Posts Tagged ‘John Wilson (Scottish writer)’

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Gibson Lockhart
12 June 1794 – 25 November 1854


John Gibson Lockhart

John Gibson Lockhart was born in the manse of Cambusnethan House in Lanarkshire. His father, Dr John Lockhart, transferred in 1796 to Glasgow, and was appointed minister. His mother, who was the daughter of the Rev. John Gibson, of Edinburgh, was a woman of considerable intellectual gifts.

Lockhart was sent to the Glasgow High School, where he showed himself clever rather than industrious. He fell into ill-health, and had to be removed from school before he was twelve; but on his recovery he was sent at this early age to Glasgow University, and displayed so much precocious learning, especially in Greek, that he was offered a Snell exhibition at Oxford. He was not fourteen when he entered Balliol College, Oxford, where he acquired a great store of knowledge outside the regular curriculum. He read French, Italian, German and Spanish, was interested in antiquities, and became versed in heraldic and genealogical lore.

In 1813 he took a first class in classics in the final schools. For two years after leaving Oxford he lived chiefly in Glasgow before settling to the study of Scots law in Edinburgh, where he was elected to the Faculty of Advocates in 1816. A tour on the continent in 1817, when he visited Goethe at Weimar, was made possible by the publisher William Blackwood, who advanced money for a translation of Friedrich Schlegel’s Lectures on the History of Literature, which was not published until 1838. Edinburgh was then the stronghold of the Whig party, whose organ was the Edinburgh Review, and it was not till 1817 that the Scottish Tories found a means of expression in Blackwood’s Magazine. After a somewhat hum-drum opening, Blackwood suddenly electrified the Edinburgh world by an outburst of brilliant criticism. John Wilson (Christopher North) and Lockhart had joined its staff in 1817. Lockhart shared in the caustic and aggressive articles that marked the early years of Blackwood; but his biographer Andrew Lang denied he was responsible for the virulent articles on Coleridge and on “The Cockney School of Poetry”: Leigh Hunt, Keats and their friends. He has been accused of the later Blackwood article (August 1818) on Keats, but he did show appreciation of Coleridge and Wordsworth.

He contributed to Blackwood translations of Spanish ballads, which in 1823 were published separately. In 1818 the young man attracted the notice of Sir Walter Scott, and he married Scott’s eldest daughter Sophia in April 1820. Five years of domesticity followed, with winters spent in Edinburgh and summers at a cottage at Chiefswood, near Abbotsford, where Lockhart’s child John Hugh was born; the second son Walter and daughter Charlotte were born later in London and Brighton.

In 1820 John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, wrote a series of articles attacking the conduct of Blackwood’s Magazine, and making Lockhart chiefly responsible for its extravagances. A correspondence followed, in which a meeting between Lockhart and John Scott was proposed, with Jonathan Henry Christie and Horace Smith as seconds. A series of delays and complicated negotiations resulted early in 1821 in a duel between Christie and John Scott, in which Scott was killed.

Between 1818 and 1825 Lockhart worked indefatigably. In 1819 Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk appeared, and in 1822 he edited Peter Motteux’s edition of Don Quixote, to which he prefixed a life of Cervantes. Four novels followed: Valerius in 1821, Some Passages in the Life of Mr. Adam Blair, Minister of Gospel at Cross Meikle in 1822, Reginald Dalton in 1823 and Matthew Wald in 1824. But his strength did not lie in novel writing. In 1825 Lockhart accepted the editorship of the Quarterly Review, which had been in the hands of Sir John Taylor Coleridge since William Gifford’s resignation in 1824.

At this time he was living at 25 Northumberland Street in Edinburgh’s fashionable Second New Town. In 1825 he sold the house to Andrew and George Combe.

By this point in time, as the next heir to the Scotland property belonging to his unmarried half-brother, Milton Lockhart, he was sufficiently independent. In London he had social success, and was recognized as an editor. He contributed largely to the Quarterly Review himself, particularly biographical articles. He showed the old, railing spirit in an article in the Quarterly against Tennyson’s Poems of 1833. He continued to write for Blackwood; he produced for Constable’s Miscellany Vol. XXIII in 1828 a controversial Life of Robert Burns. Snyder wrote of it, “The best that one can say of it today… is that it occasioned Carlyle’s review. It is inexcusably inaccurate from beginning to end, at times demonstrably mendacious, and should never be trusted in any respect or detail.”

Lockhart undertook the editorial supervision of Murray’s Family Library, which he opened in 1829 with a History of Napoleon.

His major work was the Life of Sir Walter Scott (7 vols, 1837—1838; 2nd ed., 10 vols., 1839). This biography published a great number of Scott’s letters. Thomas Carlyle assessed it in a criticism contributed to the London and Westminster Review (1837). Lockhart’s account of the business transactions between Scott and the Ballantynes and Constable caused an outcry; and in the discussion that followed he showed bitterness in his pamphlet The Ballantyne Humbug handled. The Life of Scott has been called, after Boswell’s Johnson, the most admirable biography in the English language. The proceeds, which were considerable, Lockhart resigned for the benefit of Scott’s creditors.

