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John Gibson Lockhart (1794—1854)

Scottish writer and editor, was born on the 4th of July 1794 in the manse of Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire, where his father, Dr John Lockhart, transferred in 1796 to Glasgow, was minister. His mother, who was the daughter of the Rev. John Gibson, of Edinburgh, was a woman of considerable intellectual gifts. He 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 Shell exhibition at Oxford.

He was not fourteen when he entered Balliol College, where he acquired a great store of knowledge outside the regular curriculum. He read French, Italian, German and Spanish, was interested in classical and British 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 Scottish law in Edinburgh, where he was called to the bar in 1816.

A tour on the continent in 1817, when he visited Goethe at Weimar, was made possible by the kindness of the publisher Blackwood, who advanced money for a promised translation of Schiegel’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 no doubt took his share in the caustic and aggressive articles which marked the early years of Blackwood; but his biographer, Mr Andrew Lang brings evidence to show that he was not responsible for the virulent articles on Coleridge and on “The Cockney School of Poetry,” that is on Leigh Hunt, Keats and their friends. He has been persistently accused of the later Blackwood article (August 1818) on Keats, but he showed at any rate a real appreciation of Coleridge and Wordsworth. He contributed to Blackwood many spirited translations of Spanish ballads, which in 1823 were published separately.

In 1818 the brilliant and handsome young man attracted the notice of Sir Walter Scott, and the acqtiaintance soon ripened into an intimacy which resulted in a marriage between Lockhart and Scott’s eldest daughterSophia, in April 1820. Five years of domestic happiness followed, with winters spent in Edinburgh and summers at a cottage at Chiefswood, near Abbotsford, where Lockhart’s two eldest children, John Hugh and Charlotte; were born; a second son, Walter, was born later at Brighton. In 1820 John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, wrote a series of articles attacking the conduct of Blackwood’s Magazine, making Lockhart chiefly responsible for its extravagances.

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. This unhappy affair, which has been the subject of much misrepresentation, is fully discussed in Mr Lang’s book on Lockhart.

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. In 1825 Lockhart accepted the editorship of the Quarterly Review, which bad been in the hands of Sir John Taylor Coleridge since Gifford’s resignation in 1824. He had now established his literary position, and, as the next heir to his unmarried half-brother’s property in Scotland, Milton Lockhart, be was sufficiently independent, though he had abandoned the legal profession.

In London he had great social success, and was recognized as a brilliant editor. He contributed largely to the Quarterly Review himself, his biographical articles being especially admirable. He showed the old, railing spirit in an amusing but violent article in the Quarterly on Tennyson’s Poems of 1833, in which he failed to discover the mark of genius. He continued to write for Blackwood; he produced for Constable’s Miscellany in 1828 what remains the most charming of the biographies of Burns; and he undertook the superintendence of the series called “Murray’s Family Library,” which he opened in 1829 with a History of Napoleon. But his chief work was the Life of Sir Walter Scott (7 vols, 1837—1838; 2nd ed., 10 vols., 1839). The Life of Scott has been called, after Boswell’s Johnson, the most admirable biography in the English language. 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; Mrs Lockhart in 1837; and the surviving son, Walter Lockhart, in 1852. 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 the 25th of November 1854. He was buried in Dryburgh Abbey, near Sir Walter Scott.

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