1891 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Ellis

Samuel Smiles, "George Ellis" A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 1:125-27.



George Ellis, prominent in his own day both as an author and a politician, but whose name is now remembered mainly by scholars, was the son of a wealthy West Indian proprietor, and was born in 1753.

As early as 1777 he published, anonymously, "Poetical Tales by Sir Gregory Gander," which were commended by Horace Walpole. He subsequently became a contributor to the Rolliad, and is believed to have been the author of some severe verses on Pitt, beginning, "Pert without fire, without experience sage," which appeared therein.

Ellis was appointed to accompany Sir James Harris (afterwards Lord Malmesbury) on his mission to the Hague in 1784, and in 1790 to the Conference at Lille. He thus acquired experience in foreign and home politics, and was, in 1796, elected M.P. for Seaford. Before this time he had become intimately acquainted with George Canning, in conjunction with whom he assisted in starting the Anti-Jacobin.

His "Specimens of Early English Poetry," published in 1790, which subsequently went through six editions, attracted the attention of Walter Scott, to whom he was introduced by Richard Heber in 1801. In 1805 he published his "Specimens of Early English Romances."

His acquaintance with Scott, who describes him as "the first converser I ever knew," soon ripened into a warm and lifelong friendship, as is shown by the frequent mention of his name in Lockhart's Biography. Scott dedicated to him the Fifth Canto of "Marmion," and he introduced Scott to George Canning.

It was in a large measure owing to the position, energy, and ability of this trio of friends that the Quarterly was started, and successfully conducted: whenever Mr. Canning contributed, as he not unfrequently did to the early numbers, it was through Mr. Ellis, as a rule, that the contributions were conveyed to the Editor.

Mr. Ellis himself wrote many articles, among which may be mentioned his reviews of Scott's "Lady of the Lake," "Lord of the Isles," "Rokeby," and "Bridal of Triermain;" of Byron's "Childe Harold," "Giaour," and "Corsair." In conjunction with Mr. Canning, who at times used to go and stay with him at Sunninghill for the purpose, he contributed several important political articles, and down to the time of his death scarcely any number of the Quarterly appeared without one or more papers from his pen. To the last, Mr. Ellis was a friendly but severe critic to the Review, and on the appearance of each succeeding number it was his practice to write to Mr. Murray, pointing out in detail what was, in his opinion, good and bad in the materials or management. Ellis died in 1815: his epitaph was written by Canning, who sent it for Scott's revision and approval before allowing it to be adopted.