Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gilchrist, Alexander

GILCHRIST, ALEXANDER (1828–1861), biographer, son of James Gilchrist (author of ‘The Intellectual Patrimony,’ 1817), was born at Newington Green, London, 25 April 1828. In 1829 his father moved to an old water-mill on the Thames at Mapledurham, near Reading. Alexander was an affectionate and sympathetic child, and ‘almost as soon as he could walk’ his father's constant companion. At the age of twelve he was sent to University College School, and at sixteen left it to study law. He entered the Middle Temple in 1846, and was called to the bar in 1849. Legal studies, however, proved uncongenial, and he preferred the ‘most modest literary achievement’ to ‘brilliant legal success.’ Though he met with some disappointments from editors, his talents were recognised in 1848 by Dr. Price, editor of the ‘Eclectic Review.’ All his writings for three or four years appeared in the ‘Eclectic,’ and one upon Etty, published in 1849 and reissued separately, brought him a commission from David Bogue to write Etty's life. On 4 Feb. 1851 he married Anne Burrows [see Gilchrist, Anne] at Earl's Colne, Essex. He wrote an article on decorative art as illustrated by the Great Exhibition, and then collected materials for the ‘Life of Etty,’ which appeared in 1855. He afterwards wrote lives of artists for an edition of ‘Men of the Time.’

In 1853 he settled at Guildford. In a visit to London a sight of some of Blake's illustrations of the Book of Job decided him to undertake a life of the artist. He had previously only known the illustrations to Blair's ‘Grave’ and Allan Cunningham's life of the artist. He now resolved to write a full life of Blake. In 1856 he settled in Chelsea, at the express wish of Carlyle, who was his next door neighbour, and with whom he and his wife had some pleasant intercourse. He was for two years afterwards chiefly occupied in winding up the business affairs of a brother who had died suddenly. He then devoted himself to Blake, contributing also to the ‘Literary Gazette’ and the ‘Critic.’ In the spring of 1861 he made the acquaintance of D. G. Rossetti. He had not finished Blake when he died of scarlet fever on 30 Nov. 1861. He had made preparations for lives of Wordsworth, the Countess d'Aulnoy, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and Sir Kenelm Digby. His loss called forth strong expressions of sympathy from Mr. Madox Brown and D. G. Rossetti—the latter calling him ‘a far-sighted and nobly honest writer on subjects of which few indeed are able to treat worthily.’

The ‘Life of Blake’ was completed by his widow, and published in 1863. She also edited a second edition in 1880, and prefixed to it a ‘Memoir of Alexander Gilchrist.’

[Memoir as above.]

H. H. G.