Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Banks, George Linnæus

BANKS, GEORGE LINNÆUS (1821–1881), miscellaneous writer, born at Birmingham 2 March 1821, was the son of John Banks, a seedsman. The father was a rigid methodist; he once took a ‘Robinson Crusoe’ from his son, and thrust it into the fire. When a boy George was totally blind for seven months, and was eventually cured by a quack, who applied leeches to the soles of his feet. He was sent to an engraver, but his eyes proved too weak for this work, and he afterwards went to a modeller, and, when neglected by his father, bound himself apprentice to a cabinet-case maker. His master failed, and he became, at the age of seventeen or eighteen, a contributor to newspapers and magazines, an amateur actor, and orator. He had a remarkable faculty for silhouette portraiture, and was also a rapid improvisatore. For years he was intimately associated with many of the movements for the political enfranchisement and social advancement of the masses of the people. One of his lyrics, called ‘What I live for,’ was frequently quoted by platform and pulpit orators, and is widely known. It is believed that it first appeared in a Liverpool newspaper. During his residence in Liverpool he wrote a play called ‘The Swiss Father,’ in which Creswick took the leading part. He also wrote for the negro actor, Ira Aldridge, a drama entitled ‘The Slave King,’ and in later years two smart burlesques for the Durham and Windsor theatres. These were ‘Old Maids and Mustard,’ and ‘Ye Doleful Wives of Windsor.’ He wrote the long popular negro melody ‘Dandy Jim of Caroline.’ ‘The Minstrel King,’ set by Macfarren, and ‘Warwickshire Will,’ are still sung at Shakespearean gatherings.

In 1846 he married Isabella Varley, of Manchester, the authoress of ‘Ivy Leaves’ and of several novels. Between 1848 and 1864 Banks was editor of the ‘Harrogate Advertiser,’ ‘Birmingham Mercury,’ ‘Dublin Daily Express,’ ‘Durham Chronicle,’ ‘Sussex Mercury,’ and ‘Windsor Royal Standard.’ For a time he had some share along with Mr. William Sawyer in the ‘Brighton Excursionist.’ He also wrote ‘Blossoms of Poetry,’ 1841; ‘Spring Gatherings,’ 1845; ‘Lays for the Times,’ 1845; ‘Onward,’ 1848; ‘Peals from the Belfry,’ 1853; ‘Slander, a Remonstrance in Rhyme,’ 1860; ‘Life of Blondin,’ 1862; ‘Finger-post Guide to London;’ ‘Staves for the Human Ladder,’ 1850; ‘All about Shakspere,’ 1864; and ‘Daisies in the Grass,’ 1865 (this is a volume of poems by Banks and his wife). He took part in the tercentenary of Shakespeare and the Durham Burns centenary. He was actively interested in the success of friendly societies and mechanics' institutes.

It was the intention of his wife to edit a complete collection of his poems, and to write a memoir of his active public career. Unfortunately in the later and clouded years of his life he destroyed much of the requisite material. He died after a long and painful illness, 3 May 1881, in London, and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

[Information supplied by Mrs. G. L. Banks, and by personal friends.]

W. E. A. A.