The name of Valpy is rare, even in its native Jersey, but during a whole century it was the best-known of all names to English public school boys, for it stared them in the face every time they opened a classical textbook, and for that reason the patronymic was anathema maranatha to them all.
In the year of Waterloo Dr Richard Valpy published his Greek Delectus and it proved such a Waterloo to so many boys that they took it out on his namesake, the present writer. Yet that was rather unjust, for as headmaster of Reading School – for nearly 50 years – Richard Valpy was one of the founders of the public school system, and actually the first man in this country to teach Latin in English, while 100 years of schoolboys had benefited either by his methods and those of his younger brother Edward, who washeadmaster of Norwich Grammar School, or by the textbooks beautifully printed and published by his eldest son Abraham John.
In teaching Latin, Richard Valpy was really returning to his mother tongue, for he traced back to an Italian family named Vulpi, which settled at Lucca. Someof them migrated to Normandy after the return of the Normans from Italy under Roger I, in the 11th century, and about 1500 they found their way to the island of Jersey, where Richard was born in 1754, and where the name is still pronounced as if spelt Volpi.
Although the name is the Italian form of fox, Richard in his role of schoolmaster was the hunter, not the hunted, and Vulpes haud capitur laqueo is the legend on the family coat of arms.
He got his first schooling in what was once his native Normandy, and reached Oxford via Southampton and Guildford Grammar Schools, at the latter of which he produced a volume of Poetical Blossoms in 1772. Taking his BA at Pembroke College in 1776 and holy orders in 1777, he started his career as schoolmaster at Bury St Edmunds, moving in 1781 to Reading, where he spent the rest of his life teaching boys for 50 long, laborious years, up to five years of his death in 1836.
When he began, the school was at low ebb, though it had produced Laud. But Valpy soon made it famous, andhe quickly became the most important citizen in the town, so wrapped up in his work that he twice refused a bishopric. His devotion to duty was rewarded by the making of a whole race of notable men.
His brother Edward, who was born after him, and died before him (in 1832) became headmaster of Norwich Grammar School in 1810, with only four or five pupils. Within two or three years he had nearly 300. He wrote a schoolbook Elegantiae Latinae, and he, too, was a strict disciplinarian. One of his pupils tells us that ' no meeting of the Society of Friends equalled in stillness the school when he was there.
Thefamily tradition for scholarship was carried on by Richard Valpy's second son Abraham John, a scholar of Pembroke, who started young in London with the idea of rivalling Aldus and Stephanus, as printer, publisher and editor. Gathering round him a fine staff of classical scholars, he produced from his press between 1807 and 1837 a regular library of classical books, which he advertised in the first number of the Sunday Times, They included some by his father, his uncles and his brother Francis.
Francis Edward Jackson Valpy
Abraham's youngest brother, Francis Edward Jackson, inherited the father's eloquence and scholarship, and succeeded him as headmaster at Reading, but, lacking the old man's masterfulness, he soon retired to a Norfolk rectory.
The instinct for scholarship and schoolmastering which was in the Valpys has come down to the present day, for one of the great Richard's great-grandsons, John Herbert Julius, who was senior optime in 1891, and a half blue, is the headmaster of the Royal Grammar School at Henley-on-Thames. His brother, George Cordy Valpy, who was in the first division of the ClassII Classical Tripos of 1899, is in the Civil Service, and now on special duty in Christmas Island.
Their cousin, who took a first in theology in 1888, has followed in the wake of Abraham as a publisher and printer, after a long period of travel and exploration in many out-of-the-way parts of the world.