Andrew Foulis, bookseller, printer and publisher, died on the 18th of September, 1775.
Andrew Foulis was the younger brother of Robert Foulis and together, these two gallus printers from Glasgow formed an indispensible part of the 18th Century Scottish Enlightenment. Their story isn’t quite one of ‘rags to riches’ as it’s more ‘poor to prosperous and half-way back again’. They were given encouragement and advice along the way, some of which they took and some they ignored, but with a nobility of purpose that led to the betterment of others. At a time when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was just getting used to its new found unity, Scotland was in danger of losing its relevance. Men like the Foulis brothers ensured that never happened. They were at the forefront of the fight for enlightenment and made a significant contribution to learning and the advancement of printing and the arts and thus helped to restore Scotland’s self respect after the manner of its abject surrender in agreeing to the Union.
Andrew Faulls (or Faulds) was born in Glasgow on the 23rd of November, 1712, five and a half years after his brother, Robert, who was born in the year of the Union, on the 20th of April, 1707. Sometime in the 1730s, the brothers changed their surname to Foulis and their names were often reproduced on the title-pages and colophons (a printer’s mark or logotype) of their publications in the Latinised form, ‘Robertus and Andreas Foulis’. They received an early education from their mother, who seems to have possessed an ambition on behalf of her offspring that she managed to pass on. Robert, being the eldest, was expected to contribute an income. Andrew, on the other hand, following the traditional path of a second son, was originally destined to join the Ministry of the Kirk of Scotland. However, Robert was as capable and talented as his sibling and, whilst Andrew studied Humanity (Latin) at Glasgow University from 1727, Robert was able to attend many of the lectures of Professor Francis Hutcheson, the Chair of Moral Philosophy (Natural Science). It was Hutcheson who initially advised and encouraged Robert to become a bookseller and establish a printing press. Andrew taught Greek, Latin and French at the University, before he joined Robert in the printing business.
In 1738 and 1739, Robert and Andrew toured France and extended their knowledge of books. During their travels, they formed connections with many eminent men, through whom they gained access to some of the finest libraries. They purchased a considerable number of rare books and manuscript editions of the classics. Back in Glasgow, about the end of 1739 and almost twelve years before John Smith opened his first shop in the City, they started business as a bookseller. Over the next couple of years, they published several works, which were printed at first by other firms, but by 1742, they had their own press. In March of the following year, the business was appointed official printer to Glasgow University, under the condition “that he [Robert Foulis] shall not use the designation of university printer without allowance from the university meeting in any books excepting those of ancient authors.”
Soon, the brothers had dominated the Glasgow book trade and spent the next thirty years importing books and manuscripts, regularly holding auctions in Glasgow and carefully issuing beautifully printed classical and literary works in Latin, Greek, English, French and Italian. They earned an international reputation for high quality works and were lauded as ‘the Elzevirs of Britain’, after the famous Dutch family of printers. One historian commented on the books that “when published their chief merits were careful editing, convenient size, good paper, artistic appearance, and cheapness” and that they were “much sought after as admirable specimens of typography.” The majority of their books were intended for scholars, however, some were produced specifically for collectors. The brothers also published ordinary editions of classical and modern authors.
In 1743, the brothers Foulis published the first ever Greek book printed in Glasgow and altogether, they printed more than five hundred separate publications, including editions of classics such as Cicero, Tacitus, Virgil, Herodotus and Xenophon as well as contemporary stuff; the poems of Gray and Milton, and Pope’s works. Perhaps vying with the 1747, 12mo edition of Horace as the most famous production of the Foulis press is their four-volume, folio edition of Homer, published between 1756 and 1758. Both these examples were recognised by contemporaries as masterpieces of literary and typographical accuracy, with the Horace being the subject of a bizarre reward for the discovery of any inaccuracy. However, according to a smart-alec called Thomas Frognall Dibdin, at least six errors escaped detection.
The Foulis’s achievements were not confined to printing and publishing books as they also established a ‘Glasgow Academy of the Fine Arts’ for painting, sculpture, art and design. It became known as the Foulis Academy and was opened within Glasgow University in 1753, fifteen years before the Royal Academy in London. It has been described as “the single most influential factor in the development of 18th Century Scottish art.” Their grand ambition was established despite the advice of many of their friends and one of their chief patrons, the Earl of Northumberland, who warned them to stick to what they knew and “print for posterity and prosper.” It was good advice as, unfortunately, the venture proved too costly. The brothers spent their money in idealistically collecting and copying masterpieces of foreign art and sculpture, and in paying for the education of upcoming artists. From a letter in the ‘Scots Magazine’ from 1759, it appears that the selection of teachers had cost Robert Foulis at least “much trouble and anxiety.” The enterprise almost ruined its founders, but did produce the ‘Scottish Hogarth’, David Allan, and James Tassie, the stonemason turned medallist who studied sculpture and modelling at the Academy.
Andrew Foulis died suddenly on the 18th of September, 1775, and his brother Robert went the same way in the following year, on the 2nd of June. Look out if you are ever on the pavement outside St David's Kirk cemetery in Ramshorn as you might just be walking over the grave of Robert and Andrew Foulis.