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Presbyterian minister, that this reverend person, the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, realised, by fortunate speculations in land and building, a large fortune, leaving behind him upwards of 60,0001. Of this union, two sons were born; the elder named William Harrison, the younger Thomas Gilbert, who distinguished himself at Cambridge, and taking a scholarship there, unfortunately fell into illhealth from over-study, which so affected his nervous system that he never took his degree, and his intention of going into the Church was therefore abandoned.*
William Harrison Ainsworth was born on the 4th of February, 1805, at the house of his father, in King-street, Manchester ; but not long after, the family removed to a very commodious and pleasantly-situated country-house, called Beech-hill, about two miles from the town, on the Chetham side. Here was a very extensive garden; and here all the time that could be spared by its possessor from professional pursuits was devoted to the studies and recreations of which he was so passionately fond. The grounds were laid out under his own eye, and several of the trees were planted by the young brothers.
To the education of the elder of these it is now necessary to refer. The early part of it was undertaken by his uncle, the Rev. William Harrison; and then, while still very young, he was placed at the free grammar-school in Manchester, in one of the classes of the Rev. Robinson Elsdale.
In this school, which was founded early in the sixteenth century, many persons eminent for science and learning have been educated. The list extends as far back as the reign of Mary, opening with the well-known name of John Bradford, who suffered martyrdom in 1555. Reginald Heber (the father of the bishop) was here, Cyril Jackson, and his brother the Bishop of Oxford, the first Lord Alvanley, Mr. Morritt of Rokeby, David Latouche, the celebrated banker, Mr. Justice Williams, and many others. Here our youthful student so far distinguished himself as to have received very flattering testimonials from Dr. Smith (the then head-master of the school), and his colleague, Dr. Elsdale. He wrote several translations from the Latin and Greek poets, which obtained their approbation. In this school he remained, gathering honour and advantage, until he reached
* Thomas Gilbert Ainsworth died on the 9th of April, 1876, at Hill View Lodge, Reigate, and was interred in the Kensal Green Cemetery.
the first form, when his father, who designed his son to be his successor, placed him as a clerk with an eminent solicitor in the town.
It had been his father's wish, when the period of the youth's law-studies commenced, that he should devote himself chiefly to that branch of the profession which it was intended he should practise-conveyancing; but no great progress was made in this study. Byron, Scott, and Shelley had charms that title-deeds could never boast ; writing verses was far more attractive than making abstracts, and drawing drafts bore no comparison to sketching for magazines. It was the old story-he was literally
A youth foredoom'd his father's hopes to cross,
Who penn'd a stanza when he should engross. The nameless editor of a magazine was, in his enchanted view, greater by far than the greatest of the whole tribe of lawyers; and the occupation of the editorial chair appeared in his fanciful dream an object worthier of a loftier ambition than a seat on the woolsack.
On his father's death, which occurred, as we have said, in 1824, he awakened to a sense of the expediency of completing his term as a conveyancer, and qualifying himself for assuming the professional responsibility which this bereavement devolved upon him. With this view he repaired to London, to finish his term with Mr. Jacob Phillips, of the Inner Temple. Yet it does not appear that he devoted himself with the adequate diligence and zeal to professional study. The literary enthusiasm was still the stronger feel. ing, though less productive in its immediate results than before; for the metropolis was a novel scene, and some time was spent in acquainting himself with its amusements.
Not long before the completion of his appointed stay in town, he commenced an acquaintance with Mr. Ebers, at that time the manager of the Opera House, and a constant attend. ance there was, of course, included among
lawstudent's London pleasures.
We now have to record an important event in life—the marriage of Mr. Ainsworth to Fanny, the youngest daughter of Mr. Ebers. This event occurred in the autumn of 1826. Three daughters, still living, were the offspring of this union. They lost their mother in the spring of 1838.
The connexion thus formed with Mr. Ebers had a material influence in deciding the young man as to the course he should pursue. His repugnance to “conveyancing" being insuperable, and his tastes and inclinations being decidedly literary, he readily listened to the suggestions of Mr. Ebers, to make an experiment as a publisher. The sacrifice, to be sure, was considerable. It involved the relinquishment of his share in his father's lucrative business, which had been carried on, meanwhile, by two partners, at the head of whom he would necessarily be placed; it was the exchanging a certainty for a chance. Yet, on the other hand, he was to secure the advantage of Mr. Ebers's extensive connexion, and of his practical knowledge of business, which as yet was a “ book sealed” to him. There were other temptations, not unworthy of a high literary ambition, and a generous zeal for the interests of authors. The period, that of 1828-9, was the season of the (exclusively) “ fashionable novels,” when what was most ephemeral was most triumphant, and when works of a more enduring though less winning character had fewer charms than usual in a publisher's eye. Let us here pause for a moment to consider what his aims were, and, at the same time, what were his qualifications for giving effect to them.
