Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lockhart, John Gibson
LOCKHART, JOHN GIBSON (1794–1854), biographer of Scott, born on 14 July 1794 at the manse of Cambusnethan., was son of the Rev. John Lockhart(1761-1842), minister of Cambusnethan by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Gibson, minister of St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh, and granddaughter, through her mother, of Henry Erskine, third lord Cardross [q. v.] The father, the second son of William Lockhart, laird of Birkhill, Lanarkshire, had by a first marriage one son, William, afterwards laird of Milton Lockhart and member for Lanarkshire, John Gibson was the eldest son of the second marriage. The father became minister of the College Kirk in Glasgow in the summer of 1796. John Gibson was a delicate child; his health suffered from confinement in the town, and a juvenile illness made him partially deaf for life. He was early sent to the English school, thence to the high school, and at the end of 1805, before he was twelve, to the university of Glasgow. He was then recovering from a serious illness brought on by grief at the nearly simultaneous deaths of a younger brother and sister. He was full of fun and humour, though he disliked rough games, and already showed a turn for satire. His fellow-students proved their liking for him by consoling him with an additional Latin prize when he had failed to obtain one of the two adjudged by the students' votes. His display at the last examination, when he took up an unusual quantity of Greek, procured him a nomination to a Snell exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford. He entered the college in 1809. He covered the walls of his rooms with caricatures of his friends and himself, and did not spare the authorities. To ridicule a tutor who had made a point of dwelling upon hebraisms in the Greek Testament, Lockhart wrote what appeared to be a Hebrew exercise, to the admiration of his teacher, who showed it to the master of the college. It turned out to be an English lampoon on the tutor in Hebrew characters. Lockhart was a good classical scholar, wrote excellent Latin, and read French, Italian, and Spanish. He took a first class in classics in the Easter term of 1813. Among his contemporaries were H. H. Milman, afterwards the dean of St. Paul's, a lifelong friend, and Sir William Hamilton, who succeeded in diverting him from a brief lapse into hunting and boating. Lockhart cared nothing for sport at school or in afterlife. Hamilton was a warm friend until they were separated by political differences (Quarterly Review, October 1864).
Lockhart, it is stated, wished to obtain a chaplaincy in the army under Wellington. The war would have been over before he was of age to take orders. His father disapproved the scheme, and after leaving Oxford he studied law in Edinburgh. He became an advocate in 1816, but scarcely took his profession seriously. His strong literary tastes had led him to study German, and he resolved to visit Weimar to see Goethe. Before going he agreed with Blackwood to translate F. Schlegel's lectures on the history of literature. The book was not published till 1838. He became a contributor to ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ started in April 1817. His first articles appeared in the seventh number, when he attacked the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ the so-called ‘cockney school’ of poets, and Coleridge's ‘Biographia Literaria.’ He was supposed to have had a share in the Chaldee MS. chiefly written by James Hogg [q. v.] He challenged an anonymous author who had abused him as the ‘Scorpion’ in a pamphlet called ‘Hypocrisy Unveiled,’ but his opponent declined to come forward. Lockhart did not confine himself to satire, although his satirical articles naturally made the most noise, but wrote some classical articles and poetry, including some of his very spirited translations of Spanish ballads (collected in 1823). In May 1818 the brilliant young tory writer met Walter Scott, who was interested in his talk about Goethe at Weimar. Scott invited him to Abbotsford, and became a warm friend.
On 29 April 1820 Lockhart married Scott's eldest daughter, Sophia. They settled at the cottage of Chiefswood on Scott's estate. Scott often spent the day with them, and they were members of his most intimate domestic circle. During this period he wrote the historical part of the ‘Edinburgh Annual Register.’ In 1819 he published ‘Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk,’ an interesting description of Edinburgh society, which, however, gave some offence, especially to the whigs, by its personalities, and perhaps, as Scott said, by its truth. The personalities were harmless enough, as judged by a later standard. In a passage about himself Lockhart apologises indirectly for his excessive love of satire. His knowledge of German literature and philosophy has, he says, strengthened his platonism, and given him a turn for ridiculing the incongruities of life; but he hopes to strike a different note hereafter. Lockhart wrote novels, and continued to contribute to Blackwood. The novels have considerable merits of style, but show that he was scarcely a novelist by nature. In 1825 B. Disraeli visited him at Chiefswood, bringing him an offer from Murray of the editorship of the projected ‘Representative.’ Lockhart declined, partly because such a position was then in bad repute. Murray directly afterwards (13 Oct. 1825) offered him the editorship of the ‘Quarterly Review,’ which since Gifford's resignation had been edited by John Taylor Coleridge [q. v.] He accepted the post, with a salary of 1,000l. a year, and settled in London at the end of the year in Pall Mall. He afterwards moved to Sussex Place, Regent's Park, where he lived till near his death. The ‘Quarterly Review’ fully maintained its character under his rule. He is reported to have been admirably business-like and courteous in his dealings with contributors. He appears to have taken more liberties with their articles than would now be relished, a practice in which he only followed the precedent of Jeffrey and Gifford. Lord Mahon (afterwards Stanhope) was so much vexed by the insertions made by Croker in an article upon the French revolution in 1833, that he published the article in its first shape as a protest. Lockhart was probably hampered to some extent by the traditions of the ‘Review’ and the influence upon its management of his chief contributor, Croker. Carlyle offered his article on ‘Chartism’ to him in 1839; but Lockhart, though sympathising with its tendency, said that he ‘dared not’ publish it. Carlyle was much impressed, however, by Lockhart, and ever afterwards ‘spoke of him as he seldom spoke of any man’ (Froude, Carlyle in London, i. 164, 172, 288; cf. letter from Lockhart in Croker, Memoirs, 1884, ii. 409). While editing the ‘Quarterly’ Lockhart wrote his admirable life of Burns for ‘Constable's Miscellany’ in 1828, and superintended Murray's ‘Family Library,’ for which he wrote in 1829, the first volume, a life of Napoleon. His greatest book, however, was ‘The Life of Scott,’ published in seven volumes, the last of which appeared in 1838. He had admirable materials in Scott's letters and journals, but he turned them to such account that the biography may safely be described as, next to Boswell's ‘Johnson,’ the best in the language. He handed over all the profits to Sir Walter Scott's creditors.
