1900 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson

Rowland E. Prothero, in Byron, Letters and Journals, (1898-1901) 4:175.



John Wilson (1785-1854), the "Christopher North" of Blackwood. Wilson began his literary career by winning the Newdigate Prize at Oxford with a poem on Painting, Poetry, and Architecture (1806). Called to the Scottish Bar in 1814, he neglected law for literature. In 1812 he published The Isle of Palms and other Poems; in 1816 The City of the Plague and other Poems. In 1817 he began his connection with the Edinburgh Magazine. Mrs. Oliphant (William Blackwood and Sons, vol. i. p. 101) describes the yellow-haired, ruddy-faced, blue-eyed giant, with his bursts of wrath and gaiety, who was one of the frequenters of Blackwood's rooms in Prince's Street. The famous "Chaldee Manuscript," which made the fortune of the Magazine, and set all Edinburgh in an uproar, was in a great part his work. Full of wild fun and fighting, written with a careless, rapid brilliancy, which shows itself in his large, scrawly hand, alternately striking and caressing Wordsworth and the Lake School, not sparing even Scott, Wilson's "Noctes Ambrosianae" became a notable feature in the Magazine, for which he wrote continuously from 1817 to 1852. Unlike anything else of their kind, they are, as it were, the Bacchanalian revel of criticism. In 1820 be succeeded Dr. Thomas Brown as Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and held the post till two years before his death. Besides poetry and criticism, Wilson published several novels: Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life (1822), The Trials of Margaret Lyndsay (1823), The Foresters (1825), etc. All are too delicate in tint, and too deeply coloured by romantic sentimentalism, to resemble real life, and in these respects stand in curious contrast to the work of Miss Ferrier, Lockhart, or John Galt. Politically, Wilson was a Tory, and allowed his politics to bias, or at least embitter, his criticism of the "Cockney School" and other opponents.