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Andrew Lang:
The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart


Vol. I. Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter 1: 1794-1808
Chapter 2: 1808-13
Chapter 3: 1813-15
Chapter 4: 1815-17
Chapter 5: 1817-18
Chapter 6: 1817-19
Chapter 7: 1818-20
Chapter 8: 1819-20
Chapter 9: 1820-21
Chapter 10: 1821-24
Chapter 11: 1817-24
Chapter 12: 1821-25
Chapter 13: 1826
Chapter 14: 1826-32
Chapter 15: 1828-32
Chapter 16: 1832-36
Chapter 17: 1837-39
Chapter 18: 1837-43
Chapter 19: 1828-48
Chapter 20: 1826-52
Chapter 21: 1842-50
Chapter 22: 1850-53
Chapter 23: 1853-54
Chapter 24: Conclusion
Vol. II Index

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When John Gibson Lockhart assumed the editorship of the Quarterly Review in 1825 he inherited from William Gifford not just a journal, but the doubtful honor of being a lightning-rod for Whig attacks on the Tory literary establishment. Their cases were similar: like Gifford, Lockhart had first established himself as a student of classical literature at Oxford, and like Gifford he first came to public attention as a satirist—what Gifford had done to the Della Cruscans in the Bæviad, Lockhart had done to Leigh Hunt and his coterie in the pages of Blackwood’s Magazine—not to mention his blistering attacks on the piety and patriotism of the Edinburgh Reviewers, at the time regarded as the more serious offense. Like Gifford, Lockhart was indifferent to the opprobrium heaped upon him, which left his reputation, like Gifford’s, permanently tarnished in the eyes of posterity.
Lockhart was, however, a very different character than Gifford. Though a reliable Tory he was not a party man and wrote no political articles for the Quarterly, leaving that side of the business to John Wilson Croker. He also insisted upon his editorial independence, involving himself in quarrels with John Murray and the older generation of writers at the Quarterly Review. He was a thorough-going admirer of romantic poetry—of Scott and Byron, Wordsworth and Coleridge—and his religious commitments were more theological than political. Lockhart had indeed a waspish tongue, but was not vindictive or hateful and was regarded by those who knew him as modest to a fault. He would defer to the opinions of those he respected and admit to being a fallible judge, at least in private. He was a brooding, melancholy man.
He was born a younger son, left to make his own way financially. Little is recorded about the childhood or family of this deeply pious minister’s child who found the Presbyterian clergy so risible. We do know that his talent for caricature appeared very early. While he worked himself hard, Lockhart was too much the polite gentleman to labor at a career or pursue sordid wealth. He adopted the law by default before finding a patron in John Wilson, his collaborator in Blackwood’s Magazine and Peter’s Letters to his Kinsfolk (1819). Their withering attack on the Edinburgh Whigs ruined any prospects for Lockhart’s professional advancement in the law and even put his life at risk when he felt compelled to call out those who retaliated by casting aspersions on his character.
The satirists were taken in by Sir Walter Scott who tried to wean them from Blackwood’s by obtaining for Wilson the professorship of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University (1820) and by accepting Lockhart as a son-in-law (1820). That father and daughter would be drawn to the handsome, shy, reckless Lockhart is understandable; that they would take him into the family points to elements in his character not yet visible to others. In the event, he would give himself wholly to his new-found patron and devote his remaining life to looking after Scott and his progeny. While Sir Walter was unable to find employment for his son-in-law, he and Sophia did succeed in settling him down. When the offer of the Quarterly Review was made in 1825 the Lockharts departed for London only a few months before Scott’s financial crash.
Lockhart was well suited for the task, being a gentleman-scholar knowledgeable about many things and capable of mixing, if not always willingly, with persons in government, society, scholarship, and business. He was a better administrator than Gifford had been and the Quarterly flourished during his long tenure (1825-53). But his happy years were behind him as he struggled with the infirmity and deaths in quick successions of his father-in-law, his son Littlejohn, his parents, his sister, and his wife, as well as the waywardness of his surviving son Walter who inherited Abbotsford in 1847. Lockhart shouldered the responsibility for paying off Scott’s enormous debts, assisting him with his late works, editing the poems and essays, writing the biography, and managing the literary estate. By the 1840s his own health was broken, and like Gifford in his later days, he began living like a recluse. He died at Abbotsford at the age of sixty.
Lockhart had the failings but also the virtues of the Tories of his class; in general he was prejudiced against outsiders, parvenus, and change, but would set his prejudices aside when duty or talent beckoned. He was not an amiable man, adopting a facade of cold hauteur to conceal his shyness, and perhaps for the same reason cultivating his public persona as an unpleasant character. He was seemingly impervious to abuse, holding himself as well as his critics in low esteem. A “hero-worshipper” in his friend Carlyle’s sense, he distinguished genius from mere cleverness and as his cares mounted withdrew himself altogether from fashionable society. In his biography Andrew Lang underscores the gulf between the sardonic critic and the emotionally vulnerable private man.
