Linton, William James (DNB01)
LINTON, WILLIAM JAMES (1812–1898), engraver, poet, and political reformer, was born in Ireland's Row, Mile End Road, on 7 Dec. 1812. His father, whose calling is not recorded, was of Scottish extraction, the son of 'an Aberdeen ship carpenter with some pretensions to be called an architect.' His younger brother, Henry Duff Linton (1812–1899), who was also a wood-engraver, and was associated with W. J. Linton in many of his earlier productions, died at Norbiton, Surrey, in June 1899 (Times, 23 June 1899).
Linton received his education at a school in Stratford, and in 1828 was apprenticed to the wood-engraver George Wilmot Bonner, with whom he continued for six years. He subsequently worked with Powis and with Thompson, and in 1836 became associated with John Orrin Smith [q. v.], then introducing great improvements into English wood-engraving. About the same time he married the sister of Thomas Wade [q. v.] the poet, after whose death he wedded another sister. He now began to mingle in literary circles, and to make himself conspicuous as a political agitator. Under the influence of his enthusiasm for Shelley and Lamennais, whose 'Words of a Believer' were among the gospels of the time, he had adopted advanced views in religion and extreme views in politics, and, while throwing himself with ardour into the chartist movement, went beyond it in professing himself a republican. He was especially connected with Henry Hetherington [q. v.] and James Watson (1799-1874) [q. v.], the publishers of unstamped newspapers, and in 1839 himself established 'The National,' designed as a vehicle for the reprint of extracts from political and philosophical publications inaccessible to working men. It had no long existence.
In 1842 Linton became partner with his employer, Orrin Smith, but the partnership was dissolved by the latter's death in the following year. During their connection Linton had done much important work, especially on 'The Illustrated News,' established in 1842. He was also active in literature. Through his brother-in-law Wade he had become intimate with the circle that gathered around W. J. Fox and R. H. Home in the latter days of 'The Monthly Repository,' and with their aid, after an unsuccessful experiment in 'The Illustrated Family Journal, he succeeded (1845) Douglas Jerrold as editor of 'The Illuminated Magazine,' where he published many interesting contributions from writers of more merit than popularity. Among these were 'A Royal Progress,' a poem of considerable length by Sarah Flower Adams [q. v.], not hitherto printed elsewhere, and specimens of the 'Stories after Nature' of Charles Jeremiah Wells [q. v.], almost the only known copy of which Linton himself had picked off a bookstall. Their publication elicited a new story from Wells, which Linton subsequently dramatised under its own title of 'Claribel.'
As a politician Linton was at this time chiefly interested in the patriotic designs of Mazzini, with whom he formed an intimate friendship, and the violation of whose correspondence at the post office in 1844 he was instrumental in exposing. The chartist movement had passed under the direction of Feargus O'Connor [q. v.], whom Linton distrusted and despised, and he had little connection with it; of the free-trade leaders, W. J. Fox excepted, he had a still worse opinion, and continued to denounce them with virulence throughout his life. An acquaintance with Charles (now Sir Charles) Gavan Duffy led him to contribute political verse to the Dublin 'Nation' under the signature of 'Spartacus.' In 1847 he took a prominent part in founding the 'International League' of patriots of all nations, for which the events of the following year seemed to provide ample scope, but which came to nothing. The more limited and practical movement of 'The Friends of Italy' was supported by him. In 1850 he was concerned with Thornton Hunt and G. H. Lewes in the establishment of 'The Leader,' which he expected to make the organ of republicanism, but he soon discovered his associates' lukewarmness in political matters, and quitted 'The Leader' to found 'The English Republic,' a monthly journal published and originally printed at Leeds. After a while Linton carried on the printing under his own superintendence at Brantwood, a house which he had acquired in the Lake country, since celebrated as the residence of Ruskin. He had previously lived at Miteside in Northumberland, which, as well as his intimate friendship with William Bell Scott [q. v.], had made him acquainted with a circle of zealous political reformers at Newcastle; there he published anonymously in 1852 'The Plaint of Freedom,' a series of poems in the metre of 'In Memoriam,' which gained him the friendship and the encomiums, for once not undeserved, of Walter Savage Landor. In 1855 'The English Republic' was discontinued, and Linton commenced an artistic periodical, 'Pen and Pencil,' which did not enjoy a long existence. In this year he lost his wife and returned to London, where, devoting himself anew to his profession, he firmly established his reputation as the best wood-engraver of his day, and was in special request for book illustration. His engravings of the pre-Raphaelite artists' designs for Moxon's illustrated Tennyson were among his most successful productions; if justice was not always done to the original drawing, the fault was not in the engraver, but in the imperfections of engraving processes upon wood before the introduction of photography. In 1858 Linton married Miss Eliza Lynn, the celebrated