John Lempriere

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John Lempriere


John Lemprière (1765-1824) teacher and headmaster

Early Life

John Lempriere was the son of Charles Lemprière ( -1801), of Mont au Prêtre, Jersey. His father sent him to Winchester School in 1779, and he went on to Pembroke College, Oxford, probably on the advice of Richard Valpy, receiving his BA in 1790, MA in 1792, BD in 1801 and DD in 1803.

In 1787 he was invited by Valpy to be assistant headmaster at Reading Grammar School and, in 1789, which made his father proud, he preached in St Helier.

Classical dictionary

He achieved renown for his Bibliotheca Classica or Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors, which, edited by various later scholars, long remained a reference book in mythology and classical history. Lemprière wished "to give the most accurate and satisfactory account of all the proper names which occur in reading the Classics, and by a judicious collection of anecdotes and historical facts to draw a picture of ancient times, not less instructive than entertaining”. It has been a handbook for teachers, journalists, dramatists and poets for almost 200 years and John Keats is said to have known the book almost by heart.

From 1792 until 1808, after holding other scholastic posts, as well as curate at Radley, he became the headmaster of Abingdon Grammar School and, later, the vicar of that parish from 1800 until 1811. While occupying this living, he published a Universal Biography of Eminent Persons in all Ages and Countries. He neglected at this time both his clerical as well as his scholarly duties, so that in 1799 he was deprived of his stipend. The falling numbers at the school led to his downfall. In desperation he even devised an unscrupulous scheme to guarantee scholarships at Pembroke for a fee of 20 guineas.


In 1809 he succeeded to the headmastership of Exeter Free Grammar School and held this post until 1819. On retiring from this, in consequence of a disagreement with the trustees, he received the living of Meeth 1811 in Devon, which, together with that of Newton St Petrock, he held until his death from a stroke in the Strand, London. He is buried in Meeth. Two of his sons were also Rectors of Meeth: Francis Drocus Lemprière (born 1794) and Everard Lemprière (born 1800).

Further biography

From A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey

John Lempriere (1765-1824), a classical scholar, headmaster and controversial preacher, was the second son of Charles Lempriere of Mont an Pretre and Susan Collas.

Early years

Born at Monts Noirons, Mont au Pretre, St Helier, on 5 August 1765, he was educated at St Mannelier's Grammar School and at Winchester. He matriculated at Pembroke, Oxford, as a Morley Scholar, in January 1786. In 1788, while still an undergraduate, he was ordained.

He became assistant master at Reading Grammar School under Richard Valpy; and he published the classical dictionary that made him famous, Bibliotheca Classica, a Classical Dictionary, containing a full account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Antient Authors . The preface is dated Pembroke College, November 1788.

To modern scholarship the work seems superficial, but it showed an astonishing knowledge of the Classics, and proved immensely popular. No schoolroom was complete without it. It passed trough edition after edition, in 1792, 1797, 1801, 1809, 1815 and 1818, and each edition was enlarged, and it was translated into French and Latin. A new edition was published as late as 1888.

Jersey visit

In 1789 he visited his parents in Jersey. The Gazette described him as "a young man, a native of this island, the son of a farmer in the parish of St. Helier, who has been only lately ordained, and is now here for some weeks on a visit".

Dr Dupre asked him to take the services in the Town Church on 2 August. This was an election Sunday, and party feeling between Magots and Charlots was very bitter. The Town was predominantly Magot, and Lempriere preached an outspokenly Charlot sermon. He printed it later in Guernsey

Some who heard it declared that the printed version had toned down the more offensive passages , but enough remained to explain what followed. He not only warned his hearers: "Close your ears to the fulsome appeals of the so-called Friends of Liberty. There are no such persons. Their actions prove it. Their faces look innocent, but their hearts are full of guile"; but he made a vicious personal attack on the private life of the Magot candidate for the Juratship, a namesake of his own, Jacques Amice Lempriere, who was known to have home difficulties.

He chose as his text, which he repeated again and again in the course of his sermon, "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he govern?" This so incensed the congregation that many of them greeted him as he left the church with hoots and hisses, and then with clods of earth, and he was chased through the streets by a howling mob. In the evening he was burnt in effigy. Next day he appealed to the Royal Court for protection, declaring that his life was in danger, while a crowded Town's Meeting, in the Town Church ordered him to be prosecuted at the expense of the parish (See Gazettes for 1789). He escaped however from the hornets' nest that he had stirred up to the calmer atmosphere of Oxford.

Degrees and appointments

On 14 January 1790 he took his BA, and the following year became Master of Lever's Grammar School, Bolton, Lancashire. In 1792 he took his MA, and was appointed headmaster of Roysse's Free School of the Blessed Trinity at Abingdon, at a stipend of £98 a year, being then Curate of Radley.

In the same year he published the first volume of an annotated Translation of Herodotus . He remained headmaster for 17 years, but he was not a success. The Education Commission of 1818 reported:

"During his time the number of scholars on the foundation never exceeded two, was generally one, and often none".

There may have been in addition a few fee-paying day-boys who were not Foundation Scholars, and at one time he had six boarders; but the school only just remained alive. In 1793 he added to his duties the Readership of St Nicholas' Church; but in 1796 the Vestry complained to the Bishop of Salisbury that evening prayer was not read daily, and that sometimes Lempriere dropped the Sunday morning service in order to serve his Radley curacy.

The Bishop ruled that this was excusable, as the Reader's stipend was only £27 a year, but the Vestry refused to pay anything unless full duty was performed. In 1799, as Lempriere had received no money for two years, he closed the church, and for a time St Nicholas was without services.

In 1800 he was appointed Vicar of St Helen's, the old parish church. In 1808 he published his Universal Biography, containing a copious account, critical and historical, of the life and character, labours and actions of eminent persons of all ages and countries, conditions, and professions .

He resigned his Abingdon headmastership at Michaelmas 1809, and became headmaster of Exeter Grammar School at a salary of £40 a year and a house. In 1811 he exchanged his Abingdon Vicarage for the Rectory of Meeth, Devon. In 1823 a dispute with the Trustees led to his retirement from the School.

He stated his side of the case in two publications, A Vindication of Exeter School 1818 and A Petition to the House of Commons on the Conduct of the Trustees of Exeter School with Notes and Observations 1820.


In 1823 he became Rector of Newton St Petrock, Devon. On 1 February 1823 he died of apoplexy in Southampton Street, Strand. He married three times: 1, Lucy Willince, daughter of Francis, by whom he had ten children, one of whom, Everard, succeeded him as Rector of Meeth; 2, Elizabeth Deane, daughter of John, by whom he had three sons, one of whom, Charles, became Fellow of St John's, Oxford; 3, Ann Collingwood, daughter of Edward, who died childless. There is a portrait of Lempriere in the Library of St John's College, Oxford, and another in Pembroke College.

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