Lockhart’s life was saddened by family bereavement, resulting in his own breakdown in health and spirits. His eldest boy (the suffering “Hugh Littlejohn” of Scott’s Tales of a Grandfather) died in 1831; Scott himself in 1832; Anne Scott in 1833; Mrs Lockhart in 1837; and the surviving son, Walter Scott Lockhart, in 1853. Resigning the editorship of the Quarterly Review in 1853, he spent the next winter in Rome, but returned to England without recovering his health; and being taken to Abbotsford by his daughter Charlotte, who had become Mrs James Robert Hope-Scott, he died there on 25 November 1854. He was buried in Dryburgh Abbey near the grave of Sir Walter Scott.

Robert Scott Lauder painted two portraits of Lockhart, one of him alone, and the other with Charlotte Scott.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Hamilton (writer)
1789 – 7 December 1842


Thomas Hamilton

Thomas Hamilton was born in Pisa, Tuscany. He was the second son of William Hamilton , professor of anatomy and botany, Glasgow, and was younger brother of Sir William Hamilton, the metaphysician. After preliminary education at Glasgow, he was placed in 1801 as a pupil with the Rev. Dr. Home, Chiswick, and some months later with the Rev. Dr. Scott, Hounslow. For several months in 1803, he was with Dr. Sommers at Mid-Calder, Midlothian, preparatory to entering Glasgow University, where he matriculated the following November. He studied there three winters, proving himself an able if not very diligent student. His close college companion, of whom he saw little in after life, was Michael Scott, the author of ‘Tom Cringle’s Log.’

Hamilton’s bias was towards the army, and in 1810, after fully showing, in Glasgow and Liverpool, his incapacity for business, he got a commission in the 29th regiment. Twice on active service in the Peninsula, he received from a musket bullet, at Albuera, a somewhat serious wound in the thigh. He was also in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with his regiment, which at length was sent to France as part of the army of occupation.

About 1818, Hamilton retired on half-pay, fixing his headquarters at Edinburgh. He became a valued member of the ‘Blackwood’ writers. He is specially complimented in the song of personalities in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ’ for February 1826. Hogg in his ‘Autobiography’ credits him with a considerable share in some of the ‘ploys’ led by Lockhart.

Hamilton married in 1820, and for several summers he and his wife lived at Lockhart’s cottage of Chiefs wood, near Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott finding them very congenial neighbours and friends. In 1829, Captain and Mrs. Hamilton went to Italy, and at the end of the year Mrs. Hamilton died and was buried at Florence.

Some time after his return, Hamilton visited America, bringing back materials for a book on the Americans. Marrying a second time, the widow of Sir R. T. Farquharson, bart., governor of the Mauritius, he settled at John Wilson’s former house, Elleray, and saw much of Wordsworth, whom he was one of the first Scotsmen rightly to appreciate. Visiting the continent with his wife, Hamilton was seized with paralysis at Florence, and he died at Pisa of a second attack 7 December 1842. He was buried at Florence beside his first wife.

Hamilton’s novel Cyril Thornton appeared in 1827. It is partly autobiographical, with Hamilton’s early impressions of Scottish university life and Glasgow citizens when he could call Govan “a pretty and rural village”, on to his military experiences. The book went through three editions in the author’s lifetime, and was one of Blackwood’s Standard Novels.

In 1829, Hamilton published Annals of the Peninsular Campaign. His Men and Manners in America appeared in 1833.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

James Penny
– 1799

Penny was probably not a native of Liverpool and may have been born in Ulverston. He came to Liverpool to work as a mariner and was married to Ann Cooper in 1768. He is subsequently referred to as a mariner, ship’s captain and merchant in Liverpool directories.

Penny was active in the slave trade until the American War of Independence. He returned to the trade after the war as a shipowner and as a business partner with other traders. He was involved in several slave trading companies and was known for his knowledge of the African coast derived from his many journeys dating back to 1776.

When in 1788, the British government launched an inquiry into the slave trade, following public pressure from abolitionists, Penny was chosen to represent the views of slavers. According to local historian F.E. Sanderson, he was a “man of considerable stature in the town, highly regarded by his fellow merchants, his forthright views on the slave trade must have brought him to their notice as a likely delegate”.

In the evidence he gave the British Government, Penny claimed that “he found himself impelled, both by humanity and interest, to pay every possible attention both to the preservation of the crew and the slaves.” He stated that he allowed the slaves on the Atlantic Slave route to play games and dance and sing.

“If the Weather is sultry, and there appears the least Perspiration upon their Skins, when they come upon Deck, there are Two Men attending with Cloths to rub them perfectly dry, and another to give them a little Cordial…. They are then supplied with Pipes and Tobacco…. They are amused with Instruments of Music peculiar to their own country…and when tired of Music and Dancing, they then go to Games of Chance”

In the same body of evidence, he notes that the fatality rate for his slaves was one in twelve, and that “The average allowance of width to a slave is fourteen and two-thirds inches.” Penny also argued that abolition of the trade would destroy the economy of Liverpool; “it would not only greatly affect the commercial interest, but also the landed property of the County of Lancaster and more particularly, the Town of Liverpool; whose fall, in that case, would be as rapid as its rise has been astonishing.”