novelist, best known under her married name of Linton [q. v. Suppl.] The union did not prove fortunate: the causes are probably not unfairly intimated in Mrs. Linton's autobiographical novel of 'Christopher Kirkland' (1885). It terminated in an amicable separation, involving the disposal of the house at Brantwood to Ruskin, 'pleasantly arranged,' says Linton, 'in a couple of letters.' He remained for some time in London, following his profession. The covers of the 'Cornhill' and 'Macmillan's' magazines were engraved by him; he brought out 'The Works of Deceased British Artists,' and illustrated his wife's work on the Lake country. In 1865 he published his drama of 'Claribel,' with other poems, including two early ones of remarkable merit, a powerful narrative in blank verse of Grenville's sea-fight celebrated in Tennyson's 'Revenge,' and an impressive meditation symbolising his own political aspirations, put into the mouth of Henry Marten [q.v.] imprisoned in Chepstow Castle. In November 1866 Linton went to the United States. He had intended only a short visit in connection with a project for aiding democracy in Italy, but he found a wider field for the exercise of his art opened to him than at home, and he mainly devoted the rest of his life to the regeneration of American wood-engraving. He established himself at Appledore, a farmhouse near New Haven in Connecticut, gathered disciples around him, and by precept and example was accomplishing great things, when his career was checked by the introduction of cheap 'process' methods, inevitable when the art has become so largely popularised, but always regarded by him with the strongest objection. At first he sent his blocks to New York, but ultimately bought a press, and conducted both printing and engraving under his own roof. For the literary furtherance of his views on art he produced 'Practical Hints on Wood Engraving,' 1879; 'A History of Wood Engraving in America,' 1882, and 'Wood Engraving, a Manual of Instruction,' 1884. During a visit to England in 1883 and 1884 he began his great work called 'The Masters of Wood Engraving.' This book was based upon two hundred photographs from the works of the great masters, which he began in 1884 in the print-room of the British Museum. Returning to New Haven he wrote his book, printed it in three copies, and mounted the photographs himself, and in 1887 returned to England, bringing one of the copies to be reproduced under his superintendence in London. The work appeared in folio in 1890.
Meanwhile his private press at Appledore had been active in another department, producing charming little volumes of original verse, much prized by collectors, such as 'Windfalls,' 'Love Lore,' and 'The Golden Apples of Hesperus,' the latter an anthology of little-known pieces, partly reproduced in another collection edited by him, 'Rare Poems of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries' (New Haven, 1882, 8vo). In 1883 he published an extensive anthology of English poetry in conjunction with R. H. Stoddard. In 1879 he wrote the life of his old friend, James Watson, the intrepid publisher, and contributed his recollections to the republished poems of another old friend, Ebenezer Jones [q.v.] In 1889 'Love Lore,' with selections from 'Claribel' and other pieces, was published in London under the title of 'Poems and Translations.' A collection of pamphlets and contributions by himself to periodical literature, comprising twenty volumes (1836-86), and entitled 'Prose and Verse,' is in the British Museum Library. After his final return to America in 1892, though upwards of eighty, he produced a life of Whittier in the 'Great Writers' series (1893), and his own 'Memories,' an autobiography full of spirit and buoyancy, which might with advantage have been more full, in 1895. He died at New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A., on 1 Jan. 1898.
Linton's fame as an engraver is widely spread, but he has never received justice as a poet. His more ambitious attempts, though often true poetry, are of less account than the little snatches of song which came to him in his later years, bewitching in their artless grace, and perhaps nearer than the work of any other modern poet to the words written for music in the days of Elizabeth and James. Produced at so late a period of life, these lyrics evince an indomitable vitality. They were dedicated to a coeval, William Bell Scott [q.v.], who wrote : 'All his later poems are on love, a fact that baffles me to understand.' His translations of French lyrics are masterly, and his anthologies prove his acquaintance with early and little-known English poetry. As a man he was amiable and helpful, full of kind actions and generous enthusiasms. His indifference to order and impatience of restraint, though trying to those most nearly connected with him, were not incompatible with exemplary industry in undertakings that interested him. His most serious defect, the 'carelessness of pecuniary obligation,' which he himself imputes to Leigh Hunt, mainly sprang from the sanguine temperament which so long preserved the freshness of the author and the vigour of the man.
Photographic portraits of Linton at advanced periods of life are prefixed to his 'Poems and Translations' (1889), and to his 'Memories,' 1895.[Linton's Memories, 1895; G. S. Layard's Life of Mrs. Lynn Linton, 1901; Mr. A. H. Bullen in Miles's Poets of the Century; article on W. J. Linton by Mr. J. F. Kitto in English Illustrated Magazine, 1891; Times, 3 Jan. 1898; Athenæum, 8 and 15 Jan. 1898; personal knowledge.]