1st February 1824

Jersey author John Lemprière dies

Few Jersey authors have had so great an influence on popular culture as John Lemprière. Born in Jersey in around 1765, he was educated at Oxford and became assistant headmaster of Reading Grammar School, schoolmaster of Bolton Grammar School and headmaster of Abingdon Grammar School among others.

However, it was less his career in academia than his writing that earned him his place in history. His Bibliotheca Classica, published in 1788, was considered by many to be a standard text and definitive reference on classical mythology. Published under the full title, Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors, it was for almost two centuries used by teachers, playwrights, journalists and even the Admiralty in one way or another. It is said that Lord Sandwich kept a copy on his desk when he was First Lord of the Admiralty and referred to it when choosing new names for the navy’s recently-built ships.

Honesty and errors

Sadly, the Bibliotecha Classica wasn’t always correct, and even Lemprière acknowledges this in his preface, where he writes, “with all the confidence which an earnest desire of being useful can command, the author offers the following pages to the public, conscious that they may contain inaccuracies and imperfections. A Dictionary… cannot be made perfect all at once; it must still have its fault and omissions, however cautious and vigilant the author may have been…”

For two centuries after its publication, therefore, it continued to be amended and updated by a series of editors, and it was mentioned in several works of fiction, including George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying and Virginia Woolf’s The Acts.

Lemprière died in London on 1 February 1824.


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