In 1792 he was presented with a silver epergne for speaking in favour of the slave trade to a parliamentary committee. He continued to be committed to the slave trade even when other merchants were moving away from it. With his eldest son, James, he was elected to the African Company of Merchants trading in Liverpool in July 1793. He died in 1799.

One of Penny’s daughters married the writer Christopher North.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Wilson
18 May 1785 – 3 April 1854


John Wilson

John Wilson was born at Paisley, the son of John Wilson, a wealthy gauze manufacturer who died in 1796, when John was eleven years old, and Margaret Syme (1753–1825). He was the fourth child, but the eldest son, and he had nine brothers and sisters. He was only twelve when he entered the University of Glasgow, and continued to attend various classes for six years, mostly under Professor George Jardine, with whose family he lived. During this period Wilson excelled in sport as well as academic subjects, and fell in love with Margaret Fletcher, who was the object of his affections for several years.

In 1803 Wilson was entered as a gentleman commoner at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was inspired by Oxford, and in much of his later work, notably in the essay called “Old North and Young North”, he expresses his love for it. But his Magdalen days were not altogether happy, though he obtained a brilliant first class degree. His love affairs did not go happily, his “Margaret” eloped to New York with his younger brother, Charles and he made no close friends at his own college and few in the university. He took his degree in 1807, and at twenty-two was his own master, with a good income, no guardian to control him, and no need to work for a living. His profession was an estate on Windermere called Elleray, ever since connected with his name. Here he built, boated, wrestled, shot, fished, walked and amused himself for four years, besides composing or collecting from previous compositions a considerable volume of poems, published in 1812 as The Isle of Palms. He became intimate with William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Thomas de Quincey.

In 1811 he married Jane Penny, daughter of the Liverpool merchant and slave trader James Penny, and they were happy for four years, until the event which made a working man of letters of Wilson, and without which he would probably have produced a few volumes of verse and nothing more. Most of his fortune was lost by the dishonest speculation of an uncle, in whose hands Wilson had carelessly left it. His mother had a house in Edinburgh, in which she was able and willing to receive her son and his family; he was not forced to give up Elleray, though he was no longer able to live there.

He read law and was elected to the Faculty of Advocates in 1815, still with many outside interests, and in 1816 produced a second volume of poems, The City of the Plague. In 1817, soon after the founding of Blackwood’s Magazine, Wilson began his connection with the Tory monthly and in October 1817 he joined with John Gibson Lockhart in the October number working up James Hogg’s MS a satire called the Chaldee Manuscript, in the form of biblical parody, on the rival Edinburgh Review, its publisher and his contributors. He became the principal writer for Blackwood’s, though never its nominal editor, the publisher retaining supervision even over Lockhart’s and “Christopher North’s” contributions, which were the making of the magazine.

In 1822 began the series of Noctes Ambrosianae, after 1825 mostly Wilson’s work. These are discussions in the form of convivial table-talk, including wonderfully various digressions of criticism, description and miscellaneous writing. There was much ephemeral, a certain amount purely local, and something occasionally trivial in them. But their dramatic force, their incessant flashes of happy thought and happy expression, their almost incomparable fulness of life, and their magnificent humour give them all but the highest place among genial and recreative literature. “The Ettrick Shepherd,” an idealised portrait of James Hogg, one of the talkers, is a most delightful creation. Before this, Wilson had contributed to Blackwood’s prose tales and sketches, and novels, some of which were afterwards published separately in Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life (1822), The Trials of Margaret Lyndsay (1823) and The Foresters (1825); later appeared essays on Edmund Spenser, Homer and all sorts of modern subjects and authors.

Wilson left his mother’s house and established himself (1819) in Ann Street, Edinburgh, with his wife and five children. His election to the chair of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh (1820) was unexpected, and the best qualified man in the United Kingdom, Sir William Hamilton, was also a candidate. But the matter was made a political one; the Tories still had a majority in the burgh council; Wilson was powerfully backed by friends, Sir Walter Scott at their head; and his adversaries played into his hands by attacking his moral character, which was not open to any fair reproach. Wilson made a very excellent professor, never perhaps attaining to any great scientific knowledge in his subject or power of expounding it, but acting on generation after generation of students with a stimulating force that is far more valuable than the most exhaustive knowledge of a particular topic. His duties left him plenty of time for magazine work, and for many years his contributions to Blackwood were voluminous, in one year (1834) amounting to over fifty separate articles. Most of the best and best known of them appeared between 1825 and 1835.

In his last thirty years, he oscillated between Edinburgh and Elleray, with excursions and summer residences elsewhere, a sea trip on board the Experimental Squadron in the English Channel during the summer of 1832, and a few other unimportant diversions. The death of his wife in 1837 was an exceedingly severe blow to him, especially as it followed within three years that of his friend Blackwood.

John Wilson died in Edinburgh.

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