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John Lemprière (c. 1765, Jerseymarker, – February 1, 1824, Londonmarker), English classical scholar, lexicographer, theologian, teacher and headmaster. He was the son of Charles Lemprière (died 1801), of Mont au Prêtre, Jersey.


He received his early education at Winchester Schoolmarker, where his father sent him in 1779, and from 1785 at Pembroke Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker, probably on the advice of Richard Valpy, receiving the following degrees: B.A., 1790; M.A. 1792; B.D. 1801; D.D. 1803. It is quite possible that Lemprière would have been influenced by another famous alumnus of Pembroke College: Dr. Samuel Johnson, who also wrote a famous dictionary (A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755). A little over 30 years later (around 1786) Lemprière had started his own.

In 1787, he was invited by Valpy to be assistant headmaster at Reading Grammar Schoolmarker, and, in 1789, which made his father proud, he preached in St. Heliermarker, Jersey. He achieved renown for his Bibliotheca Classica or Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors, (Reading, November, 1788), which, edited by various later scholars, long remained a readable if not absolutely trustworthy 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." (Lemprière, Preface, 1788). 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. "Far from being just an ordinary dictionary, however, Lemprière's encyclopedic work is full of incidental details and stories which bring the mythical past to life." It is also assumed that the great scholar Valpy helped Lemprière with the dictionary. (from: Facsimile Edition of 1865, Bracken Bros., London: 1984).

From 1792 until 1808 (or 1809), after holding other scholastic posts (1791 Bolton Grammar Schoolmarker), as well as curate at Radleymarker, he became the headmaster of Abingdon Grammar Schoolmarker, 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 (London, 1808).

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 Schoolmarker 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 Devonshiremarker, which, together with that of Newton St Petrockmarker, he held until his death from a stroke in the Strandmarker, London. He is buried in Meeth, where his grave can be found.

Two of his sons were also Rectors of Meeth: Francis Drocus Lemprière (born 1794) and Everard Lemprière (born 1800).


  • "Bibliotheca Classica" or "Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors", (Reading,1788)
  • "Sermon preché dans le Temple de la Paroisse de St. Helier, à Jersey, le deuxième d'Août." (1789)
  • "A Sermon preached at the opening of St. Peter's Chapel, Swinton, in the parish of Eccles, Lancashire, on Sunday, April 10, 1791."
  • "Herdotus" (a translation, Book 1 only), (1792) (References in: The Histories by Herodotus. G. C. Macaulay (1890) Reprint: Barnes and Noble, 2004)
  • "Universal Biography of Eminent Persons in all Ages and Countries", (London, 1808)

Lemprière in Fiction

The 1991 prize-winning novel Lemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk has as its background Lemprière's writing of his dictionary, as well as the places the Lemprière family came from. The main character is John Lemprière, author of the Classical Dictionary, and also his father, Charles Lemprière. The rest of the story is fiction.

It is possible that the poet Tony Harrison makes reference to Lemprière in his poem "A Kumquat for John Keats" in the line "Flora asphyxiated by foul air / unknown to Keats or Lemprière" - as he would have been a contemporary of John Keats.


  • A Dictionary of Universal Biography of All Ages and of All Peoples, Albert M. Hyamson, 1916
  • Pedigree of Lemprière, of S. Trinity

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