Feb. 7. Aged 30, Henry Neele, Esq. solicitor, a gentleman distinguished by several popular literary productions.
He was son of the late, and brother of the present Mr. Neele, eminent map and heraldic engravers in the Strand, where the subject of this notice was born, Jan. 20, 1798. He was educated at a school in Kentish Town, which he left with an imperfect knowledge of Greek and Latin, but capable of reading and enjoying the best French authors; and he afterwards acquired, by his own unassisted efforts, some acquaintance with Italian literature. He early evinced a taste for lyrical poetry; and at the age of nineteen his father indulged him by printing, at his own expence, his first publication, entitled Odes, and other Poems.
On quitting school, Mr. Neele was articled to an attorney; and, though at times he "penned a stanza when he should engross," he did not neglect the opportunities afforded him of obtaining experience in his profession. He subsequently practised as a solicitor in Great Blenheim Street.
In 1821 his Odes and Poems were reprinted (see vol. xci. ii. 341), and attracted much notice from Dr. Drake and other critics of repute; and in 1823 he published another volume, of Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous. He became a frequent contributor to various periodical publications; and was engaged as Editor to the annual entitled Friendship's Offering.
In 1819 Mr. Neele composed a series of Lectures on the works of Shakspeare, and going to Stratford in the company of Mr. Britton, the architectural antiquary, he read one of them in the Town-hall of that place. Mr. Britton still possesses the MS. of these lectures; which, though hastily compiled, are eloquent and acute, abounding in illustration, and displaying considerable powers of humour.
In the winter of 1826 Mr. Neele completed a series of Lectures on the English Poets, from Chaucer to the present period. These he read at the Russell, and afterwards at the Western, Institutions. They were considered as evincing a high tone of poetical feeling and great critical knowledge; and profit as well as praise attended their delivery.
At the close of last year appeared his Romance of History, in three volumes, dedicated to the King. This production, which was reviewed in our number for December, p. 515, raised Mr. Neele above the rank of a mere contributor of light essays and poetry to periodical publications. The object of the author was to show, as his motto stated, that
Truth is strange—
Stranger than fiction.
Its scenes were taken from the annals of England; and the work was intended as one of a series, in which the history of various countries should in turn be similarly treated. It embraces tales of every age, from the Conquest to the Rebellion; and each tale is introduced by a chronological summary of the events on which it is founded. The idea was suited to the improved taste of novel-readers for such stories as have some foundation in facts; and the lively and characteristic execution deservedly obtained the popular favour. He had already commenced a second series of romances founded on the History of France. Known and appreciated, he was beginning to shine above the lesser stars of the literary hemisphere. His Poetical Works had been collected, in two volumes, with a portrait; but, alas!
Scarce had their fame been whisper'd round,
Before its shrill and mournful sound
Was whistling o'er his tomb:
Scarce did the laurel 'gin to grow
Around his early honour'd brow,
Before its grateful bloom
Was chang'd to cypress, sear and brown,
Whose garlands mock the head they crown.
The unfortunate writer of these pathetic lines was found dead in his bed, with too certain tokens of self-destruction. He had on the previous day exhibited symptoms of derangement, supposed to have been produced by too intent exercise of his imaginative powers; and the Coroner's Inquest returned a verdict of Insanity.
Mr. Neele was short in stature, and of appearance rather humble and unprepossessing; but his large expanse of forehead and the fire of his eye betokened mind and imagination; and whatever unfavourable impressions were occasioned by his first address were speedily effaced by the intelligence and good humour which a few minutes conversation elicited. He was naturally of a convivial turn, and enjoyed the society of men of kindred talent; his manners were bland and affable; his disposition free, open, and generous.