There’s a twinkle in bookseller Thomas Gent’s eye,
As he sits by the fire with his port and mince pie:
“I shall go down in history in Old Ripon Town;
With my red Russian hat and my long college gown:
“On this fine Christmas Eve in the snow-covered square
By the Old Obelisk with my books, I’ll be there!
When the Wakeman of Ripon blows thrice on his horn
I’ll take up my sack and be busy til dawn.
“With six fine stags from Studley all yoked to my sleigh
With novels and poems, it’s up and away!
Now, Defoe! now, Dryden! now Shakespeare and Swift!
There’s nothing like books to give spirits a lift!”
Thomas Gent, Bookseller
When I saw Nathan Drake’s portrait of Thomas Gent (1693-1798), the Yorkshire historian and bookseller, I couldn’t help thinking that, popping up in that hearth-like alcove, sporting those luxuriant side whiskers and with his right hand extended, offering us a copy of his ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’ History of Ripon, he’d make a great Santa.
With a little Photoshopping, I was soon able to make a Fake or Fortune-style restoration of the painting and I felt that he also deserved a verse or two to hint that even an Ebenezer Scrooge lookalike might have had a hidden, softer side.
If you’d like to know more about the real Thomas Gent, you’re in luck because, just published this month, there’s The Autobiography of Thomas Gent, Printer of York, edited by his descendant, Frank Gent.
‘The name of Thomas Gent has obtained a wider celebrity than that of any other York typographer. Author, printer, and artist, his labours extended over more than half a century, and during that period many of the numerous productions of his pen, both in prose and verse, were printed at his own press, and embellished with engravings executed by his own hand. His works are, for the most part, below mediocrity, yet they possess a certain quaintness and eccentricity of character which are not without their charm’
Robert Davies, 1868
The Autobiography of Thomas Gent, Printer of York is available from Rickaro Bookshop, Horbury, where you can view the portrait by Nathan Drake.
(So far there’s no evidence that Gent ever acted as Santa Claus to the townsfolk of Ripon).