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JOHN NICHOLS (1745–1826)

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Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 657 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN NICHOLS (1745–1826), English printer and author, was born at Islington on the 2nd of February 1745. He edited the Gentleman's Magazine from 1788 till his death, and in the pages of that periodical, and in his numerous volumes of Anecdotes and Illustrations, he made invaluable contributions to the personal history of English men of letters in the 18th century. He was apprenticed in 1757 to " the learned printer," William Bowyer, whom he eventually succeeded. On the death of his friend and master in 1777 he published a brief memoir, which afterwards grew into the Anecdotes of William Bowyer and his Literary Friends (1782). As his materials accumulated he compiled a sort of anecdotical literary history of the century, based on a large collection of important letters. The Literary Anecdotes of the 18th Century (1812–1815), into which the original work was expanded, forms only a small part of Nichols's production. It was followed by the Illustrations of the Literary History of the 18th Century, consisting of Authentic Memoirs and Original Letters of Eminent Persons, which was begun in 1817 and completed by his son John Bowyer Nichols (1779–1863) in 1858. The Anecdotes and the Illustrations are mines of valuable in- hero, and many tales are told of his stern justice, his tireless activity and his commanding personality. In the course of five years he reduced the most turbulent district on the frontier to such a state of quietude that no crime was committed or even attempted during his last year of office, a condition of things never known before or since. On one occasion, being attacked by a ghazi, he snatched the musket from the hand of a sentry and shot the man dead; on another occasion he put a price on the head of a notorious outlaw, and finding every one afraid to earn it, rode single-handed to the man's village, met him in the street and cut him down. But besides being a severe ruler, Nicholson was eminently just. A criminal had no chance of escaping him, so able and determined was his investigation; and a corrupt official could not long evade his vigilance; but he was deliberate in his punishments, and gave offenders a chance to redeem their character. He would go personally to the scene of a crime or a legal dispute and decide the question on the spot. Every man in his district, whether mountain tribesman or policeman, felt that he was controlled by a master hand, and the natives said of him that " the tramp of his war-horse could be heard from Attock to the Khyber." Lord Roberts says of him in Forty-One Years in India: " Nicholson impressed me more profoundly than any man I had ever met before, or have ever met since. I have never seen any one like him. He was the beau ideal of a soldier and a gentleman." It is little wonder that the natives worshipped him as a god under the title of Nikalsain. Nicholson, however, had a fiery temper and a contempt for red tape, which made him a somewhat intractable subordinate. He had a serious quarrel with Sir Neville Chamberlain, and was continually falling out with Sir John Lawrence, who succeeded his brother Henry as ruler of the Punjab. It was when the Mutiny broke out in May 1857 that Nicholson was able to show the metal that was in him, and he did more than any other single man to keep the Punjab loyal and to bring about the fall of Delhi. When the news of the rising at Meerut arrived, Nicholson was with Edwardes at Peshawar, and they took immediate steps to disarm the doubtful regiments in that cantonment. Together they opposed Sir John Lawrence's proposal to abandon Peshawar, in order to concentrate all their strength on the siege of Delhi. In June Nicholson was appointed to the command of a movable column, with which he again disarmed two doubtful regiments at Phillaur. In July he made a forced march of 41 M. in a single day in the terrific heat of the Punjab summer, in order to intercept the mutineers from Sialkot, who were marching upon Delhi. He caught them on the banks of the Ravi near Gurdaspur, and utterly destroyed them, thus successfully achieving what hardly any other man would have attempted. In August he had pacified the Punjab and was free to reinforce General Wilson on the Ridge before Delhi. An officer who served in the siege gives the following word picture of him as he appeared at this time: " He was a man cast in a giant mould, with massive chest and powerful limbs, and an expression ardent and commanding, with a dash of roughness; features of stern beauty, a long black beard, and a deep sonorous voice. There was something of immense strength, talent and resolution in his whole frame and manner, and a power of ruling men on high occasions which no one could escape noticing. His imperial air, which never left him, and which would have been thought arrogant in one of less imposing mien, sometimes gave offence to the more unbending of his countrymen, but made him almost worshipped by the pliant Asiatics." Before Nicholson's arrival the counsels of the commanders before Delhi, like those at Meerut, suffered from irresolution and timidity. As General Wilson's health declined, his caution became excessive, and Nicholson was specially sent by Sir John Lawrence to put more spirit into the attack. His first exploit after his arrival was the victory of Najafgarh, which he won over the rebels who were attempting to intercept the British siege train from Ferozepore. After marching through a flooded country scarcely practicable for his guns, Nicholson, with a force of 2500 troops, defeated 6000 disciplined sepoys after an hour's fighting, and thenceforth put an end to all attempts of the enemy to get in the rear of the British position on the Ridge. Nicholson grew fiercely impatient of General Wilson's formation on the authors, printers and booksellers of the time. Nichols's other works include: A Collection of Royal and Noble Wills (r7Sc); Select Collection of Miscellaneous Poems (1782), with subsequent additions, in which he was helped by Joseph Warton and by Bishops Percy and Lowth; Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica (178o-179o); with Richard Gough, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth (1788); and the important History and Antiquities of the Town and County of Leicester (1705-.1815). Nichols was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a trustee of many city institutions, and in 1804 he was master of the Stationers' Company. He died on the 26th of November 1826. JOHN BOWYER NICHOLS continued his father's various undertakings, and wrote, with other works, A Brief Account of the Guildhall of the City of London (1819). His eldest son, JOHN Gouox NrcHoLs (1806-1873), was also a printer and a distinguished antiquary, who edited the Gentleman's Magazine from 1851 to 1856, and the Herald and Genealogist from 1863 to 1874, and was one of the founders of the Camden Society. A full Memoir of John Nichols by Alexander Chalmers is contained in the Illustrations, and a bibliography in the Anecdotes (vol. vi.) is supplemented in the later work. See also R. C. Nichols, Memoirs of J. G. Nichols (1874).
End of Article: JOHN NICHOLS (1745–1826)
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