Henry Sampson Woodfall - (1739-1805), printer and journalist, was born at the sign of the Rose and Crown in Little Britain on 21st June 1939. His father, Henry Woodfall was the printer of the “Public Advertiser” in Paternoster Row, and master of the Stationers’ Company in 1766, while at his death in 1769 he was a common councilman of many years standing. He had been apprenticed to John Darby (d. 1730) of Bartholomew Close in 1701, and Darby and his wife where the subjects of his ballad, “Darby and Joan” (first printed in ’Gentleman’s Magazine’ for March 1735, p. 153, under the heading, ’The Joys of Love never forgot. A Song’). He printed for Philip Francis (1708? - 1773) [q.v.] in 1746 eight sheets of his translation of Horace (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. XII. 218).
Henry Sampson was taught the rudiments by his paternal grandfather, who made him so familiar with the Greek Alphabet, that he was able, at the age of five, to read a page of Homer to Pope, who paid him half a crown as a reward. (Gent. Mag. 1805, page 1180). He was sent to school in Twickenham and made such progress in the classics, that, when removed at age eleven, to St. Paul’s School on 22nd November, 1751, he was found to be qualified for the seventh form, but owing to his juvenile looks, he was placed in the fifth form. He left school in 1754, and was apprenticed to his father. At 19, he was entrusted with the entire conduct of the “Public Advertiser”, yet his name was first published as it’s printer 1760. Till 1770 his corrector of the press was Alexander Cruden [q.v.], the author of a “Concordance to the Bible”.
One of Woodfall’s correspondents was (Sir) Philip Francis [q.v.]. They had been at St. Paul’s together, and sat on the eighth or upper form for a year. The first of Francis’s letters appeared on 2nd January, 1767 with the signature ‘Lusitanicus’. Others followed, with the signatures ‘Ulissipo Britannicus’, ‘Britannicus’, and ‘A Friend to Public Credit’. For a letter with the last signature he received the thanks on 19 Aug. 1768 of ’Atticus’, who soon afterwards adopted the signature of ’Junius’; when ’Junius’ had reviled and calumniated both the king and Lord Mansfield, Francis attacked him, signing his letters ‘Britannicus’. Woodfall had no personal acquaintance with Junius. He affirmed however, as his son George has recorded, that ‘to his certain knowledge, Francis never wrote a line of Junius’ (Manuscript in British Museum). He made the like statement to John Taylor (1757-1832) [q.v.], adding on one occasion when, at a dinner party it was suggested that Junius was dead, ’I hope and trust he is not dead, as I think he would have left me a legacy; for, though I derived much honour from his preference, I suffered much by the freedom of his pen’ (Taylor, Records of my Life, II. 253).
He was prosecuted by the crown for libel after Junius’ letter to the King had appeared in the ’Public Advertiser’; the result of the trial on 13th June, 1770 was a verdict of ’printing and publishing only’, being tantamount to an acquittal. On 22nd January, 1772 the following paragraph appeared in the ‘Public Advertiser’: ‘ The compleat edition of the letters of Junius, with a Dedication to the people of England, a Preface, Annotation, and Corrections by the author, is now in the Press, and nearly ready for publication’. On 2nd March it was announced that the work would appear ’tomorrow at noon, price half a guinea, in two volumes, sewed,’ and on 3rd March the publication took place.
In the same year he was an unsuccessful candidate for a paid office in the city. He might have succeeded his father in the common council, but he declined the offer, saying that his duty was ‘to record great actions, not to perform them’. (Nicholls, Lit. Anecd. I 301).
In 1779 he was prosecuted in the court of King’s bench for printing and publishing a handbill, in which satisfaction was expressed at the acquittal of Admiral Keppler, and sentenced to pay a fine of 5s. 8d. And to be imprisoned for 12 months in Newgate. In 1784 Burke brought an action for libel against him, laying damages at £10,000. He obtained a verdict and £100. Henry Sampson used to say in later years ‘that he had been fined by the House of Lords; confined by the House of Commons; fined and confined by the court of the King’s bench, and indicted at the Old Bailey’. (Nicholls, Lit. Anecd. I 301).
In November, 1793 he disposed of his interest in the ‘Public Advertiser’; he retired from business in the following month, when his office at the corner of Ivy Lane and Paternoster Row, had been burnt down. The newspaper died two years after he had ceased to edit and print it. His policy as editor was thus expressed by himself on 2nd September, 1769: ‘ The printer looks on himself only as a purveyor . . . . and the “Public Advertiser” is, in short, what it’s correspondents please to make it.’ He took credit for not paying these correspondents, and also for refusing money to keep out of his columns anything which, though displeasing to an individual, he held to be in the public interest. He set his face against all forms of indecency, refusing to print the verses entitled ‘Harry and Nan’ sent to him on 14th March, 1768; but he preserved the manuscript, which is in the handwriting of Junius. His editorial supervision was extended to Junius’s prose. He printed the following among the ‘Answers to Correspondents’ in the impression for 12 Aug. 1771: ‘Philo-Junius is really not written sufficiently correct for the public eye.’ The letters thus signed were acknowledged as his own by Junius himself, both in the ‘Public Advertiser’ for 20th October, 1771 and in the preface to the collected edition.
He was master of the Stationers’ Company in 1797. The last 12 years of his life were passed in Chelsea, where he died on 12th December, 1805, and was buried in the Churchyard. The tombstone placed over his grave was removed to make room for the Miller obelisk, (Beaver, Memorials of Old Chelsea, p. 378); the inscription on it is preserved in Nichols’s ’Anecdotes’ (i. 302), it read:
Henry-Sampson Woodfall, esq.
many years an
eminent printer in London
a gentleman of a
liberal mind and education;
The above article was extracted from Dictionary of National Biography, p. 861-863, with private information from Messrs. Woodfall & Kinder; the file of the Public Advertiser; Timperley’s Encyclopaedia of Printing; Memoirs of Sir Philip Francis.