestor, but from different branches of that common stirps [i.e. family] or stock. Thus the children of brothers are collateral relations having different fathers but a common grandfather.

The above definitions come from Ogilvie's Imperial Dictionary (two volumes, 1847 to 1850). A study of the Imperial Dictionary reveals the role played in lexicography by a one-legged ploughman, cross Atlantic dictionary making in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the production of possibly the greatest dictionary ever published in the United States of America.

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