Lockhart was proud and reserved, and gave an impression of coldness in general society. But he could relax among intimate friends, and had the rare charm which accompanies the occasional revelation under such circumstances of a fine mind and character. He suffered severe family sorrows. His eldest boy, John Hugh (the Hugh Little John of Scott's ‘Tales of a Grandfather’), was always sickly, and died in 1831. His love of children, as his college friend Christie says (Quarterly Review, cxvi. 448), was like the love of a woman. He was never happier than with this child in his arms, and from the time of his loss an expression of melancholy became habitual with him. He lost his wife in 1837. He was strongly attached to his daughter Charlotte, who on 19 Aug. 1847 married James Robert Hope-Scott [q. v.] Though he was grieved by the conversion of the Hopes to catholicism, the mutual affection was not diminished. Another son, Walter Scott Lockhart, entered the army in 1846, and was estranged by his own conduct from his father, though they were reconciled shortly before the son's death on 10 Jan. 1853. Lockhart's last years were saddened by his isolation. He withdrew from society, and injured his health by excessive abstinence. He revived a little when, under medical orders, he took more nourishment. But he became prematurely old; his sight failed, and in the spring of 1853 he finally retired from the ‘Quarterly.’ He spent the winter of 1853–4 in Italy, and read Dante with enthusiasm. He returned in the summer of 1854, and, after visiting his brother William at Milton Lockhart, went to Abbotsford to be under the care of his daughter and her husband. He gradually sank, and died on 25 Nov. 1854, in the room next to that in which Scott had died.
Lockhart was made auditor of the duchy of Lancaster in 1843, a post worth about 400l. a year, by his friend Lord Granville Somerset, chancellor of the duchy. This was his only public appointment. He was a strikingly handsome man, tall and slight, with masses of black hair, which suddenly became grey shortly before his death (see description by Griffin in Smiles's Murray, ii. 235). A picture in ‘Maclise's Portrait Gallery’ probably gives a good impression of his appearance. A portrait by Pickersgill is engraved as frontispiece to the 1856 edition of the ‘Spanish Ballads.’
Lockhart's works (besides contributions to ‘Blackwood’ and the ‘Quarterly Review’) are: 1. ‘Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk, by Peter Morris the Odontist’ (pseudonym), 1819. 2. ‘Valerius, a Roman Story,’ 1821. 3. ‘Some passages in the Life of Mr. Adam Blair,’ 1822. 4. ‘Reginald Dalton, a Story of English University Life,’ 1823. 5. ‘Ancient Spanish Ballads, Historical and Romantic, translated, with Notes,’ 1823. 6. ‘Matthew Wald,’ a Novel, 1824. 7. ‘Life of Robert Burns,’ 1828. 8. ‘History of Napoleon Buonaparte,’ 1829. 9. ‘History of the late War, with Sketches of Nelson, Wellington, and Napoleon,’ 1832. 10. ‘Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott,’ 1836–8. 11. ‘The Ballantyne Humbug handled,’ 1839 [see under Ballantyne, James]. Lockhart also edited, with notes, Motteux's translation of ‘Don Quixote,’ 5 vols. 8vo, 1822.
[Andrew Lang's Life and Letters of Lockhart, 1897, 2 vols.; Quarterly Review Oct. 1864, by G. R. Gleig [q. v.]; Croker's Memoirs, 1884; Times, 9 Dec. 1854 (article attributed to Lord Robertson), reprinted before edition of Spanish Ballads in 1856; Smiles's Memoirs of John Murray, 1891, ii. 189, 190, 196, 199, 220–37, and elsewhere; Ornsby's Hope-Scott, 1884, ii. 132, 138, 144–8.]