James Whittle (1758-1818)

Based on the facts reported in the contemporary publications (1820s):

Mr James Whittle, Esq., of Fleet Street, (or, as he was more generally denominated, the facetious Jemmy Whittle) was born in 1758 (in some sources - 1757) in a little village near Belvoir Castle, in Leicestershire, and for a quarter of a century was an eminent map and print-seller, in partnership with Mr Robert Laurie (an engraver by profession; the respectable firm was known as Laurie & Whittle, booksellers and publishers), and both had served their predecessor, Mr Robert Sayer. About the year 1776, young Whittle came to town to ‘make his fortune’, as he used to say, recommended by letter from his late master to Mr George Robinson of Paternoster Row; and by him to Mr Sayer. He had served his apprenticeship at Nottingham, with one Heath, a bookseller and stationer, a correspondent of the Robinsons, and uncle to the elder Heath, the engraver. Mr Whittle was, until lately, a most convivial companion among the parties of jolly fellows, that are found tolerably numerous in the vicinity of the theatres; his temper and manner fitting him admirably for the jovial board. Most of these now no longer exist, the actors in them being, in like manner, gone to their homes; from these and other causes, he neglected, within a few years, visiting the Black Jack, Garrick’s Head, the Finish, or the Brilliants’ Society, at which Dick Suett, Bob Palmer, Sedgwick, and other public, men in succession, were in the habit of enjoying each other, after the termination of their labours in the house. This last-named society, of which Mr Whittle was a member from its commencement in 1797, was set on foot at a common public house by the late Robert Willey, formerly a bookseller in Ludgate street, and better known by the name of Bob Short, being that which he affixed to some brief ‘rules’ on whist, put together by him; but to a treatise on the doctrine of annuities, also written by the same, his proper cognomen appeared. At this society Mr Whittle, although he made no speeches nor sung at all, made a good number of his friends members who could do both, and he enlivened the meeting with his sallies. They afterwards changed their place of meeting, and their title to the “Eccentrics”, in May’s buildings, Saint Martin’s Lane; there continued until the return of Fox to office, and Romilly became attorney-general; which encouraged Gale Jones, Wright, Brownley and others to open spouting-rooms for hire, and to hold forth by the hour. It cannot be deemed unacceptable to take this brief notice of a society, which, within one year of its commencement (on a wet Sunday in 1797), numbered on its lists two thousand three hundred respectable names, and must at last have reached so far as twenty thousand, all paying a fine on admission. Hereby their funds became sufficient to enable them to bestow something in occasional charity, in imitation of the more systematic freemasons. To this last-named society of well known secret brethren, Mr Whittle also belonged, and filled some of its distinguished offices with much applause. Notwithstanding, Mr Whittle never neglected business an hour, in consequence of the constant lateness of such carousals, but was always at his post in the morning, until the period of his last illness. His manner of accosting his friends was singularly unrestrained, vivacious and energetic; and ever inspired his hearers with the confidence that what he said was meant, and that nothing would be kept in reservation. Theatrical convivial were sure of a welcome reception at all times, and their benefit tickets a ready purchaser in him. Many of these and others he afterwards introduced in the pictorial embellishments to a large collection of single songs, each of which was surmounted by a characteristic picture.

James Whittle was for some years perpetual president of the Eccentric Society, and by his quaint manners, and good-humoured sociality, added much to the felicity of the scene.

James Whittle died in Brighton on Friday, the 14th of December 1818.