James Silk Buckingham

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 44 (September 1855) 322-23.

June 30. At Stanhope Lodge, Upper Avenue Road, St. John's Wood, in his 69th year, James Silk Buckingham, esq. the well-known lecturer and writer.

James Silk Buckingham was born at Flushing near Falmouth, in 1786. In his youth he passed several years at sea, and also in a variety of occupations on shore, among which his working as a compositor in printing-offices proved of most influence on his career through life. He first became known in public affairs by his attempt to open up the journalism of India at a period when the Court of Directors opposed all freedom of the press. Mr. Buckingham first went to Calcutta about the year 1815, we believe, when Lord Moira was Governor-general. His boldness of censure of abuses in Indian affairs, and especially his opposition to a notorious case of pluralism in one of the chaplains, who also held the lucrative office of Government stationer, led to his hasty expulsion from the presidency. His printing presses were seized, and the injustice if not the illegality of these proceedings was in more liberal times acknowledged by the Court of Directors granting him a pension, which he enjoyed only for the last few years of his life. He went to Calcutta a second time, and always retained much interest in Indian affairs. He hailed with warm satisfaction the removal of the restrictions on the press in India, which the wise and liberal policy of Sir Charles Metcalfe and Lord William Bentinck at length effected.

On his way to and from India, Mr. Buckingham travelled through various countries, and afterwards published narratives of his travels. In 1822 appeared Travels in Palestine; in 1825, Arabia; in 1827, Mesopotamia and Adjacent Countries, and in 1830, Assyria and Media. At a later period he made tours in various parts of Europe and North America, his account of the latter occupying no fewer than ten volumes, three devoted to the Northern States of the Union, three to the Slave States, three to the Eastern and Western States, and one to Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. His European travels are described in two volumes on Belgium, the Rhine and Switzerland, and two on France, Piedmont, and Switzerland. All these works contain much valuable descriptive and statistical matter, the author having paid more attention than is usual with tourists to the social condition of the countries which he visited. But Mr. Buckingham was still better known by his public lectures than by his books. He was one of the most pleasing and instructive popular lecturers ever heard, especially in describing the places which he had visited. For many years his chief occupation was giving such lectures in all parts of the country.

In 1825 Mr. Buckingham established in London The Oriental Herald, the precursor of several journals of the kind which have since flourished. We believe that he was also the first editor of the now prosperous Atheneum, but which he retained for only a short time.

In 1832 Mr. Buckingham was elected M.P. for Sheffield in the first reformed parliament, and he retained his seat until 1837. In his political life he chiefly took part in questions affecting social reforms. The temperance movement had in him a zealous advocate, and he was President of the London Temperance League formed in 1851. In 1849 he published a volume entitled, National Evils and Practical Remedies, in which he expounded his views on a variety of topics of public interest. In the year 1843 he set on foot a literary club in Hanover Square, called the British and Foreign Institute; which (or a year or two published its transactions in a stately quarto form, but at length fell into disrepute — partly it is said, under the ridicule of Punch. It was dissolved, we believe, in 1846.

Not many months since the deceased commenced an Autobiography, which promised to be exceedingly voluminous. The two volumes published sufficed to show that the career of the author had been singularly diversified and adventurous: and a review of their contents was given in our Magazine for June.

Mr. Buckingham was a man of great kindness of heart and liberality of opinion, though somewhat capricious in his pursuits and unsettled in his occupation. His energies were generally devoted to useful and benevolent objects, and his want of success in life is to be ascribed to unstableness of purpose, and not to deficiency of industry or enterprise. He died after a severe and protracted illness. We hope that his pension may be continued, during the short period that she can enjoy it, to his aged and invalid widow, who, we believe, was the devoted partner of his chequered life for a period of half a century.