1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gibson Lockhart

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 3:171-76.



JOHN GIBSON LOCKHART, the distinguished editor of the Quarterly Review, and biographer of Sir Walter Scott, was born in the Manse, of Cambusnethan, on the 14th of June 1794. From both his parents he inherited an honourable descent. His father, John Lockhart, D.D., was the second son of William Lockhart of Birkhill, the head of an old family in Lanarkshire, lineally descended from Sir Stephen Lockhart of Cleghorn, a member of the Privy Council, and armour-bearer to James III. His mother was Elizabeth Gibson, daughter of the Rev. John Gibson, senior minister of St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh; her maternal grandmother was the Honourable Mary Erskine, second daughter of Henry, third Lord Cardross, and sister of David, ninth Earl of Buchan. In 1796, Dr. Lockhart was translated from Carnbusnethan to the College church, Glasgow; and the early education of his son was consequently conducted in that city.

During the third year of his attendance at the Grammar-school, young Lockhart, though naturally possessed of a sound constitution, was seized with a severe illness, which, it was feared, might terminate in pulmonary consumption. After a period of physical prostration, he satisfactorily rallied, when it was found by his teacher that he had attained such proficiency in classical learning, during his confinement, as to he qualified for the University, without the usual attendance of a fourth session at the Grammar-school. At the University of Glasgow, his progress fully realised his excellent premise in the academy. The youngest member of his various classes, he was uniformly a successful competitor for honours. He gave indication of poetical ability in a metrical translation of a part of Lucan's Pharsalia, which was rewarded with a prize, and received warm encomiums from the professors. On one of the Snell Exhibitions to Baliol College, Oxford, becoming vacant, during the session of 1808-9, it was unanimously conferred on him by the faculty. Entering Baliol College in 1809, his classical attainments were such, that Dr. Jenkins, the master of the college, was led to predict that he would reflect honour on that institution, and on the University of Glasgow. At his graduation, on the completion of his attendance at Baliol, he realised the expectations of his admiring preceptor; the youngest of all who graduated on the occasion, being in his eighteenth year, he was numbered in the first class,—an honour rarely attained by the most accomplished Oxonians. In the choice of a profession he evinced considerable hesitation; but was at length induced by a relative, a member of the legal faculty, to qualify himself for practice at the Scottish Bar. Besides affording a suitable scope for his talents and acquirements, it was deemed that the Parliament House of Edinburgh had certain hereditary claims on his services. Through his paternal grandmother, he was descended from Sir James Lockhart of Lee, Lord Justice-Clerk in the reign of Charles II., and father of the celebrated Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath, Lord President of the Court of Session; and of another judge, Sir John Lockhart, Lord Castlehill.

Having completed a curriculum of classical and philosophical study at Oxford, and made a tour on the Continent, Lockhart proceeded to Edinburgh, to prosecute the study of Scottish law. In 1816 he passed advocate. Well-skilled in the details of legal knowledge, and in the preparation of written pleadings, he lacked a fluency of utterance, so entirely essential to success as a pleader at the Bar. He felt his deficiency, but did not strive to surmount it. Joining himself to a literary circle, of which John Wilson and the Ettrick Shepherd were the more conspicuous members, he resolved to follow the career of a man of letters. In 1817, he became one of the original contributors to Blackwood's Magazine; and by his learned and ingenious articles essentially promoted the early reputation of that subsequently popular periodical. In 1819 appeared his first separate publication, entitled, Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk, — a work of three octavo volumes, in which an imaginary Doctor Morris humorously and pungently delineates the manners and characteristics of the more distinguished literary Scotsmen of the period; and which, by exciting some angry criticism, attracted general attention to the real author. In May of the previous year, at the residence in Edinburgh of Mr. Home Drummond of Blair-Drummond, he was introduced to the personal acquaintance of Sir Welter Scott. Their acquaintance ripened into a speedy intimacy; and on the 29th April 1820, Lockhart became the son-in-law of his illustrious friend, by espousing hie eldest daughter, Sophia. Continuing to furnish sparkling contributions to Blackwood's Magazine, Lockhart now began to exhibit powers of prolific authorship. In the course of a few years he produced Valerius, a tale descriptive of ancient Rome; Reginald Dalton, a novel founded on his personal experiences it Oxford; the interesting romance of Matthew Wald, and Adam Blair, a Scottish story. The last of these works, it may be interesting to notice, took origin in the following manner. During a visit to his parents at Glasgow, his father had incidentally mentioned, after dinner, that Mr. Adam, a former minister of Cathcart, had been deprived for certain immoralities, and afterwards reponed, at the entreaty of his parishioners, on the death of the individual who had succeeded him after his deposition. On hearing the narrative, Lockhart retired to his apartment and drew up the plan of his tale, which was ready for the press within the short space of three weeks. In 1823, he became known as an elegant versifier, by the publication of his translations from the Spanish Ballads. He subsequently published a Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, in Murray's Family Library; and produced a Life of Robert Burns, for Constable's Miscellany. At this period he chiefly resided in Edinburgh, spending some of the summer months at Chiefswood, a cottage about two miles from Abbotsford. But Lockhart's growing reputation ere long secured him a more advantageous and lucrative position. In 1825, he was appointed to the editorship of the Quarterly Review; and thus, at the age of thirty-one, became the successor of Gifford, in conducting one of the most powerful literary organs of the age. He now removed to London. On the 15th of June 1834, the degree of Doctor of Civil Law was conferred on him by the University of Oxford.

