Faulkner, George (1703–1775), bookseller and printer, was born on 3 April 1703 according to his own statement, but in 1699 according to the obituary in the Dublin Journal. The son of a protestant Dublin victualler, he was educated by Dr Lloyd before being apprenticed (c.1717) to the printer Thomas Hume in Essex St. In 1724 he set up shop at Skinner's Row with his kinsman, James Hoey (qv), and the following year the two commenced a newspaper, the Dublin Journal, frequently called Faulkner's Journal. He spent most of 1726 in London, working for the renowned English printer William Bowyer, but on 2 October he brought out in Dublin the first collected edition of the Drapier's letters by Jonathan Swift (qv), entitled Fraud detected: or, The Hibernian patriot. Thus began Faulkner's long and lucrative association with Swift. Queries from the latter's Considerations upon two bills relating to the clergy, published in the Dublin Journal in February 1732, led to Faulkner's being ordered into custody by the house of lords on 26 February. He was not convicted, and on being censured in the next parliamentary session (October 1733), he apologised and was discharged without fees. On 7 January 1735 he published, after delays and postponements, Swift's works in four volumes, the demand for which was enormous. Two further volumes were added in 1738, and by 1769 the set ran to twenty volumes. Swift's biographer concludes that ‘the great venture was the foundation of Faulkner's prosperity. But it is also clear that through the bookseller's admirable diligence many works by Swift were preserved that would otherwise have been lost’ (Ehrenpreis, iii, 787). Swift's relations with Faulkner were deliberately ambiguous. He disclaimed any involvement with the Dublin volumes to avoid alienating London printers, but in an oft-quoted letter to the earl of Oxford he referred to Faulkner as ‘the prince of Dublin printers’ (Williams, iv, 222) and when the English printer Benjamin Motte was awarded an injunction stopping the sale of Faulkner's edition of Swift's works in London (28 November 1735), Swift fired off to him a furious letter complaining that English publishers flooded the Irish market at will and that he would do all in his power to support Faulkner (ibid., 493–4).
Faulkner courted controversy, even apart from Swift. On 3 March 1736 he was committed for two days to Newgate for printing Bishop Josiah Hort's New proposal for the better regulation of the quadrille, which libelled Richard Bettesworth, serjeant-at-law and MP for Midleton 1727–41. His 1741 reproduction of Samuel Richardson's Pamela undercut the English edition and was labelled piratical by the author, who was later incensed when Faulkner refused in August 1753 to publish his Sir Charles Grandison, and further demanded back 70 guineas (£73.50) he had paid for it, claiming that it had been pirated by other Dublin booksellers. Richardson published a pamphlet denouncing Faulkner, and four years later may have blackballed him from election to the Society for Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in London. However, Faulkner – the ‘most enterprising, energetic, and successful bookseller in eighteenth-century Dublin’ (Pollard, 201) – treated such setbacks as minor. He printed all the major Irish writers of his day, including George Berkeley (qv), Robert Clayton (qv), George Lyttelton, and Charles O'Conor (qv), with whom he enjoyed a voluminous correspondence. His edition of the contentious Remarks on the life of Swift (1751) by John Boyle (qv), 5th earl of Orrery, sold 300 copies in a week.
His books were advertised through the Dublin Journal, which, being dependable and broadly non-partisan, reached a large audience. He was politically non-commital but in 1753 a remark in the Journal that modern patriotism consisted of eating, drinking, and quarrelling was taken as an attack on the earl of Kildare, and he was satirised in various brochures as ‘Sir Tady Faulkner’, printer in petto to the court party. This also referred to his close friendship with Lord Chesterfield (qv), viceroy 1745–6, who had allegedly offered him a knighthood. In religious matters Faulkner was liberal, having been roused to condemn the penal laws by the publications of Charles O'Conor and Dr John Curry (qv) in 1758. In May 1767 he was elected sheriff in Dublin, but he resigned on 28 July, pleading ill health, and paid a fine of £10. Three years later he was elected alderman, and continued as a publisher till his death in Dublin on 29 August 1775. He married (c.1730) a widow, Mary Taylor (c.1707–55), who predeceased him; there being no children, his property passed to his nephews and nieces and his business to his nephew, Thomas Todd Faulkner (d. 1793), who took his surname on inheriting. Two decades after George Faulkner's death, his Dublin Journal became a violent tory organ under the editorship of John Giffard (qv).
‘A fat little man, with a large, well-powdered wig and brown clothes’ (Gilbert, ii, 52), Faulkner, with his mixture of vanity, pomposity, and gluttony, was an irresistible butt for Dublin wits, who gathered at his table to enjoy tales of Swift, abundant fare, and an eclectic guest-list. His comical appearance was made more so by the loss about 1730 of part of his leg; the joke then circulated that his wooden leg matched his wooden face. He lent himself cruelly well to satire and parody, the most famous being Samuel Foote's play ‘The orators’ (1762), where he figured as the one-legged Peter Paragraph (whereupon he successfully sued for libel), and Robert Jephson's (qv) ‘Epistle’ in Mercury (1771). However, according to the playwright Richard Cumberland, Faulkner was beyond parody: ‘[he] had a solemn intrepidity of egotism, and a daring contempt of absurdity, that outfaced imitation . . . so did [he] in the original spirit of his own perfect buffoonery, defy caricature’ (Cumberland, 174).