Andrew Lang (1844-1912) undertook his biography as preparation for a never-completed edition of Lockhart’s Life of Scott. Lang was a diligent researcher and had access to Lockhart’s family correspondence and the letters he exchanged with his life-long friend Jonathan Christie, and his latter-day friends Thomas Carlyle and Henry Hart Milman. He was, however, denied access to two vital sources of information, the Murray archive and the Blackwood’s archive—with the result that his biography, though still the standard work, has long been in need of updating. Like other Victorian biographers Lang suppresses names and touches lightly on matters that might give offense to the families of the long-departed, in particular the Blackwoods and the Murrays whose publishing houses were still at the height of their influence in the 1890s. He gives considerable attention to Lockhart’s review of Tennyson’s Poems (1832), an essay now assigned to John Wilson Croker.
The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart depicts the life of a man torn between a good and evil genius, Sir Walter Scott and John Wilson respectively. Like other Victorian writers Lang regards the “personality” in Regency periodicals as beyond the pale of social decency, and while he defends Lockhart in almost all other matters, in the case of the Blackwood’s satires he merely points out that the Whigs were guilty of leading by example. We hear a great deal about Lockhart’s relationship with Sir Walter Scott and very little about his relationship with John Wilson and not much more about his relationship with John Wilson Croker. In part this is due to lack of information, though one wonders whether more might have been forthcoming had Andrew Lang elected to pursue the matter.
Where Lang does delve into a controversy he is admirably thorough and lawyerly. In the case of the “Cockney School” essays he points out that Lockhart’s remarks about Leigh Hunt accord with what had been said by Keats himself in letters recently published by H. Buxton Forman. To the accusation that Lockhart had abused a confidence in the review of Endymion, Lang is able to demonstrate that Lockhart and Keats had at least three friends in common and that therefore Lockhart had multiple sources of information about Keats’s personal life. Lockhart was afterwards remorseful about what he had written (the remarks on Hunt apparently excepted); he recommended the republication of Keats’s poems and supported the career of Benjamin Robert Haydon whom he came to regard highly. The Blackwood’s attacks on Coleridge and Wordsworth were the work not of Lockhart but of Wilson, who like Byron was given to abusing his friends.
In the case of the Scott-Christie duel, Lang shows how John Scott, editor of the London Magazine, was the aggressor, acting under the misapprehension that Walter Scott, aided and abetted by Lockhart and Wilson, was behind the Blackwood’s attacks. He shows how badly Scott managed the “affair of honor,” culminating in the challenge he sent to John Christie that resulted in the mismanaged meeting in which he was killed. He discusses in depth the tangled circumstances leading to Lockhart’s appointment to the Quarterly Review, which in the end seems to have been at the behest of John Murray himself—surprisingly given Murray’s anger and contrition over the doings at Blackwood’s. His other long forensic excursion explores the matter of Scott’s financial relationship with the Ballantynes as reported in Lockhart’s biography of Scott. While the business practices were hopelessly tangled, Lang is able to show that the Ballantyne family’s chief informant was less than truthful and that Lockhart’s information came from the printer Robert Cadell, who if not entirely disinterested, was the best available source. So far from acting out of reckless malice, Lockhart took pains to get at the truth and was unsparing in his criticism of Scott’s own lack of judgment.
In his preface Lang apologizes for writing a book that is largely an apology for John Gibson Lockhart, but given the contrary evidence he discovered in Lockhart’s correspondence he felt obliged to counter his subject’s reputation as the bad boy of literature. This ill-repute was deeply engrained, beginning with the counter-attacks in the Chaldee Manuscript affair, continuing though John Scott’s articles on “The Mohock Magazine,” the Ballantyne pamphlets and Tait’s Magazine reviews abusing the Life of Scott, and trailing off with a quarter-century’s worth of writers with grievances against the Quarterly Review. Liberals who disliked Scott positively despised Lockhart, as seen in Harriet Martineau’s hatchet-wielding obituary reprinted in her Biographical Sketches (1869). More insidious because less obviously hostile was the treatment of Lockhart in Mary Gordon’s biography of her father, John Wilson (1862, reprinted 1879) which lightened the character of Christopher North by blackening that of his colleague. Andrew Lang tenaciously goes after every charge made and largely succeeds in rebutting or deflecting them. To little avail it seems; Scott’s reputation subsequently went into decline, and with little interest since in Tory romanticism, Lockhart’s position remains much as it was when Lang took him up.
His biography supplies the back-story to Lockhart’s Life of Scott and covers the subsequent affairs of the Scott family, but it leaves many gaps. Marion Lockhart’s John Gibson Lockhart (1954) did little more than recast Lang’s life-and-letters as a life-without-letters. One would think that the Tory satirists Wilson and Lockhart, Maginn and Hook, would make attractive subjects for biographers, if only hostile biographers, but such has not been the case.

David Hill Radcliffe