During the last illness of Sir Walter Scott, Lockhart was eminently dutiful in his attendance on the illustrious sufferer. As the literary executor of the deceased, he was zealous even to indiscretion; his Life of Scott, notwithstanding its ill-judged personalities, is one of the most interesting biographical works in the language. His own latter history affords few materials for observation; he frequented the higher literary circles of the metropolis, and well sustained the reputation of the Quarterly Review. He retired from his editorial duties in 1853, having suffered previously from impaired health. The progress of his malady was accelerated by a succession of family trials and bereavements, which preyed heavily on his mind. His eldest son, John Hugh Lockhart (the Hugh Littlejohn of Scott's Tales of a Grandfather,) died in 1831; his amiable wife in 1837; and of his two remaining children, a son and a daughter, the former, Walter Scott Lockhart Scott, Lieutenant, 16th Lancers, who had succeeded to the estate of Abbotsford on the death of his uncle, the second Sir Walter Scott, died in 1853. In 1847, his daughter and only surviving child was married to James Robert Hope, Esquire, Q.C., son of General the Honourable Sir Alexander Hope, and nephew of the late Earl of Hopetoun, of peninsular fame; and shortly before her father's death, this lady, along with her husband, abjured the Protestant faith.

In the autumn of 1853, in accordance with the advice of his medical advisers, Lockhart proceeded to Italy; but on his return the following summer, he appeared rather to have lost than gained strength. Arranging his affairs in London, he took up his abode with his elder brother, Mr. Lockhart, M.P., at Milton-Lockhart, on the banks of the Clyde, and in the parish adjoining that of his birth. Here he suffered an attack of cholera, which much debilitated his already wasted strength. In October he was visited by Dr. Ferguson of London, who conveyed him to Abbotsford to be tended by his daughter; there he breathed his last on the 25th November 1854, in his 61st year. His remains were interred in Dryburgh Abbey, beside those of his illustrious father-in-law, with whom his name will continue to be associated. The estate of Abbotsford is now in the possession of his daughter and her husband, who, in terms of the Abbotsford entail, have assumed the name of Scott. Their infant daughter, Mary Monica, along with her mother, are the only surviving lineal representatives of the Author of Waverley.

Possessed of a vigorous intellect, varied talents, and accurate scholarship, Lockhart was impatient of contradiction, and was prone to censure keenly those who had offended him. To strangers his manners were somewhat uninviting, and in society he was liable to periods of taciturnity. He loved the ironical and facetious; and did not scruple to indulge in ridicule even at the expense of his intimate associates. With many peculiarities of manner, and a temper somewhat fretful and impulsive, we have good authority for recording, that many unfortunate men of genius derived support from his bounty. Ardent in temperament, he was severe in resenting a real or fancied wrong; but among those to whom he gave his confidence, he was found to be possessed of affectionate and generous dispositions. He has complained, in a testamentary document, that his course of procedure was often misunderstood, and the complaint is probably well-founded. He was personally of a handsome and agreeable presence, and his countenance wore the aspect of intelligence.