Mr. Ainsworth entered upon his speculation doubtless with literary feelings not very dissimilar to those with which he may be supposed to have recently originated his Magazine. His was not the speculation of an ordinary publisher : his aim was to promote the interests of literature, to advance his own reputation as a writer, and to surround himself with such authors as it was alike honourable to serve and to be associated with; he thought that he might bring forward sterling works, rejected, perhaps, as not "fashionable,” and assist writers of a better class than tbose who aspired to a merely fleeting popularity; in any case, he should succeed in showing that such an enterprise might be conducted on liberal and gentlemanlike principles. These, as we believe, were his objects; but he mistook the practicability of the scheme, and misconceived his own qualifications for conducting it. He had great liberality, a highly cultivated literary taste, ripe scholarship, and popular manners; he was borne up by the spirit of youth, and the love of books for their own sake, to make an experiment, and his entering upon it was the best proof of the sacrifices he could cheerfully incur, and that he thought of no selfish or mercenary bargain. But with
these fine qualities he wanted some that are not always found in their company and in that of youth-forethought, deliberation, patience under disappointment, submission to repugnant tasks, and indifference to the trifling circumstance of being always unthanked and generally misapprehended. What young man of one-and-twenty understands his own character sufficiently to justify such an attempt? His principles were but partially recognised by the writers with whom he was brought into connexion, and he was of too impatient a temperament to afford them time to understand him. His pride speedily revolted from the position he had voluntarily chosen, and at the expiration of about a year and a half he abandoned the experiment; the result was-neither good nor harm, beyond loss of time. During this period, and up to the year 1830, a few trifles had been written; a tragedy on the subject of Philip van Artevelde was planned, and two acts composed ; a melodrame or two, never acted, swelled the stock; but nothing was published. A change of scene was now resolved upon : in the summer of that year Mr. Ainsworth started on a tour in Switzerland and Italy.
It was in the following year, during a visit to Chesterfield, that he first thought of writing a three-volumed tale, and the idea of “Rookwood” arose. He has told us his object.
Wishing,” he says, “ to describe somewhat minutely the trim gardens, the picturesque domains, the rook-haunted groves, the gloomy chambers, and gloomier galleries of an ancient hall with which I was acquainted, I resolved to attempt a story in the bygone style of Mrs. Radcliffe ; substituting an old English squire, an old manorial residence, and an old English highwayman, for the Italian marchese, the castle, and the brigand of that great mistress of romance.'
“Rookwood” was commenced, but many and serious pauses occurred in the completion of the story; nor was it until May, 1834, that it was published; but the power with which the design was worked out, the success with which it was accomplished, was instantaneously recognised. The “Edinburgh Review” described the novel achievement—“What Mr. Ainsworth has ventured to do, and successfully, was to revive the almost exploded interest afforded by the supernatural; and to preserve this, too, not in connexion with days long gone by, but side by side with the sober realities of 1737, with the convivialities of Yorkshire squires and country attorneys, with the humours of justices of the peace and the feats of Dick Turpin the highwayman.” The same writer
describes, also, the influences of all this upon the reader.
Strange as it may seem, the author has contrived to present the terrors of burial vaults and the blood-stained mysteries of family crime side by side with the most familiar scenes of the every-day life of the eighteenth century, without exciting the slightest feeling of the ludicrous-nay, more, with a character of earnestness and solemnity with which, à priori, we should have hardly thought such subjects could have been invested."
But the truth is, as the critic seems to have felt, that the reader is never allowed to pause for an instant to think at all. The famous picture of the ride to York, now as well known as the name of Turpin himself, is but an image of the reader's course as he leaps the abrupt gaps and turns the picturesque corners of this singular tale. He goes through it hurried, yet noting everything, and with breathless interest; and it is not until after a pause at the close that he bethinks him of the songs and ballads whose lively or solemn chimes struck his ear as he passed rapidly; when he is sure to turn back to read them leisurely over one by one, enjoying the true spirit of the old minstrelsy with which they are embued, and wishing for a whole volume of such tuneful rarities. The effect of this publication was to place Mr. Ainsworth in the first rank of writers of romantic fiction. The first edition was speedily sold off; a second followed. In 1836 Mr. Macrone issued a beautiful volume with designs by Cruikshank.
"Crichton” was the next work meditated; and as soon as projected Mr. Macrone offered 3501. for the manuscript. It appeared in the spring of 1837, and a rapid sale betokened the now established reputation of the writer. This historical romance afforded, in some respects, indications of a higher aim and more elaborate finish than the happiest pictures of the preceding work. Extensive and curious reading--a minute acquaintance with the modes, usages, intrigue, and philosophy of the time—a capacity at once to analyse and combine-an eye for grand effects as well as the smallest details--were everywhere recognised. Many rare qualities united in the composition of this work. Its pictures of the times and persons it treats of are finished sketches,” the effect of which, by a truly artist-like skill, is heightened instead of diminished by the small fine touches that denote a thorough familiarity with every incidental particular of the subject. Thus, not only are the king's jester and the king's cook as vividly set