Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Egan, Pierce (1814-1880)

EGAN, PIERCE, the younger (1814–1880), novelist, son of Pierce Egan [q. v.], the author of 'Life in London,' and associated with him in several of his works, was born in London in 1814, and early showed a taste for drawing. He was educated to follow art professionally, became a close frequenter of theatres, and made sketches during the performances, afterwards etching these designs, which were published as frontispieces to the plays in Davidge's 'Acting Drama.' His most ambitious work as an artist was a series of etchings to illustrate his father's serial, 'The Pilgrims of the Thames in Search of the National,' 1837. These were so successful and promising that he might have taken a fair position as an illustrator, and been well remunerated, but he preferred novel writing. His novels secured a ready sale; being first issued in weekly numbers, and afterwards in volumes. Several of them contained woodcuts and etchings by the author. Among these were 'Wat Tyler,' in 3 books, 1841, re-published in 1851, full of ghastly incidents of slaughter, with love scenes; 'Robin Hood;' 'Adam Bell, Clym o' the Cleugh, and William of Cloudeslie,' a long story of woodland adventures, 1842, with one of Egan's best etchings; 'Paul Jones,' the privateer, 2 vols., with Egan's etched frontispiece and designs on wood, 1842. Other early works were, 'The London Apprentice, and the Goldsmith's Daughter of East Chepe;' 'Edward the Black Prince; or, Feudal Days;' and 'Clifton Grey; or, Love and War,' a tale of the Crimean war, published in 1854-5. In spite of the extravagant narrations of feudal cruelty, these early works were inoffensive, never immoral nor irreligious. But their unreality, owing to their author's superficial knowledge of history, is very conspicuous. He contributed to the early volumes of the 'Illustrated London News,' started in 1842, and from 7 July 1849 to the end of 1851 edited the 'Home Circle.' In Nos. 53-119, vols, iii-v. of this work, ending 11 Oct. 1851, reappeared, extended and recast, his 'Quintyn Matsys, the Blacksmith of Antwerp,' afterwards reissued separately in library form with illustrations. An early edition had been published about 1839. He wrote in January 1857 for 'Reynolds's Miscellany,' Nos. 444-8, a popular Christmas story called 'The Waits;' since republished in John Dicks's series of 'English Novels,' No. 106. Also in 'Reynolds's Miscellany,' 'The False Step; or the Castle and the Cottage' (begun 21 Feb. 1867, ended 3 Oct., Nos. 450-82). He then transferred himself to the 'London Journal,' to the success of which he largely contributed, remaining one of its most attractive contributors until the end of his life. Sir John Gilbert illustrated many of the following works. On 5 Dec. 1857, in vol. xxvi. No. 667, appeared the first chapters of Egan's 'Flower of the Flock.' It ended in No. 689, and was next week followed by 'The Snake in the Grass' (8 May 1858, ending 27 Nov. 1858, in No. 720). A note from Pierce Egan to the public craved leave of absence for a brief period 'to recruit health and strength.' Otherwise he was singularly unobtrusive, and avoided all personal squabbles. He had married, and already had several children, enjoying a fair income derived from his literary work. He afterwards developed a completely different style from his early feudal extravagances, and delighted in rural scenes, intermingled with tragic incidents of town poverty and aristocratic splendour. Despite sensationalism and contrasts of ranks and classes, there was always a singular charm of purity and wholesome honesty in all his 'London Journal' serials. In 1858 and 1869 a new proprietor of the 'Journal,' to encourage a higher taste among the purchasers of penny miscellanies, dispensed with Egan's services and reprinted three novels by Sir Walter Scott. But the circulation of the 'Journal' diminished, so that Pierce Egan was again summoned to restore the popularity. This he attempted, somewhat hurriedly, with a slight story called 'The Love Test' (15 Jan. 1869, in vol. xxix., completed in No. 746 on 28 March). After a short interval he began a new story, with his best power, 'Love me. Leave me Not' (22 Oct. 1859, ending 30 June 1860, Nos. 767-803). In rapid succession, with undiminished success, there followed 'The Wonder of Kingswood Chace' (6 Oct. 1860 to 6 July 1861, Nos. 817-56); 'Imogine: or The Marble Heart' (7 Sept. 1861 to 14 June 1862, Nos. 805-905); 'The Scarlet Flower,' in which he went back to cavalier days (7 June 1862 to 15 Nov., Nos. 904-27); 'The Poor Girl,' one of his best known novels (on 1 Nov. 1862 to 5 Sept. 1863); 'Such is Life ' (5 Dec. 1863 to 2 July 1864, Nos. 982-1012); 'Fair Lilias' (14 Jan. 1865 to 16 Dec. 1865, Nos. 1040-88); 'The Light of Love; or the Diamond and the Snowdrop' (28 April 1806 to 16 Feb. 1867, Nos. 1107-49); 'Eve; or The Angel of Innocence,' another widely popular work (18 May to 21 Dec. 1867, Nos. 1162-93). The incessant toil and excitement of such rapid production told on him, but 'Eve' embodied his best thoughts, which lacked neither poetry of expression nor some higher flights of imagination, such as his early years had never promised. His personal friends valued him for his manly qualities, and his readers admired him. He wrote nothing in vol. xlvii., but resumed on 5 Sept. 1868 with 'The Blue-eved Witch; or not a Friend in the World' (ending 8 May 1869, Nos. 1230-65). Henceforward his powers diminished, as may be seen in his wild and ghastly story 'My Love Kate; or the Dreadful Secret' (6 Nov. 1809 to 7 May 1870, Nos. 1291-1317); and in his attempt to trade on his former success with 'The Poor Girl' (a study of a virtuous maiden triumphing over persecutions and temptations) by his adding a companion novel entitled 'The Poor Boy' (8 Oct. 1870 to 8 April 1871, Nos. 1339-65). Of other works the titles and dates were these: 'Mark Jarrett's Daisy, the Wild Flower of Hazelbrook' (25 Nov. 1871 to 25 May 1872, Nos. 1398-1424, in vol. lv.); 'Ever my Queen' (16 Feb. to 6 July 1873, Nos. 1462-1482); 'Her First Love' (21 March to 8 Aug. 1874, Nos. 1519-39, in vol. lx.); 'False and Frail' (13 Feb. to 19 June 1875, Nos. 1566-84); 'The Pride of Birth' (20 Nov. 1875 to 1 April 1876, Nos. 1606-25); 'Two Young Hearts' (25 Nov. 1876 to 14 April 1877, Nos. 1659-79); then, after short intervals, 'His Sworn Bride' (16 Dec. 1877 to 4 May 1878, Nos. 1714-34, in vol. lxvi.); 'Loved in Secret' (2 Nov. 1878 to 29 March 1879, Nos. 1760-81); and, his latest work of all, at first entitled 'A Shadow on the Threshold,' but the name having been anticipated elsewhere, it was changed to 'A Shadow on the Future' (13 Dec. 1879, ending on 6 March 1880, Nos. 1818-33, in vol. lxxi.) He was a liberal in politics, and had been for some time connected with the 'Weekly Times.' He is deservedly accounted 'one of the pioneers of cheap literature.' His 'Snake in the Grass' was republished in 1887. He died on 6 July 1880.

[Works mentioned above, with dates; obituary notice in Athenæum, No. 2750, p. 49, &c.]

J. W. E.