Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Sutton, Henry Septimus

SUTTON, HENRY SEPTIMUS (1825–1901), author, born at Nottingham on 10 Feb. 1825, was seventh child in a family of seven sons and three daughters of Richard Sutton (1789-1856) of Nottingham, bookseller, printer and proprietor of the 'Nottingham Review,' by his wife Sarah, daughter of Thomas Salt, farmer, of Stanton by Dale, Derbyshire. A sister, Mrs. Eliza S. Oldham, was author of 'The Haunted House' (1863) and 'By the Trent' (1864). From childhood he spent his time among the books in his father's shop, and early acquired literary tastes. He was educated at a private school in Nottingham and at Leicester grammar school. A study of medicine was soon abandoned for literature and journalism. Among early literary friends were his fellow townsman, Philip James Bailey [q. v. Suppl. II], and Coventry Patmore, with whom an intimacy was formed soon after the publication of Patmore's first volume of poems in 1844, and continued till Patmore's death in 1896. The two friends long corresponded on literary and religious subjects (see Basil Champneys, Coventry Patmore, vol. ii. ch. lx. pp. 142-65).

Sutton, who was through life a vegetarian and total abstainer, developed a strong vein of mysticism with an active interest in social and religious problems. Emerson's writings greatly influenced his early thought and style. His first book in prose, 'The Evangel of Love' (1847), which closely echoed Emerson, was welcomed by Patmore with friendly encouragement, while his master Emerson, to whom the book had been shown by J. Neuberg, Carlyle's friend and admirer, declared it to be 'worthy of George Herbert.' When Emerson visited Manchester in 1847 he invited Sutton from Nottingham to meet him, and a lifelong friendship was begun. Emerson visited Sutton at Nottingham next year; they met again in Manchester in 1872. In 1849, on Emerson's recommendation, Alexander Ireland [q. v.] found for Sutton, who became an expert shorthand writer, journalistic employment in Manchester, and in 1853 he became chief of the 'Manchester Examiner and Times' reporting staff. Soon after he met George MacDonald [q. v. Suppl. II] in Manchester; they became lifelong friends, and mutually influenced each other's spiritual development (Letters to William Allingham, 1911, pp. 44-8).

In 1848 his first poetical work, a tiny volume of mystical tone entitled 'Clifton Grove Garland,' came out at Nottingham. In 1854 there appeared his 'Quinquenergia: Proposals for a New Practical Theology,' including a series of simply phrased but subtly argued poems, 'Rose's Diary,' on which his poetic fame rests. The volume was enthusiastically received. Emerson's friend, Bronson Alcott, writing on 15 Oct. 1854, detected in Sutton's 'profound religious genius' a union of 'the remarkable sense of Williham Law with the subtlety of Behmen and the piety of Pascal' (F. G. Sanborn and William T. Harris, A. Bronson Alcott, 1893, ii. 484–5). The book became Frances Power Cobbe's constant companion. James Martineau rated it very highly. Francis Turner Palgrave included 'How beautiful it is to be alive' from 'Rose's Diary' and two other of Sutton's poems in his 'Golden Treasury of Sacred Poetry.' Carlyle, however, scornfully wondered that 'a lad in a provincial town’ should have presumed to handle such themes (F. Espinasse, Literary Recollections, p. 160). To a collected edition of his poems (1886) Sutton added, among other new poems, 'A Preacher's Soliloquy and Sermon,' which reveals a genuine affinity with Herbert. 'Rose's Diary' with other poems was reprinted in the 'Broadbent' booklets as 'A Sutton Treasury' (Manchester, 1899; seventeenth thousand, 1909).

Meanwhile Sutton was pursuing his journalistic work on very congenial lines. He had joined the United Kingdom Alliance on its foundation at Manchester in 1853, and was editor of its weekly journal, the 'Alliance News,' from its inception in 1854 until 1898, contributing leading articles till his death. He was also editor from 1859 to 1869 of 'Meliora,' a quarterly journal devoted to social and temperance reform. His religious mysticism at the same time deepened. In 1857 he joined the Peter Street Society of Swedenborgians. He took an active part in Swedenborgian church and Sunday school work, was popular as a lay preacher, and zealously expounded Swedenborg's writings on somewhat original lines in 'Outlines of the Doctrine of the Mind according to Emanuel Swedenborg' (1889), in 'Five Essays for Students of the Divine Philosophy of Swedenborg' (1895), with a sixth essay, 'Our Saviour's Triple Crown' (1898), and a seventh and a last essay, 'The Golden Age: pt. i. Man's Creation and Fall; pt. ii. Swedenborgian Phrenology' (Manchester, 1900).

Sutton, who was of retiring but most genial and affectionate disposition, died at 18 Yarburgh St., Moss Side, Manchester, on 2 May 1901, and was buried at Worsley. He was twice married: (1) in January 1850 to Sarah Prickard (d. June 1868), by whom he had a son, Arthur James, a promising scholar of Balliol College, Oxford, who predeceased him in 1880, and a daughter who survived him; (2) in May 1870 to Mary Sophia Ewen, who survived him without issue till April 1910. A painted portrait by his sister Eliza belongs to the family.

[The Times, 6 May 1901; New Church Mag., June 1901, 271-86; Alliance News, 9 May 1901 (with portrait); Manchester Guardian, 3 May 1901; Manchester City News, 20 and 27 May 1899 (Sutton's Reminiscences of Emerson's Visit to Manchester); Francis Espinasse, Literary Recollections and Sketches, 1893; A. H. Miles, Poets of the Nineteenth Century, xii. 151 seq.; works cited; private information from brother, Mr. R, a Sutton.]

W. B. O.