Henry Buxton Forman

Harry Buxton Forman,

Harry Buxton Forman,

Henry Buxton Forman was born in Camberwell, south London on 11 July 1842, the third son of George Ellery Forman, a retired Royal Naval surgeon, and his Sussex born wife Maria Courthorpe. When he was ten months old his family moved to Teignmouth and he was educated at a Royal Naval School in New Cross where Edmund Gosse was a contemporary and lifelong acquaintance although not an intimate.

It was at school that he became known as Harry. He returned to London in 1860 and lived with his brothers in Stockwell in south London after joining the Post Office at 18 years of age.

In 1887 an association with a London commodity broker and book collector, Thomas James Wise, saw the first of many illegal printings by Wise and Buxton Forman. The origins began in November 1886 when Edward Dowden published a biography of Shelley. It printed a considerable number of poems for the first time that Forman and Wise decided to print separately as Poems and Sonnets inventing the ‘Philadelphia Historical Society’ as a cover.

It was the start of a full scale conspiracy with numerous forgeries over the next fifteen years that were printed in London with templates that stated otherwise. They specialised in early pamphlets, supposedly privately published, of poets some of whom such as Rossetti and Swinburne were still living. Many of the forgeries were printed by the firm of Richard Clay & Sons who had printed legitimate facsimile issues of works by Robert Browning and Percy Shelley.

These were “creative forgeries” in that they were not copies of works that existed but were presented as works that could or should have existed. Dates, places of publication, publishers (as distinct from printers) led the collecting world to believe in the ‘rare private’ editions. Buxton Forman and Wise forged publications by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, George Meredith and William Thackeray and many others. Many of these forgeries were sold to collectors across the English speaking world.

It was forty years later that their fraud was discovered by John Carter. The extent of the forgeries was such that the Brayton Ives sale in New York in 1915 contained twenty four forgeries.

Forman fell seriously ill in 1906 and retired from the Post Office in 1907. He no longer wished to continue his illegal partnership with Thomas Wise but was in too deep to disassociate with him completely.

He had several literary projects to occupy him. He published Letters of Edward John Trelawney in 1910 and transcribed the ‘Shelley Note Books’ from twenty-five notebooks inherited by Sir Percy Shelley from his mother. This was a prodigious exercise in patient and meticulous transcription. Most of the note books ended up being sold to American collectors, a striking indication of the popularity of Shelley at the turn of the twentieth century in USA.

His last book was ‘The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley’ by Thomas Medwin, a new edition that Medwin had extended but left unpublished. The frontispiece portrait of Shelley is in fact a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Head of Christ with slight alterations.


Extracted from wikipedia


3 thoughts on “Henry Buxton Forman

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