Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Elwin, Whitwell

1385953Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 2 — Elwin, Whitwell1901Norman Moore

ELWIN, WHITWELL (1816–1900), prose-writer, was the third son of Marsham Elwin of Thurning, Norfolk, and his wife, Emma Louisa Whitwell. He was born at Thurning on 26 Feb. 1816, and, after education at North Walsham grammar school, was admitted at Caius College, Cambridge, on 26 June 1834, where he graduated B.A. in 1839. He married, on 18 June 1838, Frances, daughter of Lieutenant-colonel Fountain Elwin. He was ordained deacon at Wells in 1839 and priest in 1840, and became curate of Hardington, Somerset. He there wrote an article which John Gibson Lockhart [q. v.] accepted for the 'Quarterly Review' on the 'Histoire du Chien' of Elzéar Blaze. It was published in September 1843, and his connection with the review continued till 1885. He succeeded Caleb Elwin, his kinsman, as rector of Booton in 1849, built a rectory, and there resided till his death.

Lockhart, writing to John Murray [q. v.] on 30 June 1852, said of Elwin, 'He is our only valuable literary acquisition for many years past, and if he were nearer I should recommend him for, on the whole, the fittest editor of the "Quarterly Review," so soon as the old one drops down' (original letter). In 1853 Elwin became editor and continued in that post till 1860, living at his rectory and coming to London each quarter to bring out the review. He wrote many articles of great excellence and took pains to obtain contributions from men of ability, among them Lord Robert Cecil (afterwards marquis of Salisbury), William Ewart Gladstone, Thackeray, John Forster, and James Ferguson. He became well known in the world of letters, and especially intimate with Thackeray, Dickens, Forster, Lord Brougham, and Lord Lyndhurst. On a visit at Brougham he formed a friendship with Priscilla, countess of Westmorland, with whom he corresponded for many years and with whose assistance he wrote an article in the 'Quarterly Review' in defence of Lord Raglan.

After resigning the editorship of the 'Quarterly,' Elwin undertook to complete the edition of Pope which John Wilson Croker [q. v.] had long projected but had not begun. Elwin published five volumes, in 1871-2, two of poetry and three of letters, but he then became dissatisfied with the work, and the edition was completed in five more volumes by Mr. W. J. Courthope, C.B. (1881-9). Elwin's notes contain a great store of information and are all interesting, and his introductions to the poems are admirable pieces of criticism, and with his 'Quarterly Review' articles on English literature deserve a high place in the English prose of the nineteenth century. In 1852 he prepared for John Murray a volume of selections from the poems and letters of Byron, which appeared without his name, and other minor works of interest were two amusing and forcible pamphlets published in 1869, in defence of an undergraduate who had been treated with injustice by the authorities of his college, entitled 'A Narrative' and 'A Reply to the Remarks of Mr. Carr.' He also wrote the 'Life of John Forster' prefixed to the catalogue of the Dyce & Forster library (London, 1888, 8vo).

Elwin's second son, Hastings Philip Elwin, a man of great promise, died in 1874, and his only daughter in 1875, and feeling the need of a new occupation in these sorrows he began to rebuild his parish church, an edifice of the perpendicular period. He replaced it by a noble building with two western towers and a fine hammer-beam roof, which was completed just before his death. He was attentive to his clerical duties and to the care of his parishioners, to whom he showed unbounded generosity. His sermons were seldom elaborately prepared, and were the least perfect of his compositions; but they were unaffected and often forcible. His letters, of which a great many have been preserved, were full of thought and incident, and in a finished style. He often bestowed great care upon them; yet, though always good, they were perhaps best when they had been most hastily written. His conversation was extraordinary in its learning and variety, and in the way in which it retained the attention and impressed the minds of those who talked with him. It seemed equally interesting to the most educated and to the least. His wife, whose attainments and character were as admirable as his own, rarely left her house, and agreed with him in absolute indifference to money and to every kind of distinction. She died on 22 Feb. 1898. He performed service in his church on 31 Dec. 1899, and died suddenly while dressing on the following morning. He is buried beside his wife in the churchyard of Booton. They had four sons and one daughter, and were survived by two sons, both of them clergymen.

Elwin's portrait was painted by Weigall and is at Booton. A replica is in the possession of Mr. John Murray, the publisher.

Elwin's articles in the 'Quarterly Review' have never been collected. He worked at the revision of some of them, and left manuscript additions and alterations as well as the commencement of a series of recollections of W. M. Thackeray. His best 'Quarterly Review' articles are those on Gray, Sterne, Goldsmith, the Newcomes, Fielding, Johnson (on whom there are two), and Cowper.

[Works; original letters; personal knowledge.]

N. M.