John Love, the fattest bookseller in England

For anyone who may have noticed the overweight man (pictured here) on the left side of this blog's banner, he is John Love, Bookseller, of Weymouth England (late 1700s), otherwise known as the "fatest and heaviest man ever known in England."

I first became acquainted with John Love through his likeness on the back cover of a pamphlet published by Goodspeed's Book Shop in Boston, this being Volume I, Number 6 (March 1930).

Goodspeed used to publish a monthly pamphlet, beginning in 1929, titled The Month at Goodspeed's Book Shop. Each issue highlighted various books, prints, and autographs in their stock. I was fortunate
enough in the last year or two to collect most of the issues published from 1929 through the 1940s. These monthly catalogs had a 40-year run, 1929-1969, and featured well-written, interesting articles about select items arriving in the shop.

Norman L. Dodge was the editor of the catalog for its entire run and Goodspeed's ceased publication only because of Dodge's ill health. These catalogs are sought after for the wealth of knowledge they contain about rare books and paper. They've certainly become a valued addition to my growing reference library.

Relative to this issue, Goodspeed's must have recently acquired a print of John Love's likeness, or caricature, and included it on the back of their catalog for March of 1930. The blurb about him is, I suppose, the work of Dodge, and characteristic of a lighter side that reveals itself in his writing from time-to-time in these catalogs. It reads as follows:
When he became a bookseller in Weymouth, he gave full scope to his desires; through overeating and drinking, he now grew as remarkably heavy as he was before light and thin--his weight and bulk were the astonishment of all beholders: he was obliged (as our print, which is a striking likeness, shews) to have the waistband of his breeches nearly up to his chin, in order to prevent their falling off.
And yes that was a single sentence, some 75 words, but a piker compared with William Faulkner (Absalom! Absalom!) and James Joyce (Ulysses) who reportedly wrote record-setting sentences containing 1,700 and 4,000 words, respectively!

Back to the big bookseller from Weymouth... I found a bit of history--about all there is--for John Love. It comes from the Book of Days site, an entry for July 21st:
A sad episode in the history of crime is exhibited in the forgeries and subsequent execution of Ryland, a celebrated engraver, who exercised his profession in London during the latter part of the last century. Ryland had an apprentice named John Love, who, terrified by his master's shameful death, gave up the business he was learning, and returned to his native place in Dorsetshire. At that time being exceedingly meagre and emaciated, his friends, fearing he was falling into a consumption, applied to a physician, who recommended an abundance of nutritious food, as the best medicine under the circumstances of the case. Love thus acquired a relish for the pleasures of the table, which he was soon enabled to gratify to its fullest extent, by success in business as a bookseller at Weymouth: where he soon grew as remarkably heavy and corpulent as he had previously been light and lean. So, he may have been said to have achieved his own greatness, but he did not live long to enjoy it; suffocated by fat, he died in his fortieth year, at the weight of 364 pounds.
Three-hundred sixty-four pounds is obese, to be sure, but today that would hardly qualify Love as the "fatest and heaviest man ever known in England." For his times and probably for his height, he may have been the fatest and heaviest known, but he was also in very good company, judging by some of the images presented along with his in the book, Comments On Corpulency: Lineaments of Leanness: Mems On Diet And Dietetics , by William Wadd; John Ebers & Co., London, 1829. Wadd is credited with the illustrations so apparently he is the illustrator of the John Love print Goodspeed's had at one time. Whether this image was drawn from memory of a personal encounter, or from another image, or completely fabricated out of thin (fat) air, I don't know. For now, it is the only image that seems to exist of Love.

You can see Wadd's book online and flip through its pages by clicking on them. John Love makes his entrance at number 98. Can’t read the fine print or make out some of the detail? Click on the magnifying glass and move it over the area in question. Pretty slick.

A few other notes...

John Love died in 1797, according to a 1912 exhibition catalogue titled: "Catalogue of an exhibition of books, broadsides, proclamations, portraits, autographs, etc. : illustrative of the history and progress of printing and bookselling in England, 1477-1800, held at Stationers' hall 25-29 June, 1912" If that is accurate and if the Book of Days piece is accurate about his age at death (40 years), then John Love would have been born about 1757.

A cemetery record in a section of Weymouth records his death in the year 1793. In addition to bookselling, I've found evidence that Love had a circulating library around 1785.

He is also listed in some publications as author, printer or publisher. So by all accounts, John Love appears to have been a well-rounded bookman. Couldn't resist that.

But he doesn't appear to be a happy man. He has the look of a man carrying a heavy burden, and I don't mean physical for the sake of a cheap pun. Look at his expression in the etching. That's a look of deep sadness or depression. Maybe he really was or maybe that's just how William Wadd chose to characterize him. Lacking any other images of his likeness, he will be forever viewed as a morbidly obese, sad man. I'd like to think there was more to him and that the few fragments of his history I've found will support that assumption.


  1. Wonderful post and detective work, Chuck. Here's a toast to John Love. Also amazing is the 40-year run of the Godspeed's Book Shop monthly catalog. If one began reading it at 20 years of age, it would have lasted throughout much of their natural lifespan. Hard to fathom that with any similar undertaking begun today.


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