1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Harrison Ainsworth

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 7:231.



Mr. W. HARRISON AINSWORTH, son of a solicitor in Manchester, was born in 1805. He has written several novels and romances, partly founded on English history and manners. His first novel, Sir John Chiverton, appeared in 1825. His next work, Rookwood, 1834, is a very animated narrative, in which the adventures of Turpin and the highwaymen are graphically related, and some of the vulgar superstitions of the last century, coloured with a tinge of romance. In the interest and rapidity of his scenes and adventures, Mr. Ainsworth evinced a dramatic power and art, but no originality or felicity of humour or character. His romance, Crichton, 1836, is founded on the marvellous history of the Scottish cavalier, but is scarcely equal to the first. He has since written Jack Sheppard, (1839), a sort of Newgate romance, The Tower of London, Guy Fawkes, Old St. Paul's, Windsor Castle, The Lancashire Witches, The Star Chamber, The Flitch of Bacon, The Spendthrift, &c. There are rich, copious, and brilliant descriptions in some of these works, but their tendency must be reprobated. To portray scenes of low successful villainy, and to paint ghastly and hideous details of human suffering, can be no elevating task for a man of genius, nor can one likely to promote among novel-readers a healthy tone of moral feeling or sentiment. The story of Jack Sheppard, illustrated by the pencil of Cruikshank, had immense success, and was dramatised.