Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ollier, Charles

1433446Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 42 — Ollier, Charles1895Richard Garnett

OLLIER, CHARLES (1788–1859), publisher and author, was born in 1788. He was descended from a French protestant family which migrated to England in 1685, and he began life in the banking-house of Messrs. Coutts. About 1816 he was in business as a publisher in Vere Street, Bond Street, in partnership with his brother James. James was the man of business; Charles possessed a keen sense of the beauties of poetry, and, having made the acquaintance of Leigh Hunt, undertook the publication of his 'Foliage,' 'Hero and Leander,' and the second edition of 'The Story of Rimini.' Through Hunt he became known to Keats, and, out of admiration for his genius, volunteered to publish his first poems (1817). The book did not succeed, and Keats, attributing the failure to Ollier's inactivity, quarrelled with him, and published his subsequent books with Taylor and Hessey. Shelley was more constant, although he, too, with equal unreasonableness, complained of Ollier for insisting on the alterations which converted ‘Laon and Cythna’ into ‘The Revolt of Islam,’ and without which the sale would soon have been stopped by a prosecution. All the subsequent works of Shelley published in his lifetime, except ‘Swellfoot the Tyrant,’ were nevertheless brought out by Ollier, to whom the unsold copies of ‘Alastor,’ published in 1815 by Baldwin and Cradock, were also transferred. ‘Julian and Maddalo’ was also advertised for publication by Ollier, but did not appear until printed by John Hunt, along with the posthumous poems, in 1824. Shelley's letters to Ollier are published in the ‘Shelley Memorials,’ and are very valuable for the literary history of his works. The most important of Ollier's other publications were the collected works of Charles Lamb and several of Barry Cornwall's early volumes. In 1819 he published ‘The Literary Pocket Book,’ in which Shelley's poem of ‘Marianne's Dream’ was first printed; and in 1820 he brought out the first part of ‘Ollier's Literary Miscellany,’ not continued. Besides a remarkable article on the German drama by Archdeacon Hare, this publication contained Peacock's paradox, ‘The Four Ages of Poetry,’ memorable for having provoked Shelley's ‘Defence of Poetry.’ Shelley gave his essay to Ollier for the second part of the ‘Miscellany,’ but this never appeared; and when Ollier's unsuccessful business was shortly afterwards wound up, the ‘Defence’ came into the possession of John Hunt, who prepared it for publication in ‘The Liberal,’ but that periodical also expired before it could be published. Ollier became, and long continued, a literary adviser to Bentley, and would seem, from a passage in one of Leigh Hunt's letters to him, to have contributed to the ‘Naval and Military Gazette,’ as well as to ‘Ainsworth's Magazine.’ His independent publications were:

  1. ‘Altham and his Wife: a domestic Tale,’ 1818. Of this Shelley wrote: ‘It is a natural story, most unaffectedly told in a strain of very pure and powerful English.’
  2. ‘Inesilla; or the Tempter: a Romance, with other Tales,’ 1824; also very well written. This had been announced for publication several years before, but the composition was impeded by the author's grief for the loss of a daughter.
  3. ‘Ferrers,’ 1842, a romance on the execution of Earl Ferrers in 1760, somewhat in the style of Harrison Ainsworth, but much inferior.
  4. ‘Fallacy of Ghosts, Dreams, and Omens, with Stories of Witchcraft, Life-in-Death, and Monomania,’ 1848; reprinted from ‘Ainsworth's Magazine,’ and published by the author himself.

Several letters from Leigh Hunt, published in the latter's correspondence, cast an agreeable light upon Ollier's latter years, showing that his literary tastes and sympathies remained unimpaired. He died at Old Brompton on 5 June 1859, while the letters which he had contributed to the ‘Shelley Memorials’ were passing through the press. His son Edmund is separately noticed.

[Athenæum; Leigh Hunt in Spectator, 18 June 1859; Shelley Memorials; Leigh Hunt's Correspondence; Shelley's Works (Forman's edition).]

R. G.